The Possibility of a Thomistic Universalism: A Review of David Bentley Hart’s ‘That All Shall Be Saved’

by Taylor Nutter

It seems prudent to begin this review of That All Shall Be Saved by following Hart in the confession of my own perspective. That perspective, after all, sets the conditions for the conclusions at which I will arrive. Admitting this does not entail that I hold to a relativistic perspectivism akin to that of Nietzsche, but merely that I affirm that we are human beings shaped by specific affects, inclinations, and habitual ways of inhabiting our world. In other words, our predilections guide us in the choice of which questions and data to attend to. Such a perspectivism is not incommensurate with an objectivity that is defined as the absence of those factors which inhibit one’s grasp of the intelligibility of the world.

In the light of this, I must admit that I am an individual who converted to Christianity on the condition that I found it a reasonable and coherent worldview only absent the belief in a final and eternal state of damnation. Prior to my conversion, I was an atheist materialist who conceived of Christianity as a fantasy formation, a super-egoic construction for the sake of coping with the unintelligibility of existence, a social regulatory device which obfuscated the irreducible antinomies of life by choosing to emphasize one side in an act of subconsciously determined amnesia of the other – a choice of the Apollonian over the Dionysian, for instance. In the light of this, hell seemed to me to serve the sole purpose of safeguarding the groundless norms of a parochial way of life. When I did begin to find Christianity compel­ling, it was because I found reasons to believe in heaven without finding any reasons to believe in hell. Life seems to be full of signposts pointing to union with the divine: for example, the striking strangeness of the human appreciation for the beauty of our world, an appreciation which possesses the same structure of self-transcendence that marks the intelligibility of the emergent processes constituting the nature of our universe. One could say that human consciousness is the beauty of the cosmos become aware of itself as drawn beyond itself. The Christian conception of the teleological orientation of all of reality toward the divine renders the belief in eternal torment an impossibility, especially when considering the particular manner by which that orientation manifests itself in rational creatures. That is, a creature endowed with a will as rational appetite can neither choose evil per se nor persist eternally in the choice of a merely apparent but not real good – a point which is, as we shall see, crucial to Hart’s book. To believe either possibility would render nugatory faith in the transcendent love of God as the only possibility of healing in a world of deep broken­ness. If grace cannot or does not heal the self-alienation which causes us to fail to love each other and God, then human history will remain an ineluctably tragic affair – divine love will fail to have the final say. To get at the issue from another angle, the doctrine of grace in which God provides the conditions for some to escape eternal torments but not others proves no more coherent or less absurd an understanding of reality than does the atheism which I had previously espoused. A cosmos partially comprised of creatures who possess the possible ultimate fate of endless suffering due to the arbitrary predestination of an abso­lutely sovereign divine will is no more intelligible or meaningful than a cosmos bereft of a final end at all, a cosmos in which the vicissitudes of history come to and from nothing for no reason. This is the personal history which has been determinative in my holding universalism to be the only possible true interpretation of the scriptural telling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is, so to speak, my jumping off point for the following reflections on Hart’s book.

First, I would like to take up Hart’s claim that infernalists (his appellation for those who believe in a final state of eternal torment) do not actually believe what they purport to believe. I agree both that a true belief in hell would make life in some sense unlivable – who could take the time to enjoy the subtle beauty of everyday life while the eternal fate of souls is at stake? – and that there are, nonetheless, other reasons, beyond the content of the belief itself, that some feel obligated to affirm eternal torments. I disagree with Hart in that I think some of those reasons are good ones – or at least reasons worthy of our sympathy, given that we all, as Hart acknowledges, experience the disorienting confusion of attempting to make sense of our lives. It seems to me that many of those who believe in an eternal hell do so out of other, more fundamental convictions about the nature of the church and the Christian tradition. Again, to be clear, Hart explicitly acknowledges as much even if not quite sympa­thetically. If one believes that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth and that the Spirit guides her into that truth, then the possibility of the majority position of thousands of years of Christian tradition being mistaken on such a fundamental issue poses not a small problem for those committed to taking that tradition seriously. This concern has been articulated on many occasions through the flippantly sarcastic remark that one must thank God for sending Hart along to correct what most Christians have been wrong about for most of their history. Although the sarcasm may be flippant (as is Hart’s sometimes acerbic rhetoric), the underlying concern is not.

When faced with the question of the layperson’s assent to the many and difficult-to-understand doctrines of the church, Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that such persons assent to the truth of all the doctrines of the church in and through assenting to belief in what the church proposes to be believed. One trusts that ‘the church is who she says she is.’ A mistake of this proportion concerning something so central to the faith – that is, concern­ing final things – would undermine the meaning of the church and the tradition as the privileged locus of truth guided by divine assistance. However, Newman also granted that assent, whether simple or reflex, follows upon reasons, whether apodictic or other­wise. Even a child has reasons to trust her mother given the right conditions of a healthy family life. A Catholic reads in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the “teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity” (1035). However, if that same individual is not able to ground that belief in hell in reasons other than the trustworthiness of the church and yet has good reasons to believe in the truth of universalism, then she must somehow decide either to sever some reasons from assent or to assent to reason. If we grant with the 20th Century theologian Bernard Lonergan that the universal structure of judgment (again, whether following upon demonstration or not) involves apprehending both the conditions of something being true and that those conditions hold, then we can only reasonably assent in those instances in which the latter is the case.

Of course, as a rebuttal some might have recourse to the doctrine of original sin and the belief that its effects include the darkening of the intellect. In that case, judgments concerning doctrinal truth come down to which authority one chooses to follow. But then there must be grounds for choosing one authority over another. Or if the movement of the Spirit is taken to be an indication of the veracity of a certain tradition’s interpretation of scripture, then there must be a fundamental set of criteria by which to judge when and where the Spirit in fact moves; for instance, one must be able to say why one believes that the judgments of the fathers of the councils were guided by the Spirit. And if the decision is made to doubt one’s own judgments while holding to the church’s teaching, then one must make the judgment that one must doubt one’s own judgments. It is perfectly reasonable to suspend judgment in those instances that one does not feel informed or unbiased enough to make a judgment, but that too involves reasons. Even doubting reason involves having reasons to doubt. Put bluntly, it is reasons and judgments all the way down. One finds the fundamental norms of sound judgment in the dynamic structure of the human mind, in what is required for the successful completion of the process of inquiry which leads through hypothesis to verification. As Lonergan, following Aquinas, reminds us, our intellects are a created participation in uncreated light, not determined by formal laws but themselves the ground of the discovery of such laws. No logic can define the movement of reason as it ascends from lower to higher viewpoints through further questions spurred on by the innate desire to know which is immanent to human nature.1 It is by this same process that we even come to know God as the ground and source of all truth. This does not mean that reason must gain ascendency over faith, but simply that faith must be reasonable. We must agree with Newman that to inquire into the veracity of something is not yet to hold it by faith. And yet, although we must believe in order to come to understand, reasonable belief itself requires some previous understanding, as Augustine says in Book VIII of De Trinitate. There is a balance to be struck here, as Newman admits in his articulation of the illative sense, between hastiness in making a judgment and lacking the courage to do so.

The exigency of having a reasonable faith is the reason for Hart’s emphasis on analogy throughout this book. As Hart recognizes, if we cannot know what we are saying when we are speaking about God, then both theology and doctrine are truly futile matters. Hart’s arguments rest, therefore, on the dialectical mutual determination of the two sources of revelation: creation and divine self-revelation. Because these both involve the mediation of the finite, analogy provides the key. Analogy arises as a corollary of a metaphysics of participation, the belief that all things are only by participation in the divine being. The fundamental idea is that something of a cause can be known through knowledge of its effects. In the case of the transcendence of the divine, it can be known that God is the transcendent principle of the intelligibility of the world. To use neo-Platonic metaphors, God is that heat itself by which anything is hot, that light itself by which anything is illuminated. There does remain an excess beyond what a created intellect can understand of the divine nature on the basis of the finite, but that excess cannot contradict what is in fact known. The ontologically excessive goodness of the divine cannot entail that somehow divine goodness is completely other than, in the sense of contradictory to, what we know of goodness through our knowledge of the finite as a participation in the divine.

Here it should be noted that Hart explicitly confronts the critique that such a notion of analogy means that we measure the divine by the rule of our judgments rather than vice versa – an incongruity of infinite proportions (60). Some have objected to Hart’s argu­ments for universalism by appealing to Brian Davies’ claim in The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil that God is not an ethical agent because not a being in the world (56). While it must be granted that Davies is correct, analogy makes this critique null. Central to analogy as a metaphysical doctrine is the conviction that there is no external determina­tion of the divine. We speak of God only by what God has revealed of Godself. As the cosmos exists only by participation in the divine, so is God revealed in every element of it that substantially exists. The latter caveat is included so as to note that evil as privation does not speak of the divine nature. Because creation itself is an act of divine self-revelation, we understand God through our judgments by the ‘measure’ God has given us so long as our judgments conform truly to the contours of reality.

This is the ground of Hart’s argument that the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo has as its necessary corollary the universal salvation of all. Hart is right to assert that an existence of eternal suffering cannot be considered good in any real sense, that “only well-being is being-as-gift in a true and meaningful sense” (20). At the very least it can (hope­fully) be agreed that the good of a creature is defined in terms of its flourishing and that eternal suffering in separation from God is the exact opposite of the flourishing of the human being. It follows that the creation of a being whose final end is foreknown to be an eternal lack of flourishing cannot be judged to be a true good. Hart’s argumentation is irrefutable: in the light of creation ex nihilo, either universalism is true, or God is not good on the basis of the goodness that God has revealed through creation (which can be known by metaphysical investigation) and God’s own self-revelation (the God who became incarnate to seek the one lost sheep out of one hundred). This is not a matter merely of avoiding equivocation. It is a matter of attending to who God is on the basis of what God has revealed about Godself. And the good of the whole cannot be brought in as a justification of the damnation of some. If the good of the whole requires the eternal suffering of some, then it is no whole good at all. The ultimate and endless separation of some creatures from God would make it such that some part of creation had failed to obtain that for which it was made. From the perspective of eternity, a final state of ceaseless darkness does not make light brighter but casts a shadow upon it.

Of course, some might retort that God desires by an antecedent will that all be saved, but does not desire this in the consequent will that justice not be trespassed. Hart points out, however, that the distinction between an antecedent and consequent will does not hold for the divine in its omniscience and omnipotence (82). In knowingly willing that there should exist a creature that will suffer eternally, God wills the consequence of the antecedent. As we have seen that God is not an ethical agent, so double effect reasoning does not hold here. What would it mean for God from eternity to choose to create a world in which the best possible outcome would be tragic and only partially good? If hell is an eternal state, then God wills that there be creatures that suffer eternally, even if only through a permis­sive will. From the perspective of eternity, however, such permission is damnation. There can be no tension between the love of an antecedent will and the justice of a consequent will. As what is just accords with the nature of a thing, so divine justice is the justice of the love that God is. Put differently, if justice must be defined in terms of the divine being which we know through revelation to be love, then we become the righteousness of God through being united to God, by being united to that source of love which seeks the wholeness of all things through participation in itself. What is just or right, what aligns with the divine will’s motive in love for creation, using the term ‘motive’ analogically, must be the salvation of all.

If this is not the case, then the act of creation was an infinitely sadistic one. Here we do well to follow Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11, on which Hart comments extensively (133-138), in moving from wrath and mercy to mercy alone, from the salvation of a mere remnant to the salvation of all through the providentially guided dialectic of history. Paul’s insistence that the limitless and unconditional love of God is revealed in Jesus Christ must be taken abso­lutely seriously. While finite reality can give us some understanding of divine goodness, divine love as understood through the incarnation of the Word is another matter entirely. There is a great difference between what Aristotelian ethics requires and the life of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. There is too much suffering in our finite existence to be able to deduce from it that love will have the final word in creation’s story. The conviction that God is love comes to us, or is affirmed in us, through the Spirit’s gifted act of faith as an encounter with transcendent love in the narrative of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. From the suffering and death which constitute necessary elements of the evolution of life on our planet it seems difficult to arrive at the God of life of the Christian tradition. One can perhaps, in response to this, accept the Christian tradition’s notion of creation as broken because of the fall, as does Hart in his other book The Doors of the Sea. Whatever one’s position on this question, Hart is right that finite suffering can be squared with divine goodness only from the perspective of the eternal, so to speak; that is, only from the conviction, grounded in the love in one’s heart that has been formed by the gospel narrative that transcendent love will have the final say, that the eschatological consummation of all things will mean the transformation of suffering and death which will make the beauty and meaning of this life absolute – something I dare say all human hearts long for. None of that, however, can be squared with eternal suffering.

All that I have said thus far necessarily brings up the question of free will. Much of Hart’s book is dedicated to that very question. Some hold that hell is a matter of the human soul’s willed entrapment within itself. Hart agrees, as do I. The fundamental question, however, is whether such an entrapment can be willed eternally by a human being, and whether God could allow it. To find an answer to that question we must first understand the nature of the human will. Such understanding follows only upon an act of attentiveness to one’s own acts of willing, something which Hart invites the reader to undertake. In that attentiveness one finds that nothing is willed except for a reason, and that that reason in every case is the goodness of the thing willed. In other words, the rational creature wills everything under the formal aspect of the good, proving the transcendental orientation of the human will to transcendent good. While Hart makes the claim that a perfect will such as Christ’s could not sin (189), I would like to go in another direction and assert that it is a necessary corollary of the above view of the transcendental orientation of the human will that the will could not help but choose the transcendent good when immediately presented with it. Inasmuch as the good is appetible, the transcendent good is most appetible and cannot not be chosen. Some consider this to be the very problem with this view of the will. In the presence of the transcendent good the human being seems not to be free at all. And that, in turn, seems incommensurate with the Christian belief that human freedom will be brought to its fullest realization in union with the divine. Hart responds to this by defining freedom as a thing’s ability to flourish as what it is (172). In this sense of freedom, some­thing is truly free only when it is free from all that keeps it from flourishing. Addiction may be the starkest and most obvious example of Hart’s point (if also, because of this, one of the most tragic). Hopefully none would fault an addict for not putting their freedom to good use in the choice of what will eventually make for their destruction. We need not add the caveat that the addict does not truly know what she does. Even when acknowledging the harmful effects of substance abuse, someone chooses to use only in the light of its appetibility and, therefore, its relative but not ultimate goodness. As Hart points out, we choose what is apparently but not really good only irrationally when making a false judgment about the goodness of the thing we have chosen. Now, one could still insist that the inability not to choose the transcendent good when immediately presented with it rids the human being of freedom. In response we might invoke Aquinas to the effect that particular operations of the will are contingent and that reason may follow opposite courses in contingent matters (Summa Theologiae I 83.1, co.). This follows from the fact that Aquinas understands contingent causes to be those which are not always causing and do not always produce the same effect. Contingent matters, therefore, are not necessary in the sense that they do not necessitate a single outcome, allowing for differing and even opposite options. It is about these options that the human mind deliberates, and there would be no deliberation if the human will necessarily chooses one option or the other.

It must be admitted that God is not a finite option among others. Still, the human mind does have the choice of acting on the love of God, of following the path to union with God, or not. But there is more to this question then the problem of the opacity of the good in this life. What could freedom, the ability not to choose something, mean when confronted with God as the source of the full realization of our being? We do well here to remember the definition of the will as rational appetite. In its appetitive element, the will is necessarily naturally drawn to and by the highest good. In its rational element, the will could choose a lesser good. However, the choice to turn away from the highest good when immediately confronted with it would be merely an abstract possibility of the will. According to the exercise of its act, the will is necessarily moved by no object. The will is, nonetheless, moved necessarily in the specification of its act by the trans­cendent good itself (Summa Theologiae I-II 10.2, co.). The capacity of the will to exercise itself in the acts of choice and execution is an active potency. We actively choose this or that thing. The specification of the act of the will by a particular object is the actualization of a passive potency. We are drawn to this or that appetible object. The transcendental orientation of the will is the activity of the will’s being, the entelechy of its nature. That the will is necessarily moved in the specification of its act by the transcen­dent good itself does not mean that God is the specified object of the will at every moment. Rather the will is transcendentally oriented to the good itself as that under the formality of which anything is chosen. The transcendental orientation of the will toward the good itself is not a specification of the act of the will, but the horizon within which it is specified. A rational appetite cannot rebel against its horizon. According to the active potency that is the exercise of the act of the will, one could turn away from the immediate presence of God. However, one will not do so precisely because the will is necessarily moved as appetite, as passive potency, in the specification of the act of the will by the highest good.

Hart would not agree with me in accepting this abstract capacity of the will to turn away from the highest good, but it does seem pertinent to answering the above-mentioned critique. When presented with the good itself the will cannot help but choose it, even if it does not, in an abstract sense, do so necessarily. This fact alone obviates the possibility of an eternal rejection of union with the divine. Given the most prevalent contemporary concep­tion of hell as a chosen entrapment within oneself, one would have to hold that eternal hell consists of the eternally perpetual choice to turn away from God toward oneself while knowing who God is as the highest good and only possible source of complete flourishing for a rational nature. The impossibility of this is precisely Hart’s point: “Given the dynamism of human nature, given its primordial longing for the Good, given the inherent emptiness of evil, given the finitude of evil’s satisfactions and configura­tions and resources, no rational nature could freely persist forever in its apostasy from the Good” (191). We turn away from God in this life only on the condition that our orientation to the divine remains obscure to us, both intellectually and appetitively. If our weight is truly our love, as Augustine holds, then even our mistakes in this life consist of blunders along the way to union with the divine, false starts in the attempt to find satisfaction for our most fundamental longings. On the condition of being confronted with the only possible source of the full satisfaction of the yearnings of our heart we would make a decision that is no decision at all. The darkness and confusion of our lives being done away with, we could not help but choose that for which we strove all along without knowing it.

But, as someone who holds that Aquinas is formally correct on questions regarding grace and predestination, I cannot even grant that if such an eternally persistent turning away from God were possible that God would allow it. Aquinas’ doctrine of grace provides a compliment to Hart’s reasoning concerning what we can know about God and salvation based on the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Analogy entails, on the Thomistic telling of it, that no finite being can act unless God has reduced the potency of that being to act. Because of divine transcendence, God’s causality and the causality immanent to creaturely reality are not competitive, they operate on two different planes, the divine enfolding the creaturely. The operative grace of conversion, for instance, is the act of God turning the human will toward God as final end. This does not mean that at some point we are not transcendentally oriented to God as the good itself, but that our particular orientation according to the specification of the act of the will can be other than God. Cooperative grace, on the other hand, involves God moving us such that we move ourselves in the choice and execution of acts that are means to attaining the end of salvation. This distinction maps on to the two elements of the will, the rational and the appetitive. We must be oriented to God as end before we can choose how to live our lives in the light of that end. The analogy of love is helpful here: we cannot love unless we have first been loved. Studies of addiction, in fact, show that recovery involves the recognition of one’s own worth as being loveable, as being loved. Divine love breaks down the callous barriers of our hearts, transforming our lives by changing our horizons, by opening us up to the possibility of reciprocity in love. Once we have fallen in love, we can then cooperate with that love, making concrete judgments about what it requires of us. But the key here is that we love only on the condition of having first been loved. We know that our fear of the vulnerability leading to intimacy remains in our hearts because of the brokenness of our world, because we have at some point in our lives not been loved as we ought to have been. The only solution to this immanently inescapable cycle of failing to love on the condition of not having been loved – what we call human history – is a transcendent love. This is the point: we cannot be saved except by the divine gift of grace as healing and elevating. We become truly free only on the condition that God has provided the grace necessary for our freedom from sin. What is the same, we choose rightly within this concrete historical order only given that same condition. The questions concerning freedom and predestination are not two but one. If we do not attain salvation, it is ultimately because God has not provid­ed the conditions of our healing and elevation. If God chooses to create a being who will suffer eternally, yet God does not provide the grace that would prevent such suffering, then creation is a truly evil act. Surprisingly, Hart’s conclusions concerning the moral meaning of creation ex nihilo are bolstered by Aquinas’ doctrine of grace.

I will end this review by touching on something that Hart does not explicitly address in his book. How one conceives of the nature of sin determines one’s conception of the Christian salvation narrative and, therefore, how one goes about adjudicating claims in the debate concerning universalism. There seems to me to be two fundamental options: either sin is conceived of as a rebellious pride or as a result of fear born of trauma. If you take the option of rebellious pride, then an eternal self-entrapment, an eternal being-closed-off to divine love is possible. On this conception, the human being could refuse to love no matter how much love beckons. On the other hand, if you take the option of fear born of trauma, then such an eternal refusal to love would be an affront to the healing power of the divine. Again, given the above-mentioned impossible situation that is human history as a cycle consisting of the failure to love on the condition of not having been loved, the only possible solution is the intervention of a transcendent love that breaks the cycle and renders God all in all. If God should choose not to intervene to heal this cycle of brokenness, then God would leave humanity to its own resources, judging humanity for being incapable of persevering in love because of the fear which has entrapped it in and through a history of sin. This is the meaning of grace as capacitating human beings for love and, therefore, union with God as the perfection of human nature. Without that capacitation we would forever meander in confusion, lost and incapable of finding a solution to the question that is our being. And God would forever behold our helplessness, possessing the ability to resolve the problem that humanity has become to itself yet not doing anything about it.

Conceiving of sin as the result of fear rather than pride has both a phenomenological and an explanatory advantage. The intimacy required by love which requires vulnerability is the fundamental desire of the human heart. To seek after the pure opposite of love would be for the human being to seek evil per se – something we have already seen to be impos­sible. Of course, human beings do refuse to love out of pride, but only out of the desire to be loved, to secure the love of others. That is, we refuse the vulnerability required by love because of the fear of not being loved in return, because of the anger and vindictiveness which comes from others not loving us. We thus seek to gain value in the eyes of others by making ourselves as great as possible. Violence results when we seek to guard a safety that does not consist of openness in love, that entails the exclusion resultant from mimetic rivalry and subsequent scapegoating. Fear, therefore, makes pride intelligible. If pride is taken to be most funda­mental to human sin, then it possess no further explanation. Our prideful rebellion against love would be for no reason. Evil is, so it is said, purely unintel­ligible. But if, instead, fear is taken to be most fundamental, then one can understand the advent of pride in the human soul. Not having been loved, and desiring to be loved, we seek to force others into loving us through prideful actions. Pride is grounded in what Aquinas calls an accidental privative cause – we can understand why we refuse the vulnerability of love in a manner analogous to how we can understand why a limb is broken. Just as we understand a broken arm through the wholeness of a healthy arm, so we understand sin through the fear of not being loved and the concomitant fundamental desire to be loved.

We fell, our limbs are broken. Only God can mend our wounds. What is more, our wounds bind us together. We know that we have participated in the brokenness of our collective humanity. The failure to heal one human allows for that brokenness to continue to define our history. This is, once again, central to Hart’s overall argument: “finite persons are not self-enclosed individual substances; they are dynamic events of relation to what is other than themselves.” (151) On this account, we must accept Gregory of Nyssa’s understanding of the image of God as all of humanity. If love consists of one’s own good being caught up in the good of others, then divine love must entail the full completion of the goodness of all things. Our good is caught up in God’s by God’s own choice. In choosing our good, God chooses God’s own. A single failure in this would be an instance of God failing to be God. Such cannot be the case. All must be saved.



[1] This and the previous two sentences are greatly indebted to Bernard Lonergan’s cognitional theory as articulated in his text Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (University of Toronto Press, 2013). I want to explicitly grant that the conclusions drawn here from Lonergan’s thought will not be the conclusions made by all those who hold to the truth of Lonergan’s theory of the human mind. I do not speak for all ‘Lonerganians.’

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Taylor Nutter is a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame in the systematics concentration of theology. His research focuses on postmodern philosophical theology and the relation of theology to the natural sciences. In his free time he enjoys offroading in his Jeep Wrangler.

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33 Responses to The Possibility of a Thomistic Universalism: A Review of David Bentley Hart’s ‘That All Shall Be Saved’

  1. earsofc says:

    “Since we are altogether from God, the movement of our sin can never be infinite, absolute, or final. An act of sin is not, strictly speaking, the opposite of an act of love. If it were, the badness of sin would equal in its own direction the goodness of love in its direction. But then good and evil would be co-equal and co-powerful, which cannot be. The arena and conditions that are necessary for an absolutely evil choice therefore presuppose an impossibility. They presuppose that the mind and will are equally balanced between good and evil, meaning and absurdity, being and non-being. They presuppose that, at the root of all, light is not stronger than darkness, that the tendency of being and life and existence towards the good are not necessary and ultimate, and that, somehow, all such movement and power can be just as strong in the direction of evil. Such a theory imagines that the consequences and effects of evil are infinite by their own essential unreality. If one really could commit a sin which resulted in the utter negation and absolute unmeaning of the purpose for which he was made—this being the essence of hell—then there would be tied in to the very power of choosing evil a consequence and effect as infinite, eternal, and real as what lay in the power of choosing good. But then evil would be as high, as ultimate, as necessarily all-drawing and all-consequential as good itself. Praise God for this: goodness alone is necessity.”

    From Ears of Corn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Taylor, you write: “Hart would not agree with me in accepting this abstract capacity of the will to turn away from the highest good.”

    Could you elaborate further on this point of disagreement between yourself and Hart. I confess that I do not see the disagreement, but I’m sure that is merely because of my ignorance at this point. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Taylor Nutter says:

      Fr. Aidan,

      Thank you very much for your question. It is a good one in that I do not expound clearly enough in the article my meaning on this matter.

      I will quote Hart and follow each quote with an exposition of my disagreements.

      “Maximus the Confessor … was quite insistent that our “gnomic” will – our faculty of deliberation – is so wholly dependent upon our “natural” will – the innate and inextinguishable movement of rational volition toward God – that the former has no actual existence in us except when the defect of sin is present in our intellects and intentions.” (188)

      The distinction between the gnomic and natural will must be supplemented by the distinction between the exercise and the specification of the act of the will. Even if our intellect is not darkened and our appetites not disordered, we do not choose the good (whether the highest or otherwise) as an exercise of the act of the will by necessity. In turn, it is not the defect of sin which causes deliberation. Deliberation is an element of (as preceding) rational choice. Even if we did not have darkened intellects and disordered appetites, our deliberations concerning the good would be a matter of ordering the goods in our lives and learning to place God at the top, as transcendent, of the hierarchy of goods. In the immediate presence of the divine, our deliberation consists of the line of reasoning by which we recognize the absolute good of union with the source of our being. Deliberation is not essentially a waffling between a real and merely apparent good. It is a rational consideration of the nature of the good in concrete circumstances. Without deliberation our choices are mere acts of spontaneity.

      “Could Christ have freely rejected the will of the Father, or rejected the divine Good as the proper end of his rational intentionality? Not only could he not have done so as a matter of actual fact; for just that reason, neither could he have possessed the capacity to do so. In truth, even the word “capacity” is misleading here, since such a susceptibility to sin would be a defect of the will rather than a natural power.” (189)

      I disagree with Hart in that I think Christ as human had the capacity to choose something other than the highest good. I would not, however, define that capacity as a susceptibility to sin. I would define that capacity as one of choice, as the lack of necessary determination on the part of the exercise of the act of the will. Concretely I agree with Hart that Christ as human would not sin (but I would not go so far as to say “could not sin”). Abstractly, however, the lack of necessary determination of the exercise of the act of the will requires that I posit the capacity in Christ as human to choose something other than the highest good. This, in part, helps to make sense of the temptations in the desert.

      “The very thought that Christ might have turned from God, even as an abstract potential of his human nature, would make a nonsense of … Christological doctrines. … it would undermine the logic of the so-called enhypostatic union: the doctrine, that is, that there is but one person in Jesus, that he is not an amalgamation of two distinct centers of consciousness in extrinsic association, and that this one person, who possesses at once a wholly divine and a wholly human nature, is none other than the hypostasis, the divine Person, of the eternal Son.” (189)

      Following the logic of dythelitism, that the hypostatic union involves two consciousnesses stands as a corollary of the fact that it more fundamentally involves two natures. I follow Lonergan in defining consciousness as a non-perceptive experience of oneself in one’s acts (see Part 5 of Lonergan’s The Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ). As consciousness is an ontological perfection of intellectual operations (intellectual operations are not unconscious), so does the subsistent act of understanding that God is involve a consciousness. As human nature involves an intellect, albeit a finite and discursive one, it too involves consciousness. Thus, inasmuch as the hypostatic union involves the union of two natures, divine and human, in a single Person, so does it involve two consciousness. The unity of the natures and consciousnesses is a unity of act. Whether as human or as divine, the acts of Christ are the acts of the second divine Person of the Trinity. Because of that unity in act, the two consciousnesses of Christ, divine and human, are not extrinsically associated (as in Nestorianism). Thus, it follows that the Word precisely as human had the abstract capacity, according to the lack of necessary determination of the exercise of the act of his will, not to choose the highest good. However, because the human nature of the Word was perfected by the fullness of grace flowing from the primordial grace of union with the divine, Christ in fact (that is, actually) necessarily would not sin. That necessity is a matter of fact rather than abstraction or logic – a human with a perfect human nature will only choose the truly good, even if another good can be chosen. This is directly analogous to the manner by which we will necessarily choose the highest good when immediately presented with it, even if we do still possess a lack of determination of the exercise of the act of the will.

      I hope this answers the question. I would be happy to answer any further questions and to hear any possible critiques of this position.

      Liked by 2 people

      • DBH says:

        Which is a distinction without a difference, at least if one is thinking like Maximus. Maximus regards the natural will as a wholly free action that includes the entire rational agency of the person. The “gnomic” will as distinct from the natural is still not an actuality if it remains only ever a possibility; for him it is merely a diminished modality of that one free rational act that is the natural willing of the Good. And, in a person who is–by virtue of the person he is–incapable of sin, such a possibility is no real possibility at all. Don’t overly complicate the matter. 1) The person of the Son could not choose–could not, in fact, be–anything other than the will of the Father. 2) Jesus of Nazareth had no person other than the Son. 3) Jesus was wholly human. 4) It is therefore possible to be a person with no real ability to reject God and still be wholly human. 5) The real ability to reject God is not then necessary to our humanity as such.

        Now, if one wants to speak of an abstract capacity, even in the one conspicuous case in which that capacity could never in any possible world become a concrete reality, I have no great objection. I mean, there is nothing there logically repugnant to reason, but neither is there anything there that is more than a nugatory postulate of reason. In either case, one arrives at the same conclusion. If a soul is confronted with the absolute reality of God and possesses a full and non-defectible rational knowledge of its own nature, and if its will and intellect are wholly unimpaired, it is an impossibility that it will not freely choose God. If your definition of “free” requires the impossible possibility of a counterfactual “otherwise,” I have no objection. To me that is like a modal qualifier rather than anything else; you’re trying to distinguish between two different acceptations of the designation “necessary.” I just think you’re needlessly multiplying entities, given that we’re discussing the nature of an actuality in an actual universe. The natural will is a free act already, and yet it could not be otherwise, because full freedom is full liberation of a nature into its highest good.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Andy Simons says:

    Taylor, Thank you for an accurate and useful review of Hart’s book. It helped me understand parts of the book better, particularly Hart’s arguments regarding the role of grace with our appetitive will (as I understood it, anyway). However, as a Roman Catholic, I was waiting and hoping for you to flesh out the argument that you framed–how can we be faithful to our tradition when we think it may be wrong–but from the Newman comment forward it seemed the review was simply a review of the book. Did I miss something?


    • Taylor Nutter says:


      Thanks for your comment. You did not miss something. The point of that section of the review was to foreclose the possibility of someone defining faith in terms of forfeiting one’s own intellect to the judgment of the tradition indefinitely even if there are reasons to doubt the (in this case majority) judgment of the tradition. So, the review was, in a way, something of a moral exhortation for individuals to assume the personal responsibility involved in being made in the image of God – that is, to seek the intelligible with intellectual probity. However, for an excellent example of what you seek, and of the judgment that I would hope would follow upon my review, I would recommend Justin Shaun Coyle’s “May Catholics Endorse Universalism?” which is published on this same blog.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thomas says:

    If I were to guess at what St. Thomas (or, better, Longergan’s St. Thomas) might say in response, I suspect the defense would focus on the distinction between natural and moral evil and the good as the intelligible.

    Both St. Thomas (in De Malo) and Lonergan (in Insight) say flat out that the problem of evil does not pertain to suffering. The good is apprehended by fully human knowing, and thus its criteria is intelligibility, not pleasure or pain. Evil is the unintelligible, it occurs only in rational beings. Natural evil is intelligible; it has an answer to the question “why?”. After all, if I pick and eat asparagus (causing a natural evil), it’s because I am hungry. Sin, though, is precisely the choice that does understand what is better, but opts for what is worse. It is objectively unintelligible and has no explanation. (And it arises, not from ignorance, but from culpable knowledge.)

    One test to determine the criteria for the good is whether one believes that one is better off in hell or never to have existed. If the latter, it’s virtually certain one’s criteria for the good is pleasure and pain.

    So while it would be problematic were moral evil to persist, it is not problematic for natural evil or suffering to exist. The criteria we judge suffering in hell by is not whether the idea conjures satisfaction or offense, but whether it can be understood. And St. Thomas would likely say that nothing is more explicable than that evil people be punished. And the disagreement here can’t be (intelligently) resolved by a difference in sensibilities (or aesthetics).

    But to me, it seems like there is a case to be made — at least I would like it to be made — that there is a problem of suffering whose criteria is not pleasure or pain and takes into full account the traditional distinction between natural and moral evil. I suspect this moves along the lines of an analysis of the good of the whole in relation to the individual, where what makes up the whole are not parts, but independent things. I read William Desmond at one point, hoping for some resources to pursue this line of thought, but he in so many ways falls directly into Lonergan’s counter-positions.


    • TJF says:

      Well I guess if you don’t think that suffering is problematic then there is no hope to convince you otherwise. I for one think it is, regardless of any specious distinction between natural and moral evils (since they must stem from the same source anyways). The Lord seemed to care about both, to see both as problematic. Why else would he weep when his friend Lazarus died? It’s not either/or. It’s both.

      “It is objectively unintelligible and has no explanation. (And it arises, not from ignorance, but from culpable knowledge.)”

      Herein lies the crux of the matter. How do you square this with St. Thomas declaration that you can never will the evil as evil. You can only mistake the evil for the good? All sin is based off of ignorance.


      • Thomas says:

        > Well I guess if you don’t think that suffering is problematic then there is no hope to convince you otherwise.

        This is how one “argues” when one is incapable of critically examining one’s own views. Everything one believes is obvious, and no argument is required (perhaps out of a fear that the arguments are not sufficient?).

        It’s pretty obvious suffering can be beneficial — as we see from pathologies where persons do not feel pain.


        • Grant says:

          That doesn’t really work though, as pain is only beneficial in a fallen and damaged world, much like defense systems in nature against predators, the presence of anti-bodies and immune systems, the beneficial effects of carnivores and omnivores in killing and eating something else for sustenance. For the benefit a blade can have used as a scalpel in an operation in surgery or a medical procedure.

          But all these things, including any beneficial effect of pain, such as warning of damage, all per-suppose and are conditioned by, a response to, and a providential ordering within an damaged, devastated and fallen creation where death and evil stalks and twists all. If people didn’t get sick, they would never need surgery and to be hurt to be made well, when the lion lies down with the lamb it will no longer need to be damaging to the lamb or it’s own sustenance (neither will we to other life either). All life now is conditioned by a broken and fallen system, so I’m afraid you example to me only proves the point, suffering is evil and the result of evil, even when providential it can be ordered to have a beneficial effect in dealing with the results of the fall (such as pain acting as a warning).


        • TJF says:

          I did posit an argument. I don’t think it’s possible to will the evil as evil. Every time we will evil it’s due to a misapprehension i.e. mistake i.e. ignorance. Even Aquinas stated that didn’t he? So how can you say that we have “culpable knowledge” of something unintelligible and inexplicable. Sounds a lot like a contradiction. Also sounds like you are just asserting that the only criteria for the good is intelligibility and not pleasure or pain. I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my life, so much so I’ve wanted to not exist. That’s experiential evidence to me that they do have bearing on this argument. Also the NT is good evidence that Christ does not want us to suffer. Idk, I’m not a trained philosopher, but when someone tells me that suffering doesn’t matter it’s hard not to just laugh in sheer astonishment. I know you mean well and seek the truth, but I would suggest reading some things elsewhere than just the Thomist/Lonergan tradition. I was more of a Thomist before I started reading the desert fathers and the St. Isaac for instance. May God bless you. Please forgive me for being irascible.


          • Thomas says:


            My response was higher on the irascability scale, so I’ll give it a second go. I buy Lonergan’s argument that there are two general types of knowing which humans are capable of. The first is animal knowing, the second fully human knowing. Animal knowing is suited to adaptability, and is knowing in an improper sense. What animal knowledge achieves is largely survival, or even socio-biological flourishing. Proper knowing, human knowing, achieves the truth.

            For animal knowing, what is real (i.e., what is grasped in knowing) is the “already out there now”, which one knows by taking a look at it. Thus, naive realists like Etienne Gilson tend to use as examples of knowing the knowledge that a flower is in the backyard. How does one know? One need only look. Knowledge occurs on the level of presentation, of seeing or intuition. Certainty is had by the indubitability of the given.

            This kind of knowledge is achieved by a bumblebee or a toddler. The problem of objective knowledge is in terms of what is “out there” and how we can get a direct look at it. But fully human knowing has different origins, different objectives, and different characteristics. Its sole criteria is the pure desire to know, to have answers to all coherent questions. And its paradigm cases are not chairs or flowers, but things like bosons, souls, semi-groups, inflation, the Renaissance, and so on.

            For human knowing, the real is not what is “out there”. The real is what may be intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed. It is not responsive to looking so much as to questioning. Indeed, the real is what is known through looking at all, since what we intelligently grasped is neither the subject of experience or a possible object of the imagination. (For instance, one cannot imagine a point or a soul, one understands them.) Experience is necessary for us insofar as we move from ignorance to knowledge, but its role is to pose questions and provide means for validation.

            When we engage in activities that require properly human knowing (e.g., theology), we risk our animal consciousness interfering with the operation of human knowing. But it is relevant here because animal knowing and its criteria can interfere with human knowing in the question of what is good. For the animal, it is self-preservation, pleasure, the avoidance of pain, the survival of oneself and those in one’s group.

            But for human knowing, the criteria of the good is the intelligible. The good, like the real, is not out there to be seen, it is not discoverable by taking a look (either physically or spiritually). It is only discoverable as an answer to questions, as the fruit of intelligent inquiry and rational verification.

            If this line of reasoning is right, then it does not immediately determine whether or not suffering is good or evil, whether hell is eternal, etc. But it mean that the answers to these questions come by inquiry, not intuition. We cannot simply present cases of suffering or pictures of lost souls and assume that the presence of pain settles the issue of whether such things can be good. Nor can we simply assume that the good is the desirable. For we have animal desires, human desires, and shades between. The true good, like the real, is correlated to properly human desires that correspond to the pure desire to know.

            I do not know if this explanation is too long or too short — in a way it is both too long for a blog comment and too short to give the full argument. But my original response to your statement–which seemed to me to imply no argument is necessary–was dismissive. This should at least shed some light on why I think arguments (and technical explanations) are necessary to the extent we want to know about why suffering exists and whether there is an answer for it.


          • Thomas says:

            I should add, if that seems burdensome, that all that is necessary to have a philosophical or theological understanding of evil. But there are many ways we can respond to evil, and having a philosophical account is not the most important — the best response is prayer.


        • TJF says:

          Thank you for your comments. I’m still not seeing the connection between sin being unintelligible and then not being due to ignorance. It would seem the exact opposite to me. That since we do what doesn’t make sense, it must be due to a failure to apprehend the good in some way whether intellectually, experientially, or otherwise.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thomas, can you point me to where in De Malo where Aquinas state that suffering does not pertain to evil. Thanks.


      • Thomas says:

        De Malo Question 1, article 1, answer to objection 1 is relevant to this discussion. “… the order of justice likewise has a connected privation of the particular good of one who sins, since the order of justice likewise has a connected privation of some particular good of one who sins, since the order of justice requires that the person who sins should be deprived of a good that the person desires. Therefore, the punishment itself is, absolutely speaking, good, although it is evil for the person.”

        Articles 4 and 5 go into more detail. Keep in mind that for St. Thomas (perhaps not for Lonergan), all natural evil (evil suffered) is a punishment that follows upon some moral evil. And it is good in the absolute sense. Animal suffering or chemical transformations both involve natural evils, but are natural, perhaps necessary, parts of the world.


        • Rob says:

          Thomas, I’d be curious to hear your response to my questions to you above, should you have some spare time. Taylor Nutter will be weighing in later with some questions about your reading of Lonergan on feelings and values, animal consciousness and rational consciousness. But I’ve tried to give an answer to your initial objections.


    • Rob says:

      1) Before I make this point, let me clarify that I am not trying to straw man or ad hominem you. This is a genuine question to understand exactly what you think about the relationship between suffering and the category ‘evil’ (or the judgment: ‘this is evil’). If a man tortures a kitten, is the evil of that situation solely limited to the effect that act would have on the man’s soul? Or is the innocent suffering of the creature somehow implicated in the evilness of the situation?

      2) Did you read the final paragraphs of the essay? Nutter attempts to explain how moral evil is intelligible, but you simply state ‘it’s unintelligible’ and leave it at that. To my mind, it seems contradictory to say that we always choose under the aspect of the Good *and* that evil is unintelligible. How do you square those two together?

      3) Creatures necessarily experience the transcendentals in a limited, finite way and not always in God’s willed conjunction (e.g., the pleasure of illicit sex is not evil, solely the conditions under which occurs, but I nonetheless participate in the transcendental “Good” or “Beauty” through what is of Being in the pleasurable act). But given the fact that the unbridgeable distance in us between existence and essence, and the fact that we are fallen, we must experience the transcendentals always in a fractured mode. Can we thus really say it’s better to be in hell than never to have been born? For my money, Being and Good are absolutely convertible only in God, and so to exist in a state in which I can never flourish as the creature I am is a horror which, perhaps, might have been better never have existed. In other words, only if we think Being is an unqualified good for creatures like us can we make the judgment that it’s better to be in hell than to cease existing.

      4) Let me take up the question of whether the suffering of damned is intelligible. First, can we accord the eternality of torments with the temporal finitude of sin? It seems, prima facie, that there’s a problem here in the intelligibility of sinners being punished *in this way*. Second, Thomas’ own account of grace (following the late Augustine), says that God provides the necessary grace to convert the will only of some. So (at least some) sinners who end up in hell are there because they never had the possibility of turning away from their sin and turning towards God as their final end. So if we attempt to grasp the intelligibility of the sufferings of the damned, we must take into account *all* the factors of the situation, including the fact that God could have imparted the necessary, operative grace at any moment in order to prevent this situation from ever obtaining. This, in turn, makes the the sufferings of the damned a moral evil *as intelligible*.

      If someone were to respond that the proper intelligibility of the sufferings of the damned is the fact that justice is being served, then we run into another problem. For why is it not an affront to justice that some be given the operative grace to become vessels of mercy and not of wrath? Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas were content to pit justice against mercy in this way, but there are serious problems going down this road: must God simply manifest these two attributes? Can we make any sense of why some receive operative grace and others don’t? Is the necessity to manifest these divine attributes based on some proportionality? 50% justice and 50% mercy, splitting the human race in half (if we’re lucky)? If the intelligibility of the sufferings of the damned is that justice is being served (ignoring for now the injustice of the sentence), then mercy must become unintelligible. If the intelligibility of the sentence is instead in the “good of the whole” and the whole refers to humanity, then that means that the blessed need the damned in order to understand the goodness of grace (Augustine’s sometime conclusion on the matter), which seems to make the transcendent Good not in fact the source of the intelligibility of finite good; instead we arrive at the intelligibility of the good through some dialectical negotiation between good and evil. Or perhaps the good of the whole is simply the “whole” of God’s self-manifestation of all his attributes. But then we must ask: are the divine attributes convertible within God’s simplicity? It seems that justice and mercy cannot be understood as convertible in an eschatological outcome where they exist side-by-side with no resolution. Only if justice is a function of mercy, of love which exists solely for the good of the creature, can these divine attributes be said to be convertible in themselves.

      Justice, as Nutter pointed out in this essay, is giving each one his due. But the due which God owes his creatures is the fulfillment of their nature, because his good is inextricably bound up with theirs. This is what Hart means by the ‘moral meaning’ of creatio ex nihilo, and it’s what Athanasius was striving towards when the said that creation would have been “in vain” had God not rescued human nature in Christ; it was what Anselm was getting at when he said it was ‘unfitting’ for God not to save the race he made to find its fulfillment in him.

      In sum: the eternal sufferings of the damned are not intelligible as the ‘punishment of the wicked’ once we take into account every factor in the situation: the lack of correspondence between crime and punishment, the inevitability of sin for creatures trapped in original sin without the saving irruption of grace, the character of God and his express goal for human nature (1 Tim. 2:14), and the reality of mercy in salvation history which has already overcome justice by rendering a higher justice, the justice of fulfilling the debt of love which God owes a nature such as ours by creating it with the desire to know Him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rob says:

        To clarify, this comment was intended for Thomas, the Lonerganian fellow here.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        “For my money, Being and Good are absolutely convertible only in God, and so to exist in a state in which I can never flourish as the creature I am is a horror which, perhaps, might have been better never have existed. In other words, only if we think Being is an unqualified good for creatures like us can we make the judgment that it’s better to be in hell than to cease existing.”

        Rob, I’m grateful that you had addressed this common Thomist defense of everlasting damnation. I have never understood it, at least not when we are talking about sentient, feeling creatures. The defense is so abstract that it doesn’t touch reality. Those who suffer intensely may be able to endure their sufferings in hope that their sufferings will be healed and redeemed. But to call everlasting suffering a good that God must or should preserve in being eternally makes no sense to me whatsoever.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thomas says:

        Your comment raises quite a few issues that deserve more attention than I can give them in a single comment. A few points though:

        I’m not advancing that view as entirely my own, but trying to indicate the counters that might be offered by either St. Thomas or especially the early Bernard Lonergan, since I take them to provide the strongest case on the other side. And, as well, I think that their arguments may not be adequately addressed by the arguments in this essay. Of course, St. Thomas wrote a bookshelf, one could probably be crushed under a copy of Insight dropped from the second story, and this is a book review.

        But I do take Lonergan to be correct on the transition between the good proportionate to animal knowing, and the good proportionate to human knowing. This doesn’t determine the issue of an eternal hell, but it does determine how that determination must be made. Not only that, it is irrefutable: if you think that, say, violence is a way to reach consensus about the truth about the good, then you are not committed to the notion that the good is intelligible. But as soon as you try to get to the truth, to try to reach correct understanding, offer reasons or objections on this issue, you are already committed: the good may be heuristically defined by intelligibility and reasonableness, by something discovered by answers to question rather than intuitions or emotions.

        To say that the good is the object of the will should not be anything mystical or mysterious. The will is a rational faculty, and doesn’t refer to any sort of desire whatsoever. To say that the good is the object of the will is something we can verify operationally. Choice, for instance, is an act of will insofar as it involves answering questions like “what shall I accomplish?”

        Because this sort of question is constitutive of choice, we can say the good is the object of the will. Now, we not only want individual goods, we want them regularly. As Bernard Lonergan liked to say in his lectures — I not only want breakfast, I want it every day! So we not only ask “what should I do?” in a particular situation. We ask how we might arrange things in relation to each other. This is the good of order. So choices involve not only isolated decisions (x or y?), but the question of how things should be related to each other. And so it becomes clear that things are candidates that may answer the question “what should I do?” insofar as they create new cycles of recurrence.

        I won’t lay out the argument here, but there is only one Thing that is not ordered to the achievement of further goods. And that is the sense in which God is the ultimate good.

        Sin comes in when there is no adequate, rational justification for the question “why did you do that?” (There may be extraneous answers to the question, such as lead poisoning, “it felt good”, upbringing, anger, etc.) But the immediate, intelligible good is what is to be done in answer to questions like “What should I do?”. If there is an adequate answer in response to the demand for rationally justifying one’s action, then, by definition, the question “what shall I do” was answered correctly.

        As I mentioned, none of this is particularly mysterious. I suspect I am not the only person who has ever known the answer to the question “what should I do”, and yet not done it. But if we distinguish between the true good, which is the rational answer to an intelligent question about what should be accomplished, and between pseudo-goods–anything insofar as it is the object of any desire–then it should be clear both in what sense sin is unintelligible, and why sin is not a form of ignorance. To say, then, that the will cannot but choose the good is right in one sense and wrong in another–right insofar as it cannot avoid the question “what ought I to do”, and wrong in that one can know the answer and yet not do it.


        • brian says:

          “The will is a rational faculty, and doesn’t refer to any sort of desire whatsoever.”

          I think this is manifestly untrue. The intellect knows the Good and the will desires the Good. There’s no doubt that human knowing goes beyond the immediate, tangible, environmental consciousness of the animal, but I believe it is a mistake to detach the human from its cosmic relations. Indeed, to treat such aspects of “naive realism” as the flower in the garden, or one’s emotions, or aesthetic intuitions as nugatory when it comes to a broader conception of what reason entails is to think of man as cut-off from his priestly vocation to “speak for” the cosmos in its journey to union with God. Since you evidently value (while disagreeing profoundly, apparently, per your comments to Hart, with Lonergan) you ought to look at Burrell’s comments on Lonergan’s translation of Aquinas’ central phrase conversio ad phantasmata as “insight into image” before simply dismissing the imagination as a mode of genuine knowledge.


          • Thomas says:

            You are reading into my comment more than is there. Imagination does, in fact, play a role in many acts of human knowing. Since we begin in ignorance, we need subject material for our questions. This requires, not only what we happen to be looking at in the moment, but the ability to call to mind things we have looked at in the past. It often involves “imaginative variation”, where we contrast and compare, stretch images, and attempt to look at things in a different way.

            But to the extent that we only imagine, we do not know. In our case, we must have in addition to looking (either through the senses or the imagination) insights. Suppose that I saw the characters on the page you typed in your comment, that I imagined you saying them, that I called to mind the other marks you made, and so on. Yet, I failed to get the point. I am unable to articulate what you said in different words, unable to distinguish premises from conclusions, core claims from examples. Were I to say that you were wrong, you would rightly object that I have not understood you, precisely because, although I have made free use of my perceptive and imaginative faculties, I have stayed on the level of mere presentation.

            This is why, for instance, knowledge of the natural world did not advance with Aristotle’s methods. Aristotle’s emphasis in, say, his botany was on cataloguing the sensible properites of things — their size, where they are found, color, posture, etc. In contrast, in De Anima, Aristotle moves beyond the way human beings look, how tall they are, the color of their skin, to seek not sensible, but intelligible forms–the soul. In retrospect it is odd that Aristotelians didn’t seize on the difference between sensible and intelligible forms earlier. In a way, Newton beat them to it.

            So the imagination can play a positive role as human beings seek knowledge, but it is not constitutive of knowledge. God, the primary instance of a knower, as I hope we will all agree does not experience or imagine. And this precisely because of his perfection as a knower.


    • DBH says:


      This is, in fact, a fair summary of of the traditional Thomist position (especially in the manualist tradition). In fact, Thomists will tell you that the whole drama of “natural” suffering and death is a reflection of God’s original creative intentions, and that the first human beings were merely offered an exemption from natural suffering only by a gracious superelevation beyond nature. “Eden” was a supernatural exception to the frame of creation as God made it (curiously cold-blooded demiurge that he apparently is).

      Now, to me this is merely further evidence that traditional Thomism is an absurd system of thought–the logical problems with such a view are bad enough, while the moral problems are insuperable–and that Thomas himself, while generally a great metaphysician, was often a very bad theologian. I put traditional Thomism alongside traditional Calvinism as an obvious example of what moral imbecility we create in ourselves in order to make the ludicrous seem inoffensively rational.

      The real Christian tradition (i.e., Paul) has always understood all cosmic evil–natural and moral alike–as the result of fallenness. Death “entered into the cosmos” and the whole of creation in its suffering longs to be liberated into the glory of God. Such liberation would have no purpose unless suffering and death were seen as an unnatural bondage. Romans 8 would make no sense, really, if the traditional Thomist position were to be taken seriously.

      And who would be so stupid as to think that a child dying of cancer is not part of the problem of evil, because one has arbitrarily limited the idea of evil to one of “unintelligible” moral choices? Obviously, natural evil is very much a part of the mystery of evil and a direct indictment of the creator if left unredeemed. If that is the “natural” course of things that God created, then creation is indeed the work of an incompetent archon. To fail to see that is to abandon a Christian perspective for a Stoic. And to imagine that there is such a thing as a choice of any kind without some intelligible rationale is to posit a logical absurdity.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thomas says:

        Since I’ve conjured up what I take to be the Thomist/Lonerganian counter, I’ll add that I’d like to see it revised in the direction, say, of the position in “Doors of the Sea”.

        But I am a believer in Camus’ dictum – what is true is not necessarily what is desirable. Perhaps because I very much want it to be the case that suffering is intrinsically, absolutely evil, I also am very aware that I may be prone to accept the view without sufficient grounds for doing so. I don’t want to be a “soft and inviting target” for rheteric that appeals to my desire for self preservation, fear of tremendous pain, or the abhorrence or outrage at the suffering of children. I am not at all dismissive of the enormity of suffering — it wasn’t long ago that I represented children in situations not always altogether unlike those from Ivan’s stories.

        So you can think of me as someone who would love to agree you, but whose critical side demands a very thorough answer (or rather, counter-argument) to St. Thomas or Lonergan. I want certainty — and the case that St. Thomas or Lonergan provide is not stupid. Their argument hinges, in fact, on the intelligence as the criteria of the good. And it is impossible to coherently disagree.

        Moral intelligence not a matter of simply “taking a look” at cases of suffering and seeing what there is to see. (The tell-tale sign of the “taking-a-look” method is the word “obvious”.) It can only take the form of inquiry, driven by an adherence to truth, and an awareness of the perils of one’s own biases.

        That is partly why sin is not mere ignorance. The particular good is simply what answers the question “what should I do here?”. Sin occurs when one knows the answer to the question, yet chooses otherwise. There can be a reason from a certain perspective (say, sociology), but no valid reason could be affirmed by the actor–since if there were a valid reason, the choice could not have been wrong.


        • DBH says:

          Oh, stuff and nonsense. Forgive my profanity. This is empty circular reasoning and nothing more, of the captious undergraduate without a real question variety, and therefore not worth trying to refute. You’re neither making an interesting case nor exercising your “critical side,” as you have offered no cogent argument to which a counter-argument is needed. You’re simply positing an arbitrary definition of the problem of evil, one that allows you to evade the actual question that others are reasonably asking. The “Thomistic-Lonerganian” language you propose is unanswerable because it happens to be a vapid tautology. If I ask: Why is there time? And you reply: So that it can be four o’clock–well, obviously you’re the one not recognizing the issue.

          But, what the hell, let’s linger over it for a bit.

          To begin with, there is no such thing as a choice for which one cannot supply any reason at all. It would not be a choice at all if there were, but only a spontaneous ebullition of blind “will” for which no moral culpability could be assigned. You mean there could be no morally acceptable reason in many cases, which is true; but then, again, the agent would still not be a fully rational agent, because he would be acting contrary to his her own nature’s truest good end, and could not do so but for some degree of misapprehension. There would certainly be a culpability in that, but a qualified one nonetheless.

          On the larger issues, you are not distinguishing between the problem of evil and the mysterium iniquitatis (the latter being a subset of the former). In fact, you are confusing far too many things altogether. The question of “unde hoc malum?” must include the question of why there is suffering and death, or it’s really not worth asking. We’re asking for the ways of God to be justified, not simply rationalized, and justified in their totality, not merely in particular cases. The question of evil has always been the question of natural and moral evil both, since both are manifestly enfolded as one within the divine “decision” to create, and therefore touch upon the largest question of all: Who is God? It is a natural evil that a child dies from agonizing cancers. It is a moral evil if someone directly chooses to make it happen. God created the world in which it happened. Did he thereby directly choose that natural evil? Did he choose it indirectly as a means to an end that will make it morally intelligible at the last? And is that possible? And what sort of end would it have to be to make a natural evil that enormous morally acceptable from the perspective of the whole? These are the sort of questions one must ask. If you’re not asking them, then you’re missing something very large and very obvious, and one has to wonder whether you’re quite paying attention.

          Sure, suffering can conduce to a good end in particular situations without being, as a cosmic fact, a good thing. I am willing to believe in providence and in God’s power to redeem even the seemingly irredeemable. The question of whether natural evil qualifies the moral nature of, say, the act of creation remains undiminished in its force, however. What is the price of creating? And, if among those natural evils we include a self-destruction and eternal torment of souls that could not have come about except through some degree of cognitive and emotional impairment, then that question becomes unbearably acute. In the end, if the whole of creation is only a relative natural good, by virtue of also being in some ultimate sense a natural evil left intact as a natural evil, then the act of creation is eternally only a qualified and relative moral good also. And, if such is the eternal counsel of God, then God too is only a qualifiedly and relatively good agent. He has willed natural evil as an act of rational choice, and therefore has willed it in itself, morally. Which is to say, God is not really God, but just a god who was capable of only so much good, and chose to go ahead anyway because he found the ultimate relative proportion of good over the relative proportion of evil in his works sufficiently agreeable. This would allow us, of course, to pose ourselves as judges of his decisions over against him, and–like Ivan–reject him on perfectly reasonable grounds. We would even be perfectly rational in deciding that, apparently, he’s a bit of a moral idiot, because he thinks it possible to justify the eternal torment of rational creatures as an acceptable price for a world that he is not metaphysically bound to create, and which adds nothing to the fullness of being he already possesses. To me, the picture becomes absurd well before we reach this juncture.

          All of which is to say: You need to be much more critical in your categories. This sort of non-argument argument is merely a tedious distraction, a thoroughly counterfeit piece of moral reasoning, with no solution to the problem it pretends to pose because that problem is (once again) a circular one–a sheer banality.

          Anyway, I’ve exhausted my internet presence for the year. I shall depart.

          Liked by 4 people

          • Thomas says:

            Dr. Hart:

            Probably I have not been clear enough on the perspective behind my previous two comments. My original comment stated, not my own view, but one that I put forward as the very general lines of a rejoinder that St. Thomas or Bernard Lonergan might make to this review (not necessarily your new book). And I suggested several lines of attack against it. In the follow up comment, I intended to indicate primarily methodical concerns (the criteria of pleasure/pain vs. that of intelligibility), but indicated that I wished to reach the same conclusions that you have. So I am not offering a “substantive” argument against your position. I’m happy to admit that my core substantive claim-that St. Thomas or Bernard Lonergan’s arguments are not trivial-incorporates those arguments by reference, rather than setting them out in the space of a comment.

            For what it’s worth, I think both St. Thomas and Lonergan are both wrong, and that the root of the argument against them proceeds along fairly technical metaphysical lines. Namely, St. Thomas lacks a proper notion of a whole whose parts are substances (which one can start to see with the paradoxes with artifacts), and Bernard Lonergan privileges general knowledge over concrete knowledge and mashes several different kinds of knowing together under the rubric of common sense (at least in Insight). Moreover, I think suffering does raise different philosophical issues than mere natural evil, because, even in animals, there is a certain apprehension of self. Which is why we don’t worry about the morality of eating asparagus, and why psychological trauma differs from physical trauma, etc.

            But advancing these arguments is a pretty large project and requires a thorough and careful treatment of the relevant texts and arguments–the sort filled with long quotations and bristling with footnotes–and I don’t know that I will ever have the chance to carry it out. Perhaps I’m hoping someone whose circumstances and abilities allow them to will just do it for me, answering my reservations to my satisfaction, so that I don’t have to think through it myself (so much for the vitality of my critical spirit, I guess).

            If I’m sounding overly critical, then, it’s not simply because I want people to be fair to St. Thomas or Lonergan. It’s rather because I want the case against them on this point to be bulletproof. I’ve lived in and been formed by their works (and yours) enough to think there are both vital and difficult issues here. I cannot tell how much we really differ on method–so far as I can tell this has shifted a great deal since “Beauty of the Infinite”. Perhaps a good portion of the difference concerns style, influences, and immediate objectives. I largely agree, in substance, with the arguments you make in this last comment and in many of your writings. I think we primarily differ on the question of how best and how easy it is to dispatch the arguments on evil, suffering, and hell which we, both of us, want to reject.

            Liked by 3 people

          • DBH says:

            I see. Take my words as expressing my impatience with certain traditionalist Thomists.

            Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Desmond does, indeed, think among other things that aesthetics is not an ersatz argument, but a mode of cognitive perception of being. Hence, it should not simply be equated with idiosyncratic taste or treated as an evasion from the search for wisdom. The philosopher must be open to his others (which would include the artist) as a means of coming to understand being in its plurivocity. Balthasar’s theology also would not treat beauty and differences in aesthetics so cavalierly. Further, there is something morally hideous in an “aesthetic” of lucid rationality that believes the intelligible is both detachable from the awareness of the entirety of human being, including emotions and the capacity to delight in beauty, as if all that was spurious when it comes to understanding, and also the heart’s protest against the suffering of creation. David Schindler’s explication of the ecstatic nature of reason is in line with, say, Marion Montgomery’s view of the intellectus as inclusive of intuition and artistic grappling with the truth of things.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thomas says:


        Insofar as I understand Desmond and Balthasar, your comment is quite accurate. But it plays into Lonergan’s critique, at least in the way it is framed.

        In “Insight” (as well as, less directly, “Verbum”, Lonergan is out to debunk the notion that there is such a thing as “the cognitive perception of being”. He distinguishes three components in knowing – presentation, understanding, and judgment. Presentation involves anything insofar as it is given, including, but perhaps not limited to, imagination, perception, and experience.

        Now the Platonic tradition defined knowledge in terms of a dualism between subject and object, however seriously Plato himself might have taken the myth of pre-existing souls. This shows up in later Platonists down to the present day–Stephen R.L. Clark’s philosophical arguments for the Trinity, for example, rely heavily on this.

        The subject-object dualism persists in many ways. Thus, early modern empiricists define knowing in terms of perception and perceiver. Scotus (or perhaps the Thomist caracature) posits a dualism between the mind’s eye and the concepts extracted by autonomous cognitive faculties. Phenomenologists often instrumentalize scientific knowing because modern science posits non-experiential entities–and being is what appears. These positions differ in many ways, but are united in the general sense that knowing must be taking a look at mind-independent realities.

        Aristotle, famously, takes a different path on knowing. Knowing is not a confrontation between knower and known, but a perfection. This is why there is no problem of God knowing the world: if God lacks no perfection, there is nothing he does not know, and his knowledge need not depend in any way on the world. (Even Thomists like W.N. Clarke and Garrigou-Lagrange get tripped up here. W.N. Clark even makes the baffling claim that in God there is a real distinction between intentional and real existence, and that God’s intentional existence mutates.)

        So Desmond’s system, with his “vectors of transcendence”, “porosities”, instrumentalization of science, etc. at least seems to be exactly the kind of thing Lonergan would regard as stuck in the model of extroversion. I think there are pieces in Desmond that could be developed away from the extroversion model, but it does seem to be ubiquitous in his writings. But, this is based on reading “Being and the Between” as well as several of Desmond’s essays some time ago.


    • Taylor Nutter says:


      Thanks for your questions. I want to proffer both a Thomistic and a Lonerganian response, since it seems that we share this background.

      When you say that moral intelligence is not merely a matter of taking a look, you seem to be alluding, at least implicitly, to the fact that those with vicious habits feel a true good to be painful. The question then arises: is the justice of God, which must be the Good Itself, experienced by those in hell as torments because of their inability to embrace that love which is the ground of their being? Besides that question, I must ask whether my desire that their suffering cease is merely a matter of my seeking satisfaction, or a matter of a true judgment concerning moral value?

      More importantly, we must decide whether our affects, appetites, feelings, and emotions ever put us in touch with reality. My preliminary response is – if we do not accept the doctrine of total depravity, then we must say that our fundamental inclinations allow us to apprehend reality as it actually is, not merely as we experience it to be. Otherwise we must posit some sort of affective Kantianism, which a Lonerganian cognitional theory does not allow. For, we cannot doubt the information our affects relays to us without a reason – to doubt reasonably always entails reasons. In other words, although Lonergan does distinguish between the objectivity of animal extroversion and the objectivity of human knowing as constituted ultimately by the apprehension of the virtually unconditioned (as you point out), he also accepts the objectivity of both primary and secondary qualities (disagreeing with Galileo, Locke etc.) and outlines experiential objectivity as potential. That experiential objectivity is an important element of Lonergan’s identification of the isomorphism between being and cognition. (Sorry non-Lonergan folks for all the insider-speak!)

      For Lonergan, falling in love with God in an unrestricted fashion puts us most in touch with reality, allows us to be most authentic through self-transcendence – objectivity, as Lonergan tells us, is the fruit of authentic subjectivity. This, I believe, is the love behind St. Francis picking worms up off the road so that they will not be trampled upon, the love of Saint Teresa of Calcutta caring for untouchables in her society, and the love of Christ as he raised the only son of the woman at Nain out of compassion for her suffering. Love, as I say in my review, is the good of others being caught up in one’s own good. That definition requires that love possess an affective dimension, and that that affective dimension put us in touch with the truly good. Aquinas agrees: (ST I-II 4.3, co.) “Since happiness consists in gaining the last end, those things that are required for Happiness must be gathered from the way in which man is ordered to an end. Now man is ordered to an intelligible end partly through his intellect, and partly through his will: through his intellect, in so far as a certain imperfect knowledge of the end preexists in the intellect; through the will, first by love which is the will’s first movement towards anything”

      Now, Aquinas says that “Love is something pertaining to the appetite, since good is the object of both. Wherefore love differs according to the difference of appetites. For there is an appetite which arises from an apprehension existing, not in the subject of the appetite, but in some other: and this is called the “natural appetite.” Because natural things seek what is suitable to them according to their nature, by reason of an apprehension which is not in them, but in the Author of their nature…” And again “Now in each of these appetites, the name “love” is given to the principle movement toward the end loved. In the natural appetite the principle of this movement is the appetitive subject’s connaturalness with the thing to which it tends, and may be called “natural love.” (Both from ST I-II 26.1, co.)
      As to what love apprehends: (ST I-II 27.2, ad. 2) “Something is required for the perfection of knowledge, that is not requisite for the perfection of love. For knowledge belongs to the reason, whose function it is to distinguish things which in reality are united, and to unite together, after a fashion, things that are distinct, by comparing one with another. Consequently the perfection of knowledge requires that man should know distinctly all that is in a thing, such as its parts, powers, and properties. On the other hand, love is in the appetitive power, which regards a thing as it is in itself: wherefore it suffices, for the perfection of love, that a thing be loved according as it is [apprehended] in itself. Hence it is, therefore, that a thing is loved more than it is known; since it can be loved perfectly, even without being perfectly known.” The point is that love gets us to the essence of things.

      The role of the appetites, affects, passions, inclinations, etc, in knowing the good can also be apprehended by looking at Aquinas’ question concerning the definition of right reason. Aquinas wonders whether right reason in practical matters must be defined in terms of the moral virtues or prudence. Put differently, Aquinas is wondering whether prudence directs the moral virtues or the moral virtues direct prudence. This question also parallels the question of whether the intellect directs the will or the will the intellect. Aquinas responds to this latter question by saying that the intellect identifies the end which the will chooses. In turn, the will moves the intellect in the exercise of it as an act. What is more, the intellect must come to identify the truly good end only given the data presented by the will as transcendentally ordered to the good as the formality under which anything is desire or chosen.

      So there is a dialectic between the intellect and the will in the identification of the truly good. We see this same patter repeated concerning the relation of the moral virtues to prudence in the definition of right reason in practical matters. Aquinas recognizes the possibility of a vicious circle in this latter relation, but solves it accordingly in his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: “If the truth of the practical intellect is determined by comparison with a right appetitive faculty and the rectitude of the appetitive faculty is determined by the fact that it agrees with right reason … an apparent vicious circle results from these statements. Therefore, we must say that the end and the means pertain to the appetitive faculty, but the end is determined for many by nature … On the contrary, the means are not determined for us by nature but are to be investigated by reason. So it is obvious that rectitude of the appetitive faculty in regard to the end is the measure of truth for the practical reason. According to this the truth of the practical reason is determined by agreement with a right appetitive faculty. But the truth of the practical reason itself is the rule for the rectitude of the appetitive faculty in regard to the means.”
      So is it that the appetites determine the truth of practical reason or that practical reason determines the rectitude of the appetites? The answer is yes, which proves the importance of appetites (and most importantly love) in our apprehension of the truly good. At ST I-II 66.3, ad. 3, Aquinas asserts that prudence directs the moral virtues not just in the identification of means but also in the identification of ends. At ST I-II 47.6, Aquinas writes that “it does not belong to prudence to appoint the end, but only to regulate the means.” There he states that synderesis (the inclination toward the good and movement away from evil) that appoints the ends to the moral virtues. This is only an apparent contradiction. While prudence identifies the specific ends of the moral virtues as the mean in each instance, the appetites (and synderesis) provides the data that the intellect operates on in making judgments about those ends. So, natural love is that which we must attend to when identifying ends, and that attentiveness and deliberation and choice in identification is the work of the intellect. Aquinas holds, therefore, that our appetites put us in touch with reality and, therefore, provide the intellect which the data by which we are able to identify the truly good.

      Lonergan, in Method in Theology, says something very similar. For Lonergan, judgment in the realm of ethics involves the apprehension of values that transcend mere satisfactions (something that makes sense with your acknowledgment that truth is a matter which transcends mere animal extroversion). However, Lonergan, in chapter 2 of Method in Theology, defines feelings as an intentional response to objects: “the relation of feelings to the cause or goal is simply that of effect to cause, of trend to goal. The feeling itself does not presuppose and arise out of perceiving, imagining, representing the cause or goal. Rather, one first feels tired and, perhaps belatedly, one discovers that what one needs is a rest.” (30) Lonergan also acknowledges the ambiguity you point out: “response to the agreeable or disagreeable is ambiguous. What is agreeable may very well be what also is a true good. But it also happens that what is a true good may be disagreeable.” (31) However, he goes on to define values in terms of judgments made on the basis of feelings: “Intermediate between judgments of fact and judgments of value lie apprehensions of value. Such apprehensions are given in feelings… [feeling as intentional] responds with the stirring of our very being when we glimpse the possibility or the actuality of moral self-transcendence.” (37-38) So it is that, in his lecture “The Response of the Jesuit as Priest and Apostle in the Modern World,” Lonergan can claim that “Just as a total openness to all questioning is our capacity for self-transcendence, so too an unrestricted being in love is the proper fulfillment of that capacity.” (page 145 in Second Collection) It is only by being in love in an unrestricted fashion that we attain that self-transcendence which defines authenticity and the fullest realization of what we are as human beings. And it is only in and through that love that we properly apprehend values through judgments concerning the truly good. This is not a matter of merely taking a look.

      When I make the judgment that the suffering of the poor is an evil that must not be countenanced, I am making that judgment based on that love which incites me to self-transcendence. I take that love to be a participation in the divine nature of which I fall short time and again. I also take the judgment that I ought to work to aid those suffering from addiction in any way that I can to be a judgment made on the basis of the desire of love to work toward the wholeness of all things. Wholeness is an ontological category apprehended concretely in its lack in persons through a love which gets at the essence of being human. It is a matter of apprehended first through love then through judgment the meaning of human flourishing. Combined with Hart’s arguments for universalism, as well as the ones that I offer in my above review, the judgment that eternal torment is incommensurate with divine love is a true judgment of fact based on true judgments of value and not merely a judgment made on the basis of the desire for satisfaction.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Thomas says:


        Thank you for the response. Your article hits on all the issues I think are most interesting. And, though I’m repeating myself, I want to get to the same place you do, my concerns relate mostly to the journey there.

        I do think your comment understates the bright line distinction Lonergan makes between experience on the one hand, and understanding and judgment on the other, between experiential conjugates (properties, for the non-Lonerganians) and explanatory property.

        Take this:

        > [Lonergan] also accepts the objectivity of both primary and secondary qualities (disagreeing with Galileo, Locke etc.) and outlines experiential objectivity as potential. That experiential objectivity is an important element of Lonergan’s identification of the isomorphism between being and cognition.

        Lonergan rejects the distinction between primary (extension, duration, etc) and secondary qualities (perceptible qualities) on a number of grounds, preferring instead to talk about experiential conjugates and explanatory conjugates. These categories do not have the same extension. And while Lonergan criticizes the early modern approach to secondary qualities, he himself asserts that experiential conjugates have no reality above and beyond explanatory conjugates (e.g., from the mathematical sciences).

        > “it would seem that metaphysical attempts to uphold the distinctive reality of sensible quality have nothing to uphold. For if metaphysics cannot reproduce the sense as sensed , it can uphold sensible quality only by assigning some corresponding intelligibility. But mathematical science already offers a corresponding intelligibility …” Insight, p. 420.

        This is part of the reason Lonergan claims that a mature metaphysics is not possible until the rise of the modern sciences. Quite a claim for a follower of St. Thomas!

        Likewise with: “experiential objectivity is an important element of Lonergan’s identification of the isomorphism between being and cognition.” Lonergan denies that experiential objectivity is an essential component of objectivity — indeed, he spends a good deal of the section on experiential objectivity hammering away on this point. He claims that experiential objectivity is confused for an objectivity defined without reference to experience, that needs only a subject and a non-identical object. Indeed, if experiential objectivity were an essential component of knowing, then God would not be a knower.

        Now this metaphysical issue may seem beside the point where the question is not being, but the good. But, for Lonergan, it is not at all beside the point. Lonergan, in fact, identifies being with the good in the section “The Ontology of the Good”, on page 628. And almost as if he were anticipating our debate over whether the criteria of the good is feeling or intelligent inquery, he declares:

        > “… it will not be amiss to assert emphatically that the identification of being and the good bypasses human sentiments and feelings to take its stand exclusively upon intelligible order and rational value.” 629

        And he draws the larger conclusion on the debate on whether suffering is good:

        > “Now if the criteria of good and evil are sensitive pleasure and pain, then clearly physical and moral evils are ultimately evil. But the proper criterion of the good is intelligibility, and in this universe everything but basic sin can be understood and so is good. For the imperfection of the lower is the potentiality for the higher …” Insight, p. 629.

        Now, my line of argument would be that Lonergan is correct to identify the good with intelligibility and to deny that its criteria are human sentiments or feeling, but incorrect to say that natural evils and sufferings are intelligible without a final restoration.

        I could go on to the issue of love, but given that Lonergan himself places that at a later stage than this, it’s probably best to make sure we have the foundational issues clarified. Do we, or do we not agree, that experience, presentation, feeling, etc. are not how being is known, that being is, at least heuristically, defined by understanding and judgment? And do we agree that human sentiment is not ultimately the criteria of the good?


  5. Grant says:

    Thank you for this article Mr Nutter I enjoyed reading it very much. I would say that I agree (as much as a layperson such as myself can understand it) with Hart that I don’t think it is even conceptually possible for someone to turn or refuse the highest good (and their own) once they truly apprehend it. Once they truly perceive and understand the Good and Being with the totality of their being and in fullness of clarity in intellect, will, emotions, desires, appetites, inclinations, physical senses, within and without all these united and healed to enable clarity of perception (through the resurrection) and know their true selves and all others in Christ, knowing themselves as they are know, I do not see how they can choose otherwise. This to me is because any conceptual reason and state that now would keep someone in a state of fear, resistance or hostility towards their full good being made in ignorance will vanish in that clarity, as the motives and reasons for that view, state or frustrated action they would see and understand realized in the good, which is what they were aiming for and reaching towards in both each movement, act, aim and attitude. I minor disagreement since I know you essentially say that in actuality this would indeed be the case, but still, I would agree with Hart in not seeing how it would even be conceptually possible.

    But I’m in full agreement (as I understand it of course) with the rest. I agree that none of this results in losing freedom but rather it is the enabling of freedom of choice, much as a child unable to talk can be frustrated in reaching their aims until they grow and full develop speech are able to both understand and achieve their aims, or someone cured of a delirium of a disease is able to perceive and understand reality around them more clearly and can with that achieve their aims and desires truly rather then being bound from doing this by their impairment and ignorance. It is the very ignorance and impairment which causes a lack of freedom, and the inability to understand and make our true actions or achieve our aims. Just as with these they do not have the choice to not understand speech or to have a delirious hallucination, such is hardly a loss of freedom, but rather to given of the ability to be free and achieve that very aims and desires, wants and choices we are actually reaching for and aiming at. The Son will set us free, and we will be free indeed, sin is a frustrated and malformed and enslaved choice that misunderstands and doesn’t apprehend it’s true aim, acted in disorder, incompleteness, ignorance, delusion and lack of perception, once that is removed and healed they are free and actually able to choose in actually (as once a damaged hand is healed it can reach and work fully and no longer be frustrated).

    Thank you again, I much enjoyed it and hopefully learned something 🙂


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