Theodicy and Apokatastasis

by David Bentley Hart, Ph.D.

My thanks for Dr Shinji Akemi’s review of That All Shall Be Saved, and my apologies for the relative brevity of my reply.

Though, before getting to that reply, I should preface it by noting that somewhere among the comments to the review someone suggests that I make use of what Maximus calls the “gnomic” will in my argument when it suits my purposes and then dismiss it at the last when it no longer does. This is simply false. The importance of the gnomic will remains central to my argument throughout—indispensable, in fact. It is precisely the conforma­tion of the gnomic will to the natural that is the process of salvation. My only claim—and an undeniable claim it is—is that the gnomic will can have no other ultimate end (no final cause, that is) other than the proper end of the natural will, which must be the eternal Good. If it did, it would be nothing more than an irrational impulse toward an intrinsically irrational end, and therefore not free at all. Freedom is always necessary for the creature’s union with God; but real freedom cannot be mere arbitrary choice, without a prior onto­logical rationale. Herein lies an indissoluble reciprocal formula: In order to be the creatures we are in being saved, we must be joined to God freely; but, in order to be the creatures we are in being saved, we must be joined to God to be free.

Which, as it happens, is germane to what I should say about the review. The reviewer is correct that the metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo raises the question not only of the eternal dereliction of certain souls, but of every evil. But the two questions are radically different in modality. In fact, I deal with this issue on pp. 59-60 of the book. As the reviewer also notes, I have dealt with the issue of the non-necessity of evil in other texts—the Ivan Karamazov issue, as it were—and indeed I fully accept that Ivan may be right to want to “return the ticket” rather than consent to a final reconciliation of all creatures with God and one another in a kingdom of peace and love.

Still, it is a good mereological rule that to try to understand the whole in terms of its parts and to try to understand the parts in light of the whole are two very different operations of reason. Or, in terms of set theory, many things can be predicated of a set that cannot be ascribed to the individual contents of a set. More simply, it is one thing to attempt to judge the relative goodness or badness of a discrete evil in relation to final purposes we either can or cannot see, but another thing altogether to judge a supposed total narrative that pretends to describe the whole rationality of all its discrete events. The former can never be more than conjectural and inductive; the latter is a matter of logic. There may logically be such a thing as an evil that is redeemed in the greater good toward which it leads; there is no such thing as an unredeemed evil that does not reduce the good toward which it might lead to a mere relative value. In the former case, it is logically possible that evil may be non-necessary in the ultimate sense, but may necessarily be possible in the provisional sense. In the latter case, evil figures as a necessary aspect of the eternal identity of whatever reality it helps bring about.

The way the issue is dealt with in The Brothers Karamazov, I think, is not in the teachings of Fr. Zosima, but in the admission of the devil who visits Ivan in his fever: that at the end he too will assent to the glory of the Kingdom as having far surpassed the price he paid along the course of his quadrillion kilometer march. This is also Paul’s argument in Romans 8. Remember, while Ivan is torn apart by the thought of the sufferings of the little girl in his story, there is also something demonic in his compassion: in his indignation at her suffering, he would insist that in a sense she be reduced merely to a victim, and in refusing his ticket to the Kingdom he also refuses her both the right to enter the Kingdom and the right to forgive whom she will forgive (thereby becoming herself a god—or goddess, if you like). In the end, Ivan has no right to make that determination for her. The claim made by scripture is that the final verdict on the great drama of creation and salvation will be pronounced not only by God, but by creation, when all creatures in the skies, on earth, and below the earth will together “joyously praise”—ἐξομολογήσεται—God (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11). Until then, perhaps, the jury is out.

Even so, as I say, whether one accepts that verdict or not—whether one believes every tear can be wholly wiped away or instead denies that any real evil can ever be justified in light of a more glorious end—the fact remains that the question of evil that Ivan raises is not logically entailed in the question of ultimate unredeemed suffering that I deal with in the book. Ivan’s argument ends with a personal act of evaluation: I refuse. My argument ends with a QED.

That would be a good place to end, of course, just for rhetorical effect. Let me, however, add one more observa­tion that will seem insufferably pompous or a little insane: to wit, that the argument I make in my book—that Chris­tianity can be a coherent system of belief if and only if it is understood as involving universal salvation—is irrefutable. Any Christian whom it fails to persuade is one who has failed to understand its argument fully. In order to reject it, one must also reject one or another crucial tenet of the faith. The exits have all been sealed. I suppose I could be wrong about that, but I do not believe it likely. Nor do I think I am being particularly arrogant in saying this. In the end, I believe my book merely points out something that was obvious all along.

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94 Responses to Theodicy and Apokatastasis

  1. DennisW says:

    “…that Christianity can be a coherent system of belief if and only if it is understood as involving universal salvation—is irrefutable. Any Christian whom it fails to persuade is one who has failed to understand its argument fully.”

    Given that most Christians throughout history (including the greatest Christian poet, Dante) have in fact not held this belief (Universalism seems to be a particular obsession, as far as I can tell, of a certain segment of contemporary Orthodoxy), to claim that belief in universal salvation is irrefutable or essential to Christianity is one of the most extreme examples of intellectual pride and arrogance I have ever seen.

    “…it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown in to the eternal fire.” (Matthew 18:8) “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Matthew 25:41).

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    • Thomas says:

      DennisW:

      Hart’s claim here is pretty specific: “Christianity can only be a coherent system of belief ….”

      It is obviously possible that Christian theology as it has been articulated is incoherent or underdeveloped. Insofar as Hart is putting forward an argument about the logical coherence of Christian principles, appeals to authority are not relevant objections.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Bob Sacamano says:

        Regarding the complaint that most Christians throughout history have not held to Universalism, I can only think about what a delightful surprise it will be then. Surprises are a beautiful thing, and God is full of them. Who in ancient Israel expected the messiah to be God himself in the flesh? Only in hindsight did they see it was foretold in the scriptures all along.

        Who then, could possibly be disappointed if God in fact redeems everyone and everything we thought doomed to everlasting perdition?

        Liked by 7 people

        • suzmichelej says:

          Thank-you Dennis W! The one thing that I heard personally from the Lord about “hell” that put my soul to rest was this, “You will be pleasantly surprised.” And that was all I needed to know. ❤

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      • DennisW says:

        I’m not sure how your objection improves things. So, for 2000 or so years, Christian theology and belief has been incoherent and underdeveloped, until Prof. Hart came along in 2019 with “irrefutable” proof that Christianity is an incoherent system of belief without belief in universal salvation, which most Christians historically have not in fact believed?

        I could accept his statement above if he had said that belief in universal salvation (which is a distinctly minority position among Christians of all denominations) was simply reasonable or acceptable within the bounds of orthodox/Orthodox Christian belief, and that believing in universal salvation doesn’t necessarily entail falling into heresy (which many believe it does). But to say that the argument for universal salvation is not only “irrefutable” but necessary to make Christianity a “coherent system of belief” at all…well, that’s another thing altogether.

        Anyway…I’m not going to add any more at this point, or get drawn into endless online carping and debates (I do have some work to get done today, and I’ve probably already abused Fr. Kimel’s hospitality and generosity enough). I’ll just enjoy the other comments and posts…however unconvinced I am of universalism, it does offer food for thought, and one always learns something here (which is far more than one can say of most websites!)

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        • Thomas says:

          Who’s this Einstein guy to come along and suggest that how short or tall something is depends on your relative location and movement?

          Arguments are not resolved by the identity of the person who puts them forward, but by how well they establish the conditions on which the conclusion depends. (I say this as someone not yet convinced by DBH’s arguments.)

          Traditionalists often underestimate how much change there has been in doctrine over time. Most Christians prior to the council of Nicea and the subsequent controversies were subordinationalists. If the criteria for doctrine is simply whether certain propositions were held or rejected by the weight of the tradition, the councils of Nicea and Constantinople overturned the more original teachings of the Church.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            And it should also be pointed out Dennis that Hart is not the first to come up with this, far from it. One can go back to the early days of Christianity and find various expressions of universalism from a host of followers, and find it also expressed throughout the centuries by kindred voices.

            Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      I’m just going by 1 Corinthians 15.

      Liked by 2 people

      • DennisW says:

        I know I said I was going to stop above, but just couple questions, since Prof. Hart had the courtesy to reply himself: Is not 1 Cor. 15 still predicated on, at the very least, belief in Christ and the Gospel, and further, on turning away from sin and repenting of one’s sins?

        Where is get hung up with the universal salvation argument is that it seems to make Christ and the Gospel more or less irrelevant (opposite to what you say above, it seems that belief in universal salvation actually makes Christianity and incoherent system of belief). If literally everyone will ultimately be saved (no matter what one’s beliefs or actions during one’s life, or whether one repents before or at the moment of death), then what finally is the point of being a Christian? The neo-pagans, atheists, Hindus, and Muslims down the street will be saved in the end too, no?

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        • David Farcas says:

          I Cor. 15 is predicated on the singular effort and accomplishment of Jesus Christ to overcome the death-dealing powers to open the way for God to be All in all. It is about the faithfulness of God, and not our individual faith or lack thereof.

          What can possibly thwart or undo what God as done for us through Jesus Christ? What can prevent God from giving all that he is to all that there is? Not death; not unbelief, not anything in all creation can in the least prevent the ultimate reality of God with us (Emmanuel) being All in all.

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Gratitude and love.

          Liked by 3 people

        • TJF says:

          Dennis,

          Yes pagans, atheists, Hindus, etc. all will be saved too. Why is that bad? Only members of the exclusive club who do all the hard work get the benefits? I remember a parable concerning people who moaned that others got benefits for doing little to nothing. The point is that all people will eventually see the face of God and His beauty, truth, and goodness will be absolutely irresistible.

          When you ask why should I be a Christian then, I’m honestly a bit baffled. The reason is chiefly because Christianity is true. Moreover, Christian faith should help you to cultivate communion with the living God. That is amazing and something you should cherish. It sounds like its a burden the way you describe it. It isn’t.

          Liked by 2 people

          • DennisW says:

            Ughh…because if absolutely everyone, no exceptions, will in fact be saved in the end, if there is no such thing as eternal damnation for anyone (not even the potential for it), then there is really no particular reason to be Christian. Take it or leave it, it doesn’t matter, you will still be saved. I don’t get why people keep having such a hard time with this, insisting both that unversalism is true (and a beautiful and wonderful thing), and that one nevertheless should still be a Christian. Universalism makes Christianity a nonsense, and utterly unnecessary to one’s salvation (Despite Christ having said, inter alia, that there is no other name by which we are saved).

            You say Christianity helps cultivate communion with the living God. All well and good, and I agree. But if universal salvation is also true, why bother communing with the living God? You’ll still be saved in the end anyway; so eat, drink, and be merry in this life – do what thou wilt – and commune with the living God when you’re dead (and, good news!, you’re guaranteed salvation no matter what according to universalism).

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Dennis if you consider that food, drink, and merriment are to be preferred over the presence of the living God, well then there’s no need to have a discussion. But you know as well as I do that such is nonsense. Willful prodigality is not a way of life – it is a sure way to misery, emptiness and ultimately death; one would have to be out of his mind to choose that way. And yes we are all out of minds and the prodigal, but that makes it neither right nor rational. Besides, no one is making a case that there won’t be a reckoning.

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          • DennisW says:

            Unless all are saved anyway, then willful prodigality doesn’t matter to one’s ultimate fate, does it? This is the crux of the problem with Universalism. It wants to say that everyone, without exception is saved, that there is no such thing as eternal damnation for anyone, yet also insist that there is a valid reason to still be Christian. I’ve not heard one sensible argument to support that. Just a lot of…well being Christian gives you special access to truth and “communing with the living God” during your life, etc…that sort of thing. But if all will be saved in the end, why bother?

            I’ve though about this all weekend, especially the issue of Universalists accusing other Christians of believing only out of fear of eternal damnation rather than believing out of genuine love for God. I think it is actually the other way around. It’s the Universalists who fear eternal damnation the most; the very idea of it – for themselves, their loved ones, anyone – terrifies them so much they are driven to deny it even as a possibility. Believing in Universalism is a way of inoculating oneself against the fear of eternal damnation. If eternal damnation doesn’t exist, then there is nothing to fear. Problem solved. The traditional Four Last Things? Reduced to two – just death and Heaven for everyone. Judgement and Hell, if they are conceded to exist at all, are reduced to temporary purgation only (I don’t think it can be denied that Universalism effectively transforms Hell into Purgatory).

            It says in Proverbs that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” But there is nothing to fear for the Universalist. In the end everyone without exception will sit around the eternal campfire singing Kumbaya – you, me, the local abortionist, the PP trafficker in fetal body parts, the child rapists, the guy who shot up his local high school, the mass murderers, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the KL and GULAG commandants, Judas (despite Christ saying it would have been better for him never to have been born – quite damning I would think), etc., etc.. And yet I’m told this doesn’t make a mockery of Christianity? That this scene of universal salvation for all without exception isn’t the one that actually makes Christianity an incoherent belief system?

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          • Grant says:

            Saying you have not heard one good argument when you have not really engaged the arguments ancient and current and positions put forward and with derp roots in Christian tradition (including those central to the defense of orthodox Christianity in key moments, such as St Gregory of Nyssa against the Arians where universal restoration is central to his arguments and that defense, St Athanasius was at least sympathetic, holy and deep thinkers like St Issac, fo George MacDonald, Thomas Talbort, DB Hart or the articles here) suggests you don’t wish to engage them, particularly where God’s character is at stake. You haven’t approached or addressed these arguments at all, but keep adopting the position of Jonah complaining that God will redeem some he finds objectionable. Mabye they don’t convince you, but until you really engage them, such a statement is meaningless since you haven’t really seemed to ludten nor wish to dialogue. Your carature above, given what others have said and links you have been provided means that is clearly intended or otherwise, a straeman mischaracterization of the universalist positions here.

            To be honest if you don’t fine me convincing I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m no theologian or patristic or New Testament scholar, like you I’m just a guy in the comments giving my inadequate contribution which often isn’t much. I have also for personal reasons lived with the concept of eternal torture and it’s destruction in myself and others with the conviction that I was destinated for such a fate due to OCD scrupulosity, and the immense mental torture, depression and destruction it brought (I would have commited suicide but what would have been the point). So for me, mabye you assumptions might be relevent, though no matter how I might want it, if I thought it were false I wouldn’t believe it (after all, if thst were the case I could easily have stopped being a Christian, much easier).

            But your attack on the others is unwarrented and unworthy of you, focus it on me if you like but deal more fairly with everyone else here. The fear of the Lord is reverentlal awe and respect not terror (proverbs wasn’t written in English and originally in English fear in this context had that meaning, we don’t use fear of that way anymore leading to it to be an old saying in modern English), otherwise it it would contradict St John telling us that love casts out fear and perfect love has none nor any place for it, nor God’s repeated injunctions not to fear ever. So this hardly makes any point, we are not to fear, fear has no place in love, and terror of God is a distorted and sin affected reaction to God, it is pagan response to the gods of old, a terror doesn’t give reverentlal respect and awe, let alone a free, loving response (the first commandment) just fearful obedience to a perceived threat, doung what that tyrant tells you or else.

            This is the picture you keep seeming to demand, that others need to be tortured forever to justify those who God gave the grace to make it, ti make themselves feel better, that they need to have God holding tormenting flames over them to do any loving act or return to Him. He isn’t beautiful to them, apparently living to love and freedom from death and loving not enough, they need the gun to their head and be told those that don’t now will be locked out and tortured forever never able to respond to the gift they themselves don’t have anymore just claim to. Even though you and I don’t deserve salvation any more then (all your go-to most evil people ever), yes including Judas (allowing for the hyperbole there is nothing in the text saying He will lost forever, that is something read into it by those who believe it is do, so they read it as such).

            You have been shown that no universalist claims that persisting in death doesn’t matter, that there won’t be a reckoning with themselves and others (you have been informed and provided links to this effect, you csn also see http://churchlifejournal.nf.edu/articles/the-severity-of-universal-salvation/ ) or read George MacDonald. You aren’t engaging anything people have said, nor what your demands makes of God brong people to existence He knows He won’t save, even when those who do don’t deserve it any more sometimes less (since yes even here your child-molester, Hitler or Stalin or serial killer could be saved, and someone like you or me, your friend or goid neighbour could be not be, but instead tortured forever). God knew this, and as He is God nothing stops Him achieving His aims, not our secondary freedom which exists within His prior creative act. Our whoke nature, being and nature of existence for us past, present and future is arranged and brought into existence by Him, inlcuding in it all our actions and His responses, snd without violating any secondary freedom of ours He is able to arrange things so we all come to freedom and libetation, if sone aren’t then He intended that from creation. Thus makes eternal destruction an implicit moral claim on God, He is not love nor the Good if those words have any meaning, and if not then none of us can know or say anything about God nor good or justice, nor evaluate any religion or philosophy or any concept, helping tjose in need or torturing a child could equally be right. But if our words have any meaning, God in this is not love no matter what secondary freedoms you appeal to, you end in the same place as hardline Calvanists, and Calvin at least had the intellectual honesty to admit under this Gid is not llove, just experienced that way by the elect. And that destroys central Dogmatic Christian claims of God, it also ignores by saying death will be forever and evil will exist forever the promise of death destruction and God being all in all without so conditioning those promises to be meaningless.

            I also find the view here consistently troubling, like Jonah their is a demand others ve tormented forever or it’s somehow not worth it or doesn’t matter, as if joy shouldn’t be a Christian for the beauty of Christ or to live a life of love and self-giving and freedom from death, hate and sin and to it, but ad if it’s something onerous and negative. As if God is out to command you and bully you into something hateful and there would be better things to do, but I gets this reward which I earn because I put up with it, snd I get the satisfaction of seeing those who didn’t get it. There is something deeply disturbing in this attitude, that doesn’t do love for God and others fir live and goid’s sake, but in order to avoid God torturing you forever, and not liking the thought of those having fun getting in when you had to put up with it. This is a very sad view of God, and there seems that if thus is what someone truly follows no real love for God (only terror and demands) amd no love of others, but if so how are not the two commandments on which all hangs broken? And if you find the life you perceive life as a Christian sonething of a burden rather then freedom now, the reward will hardly be one will it? If you can’t see dominion under death without sering love or life as torment for those with ‘willful prodigality’ and they joy of the Gospel that all forces and slavery of death and sin has vern broken and to come into thst I don’t know what to say to you. But I remind you again of the scandal of the Gospel, no matter what, someone xan lead the most heinous life, repent and they are brought into salvation, just as you as tou repent are brought into love and salvation. The only difference is that universalist syste.s have some arbitrary cut-off point where God abandons people. No matter what there will be child rapists, murderers, serial killers and maybe even Hilter or Stalin, under such a system maybe they will and you and I won’t, because we don’t deserve to be saved and deified any more then they do. We are all sinners, all under death”s sway, salvation is like creation God’s free gift, any genuine love or holiness is from Him and is off Him, not us, we have nothing and no goodness of our own to boast of. The unfairness of love you dislike is part of the Gospel no matter what, you earn nothing before God, have no right to anything, it is all a free, unmerited gift, and you have no right to complain that others find the gift and embrace it later and step into it. Only rejoice both for them and you saw and found the path to life and the gift of His love and Life and freedom earlier. Like the labourers you have no place to complain, like Jonah rejoice people have been freed from destruction and death, and that your brother and sister is alive. And whether you do embrace universalism or not, please move away from seeing Christianity as a burden or something to prove or earn, or not seeing the torment of those under death’s hokd, have joy in your freedom and love without fear.

            And while you can say what you like about me, pleae deal with more respect with the arguments of others and engage with the arguments given rather them resorting to strawmen that don’t represent their positions at all, you are better then that, and they deserve that honest respect.

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        • Grant says:

          Hi Dennis, who saye they won’t be Christians, no one here does. None of us starts as conscious Christians, we come over time to realise Christ is the Life, Truth and the Way, that He has defeated death that holds us captive and live more towards freedom He opens up, and move towards His liberating light. This is also His saving grace at work in us, and as Matthew 25 reminds us, this is so also (or more properly just is) when we respond and see and interact with Him in the other around us, particularly in need (the Gospel in the Good Samaritan). All us a response of faith and love towards Christ, and the truth is as Christians we are not yet complete, our conversion goes on through our discipleship, a journey from Egypt to Cannan, through the Red Sea and finally Jordan.

          But Christ is the Truth in all things, and people in all these other religions and philosophies respond to Him as they would currently understand Him, and the extent they do is indicted in Matthew 25 and the Beatitudes, it shows the extent of their response and current understanding and faith un Christ. For them to see Christ (if not earlier) will be to know Him as their Lord and the Life and Truth they have always followed and embrace that completely (even as we will). And with some where little is seen we don’t know the movement of the soul we cannot see, in some lives so warped and damaged by death even the smallest act of love and faith mean more of salvation then any greatest evidence of holiness in a saint, and the healing and uncloaking of that will reveal the light forward, freed from torment to embrace the truth, love and life they longed for but were unable to fully understand but is there with them.

          Others will find His revealing blinding (even professing Christians) as they know Him, others, creations and their true selves fully, with sight, mind and being healed and all illusions and ability to hide in the darkness banished. It will be a time at first of sorrow at love betrayed as St Issac saw, but that very clarity brings healing and freedom to respond in repentance. The same that comes to us now, a moment in His Presence, or our failure over another, and so in His Presence, like St Peter or Isaiah we understand the damage of ourselves, our sinfulness, our falseness and drift from our true nature, our slavery, as with them we might initially wish to hide but His Presence and fire heals and brings us to ourselves and embracing Him, by freeing us, as with St Paul, there we see a glimpse of this encounter with Love and Truth in it’s fulness freeing Him from his destruction and enslavement when more gentle reaches could not. It happens to us all at many different times, most times we can be lost and unable to see it, but as a physician first slowly tries a milder approach with a patient if they continue more down a destructive path, now lost in insane delirium a more direct path (as already with St Paul) is required to free them. As there and even more so, being so freed (as hopefully by understanding and engaging now we might already be on the path to) that clarity and unity of being will lead to sorrow zt love betrayed, the works they invested in were illusions and nothing, in that blinding, burning glory of love they will know His love, the love and connections to all, leading at first to a wish to hide but they will know Him as their Lord and Life, everyone as their brothers and sisters, their own selves and true riches. That love, clarity and freedom will be sorrow to repentance, reconciliation and healing of all hurts, freedom, justice and love. All will become Christians, all shall knell and declare Him Lord, and as St Paul reminds us in Romans this can only be by the work of the Holy Spirit and to salvation. And then Christ once He has thus subdued all things to Himself will hand over the Kingdom to the Father and God will be all in all, death will be destroyed, no more, anywhere. And since it us defeated ut can hold nobody ever, Hades is harrowed and despoiled, thus there is no moment of death when it can claim soneone and say, after this Chrisr can’t gave them, they can’t come to Him now. It has no such power or hold anymore, death where is you sting, grave where is your victory? All gone, defeated by Our Lord, and it will vanish everywhere, all creation freed in joy and unlimited life into the dymanic and infinite dance of love in the Trinity, where there shall be no more tears, no more weeping or pain, the old things will pass away. And all will willingly and freely come, turn to and embrace Christ, so rejoice in His victory.

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          • Grant says:

            A quick though to your last reply, if you know Christ is true why would you embrace death, that makes no sense to me. It’s one thing to struggle with it, but to jump into pain and destruction, even knowing it will be healed later makes ut harder in yourself, now and later. It’s like someone ill, deliberately trying to aggravate their illness and causing themselves pain because they know they will eventually get well. Why not now, and with these motivations, where you a driven by terror, or a need for there to be a loss for others it makes a mockery of every act of love and faith. Under such conditions it can never by fully free or geninue, it is always done with fear and selfishness that cannot save, it is not livr that casts out fear, but serma a for of darkness and keeping under the bondage of death, there us no freedom and full love there. Why stay in such places of bondage and lavk of lovr, why don’t embrace the freedom He calls you to and find your joy and love in it. Do you enter and have relationships of love on the basis that both you and they need a gun to your head to do it, or do you love your loved ones for themselves and because of them and love? And us not your life and existence more full because of this without threats making you love them, is it not fuller and freer with that? Would you abandon that and go to an empty life because no one is holding a gun to you forcing you to love them? That wouldn’t even by real love, and clearly not so, so why would you depart from live and fuller freedom and life, even if you thought you would get back there. Why give up your real riches for nothing and a damaged and joyless life, to face the sorrow of monents lost, illusions and falsities and your works of nothing burnt and faded in His clarity, to come and see they joy already could have been a part of. Seeing Him, knowing Him and your own self more truly, why would you evrn want to turn away, wht enslave yourself if you have come to see this, ir sounds like insanity.

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          • Grant says:

            Sorry wrote that on my tablet, lead to a few odd tpyos, hopefully people can read through it 🙂

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        • Stuart Broomfield says:

          “If literally everyone will ultimately be saved (no matter what one’s beliefs or actions during one’s life, or whether one repents before or at the moment of death), then what finally is the point of being a Christian?”

          3 kids are fighting with their parents. They run away and spend the day sulking in the nearby woods. As the day drags on they are getting colder, hungrier and inwardly longing for the comfort of home, nevertheless they are also stubborn. By supper time one of the children decides to head back home, along the way it suddenly dawns on him that eventually all of them were going to head home anyway – so at this point should he turn around and re-join his stubborn siblings? after all what’s the point in going home now if everyone is going to end up doing the same thing?

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        • TJF says:

          Dennis,

          It seems like you are willfully trying to not understand. NOT A SINGLE PERSON here has said that there is nothing to fear in universalism. Hell still exists and it is terrifying, just finite. It will end once you are purified of your evil. Saul of Tarsus was the chief of all sinners persecuting the Church, then through God’s grace he became Paul. Such will happen to Hitler, Judas, abortionists, all of them. They (as well as you and I) will burn, we will pay the last farthing. And yes fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom, but not the end. In the end perfect love drives out fear (as it says in 1 John).

          Second, why should you believe Christianity or be Christian? The one and only reason you should ever believe anything or even can believe anything is because you think it is true. It’s impossible to believe something you don’t think is true. You can be confused or not sure, but you can’t believe something you know to be false. So you should be a Christian because you think it’s true. And you should love God and his children out of love, not fear.

          If you don’t understand this, I’m not going to reply anymore.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DennisW says:

            I’m not willfully misunderstanding anything. So, you’ve confirmed that basically Universalism converts Hell into Purgatory (a nice way for a certain segment of Orthodox to still claim Catholics are wrong about Purgatory, but to sneak it in by the back door). Good, got that.

            I also believe Christianity to be true, but if Universalism is also true, it makes a mockery and nonsense of Christianity. I still have not seen a coherent argument for why one should simultaneously believe Christianity to be the Truth, yet also believe that all (Christian or not), without exception (no matter what one did or believed one’s life, whether one repents or not), not only might be saved, but in fact will be.

            And you again condescend to the trope that those who deny Universalism are simply purveyors of fear rather than love. As I said above, it’s the Universalists who fear the prospect of eternal damnation for anyone so much that they are driven to deny it, even as a possibility. Universalism is an easy way to inoculate oneself against the fear of damnation. The prospect is simply denied; problem solved.

            Like

    • Ed LaBonte says:

      I believe he said it was arrogant, or pompous, or insane. But the question is, is it right?

      Like

  2. Tom says:

    I am that ‘gnomic’ someone who was suspicious of your use of the notion. I couldn’t make out from the book precisely how you imagine the gnomic will to figure into that postmortem movement of the mind in surrendering itself to God, but I’m grateful for the clarification.

    Cheers,
    Tom

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      I’m still ‘slightly’ suspicious.

      We all must make our way gnomically, and that aspect of the will’s exercise isn’t simply dismissible, as you agree. Yet Christ knew no gnomic exercise of his will.

      If the gnomic will is the God-given terms in which human being must achieve a final perfection, wouldn’t Christ need to take that journey in those terms? But you emphasize in the book that Christ had no gnomic will. So am I right in supposing that you view the gnomic will not as the God-given terms in which human nature much achieve its final union with God but only as the necessary means in which ‘fallen humanity’ must makes it journey? Hence, the gnomic will is a kind of corruption or privation. No? It does seem puzzling, in that case, that the gnomic must have so essential a role – or any role at all.

      Forgive me slow comprehension.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Maximus says:

    Dr. Hart, thank you for this. It is very likely that I’m one of those Christians who has failed to understand your argument fully. Whether that’s the reason I remain unconvinced, I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m too enthralled by Tradition. But it’s the freedom thing where I’m stuck. So, my query pertains mainly to your first paragraph. To me, it seems your system bears great resemblance to monergistic Calvinism, only this time, God decrees a single predestination of all unto salvation. Human beings are thus hard wired to eventually choose God (the Good), not only with their natural will but also with their gnomic will. They can’t not eventually choose God. They eventually *must* gnomically concede to His salvific invitations.

    How then can such human “relationship” with God throughout eternity be called love. It’s rather as if Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man opens the door, I will come in to him; any man who does not open the door, I will keep knocking, and eventually I will huff and puff and….” Please forgive the rhetoric, but how does such a vision, from creatio ex nihilo all the way to an irresistible final apokatastasis, result in *reciprocal* loving communion between God and man? Maybe my paradigm is just way too modern, and perhaps I’ve failed to understand something, but my intuitions—admittedly less than sanctified—tell me that this view promotes less than true human freedom.

    Like

    • Bob Sacamano says:

      I agree that much of this hinges on one’s definition of true freedom.

      We were made by God for God, without Him consulting us or securing our consent ahead of time. We did not choose our way into existence, and we cannot choose our way out of it, and we cannot choose our own (ultimate) ends.

      I suppose one either receives this “given-ess” of being as a blessing or as a curse. As heaven or hell, even.

      Like

      • Maximus says:

        Bob, if apokatastasis were true, I certainly wouldn’t see it as a curse. It would just amount to a much different world than the one we inhabit. In this world, reciprocal love seems to require a different sort of freedom. I agree, God didn’t need our consent to lovingly create us for Himself. But it seems He does need our consent, our loving consent, for a true union of love to be restored. A relational union without consent of the beloved is not a union based in freedom or in reciprocal love.

        Like

    • DBH says:

      Read the book. Three times. Buy three copies, in fact. And try to understand what freedom would have to be really free.

      Liked by 6 people

      • So long as the obscene wealth you are assured by the voluminous sales of the book are put to good use (perhaps by purchasing the least ostentatious private jet possible, or the Baltimore Orioles ), I wholeheartedly agree with your insistence that readers purchase reckless quantities of your book. In all seriousness though, I have a few Calvinist friends that I haven’t pissed off recently, so I’m duty bound to purchase a few copies to fulfill my obligation to my own perverse brand of friendship

        Liked by 2 people

      • Maximus says:

        Dr. Hart, thanks for the reply. I do plan to buy the book and read it. For you, sir, are both a rhetoric genius and, if I may say, a metaphysical ninja, currently unparalleled. I do pray you are (and I’m confident you are) humble enough to hear critiques of your book (e.g. Douglas Farrow’s judicious review, especially re: determinism), even from a nobody like me. Many years to you!!

        Like

    • Thomas says:

      Freedom doesn’t choose the ultimate end, but the proximate means. All human choosing involves a judgment that something is better for some reason. This “being better for some reason” is a necessary constituent of choice. So we choose insofar as something is good.

      But goods are ordered to each other in various ways. Some things are purely instrumental (we choose them for the sake of something else), some things are partly instrumental and partly chosen for themselves, and finally Something is not instrumental in any way, and is valuable simply of itself. That, of course, is the ultimate good.

      The question of freedom gets muddied because people have defined freedom as the freedom to perform good or evil actions. But freedom is possible because there are multiple means, instruments to the good, and because we can understand these different routes, we are not bound to any one of them. Each of them is the possible object of the judgment “this is worth doing.”

      As a byproduct, this entails, at least under certain conditions, the possibility of sin. Freedom entails that we are not determined to one or the other course of action. But freedom is not defined in terms of the possibility of sin. The possibility of sin is an accident that “falls out” of the autonomy necessary to freedom.

      This possibility of sin is also something that can be overcome: as one develops and grows in virtue, one comes to understand that the good is not constituted by pleasure or pain, wanting or desiring, but is grasped by the understanding and judged valuable. We learn to distinguish ends from means, and order goods toward a fuller life. Thus, in heaven, it is not an impediment or a lack of freedom to say that moral evil is impossible–but this, as St. Irenaeus would remind us, happens through educational process we call history.

      But it is the concrete conditions of this development of the person and the ways in which it can go–perhaps permanently–awry that many universalists tend to overlook. The general fact that the good is the formal principle of the will is not enough. If one can enter a “cycle of progress” that becomes so constitutive of one’s person that one cannot go back, one can also enter a self-reinforcing cycle of decline that may be similarly constitutive of one’s person, and is, some would argue, irreversible.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Maximus says:

        Thomas, this was a enlightening comment for me. Helped me tremendously. Thanks.

        Like

      • Ed says:

        Thomas,
        You’ve made some excellent points concerning freedom of choice and its relationship to the good.. Nevertheless, I wonder if there is not some sort of asymmetry with regard to a “cycle of progress” versus a “cycle of regress.” When St. Augustine states that “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee,” he implies that the heart that has found God ceases its motion; whereas, the heart that has not found Him continues to move. It continues because it has not yet reached God, Who is its proper end. Hence, one could argue, if the motion is allowed to continue, it would eventually come to its end, which is union with God.

        Like

  4. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    For me, the vexing questions surround the mechanisms by which the fall occurred and by which an experienced evil can be redeemed. As a convinced universalist, I believe that there are no irredeemable evils; however, if someone were to ask me how the evil of a child born with anencephaly is redeemed, all I can do is point a finger at omnipotence and suppose that a big enough good following an evil suffices to call it redeemed. Still, even accepting that by some unknown process all evil can be redeemed, I do not know how to account for its ‘existence’ if I am to assume that it is entirely useless and avoidable.

    The crux of this post to me is this: “There may logically be such a thing as an evil that is redeemed in the greater good toward which it leads; there is no such thing as an unredeemed evil that does not reduce the good toward which it might lead to a mere relative value. In the former case, it is logically possible that evil may be non-necessary in the ultimate sense, but may necessarily be possible in the provisional sense. In the latter case, evil figures as a necessary aspect of the eternal identity of whatever reality it helps bring about.” It seems to me to be arguing that a redeemed evil is one that is made to serve a purpose in the achieving of a good which subsumes and transforms it, and further that a redeemed evil may perhaps logically be akin to a good in the final accounting. Thus, a redeemed evil does not diminish the good, but an unredeemed evil is pure waste which must count as a mark against whatever system brought it about. One thing that I wonder though, is that given the fact that creatures will never be actually infinite in their temporal duration, is not even a single second of evil something that reduces the relative value of the total goodness of that creature’s existence? When we say that something is redeemed in a greater good, do we mean something more radical than that the good is so much bigger that the evil becomes a blip?

    Still, it seems to me like a creation with all good is superior to one with redeemed evils, even if redeemed evils are somehow deemed good in the end. Would it not be better to build a house without it falling apart in the middle, even if you can find a way to incorporate each fallen beam into a bigger and better house? So why would God create a fallen cosmos purposefully or by chance?

    The fall itself is still something for which I have no answer. I have not done my reading yet on the idea of the gnomic will, but I’m going to guess at the outset that it somehow figures into things. if ” It is precisely the conformation of the gnomic will to the natural that is the process of salvation.” then I suppose that it was some sort of bifurcation that constituted the fall.

    Apologies if that was a bit jumbled. I’m typing some quick thoughts while at work because I want to get in on the action early this time. Any comments on any part of what I wrote will be appreciated.

    Like

    • Tom Talbott says:

      Hi Matthew,

      You wrote, “The fall itself is still something for which I have no answer.”

      I’m wondering what you might think of the way in which Irenaeus accounted for the first human sin. As he understood it, Adam’s initial sin arose in the first place precisely because, like every other child, he first emerged and began making choices in a morally immature state. Iranaeus even went so far as to suggest that, when compared to the guardians of this world, namely the angels, Adam had a distinct disadvantage. For whereas the angels “were in their full development,” Adam “was a little one; … he was a child and had need to grow so as to come to his full perfection.” The serpent, Iranaeus declared, thus had little trouble in deceiving him: “the man was a little one, and his discretion still undeveloped, wherefore also he was easily misled by the deceiver” (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Ch. 12—my emphasis). As Irenaeus understood the first human sin, then, it was virtually an inevitable consequence of the unperfected condition in which our first parents initially emerged and started making choices. They may have started out as innocently as any other child— “their thoughts were innocent and childlike” (Ch. 14)—but, like every other child, they made their first moral choices in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception, a context in which their judgment was already clouded and they had no clear idea of what they were doing. Their decision to eat the forbidden fruit, in other words, was no more a perfectly free choice, however causally undetermined it may have been, than the disobedient choices of a typical two year old are perfectly free.

      This account is, of course, very different from (and in my opinion much better than) the Augustinian account with its absurd implication that, because of their inherited guilt, even unbaptized babies deserve to be separated from God forever.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        Hi Dr Talbott, I think that this approach to the first human sin makes some sense, but it feels like it creates as many questions as it answers. Let me start with 2 so that there’s a slightly focused direction for you or whoever else may wish to comment.

        1. The very presence of a deceiver implies that the created order had already fallen in at least some crucial ways. I think that the fall of humanity makes a fair amount of sense with a fallen creation as a backdrop, but this seems merely to push the mystery of the fall back a level. Why angels in their full development (which I presume to imply a perfected state) would choose to rebel appears to my mind as an impenetrable mystery. It seems to me that a perfected being, fundamentally ordered towards the good, could not fall. To fall would imply that you were already less than whole.

        2. I take the doctrine of the fall to be paramount to any discussion of theodicy because it must be intricately linked to why evil has any ‘presence’ in creation. If the fall was not necessary (at least as a mere possibility), or somehow preferable to a cosmos without a fall-redemption arc, then what could possibly explain its occurrence within the scope of divine providence?

        Every time I go to type something I realize how varied, multitudinous, and complex the questions are which surround these topics. It’s quite difficult to say something focused and coherent so I have to applaud those who manage to pull it off here, such as yourself.

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        • Tom Talbott says:

          Thanks for your thoughtful response, Matthew. I think it was exceedingly well “focused and coherent,” by the way, despite the complexities surrounding these topics, as you have noted.

          In any case, the idea that our first parents came into being with the same imperfections and egocentric dispositions common to human beings in general seems to me no more philosophically problematic than the idea that an inherited sinful nature was God’s supposedly just punishment of the human race as a whole for the sin of Adam and Eve. The idea that all humans beings, including Adam and Eve, begin life with the same imperfections and egocentric dispositions also seems to accord very well with Paul’s magnificent vision of creation in two stages. As I have expressed this vision elsewhere:

          “The first Adam, according to Paul, ‘was from the earth, a man of dust’ and ‘became a living being’; the second was not from the earth, but ‘from heaven’ and ‘became a life-giving spirit’ (1 Cor. 15:45 & 47). The first Adam thus represents the first stage in the creation of God’s children: the emergence of individual human consciousness in a context of ambiguity, illusion, sin, and death; the second Adam, or Jesus Christ, represents the second stage: the divine power that successfully overcomes all sin and death and therefore all separation from God, so that the true Sons and Daughters, or the true creations of God, can emerge” (see Parry and Partridge, Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, p. 18).

          Paul also made the following statement: “As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust” (1 Cor.15:48), and this at least suggests that Adam and his descendants (“those who are of the dust”) all come into being in the same context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception and with similar dispositions and propensities. The Psalmist thus declared that the Lord “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Why not? Because “he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:10 & 14).

          Anyway, I find this vision of creation in two stages exceedingly suggestive. God must first bring us into being as immature rational agents; then, once we are independent of God’s direct causal control and our incipient rationality begins functioning on its own, God can relate to us not merely as the Creator who designed us and certainly not as a manipulative agent who controls all of our desires, beliefs, and judgments, but as a loving parent who works with us, guides us, and corrects us even as he permits us to learn valuable lessons from experience and from the consequences of our own actions.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            If I may interject – I am of the opinion that the first-willed evil (angelic, human) has no rational explanation, no coherent cause that is comprehendible. I believe this to be the case because as a privation it is neither created nor has proper existence and being. I see the first-willed evil as a given datum.

            Like

          • Tom Talbott says:

            Thanks for sharing your perspective, Robert. Here is what worries me at this point. If a given act of human disobedience, whether it be the first one or not, “has no rational explanation” and “no coherent cause that is comprehendible,” as you suggest in your post, then why suppose that some person is morally responsible for it?

            One thing that attracts me to Irenaeus’s account is how well it comports with both the actual story of Adam and Eve, as recorded in Genesis, and the New Testament commentary on it. So far as I can tell, not one word in the Christian Scriptures implies that our first parents were any less disposed to act in misguided and self-centered ways than other human children are. Were not Adam and Eve subject to the same ambiguities, the same ignorance, and even the same delusions to which the rest of us are subject as well? Like the rest of us who enter this earthly life as newborn babies, they came into being with no clear understanding of good and evil. So what could it possibly mean, I would ask, to say that someone with no clear understanding of good and evil was nonetheless created morally upright? And what might it mean to say that such a person had a clear understanding of who God is, or to declare, as the Canons of Dort do, that Adam had “a true and saving knowledge of his Creator”? In the Genesis account, Adam and Eve certainly knew that some authority (a kind of parental figure, if you will) had commanded them not to eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden; but like the children they were in all but appearance, they also confronted this command without any understanding of why they were required to obey it or why the command had been issued in the first place. It is as if God had simply told them, as loving parents sometimes do with immature children and in an effort to protect them from danger: “You must obey this command because I said so!” And like the children they were in all but appearance, their eyes were opened to their own imperfections or sinful propensities (the symbol for which in the story is their nakedness) only after their emerging wills had already mired them in an act of disobedience.

            I therefore find it no more surprising that Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception in which they first emerged as individual centers of consciousness than I find it surprising that other children should occasionally disobey their parents in a similar context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception in which they also emerge as individual centers of consciousness.

            Thanks again for your response.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Dr Talbott thank you for your time and thoughts.

            Allow me to clarify – I am referring specifically to the incomprehensibility of a causal explanation for the first willed evil; that we look in vain to provide a rational account for its cause, for a will which wills evil is without efficient cause. As such then it is a fact we are given, a datum which cannot be explained as to what caused it. We can detail its immediate circumstances, motivation (i.e. rebellion, pride, lust, etc.) but such do not explain its cause. As agency is not in question, neither is moral culpability. I hope that clarifies.

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  5. David Artman says:

    I take Dr. Hart to be doing the work of someone in the academy to present a clear argument. I, for one, appreciate his thorough clarity. I believe his argument will fundamentally change the debate on Christian Universalism. He has given us what seems to me to be the strongest reasoning to date the salvation of all.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    Dr. Hart,

    How do you resolve the prima facie tension between saying that evil is non-necessary, that it is utterly irrational, and that it is nonetheless a feature of creation? It seems that non-necessity implies that a reason must be given to justify evil. I am having trouble seeing how to argue neither that evil serves some purpose, nor that it’s possibility is unavoidable. Can the wiping away of tears be the thing that explains the permission of a world of sorrows?

    Like

    • DBH says:

      To say that the possibility of a thing may be necessary is not to deny that its actuality may be contingent. Simple modal logic. It is also not to deny that something contingent can be made to serve a necessary end.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Exactly right. This is Tom’s hang-up about the function of the gnomic will in salvation.

        Like

        • Tom says:

          I’ll have to disagree with you there Robert.

          My ‘hang-up’ about the function of the gnomic will has nothing to do with questioning the necessity of God as our final end – qua final end. It only has to do with the nature of the transition of the will’s gnomic disposition into its final rest in God as its end (and thus the cessation of any gnomic indeterminateness with respect to the good). That final rest is secured (guaranteed, brought about) ‘in its actuality’ by the ‘gnomic’ surrender of the will. David’s response to this in his piece agrees, so far as I can tell.

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom, God as our final end never was in question and neither I nor DBH are specifically referring to that immediately above.

            you wrote, ” 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 read you to mean that your question was much like Matthew’s above – how something fallen (the gnomic will) can function as a necessary means to our salvation. To this DBH is responding and I thought it applied to your inquiry as well. But looks like I misread you.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Thanks Robert. I wasn’t assuming the ‘fallen’ status of gnome. I was wondering whether Dr. Hart took it as per se fallen or as the (good, albeit temporary) God-given terms in which we must make our way into union with God. I take it as a necessity for that movement (to be transcended in theosis of course) and so not as a per se corruption of nature (however under the influence of sin presently). Sometimes Dr. Hart seems to acknowledge the gnomic will in this positive sense, but I may again be misunderstanding him. Hence my earlier comment/question.

            It’s important because – well, if gnome is a corruption of nature due to the fall, by all means, let God remove it. Without it we can go ahead and surrender to God without gnome getting in the way. But if it is the God-given necessary terms in which we surrender, then it can’t be simply be done away with. It must cease to be through its own exercise.

            I was just wondering what Hart’s take on this way. I guess I’m still wondering.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Thanks for the clarification, Tom.

            I see the gnomic will’s proper end as transformed, healed, completed (and this made possible by Christ), but not removed or annihilated. Its healing consists of the restless, wavering, disordered deliberation finding its rest in its first and final cause.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            But you view the gnomic will ‘per se’ as a corruption, a privation, something we need to be ‘healed of’, and not as the God-given terms in terms in which humanity could only ever have realized union with God (a ‘good’, albeit temporary – but necessary for the movement nonetheless).

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom, I don’t see the human natural will per se as sinful or fallen in itself, but by reason of its misuse by way of gnomic deliberation, when and only when it wills against God, it is corrupted. On my reading of Maximus, only when the gnomic will opposes the divine will does it move against its human nature (or, the logos of its nature as Maximus would put it). Our gnomic will then can also will in accordance with its logos, when it wills what God wills. But not so for Christ, he never wills in conflict with his nature and therefore his will is purely natural and not at all gnomic.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            “Terms” twice typo! Ugh.

            Like

      • It must be the nerd in me, but DBH put it in the best possible way just then. Love me some metaphysical categories like potentiality, actuality, possibility, necessity and contingency. Things suddenly came together for me

        Like

      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        I may be simply dense here, but what I’m still not seeing is what is wrong with the the following reasoning:

        1. Evil is utterly irrational, serving no purpose in itself
        2. Evil is an entirely unnecessary feature of creation (God does not need it to achieve any desired ends.
        3. God cannot will or cause evil
        4. To wager the possibility of some evil as a consequence of an action is morally to have done it because the “wager is an irrevocable intentional decision, wherein every possible cost has already been accepted” (God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral meaning of Creatio Ex Nihilo, DBH).
        5. God cannot act immorally
        6. Therefore God cannot will or cause evil as an actuality or a mere possibility
        7. Therefore God could not will or cause the world we inhabit

        Relatedly:

        8. God created a world in which evil is a feature
        9. God could have created a world in which evil was not a possibility and which still would have achieved his desired ends
        10. God is supremely rational
        11. Therefore there is some reason that God created or allowed evil
        12. Therefore evil is not an inexplicable/irrational part of creation

        I feel like something is off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Premises 2 and 4 and 9 are where you have gone astray.

          As to 2 and 9, Evil is not modally necessary, but the possibility of evil is, perhaps, for certain ends.

          As to 4, The force of the argument is not that God can make no room for the possibility of evil, but that God cannot make room for an ultimate irrecuperable loss without thereby accepting a certain quantum of irrevocable evil as the price of creating.

          Again, you are is confusing two different questions. The question of whether it was all worth it, once all things are restored, is one of evaluation. The question of whether some degree of ultimate unredeemed evil is the price of creation is the question of what God is willing to sacrifice irrevocably to accomplish his ends in creation and whether then those ends could ever be good in any non-relative sense. Both questions deserve to be asked. But they aren’t the same question. Even if they are analogous, they are only disjunctively so. A transient suffering that will be swallowed up in a glory yet to be revealed is not the same as an eternal suffering that remains outside that glory forever. Only the latter would have to be accounted part of God’s ultimate intention. Remember, the issue is the eschatological meaning of creation.

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        Am I correct in inferring from this that God could not guarantee that no evil would infect his creation, and that it is by virtue of it being transformed into something that serves God’s ultimate purposes that its allowance is justified? What I am trying to rule out is the idea that God could have created a world that was guaranteed both to exclude evil and include its beatitude, yet decided to create this one. If evil detracts from creation and was avoidable, then why did the omnipotent not avoid it?

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  7. seeking99 says:

    DBH,

    Thank you for writing the book. This is a bit off topic, but one point in the book that bothered me was this line in the middle of the Introduction:

    “Others will argue that universalism was decisively condemned as heretical by the fifth Ecumenical Council (it was not).”

    This is the only time the word “council” appears in the entire book, and it bothered me that this claim was put forward but never defended. This is surely one of the reasons why people would discount universal salvation in the first place, and left undefended, I worry that many will simply ignore whatever else the book has to say on the topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew says:

      I share the same concern. It is a joy to read a book that so thoroughly comforts the tormented conscience. It is satisfying to feel, even through the printed page, that one is not alone. However this relief, of such great personal significance to the individual so troubled, will not necessarily harmonize with the experience he or she feels in the narthex, at a Pastor or Priest’s potluck or even in the those quiet moments in Church waiting for a service to begin when it becomes clear that those around you will not sacrifice what their consciences are telling them is true to make way for what you know must be true.

      No amount of “to hell with all those who can’t see it, I’m standing my ground” really resolves the tension, unfortunately. Truly the trouble is that technically speaking, universalism was not condemned at the 5th Ecumenical Council. It was condemned beforehand at a different council which was not granted authoritative status. No matter. The one which was granted authoritative status condemned it in spirit and THAT is the issue.

      Does anyone really think that a council which was called for the sole purpose of condemning a saintly man who lived over a hundred years prior was anything but opposed in spirit to the idea that all would eventually be saved (including of course the one who the council was busy condemning)?

      Like

      • Andrew says:

        Thank you Dr. Hart, for your book and for the reference. Although the problem overlaps with the non-authoritative, extra conciliar condemnation of Origen/Universalism, I am actually referring to the case of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It was he who was the principle target of the 5th Ecumenical Council. He was also, of course, a “pillar” of 4th century, ecumenical, universalist theology. I believe it was his condemnation more than Origen’s which snuffed out the universal hope of the Gospel in the Roman realm and I am foolish enough to say that St Isaac would probably agree. As a matter of fact, the canons of the 5th council anathematized anyone who sympathized with Theodore. Among these would of course be Isaac.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Andrew, your thesis that it was Constantinople II’s condemnation of Theodore of Mopsuestia that “snuffed out the universal hope in the Roman realm” is interesting, but I’m unaware of any historical support for it. The convening of the council was explicitly convened to condemn his christological convictions, as evidenced by the Emperor Justinian’s letter to the bishops. The acts of the council do not reveal any discussion about his eschatology.

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          • Andrew says:

            Hello Fr. Aidan. The scholarly consensus is unassailable as far as the condemnation of universalism preceding Constantinople II is concerned. I think we might be applying this knowledge in an anachronistic way to the 6th century though. I just dont see how this scholarly advancement in itself gives those who adhere to universalism in our time a clean bill of health so to speak. If someone feels this way and can finally embrace a loving God through this knowledge then I am glad for it. I cant because it appears to me to completely miss the forest for the trees. Let me stumble through what I mean.

            Constantinople II did not address eschatology. However, more than any other previous council it enshrined the theological convictions of the emperor, in this case his Christological convictions over against Theodore’s. Previous Ecumenical Councils were called by the emperor in response to a trouble which did not originate directly with their rule generally speaking. The emperor acted as an august moderator of the dispute at hand and largely respected the role of the bishops to formulate the faith. The bishops for their part respected the prerogatives of the emperor (the ‘Vicar of Christ’ as the Emperors understood their role). The 5th council was the initiative of Justinian from the start. It was completely unnecessary from a theological view. It solely concerned his vision for the unity of the imperial Church and it was carried through to its conclusion by his deposing and exiling bishops, imprisioning and torturing them, until he gathered a council which was completely submissive to his will.

            The result was not so much a handful of canons and frightening (and deeply troubling) anathemas which, it is true, don’t pertain to eschatology. The true legacy is the enshrinement and the hallowing of the Emperor’s theological convictions in the heart of the Church you might say as obligatory for all Christians.

            Having set this context my point is this. We might parse Justinian’s Christological convictions from his eschatological ones. I am very doubtful that any leaders of the Church in his age did, unless of course they wanted to be exiled or deposed.

            Nothing substantially changed for 1500 years. And this is our legacy both East and West although the paths wind so far apart. Anton Kartashev, the Russian Church historian, compared Justinian’s control of the Church to Peter the Great’s control of the Russian Church. Very telling i think.

            Modern scholars also assure us of Gregory of Nyssa’s thought regarding the question of universal salvation. However, prior to the 20th century it is my understanding that this was a highly controversial question, (including of course in Orthodox seminaries in the old country) however stupid this may seem to us now. We might remember that in the same century that St Gregory was proclaimed as the “father of fathers” at the 7th Ecumenical Council, St Germanos of Constantinople was writing that all the passages in Gregorys writings advancing universalism were forgeries. We might take this view of St Germanos’ be colosally, willfully ignorant especially of someone so cultured. Its actually typical of his age and indeed of the whole of the middles ages and the early modern era.

            We might ask ourselves how such how such an understanding of St Gregory’s thought became accepted in the Church and why it persisted for so long. I maintain that an answer relates directly to the unwritten legacy of Constantinople II.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Robertson Gramling says:

    Dr. Hart, in the event that you check the comment section once more, I wanted to ask you a question regarding Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, that glorious film you reviewed so well. What do you ultimately make of Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt’s character? On the one hand I find him expressing something bordering upon saintliness at various times in the movie. When he presses to see George, for instance, it’s a moment when you’re desperately wanting him to drop it. It’s a Tarantino movie, after all, and you can’t rule out a sudden death. But when he makes it to that room and shows him such care, it all becomes so poignant: here is true courage—courage in the service of love. All that danger simply to insure a friend he hadn’t seen in 5 years was alright. And you’ve almost got to be ashamed of yourself that you wanted him to let it go. In light of this, and his general devotion to Ray, the business about him maybe having killed his wife is so…unfitting—it feels more like a sort of token capitulation to the demand to have “complicated” characters. There is something roguish about him to be sure, but nothing like killing one’s wifes. Sorry I know this is laughably off topic, but I meant to ask you this at the conference only to end up getting too side tracked on the much lesser pressing matter of soteriology and the Trinity.

    Like

  9. TJF says:

    If you are reading this Dr. Hart, can you explain how you think it is that the angelic fall happened since they were presumably able to have a clearer vision of the Good? Was this vision still not yet perfect? Why exactly is this age in thrall to Archons, powers, etc.

    If not can someone else try to clarify this issue with me?

    This is the counterargument I saw in this review:

    https://derekzrishmawy.com/tag/that-all-shall-be-saved/

    Like

    • TJF says:

      I just saw that you briefly covered this on pg. 39 of your book. My apologies. I will have to buy at least 3 nay 4 more copies of your book and take better notes.

      Like

    • DBH says:

      Obviously, if there was an angelic fall then there could not have been a perfect and direct intuition of the Good in itself on the part of those angels.

      Don’t confuse later, mediaeval angelology—which is irreconcilable with the angelology of the early centuries of the Church, as well as that of late antique Judaism— for anything other than empty speculation.

      Like

  10. Manoj says:

    I enthusiastically agree that Christian universalism is vastly more coherent than Christian infernalism, which is nothing but diabolism. However, there are still some questions that need answering before I can view universalism as fully coherent in itself.

    Suppose the day comes where humanity is redeemed and enters intimate, ever-increasing union with God (i.e. Heaven). What’s preventing humanity — or certain of its members — from falling again, and generating a whole new history of sin, death, and decay — one that in turn will stand in need of redemption? Human beings will always have free will, and God will never coerce anyone, so what will be different the second time around in humanity’s heavenly state? Indeed – assuming universalism is true – a fall seems likely as billions will be in Heaven. What’ll be different about this second state of things that wasn’t there before the Fall that prevents yet another Fall? What will prevent a perpetual cycle of Fall and Redemption? To my mind, such a perpetual cycle would be in itself a Hell.

    On the other hand, if there is something new the second time around, why couldn’t that thing have been present from the get-go? Why wasn’t the light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness so blazing and irresistible so as to render a fall of any kind completely unthinkable? Does this show that God required a deficiency (i.e. a Fall) to realize a good end? Questions abound, and coherence is elusive.

    [Although loathe to bring them up, I recently read a Reformed Protestant theologian (D.A. Carson) for whom libertarian freedom in creatures was an intolerable idea, precisely because he thought it meant giving up on divine providence, insofar as creation could potentially thwart God’s plans forever.]

    I hope Dr. Hart’s book addresses this, or at least provides a start to an answer. Honestly, I desperately want Christianity to be true, and I want to feel it to be coherent at a bone-deep level, but in spite of all the iron clad arguments for philosophical theism and the very suggestive evidence for the reality of Christ’s resurrection, this long-term doubt has made me hesitant to identify as Christian.

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    • DBH says:

      Somehow I think we can take it for granted that souls that have progressed to deifying union with God are beyond that danger. God is not an object who, in being truly known to the rational will, can become boring. It’s not a serious issue. As Augustine says, the spirit finally joined to its true end non potest peccare.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        By the way, none of the significant universalists of eld suggested salvation was a simple return to the same state that preceded the fall.

        Like

  11. Chase says:

    “In order to reject it, one must also reject one or another crucial tenet of the faith.” I think this is the crux of the matter. What he says are crucial tenets of the faith are not actually all that agreed upon, even in the Orthodox community, and he remains in the minority with some of them, particularly in his Beauty of the Infinite which despite its literary accomplishment, obfuscates and does the equivalent of a few sleighs of hand to force the conclusions he wishes and develops further here. His esoteric translation of the NT and frank dismissmal of a lot of the OT is also notable and yet essential to his argument in the present book.

    In a simplified form, his argument works, but it is how interprets, or even how he chooses, what the “crucial tenets” are which make me unable to assent to his conclusion.

    In my better moments, I pray that universal salvation is true and hold out hope for that, but it remains only that: a hope. His “rational” demands of God here border on blasphemy, and the glee he seems to take in it equally so, such that I truly hope his heart is in the right place here. In the end, I am personally left with the image of God in the whirlwind before Job, and that image always cautions me to approach these issues with a sense of gravity and humility, and to approach my intellectual interlocutors with grace and mercy when our hearts are sincerely contemplating these difficult questions. Dr. Hart seems to lack this approach, right or wrong.

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    • DBH says:

      Chase

      A lot of empty assertions there. A few details would be appreciated. Obfuscations, dismissals of the OT…?

      But don’t bother—I think it’s clear that you have no specifics in mind.

      The tenets that would have to be rejected are in fact fairly central to Christian orthodoxy. You really ought to read the book before discussing it.

      Like

      • Thomas says:

        From the perspective of, say, St. Thomas Aquinas, it’s hard to view Patristic angelology as more than a half-step beyond mythological materialism. Hippolytus, for instance, thought angels were made out of fire. Basil was, perhaps, going in the right direction at the price of incoherence when he granted that angels were made out of fire, but that it was immaterial fire.

        The correction of this view, which we find in, for instance, pseudo-Dionysius and St. Gregory of Nyssa, is of course an advance. But it seems to happen almost by luck, and not from a systematic consideration of the relevant issues — the nature of potentiality and materiality, the fact that it is immateriality distinguishes the mental rather some spiritual confrontation (or worse, intentionality).

        It’s hard to view the advance of medieval angelology (at least in the Thomist tradition) as anything but a salutary demythologization driven by major advances in metaphysics, cognitional theory, and theological method. This is why St. Thomas was able to easily affirm that there are, in angels, both natural and supernatural knowledge, to clarify how God is known in both types, and to affirm that the sin is possible with the former but not the latter, and so on.

        Like

    • TJF says:

      Chase

      A few of the central tenets off the top of my head that most Christians and certainly all Orthodox agree on:

      1. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (i.e. is the Good as such)
      2. Creatio ex nihilo
      3. Chalcedonian christology

      Like

  12. vince says:

    “In order to be the creatures we are in being saved, we must be joined to God freely; but, in order to be the creatures we are in being saved, we must be joined to God to be free.”

    In the end, the Ground of Being, the One True God, the Origin is above irrefutable logic. I trust that the Spirit of God will draw all humanity, all creation, all being to God in salvation, but I also permit beings in their tragic stubbornness to resist Grace to an end … which is non-being … annihilation of being. This would be mercy to one who is obdurate to the end.

    I am hopeful that all will be saved, but in the end, I will let God be God.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      I’m sure that God appreciates your generosity there.

      I’ll note, however, that for God to be God he must also, so Paul tells us, be All in All. And he cannot be in anyone who has ended his or her in an embrace of nothingness.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    To Tom Belt and Robert Fortuin: You guys have been going back and forth on the natural and gnomic wills. I’m totally confused. I’d like to ask you both to briefly state what you mean by these terms. I’m not particularly concerned about what St Maximus meant, as much as what you mean. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Fine. Let me paint a target on my chest that says: “Heretic here! Burn first, ask questions later.”

      As I understand it, the terms (natural and gnomic) describe not two distinct faculties of will, but two modes of willing, one ‘natural’ and one ‘gnomic’. The will’s natural mode or aspect of willing is its God-given orientation to the good, the true, the beautiful; always there, active, shaping, and influencing as the transcendental horizon to which desire as such aims and for which it irresistibly longs.

      The gnomic mode of willing is ‘deliberative’ – pondering, weighing options, etc. God by definition cannot be ‘gnomically’ open ‘with respect to the good’. He cannot ‘deliberate’ about being loving, just, righteous, etc. But we can and do. We do so (in my view) *not* because we are fallen and sinful, but because we are finite per se. Created, finite consciousness does not begin its journey under the conditions of so sufficient a vision of the good as to make gnomic deliberation with respect to the good impossible.

      I take the gnomic mode of willing not as originally a corruption or privation of nature but as the God-given terms in which we must make our way into that final perfection of will that has ‘become’ (gnomically, historically) incapable of willing anything but God. That’s our ‘end’. But it cannot be our ‘beginning’.

      As we exercise our wills ‘gnomically’, over time, the will ‘habituates’. Mother Teresa wasn’t born the loving/caring person she later became. There might have been a time in her youth when she was unkind to poor people. Point is, as she chose – rightly but deliberatively, gnomically – the disposition of her will increasingly settled into its ‘natural’ orientation. Theosis, I take it, is where and when the will ceases its journey and finally becomes, through its exercise as gnomic, defined entirely by its natural orientation for the good.

      I do not imagine the gnomic ‘liberty of will’ to be ‘voluntarist’, that is unconditioned, in any absolute sense.

      Light me up.

      Like

      • Maximus says:

        “We do so [deliberate with respect to the good] (in my view) *not* because we are fallen and sinful, but because we are finite per se.”

        This is my view also. But it baffles me that St Maximus (later in his thought) denied such “gnomicity” to Christ’s human nature/will. Some see it as a real problem in his christology.

        Helpful explanation, Tom, thank you.

        Like

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          This is due to a serious misreading of Maximus on my view.

          The distinctive of the gnomic over against the natural will is its misuse in sinful actualization, not its finitude (nor deliberation qua deliberation – deliberation is not sinful).

          To fail to make this distinction necessitates odd soteriological moves, where salvation means liberation from limitation.

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Which I should add, if finitude is to be considered to be the distinctive mark of the gnomic, then in Christ we should see the total absence of the finite. But it is precisely the finite which he took on in the Incarnation.

            Like

          • Maximus says:

            Hmm…I tend to agree. But I don’t see anything sinful in gnome as such, as somehow inherently disorderly. Paul Blowers defines gnome:

            “Most simply put, gnomic will is free will as we rational creatures actually experience it, comprising deliberation and subsequent choice over the proper course of action toward a perceived good. Gnomic will, while morally neutral in its own right, effectively has no baseline or “original innocence” since it found itself precisely in Adam’s fall, and he fell at the instant he was created. Gnomic will is therefore volition already implicated in discerning worthy moral ends and striving to attain them. Maximus would eventually reject its presence in Christ precisely because gnome could connote vacillation and a lack of moral clarity and resolve.”

            From several other comments he’s made, I think Blowers is one of those who regrets the denial of gnome in Christ, seeing it as somewhat of a chink in St Maximus’ ontological armor.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Rather as seeing it a defect in Maximus a more tenable position is that Maximus was responding to his interlocutors’ usage of ‘gnome’ who applied it to Christ (as did Maximus in the early stages – and one does well to recall that ‘gnome’ was a very ambiguous and porous term.

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          • Tom says:

            The Paul Blowers piece and the Appendix in David Bradshaw’s post here on Fr Aidan’s site were both helpful.

            ‘Gnome’ (notes Bradshaw) was a key term the monothelites used to depict Christ’s one will, and Maximus’ polemic sought to deny this. Besides this, a main concern of Maximus in denying Christ a gnomic will (Blowers) was the concern to deny the emergence in Christ of an additional hypostasis. Since Maximus came to hold the gnomic exercise of the will to be (among other things) how individual hypostasis emerges in human beings, it followed that Christ can’t possibly be described in such terms. The identity of hypostasis is antecedent to the exercise Christ’s human will – hence the asymmetry. But it seems Bradshaw and Blowers both feel that Maximus’ polemic may have overstated the case against the monothelites regarding the nature of gnome.

            Let’s agree the exercise of the gnomic will is ‘how’ individual hypostasis emerges in us. But this only names the ‘process’ which in us carries us to hypostatic differentiation from God. Why? Because we’re born of human parents, by the will of two human beings, etc. But in a virgin born human being? Where would that same gnomic process take him (assuming that process in Christ for the moment)? It would mean the narrating, world-constructing, self-reflecting, self-identifying (gnomic) capacity of human being in Christ would not diverge from self-identifying as that unique filial relation to God (the way it does with us), because, quite literally, God is Christ’s father.

            In other words (just thinking out loud), Maximus may rightly identify gnome as the mechanism in human being that facilitates/empowers the emergence of hypostatic identity in a human being; gnomic will is unique, irreducibly particular, and unrepeatable, just what one requires. But contra Maximus, instead of denying this process in Christ, perhaps all that’s needed is to secure the end of its self-identifying in terms of one identity – that of the Son. The gnomic process in us which eventuates in an hypostatic identity ‘over-and-against God’ so to speak (as we all do and must, given that our existence is attributable to contingent human volitions that are not divine), this same gnomic process in Christ self-identifies uniquely within the divine filiation (Abba, Father), literally. Maximus was right to want to forbid the (Nestorian) emergence of an additional hypostasis in Christ, but perhaps wrong to think that the mere capacity of gnomic willing itself constitutes a ‘hypostasis’ as such, when what may be more the case is that it is the ‘end’ of the process (the emergent ‘Who’) to which that capacity is exercised that does the work, in which case Christ would ‘have’ to have this gnomic capacity by which means the divine filiation would emerge in Christ without displacement of the human so as “not to assume what he aims to save.”

            Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Fr Aidan, the gnomic will is a complex topic, so I will just have to do a very awfully meager and stunted summary here as to my take on the gnomic will.

      For starters, it is a mistake to think of the will, natural or gnomic, as something that can be separated from the rational faculty, the intellect, the soul, desire, needs, and so forth. The implication here is that when we speak of the will, we necessarily then also must take into account the other faculties which constitute human nature, and when this pertains to the gnomic will in particular, we must take into account en toto the post-lapsarian condition in its disordered state. It is then not merely a question of the will, as the will requires a person’s complete faculties.

      So that said, in my understanding based on my reading of St Maximus the best way that one can describe the gnomic will is as a sinful actualization of the human natural will. Healing of the gnomic will then constitutes its deification of the corrupted use of the will to become truly human – to freely will that which is in accordance with its proper end, the logos of its nature. For us deification is a process (perhaps endless, if we can use Gregory of Nyssa’s take on apektasis) – but Christ is not in need of deification as his human will moves always in accord with the divine will, which is to say that a gnomic will is lacking, as he cannot and does not move against the logos of his natures (which is what we mean, I think, when we affirm that Christ is fully man and fully God).

      So you see then that I don’t understand the gnomic will as something that has to be removed, but rather as in need of healing and completion. The will, together with its concomitant faculties, which was corrupted by its actualization in sinfulness shall be deified – and truly free – when it becomes fully human when at the last it wills its first and final cause. Its collective freedom will mark the completion of creation, at which time God will be All in all.

      Like

  14. Cory Banta says:

    Dr Hart

    It was a pleasure reading your book, and a comfort to find that someone else has been down the similar paths have in sensing something so nonsensical yet so strangely popular in the faith.

    As an Orthodox, however, in addition to the condemnations at the 5th council, to which you linked your article on Origen, how do you make sense of the condemnations of universalism as anathema at the Synodikon, Contra John Italus, Chapter 10?:

    “To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others”

    Thank you

    Like

  15. George Domazetis says:

    If I understand the Hart view of Universalism, it commences with the doctrine of creation from nothing, which encapsulates the end result of creation and God’s will that all would be saved. Yet the OT and NT mention the old earth removed/replaced by a new heaven and new earth. This seems to weaken or even negate the premise for Universalism – or so it seems to me.

    Like

    • TJF says:

      How so? In Hart’s argument he states that all secondary causes must be reducible to the first cause. Old earth must be replaced a new one. The old man must be replaced by the new one. You cannot put new wine into old wineskins. We must die so Christ can live within us.

      Like

      • George Domazetis says:

        I agree that the old dies, sin looses its power, and all who repent are saved in Christ. However, all of this includes the judgement from God – we are not in a position to decide on that judgement, and this aspect is included in the first cause.

        I welcome and rejoice in the hope for universal salvation, just as I do in the catholic/universal/orthodox faith. I am simply trying to add a point which I feel is central to the argument, and that is God’s judgement which is perfect, as is His goodness.

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  16. Fr Michael Azkoul says:

    Sorry but too many of their conclusions are the result of Western ways of thinking. The patristic
    phronema is lost. Your scholars, including David Bentley Hart who claims to be Orthodox. He has not the slightest understanding holy Tradition.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      Thank-you for that little spasm of unintentional self-parody. It gave me and the little circle of Greek and Romanian scholars dining with me tonight a delightful opportunity for loud laughter. It’s a classic. Now tell us how Augustine worshipped a false Trinity.

      Like

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