But the Problem of Free Will

by David W. Opderbeck, Ph.D.

As mentioned at the end of my previous post, David Bentley Hart’s argument in That All Shall Be Saved depends on a specific understanding of human freedom and the will. In response to the “free will” argument that “Hell’s gates are locked from the inside,” Hart makes two crucial moves. First, he defines “freedom” not as “libertarian” freedom to choose one thing rather than another, but rather as the ability to act in accordance with one’s created nature. Second, he relies on Maximus the Confessor’s distinction between the “natural” and the “gnomic” will for the argument that all rational creatures ultimately must choose to be united with God.

“Libertarian” and “Compatibilist” Freedom

In the contemporary analytic philosophy lingo, Hart’s first move is a kind of “compatibi­lism” about human freedom. I personally agree with this move. More precisely, I agree that the modern analytic categories of “libertarian” and “compatibilist” freedom produce confusions when they are abstracted from the pre-modern contexts in which debates about free will and determinism first arose in Ancient Near Eastern/Hebrew, Greek, Christian, and Islamic thought. In other words, without transcendence — without God — the very notions of “freedom” and “the will” make no sense. “Freedom” is choosing the good; choosing evil is not a “free” choice but an irrational dissolution of the will into bondage. That was the view of most of the Church Fathers and Doctors prior to modernity, and I’d say its the view reflected in the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets, the Gospels, and Paul’s letters.

Many — perhaps most, outside some Calvinist and Thomist circles — contemporary theologians and philosophers of religion disagree. They argue that libertarian freedom is essential to human moral responsibility. This is the view, for example, of one of the leading current defenders of the free will defense of Hell, Jerry Walls: Hell: The Logic of Damna­tion  and Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I don’t want to try to recite the different moves in that debate, because in the end I basically agree with Hart on this point. It’s fair to note, however, that this is a Very Big Question with many possible shades of meaning, and it seems impossible to adjudicate one camp as completely wrong and the other as completely right.

Maximus on Adam, Christ, and the Will

But even if we adopt a classical compatibilist view of human freedom, we’re left with the reality of sin. The fact is, we choose unfreedom. Why? And if we choose unfreedom now, why should we think we’ll turn around and choose freedom sometime in the distant eschaton?

For Christian thinkers of various stripes, the “why” question always centers on what happened with Adam in the Garden. Hart skewers the crude Augustinian view of original sin, but the difference between humanity now and humanity in the Garden was important to all the Church Fathers. This was certainly the case for Maximus the Confessor. In fact Maximus’s doctrine of the “gnomic” will is directly tied to his understanding of the nature of humanity before and after the Fall.

Like Origen, Maximus believed that Adam was in a state of spiritual perfection before the Fall. While Origen believed Adam fell from a state of dispassionate rest into a state of embodied strife, Maximus’ view of the prelapsarian Adam was more dynamic, with a state of motion that should have moved towards God into rest but that instead went in a different direction (see Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 67). So while Maximus corrected what he thought were distortions in Origen’s thought, Maximus also thought there was something fundamentally broken in human psychology that related to Adam’s fall into our current kind of embodiment.

Problems with Maximus’ Protology

Some aspects of Maximus’ understanding or prelapsarian humanity — not unlike the similar views of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa — remain so indebted to Platonism that they seem to deny the goodness of the material creation. Most significantly, in Maximus’s view, before the Fall there was no sexual differentiation or sexual reproduction, at least for humans. The need to have sex — to lose control of one’s self in the pleasure of orgasm — in order to reproduce, for Maximus, is a consequence of the Fall (see Ad Thalassium 61: “On the Legacy of Adam’s Transgression,” in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, 131-144). And because each human being since Adam comes into the world through the “unnatural” passion of sex, all humans are born into a stream of imperfection.

For Maximus, our “gnomic” will is that part of us that perceives a choice between such “unnatural” passions as sex and our natural created good. The “natural” will, oriented to the spiritual goodness of our prefallen state, remains, but we do not always follow the rational course of our natural will and instead choose unnatural passions through the gnomic will. The purpose of ascetic Christian practice is to tame the gnomic will and thereby to learn to live according to our natural will — that is, to eliminate the tendency to “choose” unnatural passions and instead to receive freedom from the passions in our natural created being. Christ is able to heal humanity because, having been born of a virgin and not through the “unnatural” process of sexual intercourse, he has only a natural human will and not a gnomic will (see Ad Thalassium 21, “On Christ’s Conquest of the Human Passions,” and Ad Thalassium 42, “On Jesus Christ, the New Adam Who ‘Became Sin,'” in Blowers and Wilken, 109-114, 119-122; Difficulty 41, in Louth, 156-162). Maximus’ overriding concern in his connections between protology, Christology, and eschatology is to show that the “divisions” in creation are not “natural.” “Division” is not how the creation is meant to share in the goodness of God, who is one. The central “division” is the conflict in the human will. The “division” between male and female, resulting in differences that produce conflicts, is one that must be overcome.

There is much here that a constructive Christian theology for today, sensitive to the important concerns of feminism, can critically appropriate (see, e.g., Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self). At the same time, it’s important to pause and note that Maximus’ understanding of human physicality — particularly of sex and the pleasure of orgasm — is no less distorted than Augustine’s. However we might criticize Luther and Calvin, I’m grateful that they reminded us that our bodies, in all their functions, are created good. Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora help free Christians to enjoy the beautiful gift of sexuality. A doctrine of creation that recoils from embodied humanity, including the created goodness of sexuality, is a flawed doctrine of creation.

Is the Restoration of All Humans Inevitable for Maximus?

But let’s set aside some of these specific elements of Maximus’ thought that still seem too indebted to a body-denying Gnosticism and note the obvious truth of his deep understanding of human psychol­ogy. The desire for pleasure overrides our needs for other goods, including goods of mutuality and community, such that our pursuit of what we think is pleasure paradoxically plunges us into loss and despair. We are not all heroin addicts but we all in some ways greater and lesser live like heroin addicts, throwing away the gift of our lives while chasing the dragon. This is not a unique observa­tion of Maximus’s, but he places it into a bigger cosmic context with Christ at the center — which means with humanity, true humanity, at the center.

Maximus does not suggest, however, that this restoration is an inevitable process for any human person. Indeed, it takes faith and ascesis:

Those will alone be judged blessed who count nothing of value alongside the goods of the soul and share in the divine and eternal goods, beside which they take account of nothing whatever through any kind of care for material things, completely oblivious of wealth and health and other transient goods which the virtues transcend. (Difficulty 10, 1172C-D, in Louth, 135-136)

Passages such as this one suggest many will be lost, while the overall logic of Maximus’ vision of cosmic renewal suggests otherwise. Indeed, there is a debate in the secondary literature on Maximus over whether he in fact accepted a modified form of Origen’s doctrine of apokatastasis, or whether his occasional comments about judgment and the eternity of Hell should be taken at face value (see Andreas Andreopoulos, “Eschatology in Maximus the Confessor,” in The Oxford Hand­book of Maximus the Confessor). In any event, Maximus’ emphasis on ascetic practice shows that he meant to correct the view, supposedly drawn from Origen, “that the providential order of the cosmos would suffice in itself to accomplish the return of fallen souls to union with God. . . .” (Louth, 69). Louth suggests that, “[f]or Maximus, any such idea grossly underestimates the damage done by the Fall” (Ibid.).

Contemporary Challenges for Maximus’ Account of the Will

All of the discussion above raises plenty of questions about whether Maximus’ account of the will really does all the work relating to apokatastasis that Hart ascribes to it. But even if it might, we’re still left with the question whether Maximus’ account of the will is actually true.

Maximus developed his distinction between the natural and gnomic wills in the context of a long and contentious history of philosophical and theological debates about human freedom, determinism, and providence, in the particular hothouse of the monothelite controversy (see Bronwein Neil, “Providence and the Gnomic Will Before Maximus,” in The Oxford Hand­book of Maximus the Confessor; Ian A. McFarland, “Willing is Not Choosing,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 9:1 [January, 2007], 1-23). It’s fair to say the general question of human freedom and cosmic determinism is one of the biggest questions in all of the history of philosophy and theology. It’s also fair to say that the monothelite controversy reflects on the central mystery of Christian faith: how Jesus can be both fully human and fully God. We may appreciate Maximus’ brilliant insights into these questions, but the notion that he basically “got it all right” and settled the questions forever seems facially unlikely.

From a contemporary perspective, we must ask how Maximus’ insights relate to what the natural sciences have disclosed about the evolution of the universe and of life on Earth, including the evolution of homo sapiens. This question, of course, in turn raises huge methodological questions about the relationship between theology and science. I devote about fifty pages to this question (and I don’t claim to solve it!) in a forthcoming book on law, theology, and neuroscience, drawn from my doctoral dissertation on this subject, so I can’t possibly do it justice in a few paragraphs in a blog post. Let me note this: I studied with Conor Cunningham, author of Darwin’s Pious Idea, and I broadly agree with the critique Radical Orthodoxy has raised about much of the modern “theology and science” literature (and that Hart has alluded to, for example, in The Experience of God). The natural sciences are made possible because of theology — because God is the Creator — and so the “dialogue” between theology and science is not just a matter of two otherwise neutral parties sharing a pint at the local pub.

At the same time — and here I depart from at least some Radical Orthodoxy thinkers, at least as far as I can tell from the little they’ve written on this — a theology of creation tells us that the physical universe is real and possesses a causal integrity that allows the natural sciences to make truth claims that theology cannot simply ignore. Sarah Coakley’s Gifford Lectures, Sacrifice Regained, I think offer excellent insights about how “critical realism” in theology and science can be modified in relation to Christian metaphysics, though I disagree with many of Coakley’s conclusions about the theological import of evolution. None of this means I reject philosophical idealism tout court, but I think it does mean that if philosophical idealism is to inform a Christian doctrine of God and Creation it must result in a created order that is real, not illusory or ephemeral, precisely because the “ideas” of God are not an effervescent part of God’s being, but because God, who is and who is one, by his Logos gives creation its life, and because that creation participates in God’s own life.

Back to Maximus: the history of human evolution, which involves the development of human emotions and psychology, including, centrally, the drive to procreate through sex, extends back in time millions of years. And before primates began to diverge from other mammals about 85 million years ago, sex was central to the drives of our earlier mammilian forbears. Indeed, “Sex and Death” can be described as the core facts of evolutionary biology (see Kim Sterelny and Paul E. Griffiths, Sex and Death). Contra Maximus, humans didn’t inherit a “gnomic will” when a sexless Adam fell from a heavenly realm into the present material world. We inherited what Maximus calls the “gnomic will” through billions of years of evolution — that is, through the means God employed to create our bodies, which always entailed sex and (physical) death.

This doesn’t mean we can’t appropriate some of Maximus’ (and for that matter Origen’s) insights about the ideal nature of humanity, particularly with further help from some aspects of modern philosophical idealism (see, e.g., my article “Can Origen Help Us Understand Adam,” New Blackfriars, 99:1083, August, 2018, 561-577). I am not — most definitely not — a modern neuroscientist or evolutionary psychologist who thinks the human “will” is nothing but an epiphenomenon of evolution (if and when I finish that book, I’ll make that argument more fully). But at the same time we can’t just take Maximus’ categories, developed in a pre-scientific era and drawn from Platonic-Christian creation myths, as actual descriptions of how things were and are.

In fact, the second creation narrative in Genesis 2 and the account of the “Fall” in Genesis 3, clothed as they are in ancient near eastern mythology, seem to confirm that the “gnomic” will, the possibility of choosing against the good, was present in the Garden, before the first evil choice was made. The “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” stands alongside the “Tree of Life.” The command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the first law before it was broken, which means the choice whether to eat or not was always present in creation’s design (Gen. 2:8-16). The “serpent” was made “crafty” (“cunning”) from the start, meaning the waters of chaos could always return (Gen. 3:3; cf. the tohu wabohu of Gen. 1:1 and the Leviathan/sea serpent of Job 41).

Neither the Genesis narratives, nor Paul in his appropriation of them, nor the Greek Fathers (including Maximus), nor Augustine, properly explain why Adam made that first choice or why that first choice was metaphysically possible. The surd of Adam’s sin is a surd, whether Adam was a pre-material creature, an Augustinian superman, or the fruit of evolution’s random walk. If that first choice was metaphysically possible and Adam made it, it’s unclear why any eons of eternity will purge the possibility of such a choice from humanity, or if what might be left after such a purgation would really be “human” after all. We might wonder if this kind of “heaven” is really “hell,” where forced cognitive reprogramming lobotomizes all human difference in a kind fascist’s paradise.

In my view, where scripture leaves us here is where theology leaves us. We want the certain answers of one system or another, but we’re not given a neat, rational system, we’re given light and the waters of chaos, gardens and serpents and trees. We “see through a glass darkly” and we won’t see “face to face” until time ends. (1 Cor. 13:12.) For now, the love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things provides the substance that elude our reason. (1 Cor. 13:7.) I don’t think we can say much more with certainty than this, though I’m grateful for Hart’s efforts to do so.

(Return to first article)

* * *

David Opderbeck is Professor of Law at Seton Hall University Law School. In addition to his legal training, he earned an M.A.T. from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology from the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Law and Theology, forthcoming with Fortress Press this November.

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

98 Responses to But the Problem of Free Will

  1. Jason says:

    Dr. Opderbeck, you wrote, “If that first choice was metaphysically possible and Adam made it, it’s unclear why any eons of eternity will purge the possibility of such a choice from humanity, or if what might be left after such a purgation would really be ‘human’ after all.” Would you agree that for such a metaphysical possibility in a posthumous state to be of concern, one has to presuppose mankind’s (Adam’s) pre-fallen level of communion with God to be identical (or at least tantamount) to one’s communion with God after death?

    Like

  2. brian says:

    Too much to comment on briefly here, David. I would note that since Hart emphasizes how God is the transcendent Good that is the horizon within which all created goods are sought, and hence also the ultimate end of all yearning, I think it’s a mistake to infer that somehow he is committed to a concept of distinguishing between natural and gnomic will that requires or implies a refusal of the good of sexual difference or desire. Nor do I believe one should take evolutionary biology as identical to the metaphysics of creation or at least offering a non-negotiable signature or trace of divinity, so I personally would not accept any mechanism that necessarily incorporates death as indicative of an agapeic origin

    Like

  3. Donald says:

    “If that first choice was metaphysically possible and Adam made it, it’s unclear why any eons of eternity will purge the possibility of such a choice from humanity, or if what might be left after such a purgation would really be “human” after all. We might wonder if this kind of “heaven” is really “hell,” where forced cognitive reprogramming lobotomizes all human difference in a kind fascist’s paradise.”

    This is tiresome. “Kind fascist’s paradise”. Good grief. It’s like you are looking for some excuse to be doubtful that heaven is possible at all.

    I would like to think that even in my present state I would not choose to be someone like Hitler. Maybe I’m wrong. Supposing I’m right, I am happy not to have the freedom to be a genocidal monster. And in some heavenly future maybe it will become impossible for me to be tempted to be unkind. If so, great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Justement, mon enfant sage et vertueux. Vous avez vu la vérité qui a été voilée par ceux qui sont pleins d’années.

      Forgive me for reverting to my natal tongue. Joy overwhelmed me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dbecke says:

        I tried to clarify this below:

        My “fascist paradise” comment — yeah, I _knew_ I thought about editing that out and I should have. What I was trying to get at here was the idea that I see in Maximus that “difference” is itself a problem to be overcome. What do fascists want, if not for everyone to think, act, and be, exactly the same, to erase all human difference, even the difference of sex? So — sorry about that, it really didn’t mean it as a swipe at [DBH].

        Like

        • DBH says:

          The problem is that it suggests you have abandoned any coherent account of rational freedom or of the Christian understanding of reality. The word “fascist” didn’t offend me. The reasoning did. If you can’t see that sin is slavery (John 8:34) and that the whole story of the gospel is that Christ has come to set the captive and the oppressed free (Luke 4:18), what are you talking about to begin with? Again, I think my book answers this more than completely and more than convincingly. But so have thousands of other books. And you simply are not making an argument of any substance at that point. You’re thrashing around for an argument that might make an irrational premise seem acceptable.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Tom says:

    Thank you for the time and effort put into these contributions, David. You might have tapped into Bugakov (Lamb of God) and his assessment (and critique) of Maximus on these points.

    Overall, I agree gnomic indeterminism with respect to the good is a (prelapsarian) must (albeit temporary, obviously) for creatures intended for final, loving union with God. If God could have created that which he intended for final union with him and which was not capable (by means of good, God-given powers) of falling, God would’ve done so. He didn’t. Hence, such a ‘beginning’ is, in the end, inconceivable. Gnomic willing with respect to the good is original and God-given (albeit a temporary ‘liberty of will’ which is ‘the possibility of freedom’ – but that ‘possibility’ is gnomic, prelapsarian, and God-given). It’s simply the price-tag of our coming to perceive and embrace the truth of our our own finitude and the nothingness out of which we are called into being.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      One more thought, David. I think you could have made a better for the original goodness of the gnomic will (teleologically speaking). But because you’re not a universalist, I’m guessing you take the gnomic will as suggesting the possibility of irrevocable foreclosure, and thus an eternal hell. But this is false, logically speaking. Creaturely modes of willing lie within a broader horizon, i.e., God as our final end, the irreducible teleological structure of consciousness and willing, etc. But with you (if I follow you), there’s also no intending finitude for final union with the Good without granting finitude the gnomic, risky, ‘possibility of freedom’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robertson Lane Gramling says:

        While we’re on this subject, I’d love to talk a bit more about Gregory and Maximus on sexual difference as somehow a concession to human sinfulness. Gregory’s defense of this, and Maximus following him, seems to rely on a kind of implicit molinism–a doctrine which I regard as incoherent. For Gregory marriage and sexuality do end up getting a treatment that almost makes a felix culpa out of the whole thing but then I’m not really willing to recognize felix culpa language as anything more than a kind of pious hyperbole. (props to Taylor Ross for this latter point btw)
        Having said all that, though, Bulgakov’s critique of the denial of gender difference essential properness to creation in Unfading Light might be the best. Commenting on Eruigena’s apparent claim that the disciples recognized the glorified Christ as male only because they could better recognize him that way, Bulgakov brings the matter wonderfully back to pious practice. We venerate the similarly perfected Mary as the MOTHER of God, indeed in some sense as our own mother. And so, boom-roasted, this will not do.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ellis Brazeal says:

    David: Loved your piece. Thanks for your helpful discourse on Maximus. I look forward to reading your upcoming book.

    My wife and I were discussing the benefits of redemptive suffering this morning. Neither she nor I would truly be Christians but for redemptive suffering.

    Is it possible that, at some point, redemptive suffering will cause all of us to embrace our natural will to love God—whether in this life or the next?

    Like

  6. DBH says:

    David,

    Excuse the capital letters below, but this damned comment-box technology doesn’t allow for italics, it seems.

    I have to admit that my stamina is not equal to all of this. You have confused far too many things. And, I am sorry, but my patience is also exhausted. Your arguments are off the mark, and I’m not sure why you don’t see that most of them—the legitimate ones at least—are more than handily dealt with in the book.

    In your first paragraph you write:

    “First, he defines “freedom” not as “libertarian” freedom to choose one thing rather than another, but rather as the ability to act in accordance with one’s created nature. Second, he relies on Maximus the Confessor’s distinction between the “natural” and the “gnomic” will for the argument that all rational creatures ultimately must choose to be united with God.”

    Wrong on both counts, and egregiously so.

    First, I define PERFECT freedom, as all classical and Christian tradition does as well, and as plain logic dictates, as the perfectly unhindered realization of one’s nature in the end that fulfills it AS RATIONAL. I am clear, however, that freedom for a finite nature requires a deliberative capacity freely (libertarianly, if you like) to resist or embrace that end. All I reject is the notion that there can be rational freedom that is not defined by a rational final cause, or a freedom that is not measured in direct proportion to the rational competency of the agent. And, remember, a final cause is not a mechanical force of attraction. It is simply the terminal possibility that defines a thing as what it is. An oak seed has an oak tree as its end, as part of its intrinsic definition and rationality. Rational desire has a rational end, as part of the necessary determination of what it is. This is not debatable. The sort of libertarianism you suggest is “equally plausible” is in fact a dead issue among good philosophers. It’s defensible only if you have given up on any definition of freedom as truly purposive (which is to say, any definition of freedom as free). Just because a lot of bad philosophers have made bad arguments for an impossible position does not make that position an equal player in the game of logical possibilities.

    But I’ll return to that.

    Second, You have hugely exaggerated the importance of Maximus in my text. He is mentioned in passing a few times. I use his terminology of natural and gnomic wills as a shorthand to explain the difference between the necessary conditions of any real rational freedom and the psychological particularity of free acts. If I had preferred to use German idealist terms, I could have talked about transcendental and empirical freedom. If I had wanted to use Vedantic terms, I would have spoken of Atman and Jiva. If I had wanted to be strictly Plotinian, it would have been Nous and Psyche. Maximus’s own view of universalism or freedom—or what his “honorable silence” was all about—is a matter of old debate. But it is wholly irrelevant to my book’s argument. WHOLLY. And, on the issue of what the structure of a free act would have to be, that requires no metaphysics at all. Just pay attention to what you are doing the next time you choose a salad at lunch rather than a plate of cracklin’ or a glass of poison.

    And so your talk of compatibilism is way off the mark. Daniel Dennett, say, is a compatibilist in the modern analytic sense because he is a determinist at the level of EMPIRICAL deliberation. That is, he believes that libertarian freedom exists only in the sense that there exists a phenomenon that can be called free choice, but that can also—and without remainder—be subjected to an eliminativist reduction. For him, every “free” act is the emergent result of an incalculable sequence of small, mindless, physicalist, mechanical causes. Because those causes are so complex, however, at the level of folk psychology we can call this free choice. The two descriptions are compatible, because they are descriptive of different levels of reference. In the same way, Dennett will say, “Yes, you have a soul. It’s just made up of millions of tiny robots.”

    That you mistake my position for compatibilist is a cause of deep despondency in me (and in my dog). The whole point of arguing for a transcendent horizon where the natural impulse of rational volition has a real relation to an eternal order of reality is to make it possible to affirm that there really is such a thing as freedom, that deliberative liberty is real, and that we are not determined by brute causal forces. Hence, my argument in the book is not that we cannot reject God. It is that we cannot do so with perfect knowledge and perfect freedom, and so those apologetic escape hatches for the infernalists don’t work.

    As for citing Jerry at me, his book fails on just this point because he can identify no way of breaking into the circle of freedom and rationality, or of breaking out, and he cannot say why pure libertarianism (of the spontaneous) variety is not the ultimate physicalist determinism. If a choice without rationale is possible, then an earthquake and a choice are equally fated.

    Again, as Maximus is not important in my book, this part of your argument I will glide over a bit. I will only say that neither Maximus nor Augustine believed “Adam” was PERFECTED in spirit. He had not achieved such perfect spiritual freedom that he was in the state of one non posse peccare. So, yes, he was capable of making a foolish choice. Unformed finite spirits can do that, no doubt. This really isn’t the problem you make it out to be—unless you deny that there is a real rational horizon to free will, and that the natural and deliberative faculties differ even in being inseparable.

    This whole section of your post does not qualify the logic of rational freedom I advance in the book.

    Your arguments from evolutionary science are also off the mark. And here you have actually, knowingly or unknowingly, wandered into the area of my principal research over the past several years, so you do in fact make my ears prick up. But your argument makes no sense and still does not alter the logic of rational freedom. No one with a proper sense of the diverse senses of “causality” (or perhaps aetiology is the better term) would think that the evolution of our physical natures in this world is somehow a counterweight to the “idealism” of a rationalist account of freedom. Unless, of course, you—like Dennett—are an eliminativist on the grounds that you think physical causes and spiritual causes compete with one another on the same level. If so, you’re the one who denies real freedom and liberty of the will. (I attach two paragraphs below from a chapter of my forthcoming “Theological Territories” just as a reminder of classical concepts of cause.)

    As for this:

    “We might wonder if this kind of “heaven” is really “hell,” where forced cognitive reprogramming lobotomizes all human difference in a kind fascist’s paradise.”

    There’s where I started to lose my temper. That is so logically backward that it’s shocking. You have effectively denied (or made room for the denial) that there is real rational freedom, and then claimed that you are defending liberty and psychic integrity. If you don’t get the contradiction, you are not thinking very clearly about it. If you reject the idea that “the TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE” and that the more irrational a choice the less free it must be (if you reject, that is, what is minimally required to affirm that there is a God and that we are his rational creatures), then you are no longer making an even analogously Christian argument. Is the possibility of an eternal hell so precious to us that we must sacrifice all the other indispensable (and they are indispensable) principles of classical theism?

    Anyway, thanks for your three articles. You did not identify the seams in my argument you spoke of, at least as far as I can see. You didn’t even really identify my argument as a totality. But your concerns were substantial enough to force me to respond, rather than stand back and smirk in supercilious disdain (as I have at the reviews of others). Still, your arguments aren’t good. But I believe that that’s not your fault. You’re arguing for (or sort of for) an inherently irrational position, and so you never had a chance of making sense.

    ADDENDUM (from Theological Territories, May, 2020, UNDP)
    But, of course, one cannot really reject something one does not understand. Neither Aristotle’s concept of an “aition,” nor any scholastic concept of a “causa,” actually corresponds to what we—following our early modern predecessors—mean when we speak of a “cause.” A better rendering of “aitia” or “causae,” in the ancient or mediaeval sense, might be “explanations,” “rationales,” “logical descriptions,” or (still better) “rational relations.” The older fourfold nexus of causality was not, that is to say, a defective attempt at modern physical science, but was instead chiefly a grammar of predication, describing the inherent logical structure of anything that exists insofar as it exists, and reflecting a world in which things and events are at once discretely identifiable and yet part of the larger dynamic continuum of the whole. It was a simple logical picture of a reality in which both stability and change can be recognized and described. And these aitia or causae were intrinsic and indiscerptibly integral relations, distinct dimensions of a single causal logic, not separated forces in only accidental alliance. A final cause, for instance, was an inherent natural end, not an extrinsically imposed design; and this was true even when teleology involved external uses rather than merely internal perfections (as in the case of human artifacts); it was at once a thing’s intrinsic fullness and its external participation in the totality of nature. Thus, in the Liber de Causis (that mysterious digest and theological synthesis of the metaphysics of Proclus that entered Western scholasticism from the Islamic philosophical world), one of the principal “causes” of any isolated substance is the taxonomic category in which that thing subsists, the more “eminent” rational structure to which it belongs. In a sense, a causal relation in this scheme is less like a physical interaction or exchange of energy than it is like a mathematical equation, or like the syntax of a coherent sentence. Admittedly, this is a picture of reality that comes from ages in which it was assumed that the structure of the world was analogous to the structure of rational thought. But, then again, this was an eminently logical assumption—if only because there appears to be a more than illusory or accidental reciprocal openness between mind and world, and because the mind appears genuinely able to penetrate the physical order by way of irreducibly noetic practices like mathematics and logic.
    In any event, perhaps it really was necessary to impose the discipline of this impoverished causal language upon the scientific intellect, if only to direct its attention to the finest and humblest of empirical details. But even so, as Hegel so brilliantly demonstrated, one can never really reason purely from the particular. Once the notion of causality has been reduced from an integral system of rationales to a single kind of local physical efficiency, it becomes a mere brute fact, something of a logical black box; description flourishes, but only because explanation has been left to wither. So it was that Hume, having seen the spectral causal agencies of the schoolmen chased away, found causality itself now to be imponderable, logically reducible to nothing but an arbitrary sequence of regular phenomenal juxtapositions; even mathematical descriptions of events now became nothing more than reiterations of an episodic narrative without clear logical necessity. And this is indeed where we remain. Wherever induction fails to provide us with a clear physicalist narrative for especially complex or exceptional phenomena (like life or consciousness), we now must simply presume the existence and force of physico-mechanical laws sufficient to account for the emergence of such phenomena; and we must, moreover, do so no less casually and vaguely than those schoolmen of old supposedly presumed “obscure” or “occult” formal and final causes. We are no less dogmatic than our ancestors; we merely have fewer clear reasons for the dogmas we embrace. The older physical logic was coherent, though speculative; the newer is incoherent, though empirical. When mechanistic method became a metaphysics, and the tinted filter through which it viewed nature was mistaken for an unveiling of nature’s deepest principles, all explanations became tales of emergence, even in cases of realities—life, consciousness, even existence itself—where such tales seemed difficult to distinguish from stories of magic.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Tom says:

      Dr. Hart: “I define ‘perfect’ freedom, as all classical and Christian tradition does as well, and as plain logic dictates, as the perfectly unhindered realization of one’s nature in the end that fulfills it ‘as rational’. I am clear, however, that freedom for a finite nature requires a deliberative capacity freely (libertarianly, if you like) to resist or embrace that end. All I reject is the notion that there can be rational freedom that is not defined by a rational final cause, or a freedom that is not measured in direct proportion to the rational competency of the agent. And, remember, a final cause is not a mechanical force of attraction. It is simply the terminal possibility that defines a thing as what it is.”

      Bien dit et au point. Cela clarifie parfaitement votre position. Merci!

      Like

      • DBH says:

        Merci, mon ami, et merci surtout de le dire dans le langage des anges.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Cycneus says:

          οὐ μέντοι, ὦ μακάριε, ἐκείνη ἡ τῶν δαιμόνων γλῶσσα.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            You monster! Welk, excuse my demotic, but—

            Οι δαίμονες δεν ξέρουν πώς να κάνουν κρασί ή πώς να γράφουν υπέροχα μυθιστορήματα. και οι δαίμονες ποτέ δεν ξέρουν τίποτα για ρομαντική ζωντανή.

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            ἀττικίζω μὲν οῦν, σύ δὲ βαρβαρίζων φλυαρίαν λέγεις, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ.

            (παίζω.)

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            καὶ δὴ καὶ ἔγραψα τὸ “δαίμονων” διὰ τὸ ἀττικίζειν· εἰ δὲ ἐχριστιάνισα, ἔγραφον ἂν τὸ “άγγέλων”, ἐνὸς δὴ ὄντος τῆς ἐννοίας τοῖν ὀνομάτοιν, ὥς γε ἔφη ὁ Ἀυγουστίνος ἐν τῷ “πόλις τοῦ θεοῦ”.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Παίζω επίσης.

            Like

          • ΔΒΗ says:

            Ἐτεόν.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            We are apparently experiencing a Pentecostal outbreak of writing in tongues here on Eclectic Orthodoxy!

            I must now pray that the Spirit will grace me with the charism of interpretation. 😎

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            Fr. Kimel:

            Sorry about that. Dr Hart (being, it seems, an incorrigible gallophile) suggested that French is the language of angels, to which I (moved by an inferiority complex of not knowing French very well) saw fit to reply, in the clearly superior tongue: “That, my dear sir, is certainly not the language of the intermediate divinities”. As for the rest, I only remember a prolonged manic episode of paging frantically through grammars and dictionaries.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cycneus says:

            But, for the love of all that is holy, I ought to have written μιᾶς οὔσης, not ἑνὸς ὄντος, so as not to confuse the feminine with the neuter like some flesh-eating savage (or perhaps a certain type of modern nominalist). I would go off and die of philological shame, but I fear the likely condemnation to a fate of having to write “Romani ite domum” on the walls of Hell up until the ἀποκατάστασις τῶν πάντων. Perhaps I ought simply to admit defeat and go work on my French.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Your meaning was clear.

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            Dieu merci.

            Like

        • Tom says:

          الحقيقة يا أحبائي هي أنّ لغة السماء هي العربية

          Liked by 3 people

          • DBH says:

            الحقيقة ، حبيبي ، هي أن لغة الجنة قد تكون اللغة العربية ، ولكن فوق السماوات يتم التحدث باللغة الفرنسية فقط.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            هاهاها. Wow. Hey, I wouldn’t mind – French or Arabic!

            Like

          • Tom says:

            لازم أسألك يا دكتور، مِن أين تعلّمت العربية ومنذ متى؟

            Like

          • DBH says:

            درست اللغات السامية في الجامعة. لكن اللغة العربية كانت لغة درستها والدتي لسنوات. تعرفت عليه في المنزل. لكنني لست بطلاقة.

            Excuse the automatic margin rectification.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Random Question Dr. Hart – at the beginning of your New Trinitarian Ontologies presentation you said you wouldn’t want to launch too far into Hegel with a certain Victoria ____ being in the room. Victoria who? (Anyone else can answer if you know the answer.) I’m looking for a good, thorough but not overwhelming, intro to Hegel.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Vittorio, not Victoria. Vittorio Hösle, to be precise.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Ah, thanks. My bad hearing I guess, the fault of some primordial fall, or so I’m told.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Before the world was created, before Satan and his followers fell, the pretemporal Tom Belt fell … laying waste to all that would be subsequently created. Jesus wept.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Dr. Hart,

        Si je peux…

        I think ‘some’ struggle to form an accurate opinion of your view on the ‘will’ because they’re confused about statements you make that appear contradictory. For example:

        In your book, you write: “…not only is the actuality of a distinct deliberative will an unnecessary dimension of our nature, so, in fact is the very capacity for such a will.”

        But here in response to David, you write:

        “I am clear, however, that freedom for a finite nature requires deliberative capacity freely (i.e., libertarianly, if you like) to resist or embrace that end.”

        True, you qualify the latter statement by setting deliberative capacity within a transcendental horizon. So there’s no way to finally reject God (rationally, freely). But that does seem to some still to leave these two statements in conflict.

        I’m guessing that by ‘nature’ in the first statement (in the book) you mean nature in its perfected form united to God. In this sense, deliberative willing isn’t necessary. But (per the latter statement in your comment) this deliberative capacity ‘is’ indeed a necessary dimension of our nature en route to its perfect freedom.

        Am I reading you rightly?
        Tom

        Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          You are missing the word “distinct.” It does not need to be distinct to be free. It becomes free the more it becomes conformed to the natural will.

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          No. The phrase “actuality of a distinct deliberative will” is the clue. A distinct deliberative will need never be actualized AS DISTINCT in order for an agent to be wholly rational. And, in fact, the more the gnomic will is reconciled with the natural, the freer we are, and the nearer to that point of indistinction that renders us non posse peccare.

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          I suppose I should also point out that “capacity” of a “finite nature” does not extend to Christ in his own nature, according to orthodox Christology. And yet this does not diminish his humanity, which is the issue in that part of the book.

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          And, actually, yes, you are reading me correctly, as per your last paragraph. I missed that because I was reading on my phone while walking my dog.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Tom says:

            Merci encore.

            Like

          • yieldedone says:

            Ok. Just jumpin in with this. Wrote this elsewhere, but I figured I’d post it here too. See what happens. I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. Well, anyways…

            ————

            So as I see it, either gnomic deliberation is a natural, original, prelapsarian state of finite rational beings…or it is an unnatural, privated, postlapsarian state of finite rational beings. It cant be both.

            If it is the latter, then any possible fall of rational beings originally created good by God is inexplicable on it’s own terms.

            If it is the former, then it would seem (for people like Hart), the Incarnation of God into creaturely rational being simply cannot be possible.

            Sounds crazy, right?

            Hear me out.

            Hart makes clear in TASBS that gnomic deliberation capacity (with respect to the Good) is ONLY actualizable in the presence of sin in a creaturely rational agent; he directly links gnomic deliberation with fallenness. In TASBS, He said…

            “…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.**** As such, the gnomic will may in fact be dependent upon the natural, but the absence of a gnomic will is in no sense a deficiency of our nature. More to the point, not only is the actuality of a distinct deliberative will an unnecessary dimension of our nature, so, in fact is the very capacity for such a will.”

            Get that. Gnomic deliberation has no actual existence in creaturely willing UNLESS the “defect of sin” is already present; to gnomically deliberate IS to be fallen.

            At the same time, Hart has recently clarified that the gnomic will has a necessary role in finite rational activity and creaturely salvation/perfection. He said the following in a comment response here…

            “I define ‘perfect’ freedom, as all classical and Christian tradition does as well, and as plain logic dictates, as the perfectly unhindered realization of one’s nature in the end that fulfills it ‘as rational’. ***I am clear, however, that freedom for a finite nature requires deliberative capacity freely (i.e., libertarianly, if you like) to resist or embrace that end.*** All I reject is the notion that there can be rational freedom that is not defined by a rational final cause, or a freedom that is not measured in direct proportion to the rational competency of the agent.”

            But wait. For Hart to say this last thing is to imply that gnomic deliberation is a God-given original (though transitory) state sans any fallenness. This directly contradicts the idea that actual gnomic deliberation *only* obtains in rational creatures with sin already present.

            So which is it? Is gnomic deliberation capacity actually the necessary and sufficient precondition FOR any potential misuse of creaturely freedom? Or is gnomic deliberation the direct, privated consequence FROM misused creaturely freedom? Again, it simply cannot be both.

            One can take the stance of gnomic deliberation being a direct consequence of sin. But in doing so, it ends up being self-defeating because it cannot explain how fallenness would occur in the first place. You need gnomic capacity for the potential to fall…but gnomic capacity only becomes actualizable where there is already fallenness. See the problem?

            Now one can take the stance that “freedom for a finite nature requires a deliberative capacity freely to resist or embrace that end” (namely God). But if this is truly the case, then creaturely gnomic deliberation would be part and parcel of a finite rational nature. Ok. But a problem comes in if we say that a creature can only be an incarnation of God if and only if it has no possible capacity for gnomic deliberation as it’s original and enduring state. In other words, an Incarnation must have “perfect freedom” from conception onward…or it cannot be considered fully God. This is where Hart in TASBS becomes helpful. He says…

            “…if human nature required the real capacity freely to reject God, then ***Christ could not have been fully human.*** According to Maximus, however, Christ possesses no gnomic will, and this because his will was perfectly free.”

            He says it clearly: If natural human rational freedom (as creaturely and finite) requires gnomic deliberation capacity…then Christ could never be fully human. Why? Because Christ, as the Logos/Son/Word of God in the Spirit, has the perfect freedom of God which lacks gnomic deliberation capacity. No creaturely rationality–requiring gnomic deliberation as it does–would be “compatible” for a truly enhypostatic union where lacking gnomic deliberation was an original creaturely rational state. Simply put, no *genuine* Incarnation of God into created rationality is really possible. Some avatar maybe where the Logos “operates” a human will…but not the triune God assuming a particular journey of fully human life.

            All this above is why I say…

            Either gnomic deliberation is a natural, original, prelapsarian state of finite rational beings…or it is an unnatural, privated, postlapsarian state of finite rational beings.

            If it is the latter, then any possible fall of such rational beings created good by God is inexplicable on it’s own terms.

            If it is the former, then it would seem (for people like Hart), the Incarnation simply cannot be possible.

            Pick your poison, I guess.

            ————-

            So…just some thoughts.

            Oboy…

            Liked by 1 person

          • William says:

            I wouldn’t dare to answer for DBH’s words that you quote, though I have a guess about how he might reply, so I hope he does so I can see if I’m right.

            But I’ll offer a couple of thoughts on the topic based on my understanding of Maximus. I touch on this below in my harangue about Maximian misrepresentations, but one thing to keep in mind about the gnomic will is that for Maximus it is hypostatic/personal, not natural. It is a mode, a way, connected with the “who” and not the “what.” Gnomic will is a mode of willing by persons in a condition of finitude and becoming, fallen or unfallen, not some attribute or capacity of pre- or post-lapsarian nature.

            That is to say, gnomic will is not a postlapsarian result of the fall. It is a condition of hypostatic finitude and becoming. Understanding it is a hypostatic condition or function or mode is the key to understanding why all human hypostases/persons who have not achieved perfect union with God operate in the mode of the gnomic will and why the incarnate divine hypostasis of Jesus Christ does not, because the divine hypostasis of the Word is limitless and does not subsist in a condition of becoming and remains unchanged by its union with a finite human nature. Though the human nature is finite, the person is not. Gnomic will is not about the finitude of the nature but rather about the finitude of the person. That’s why it can be said that the absence of a gnomic will is not a deficiency of nature. That’s why there can be a true incarnation of the Word in finite flesh who does not have a gnomic will.

            Liked by 4 people

          • DBH says:

            Right

            Like

    • dbecke says:

      Thank you David. Just a few things.

      (1) I completely agree with you on final causes and all that. I can’t wait to read your book on it. Lord no, I’m not a disciple of Dennett. I didn’t mean to put you (or me) in a modern “compatibilist” bucket. My thinking about this is all about the fact that the modern natural sciences (and modern jurisprudence) elide final causes. I thought I made that clear when I said (adding emphasis here) that yours was a KIND OF compatibilism, followed by: “More precisely, I agree that the modern analytic categories of ‘libertarian’ and ‘compatibilist’ freedom produce confusions when they are abstracted from the pre-modern contexts in which debates about free will and determinism first arose . . . ” Personally I say pox on those modern categories. So I didn’t mean to misrepresent you, or even disagree with you, here.

      (2) Jerry was just an example of someone who is firmly in the “libertarian” freedom camp, whether right or wrong.

      (3) Maybe seeing that emphasis on Maximus in your book was my fault or maybe its good that you clarified that it’s not Maximus’ particular views you’re interested in so much as the bigger debate across traditions about the problem of the will irrationally choosing evil. Because I do think I’ve noted some serious problems with Maximus’ view, _particularly_ given the importance of the connection between protology and eschatology (every time I write that it comes out “proctology” for some reason….).

      (4) Given the connection between protology and eschatology, I think my comments about evolution matter. I hear what you’re saying — the facts of evolution don’t change your conclusion, because the creation at the beginning is made to develop towards its end, including through the right exercise of human agency. I love how Athanasius pictures this, for example. We do have to admit, though, that our understanding of evolution and deep time, including the death and “waste” of evolution, vary substantially from any protology in the tradition, including the Christian-Platonism of Maximus et al. I really think this means we have more explaining to do.

      (5) I also think the presence of the serpent, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil, the negative command in the Garden, and Adam’s choice, have to complicate the connection between protology and eschatology. I can see this way of thinking about it: per Athanasius, Adam is in the Garden as a kind of infant, still needing to grow into his humanity. He doesn’t; he messes up humanity’s growth. Christ the true Adam remedies this and perfects humanity. Christ’s passion participates in the suffering of all of creation and his resurrection effects its healing, and as the true human, Christ is able to complete the creation mandate to bring all creation to its final end. Human salvation then isn’t so much an enlightenment or purification of the will, a kind of rational progression, as it is being united with Christ, abiding in Christ. But the Tree of Life was in the Garden too, so I don’t know if this tells us about whether any adams will not.

      (6) My “fascist paradise” comment — yeah, I _knew_ I thought about editing that out and I should have. What I was trying to get at here was the idea that I see in Maximus that “difference” is itself a problem to be overcome. What do fascists want, if not for everyone to think, act, and be, exactly the same, to erase all human difference, even the difference of sex? So — sorry about that, it really didn’t mean it as a swipe at you.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        Well, as for evolution, I’m with those fathers who never thought of the fall as an actual event within cosmic history, but rather saw it as a pre-cosmic, pre-temporal event. Origen is the best known, but I believe Gregory of Nazianzen (for instance) thought in those terms as well, and a great many others. Cosmic history as we know it is fallen through and through. And who was it who spoke of the fall being the falling over on its side of the Great Chain of Being, so that the vertical hierarchy of creation was transformed into the violent horizontal sequence of natural history?

        But it really doesn’t alter the picture. If there is rational freedom, it has to work in a rational way. If not, then it doesn’t matter.

        Liked by 3 people

        • DBH says:

          Gregory of Nazianzus, that is.

          Liked by 1 person

        • David says:

          I certainly agree that cosmic history, from beginning to end, is fallen – there is no temporal paradise to be found if we look back far enough, neither in Eden nor some grand pre-existence of souls (if understood temporally). However, I am interested in exploring in what sense – assuming that creaturely being is intrinsically finite and temporal – in what sense can we claim that creatures participate in (and perhaps even originate?) a pre-temporal event. Creatures do not exist timelessly – and if they did, then any ‘choice’ made in that state could no more result in them ‘entering’ history than an eternal God could undergo change (unless we want to buy into the WLC nonsense of God being atemporal ‘sans’ creation, but temporal with creation)

          Of course I take it that this is not what you are saying, and I have therefore always wondered what precisely you make of the fall, when understood as a vertical phenomenon. Is it possible to just take it as a descriptor for the inevitable alienation from God that all creatures inevitably find themselves in – not inevitable in the sense that our nature compels us to sin, which it does not. But it is rather that our nature + the fact it is not united to the infinite Person of the Word, and therefore begins its existence spiritually immature and liable to deception + the fact that every perception of a good reality inevitably involves some intellectual apprehension of the evil (not that we must experience evil in order to appreciate the good or other such banal nonsense, but that recognising something as good means placing it on a scale of good and evil and so implicitly getting an intellectual whiff of evil’.)

          So basically, our nature makes us inevitably feel threatened by the mere theoretical possibility of evil which we inevitably recognise when experiencing the good, and without spiritual maturity, this threat throws our ‘logos detector’ out of kilter, ironically the very thing that leave sus truly exposed to evil by rendering us incapable of knowing the good naturally and therefore of acting rightly without resorting to our own deliberations.

          Or perhaps your scheme is something completely different – I am just trying to extrapolate my assumption that ‘an atemporal evil demon messed up the world’ could not be all there is to it!

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Well, like Bulgakov (and all late antique thinkers, actually), I think one can distinguish among the terms “chronos,” “aeon,” and what is “beyond the ages.”

            By the way, it’s in the book, really, just below the surface:
            “For Plato, chronos and aiōn were not, respectively, time and eternity, but rather two different kinds of time: the former is characterized by change, and therefore consists in that successive state of duration (measured out by the sidereal rotations of the heavens) by which things that cannot exist in their entirety all at once are allowed to unfold their essences through diachronic extension and through a process of arising and perishing; the latter is characterized by changelessness and repletion, the totality of every essence realized in its fullness in one immutable instant. Thus, the aeon above is the entire “Age” of the world, existing all at once in a time without movement (which is to say, change), wherein nothing arises or perishes, while chronos is the “moving image of the aeon,” the dim reflection of that heavenly plenum in a ghostly procession of shadowy fragments. Hence, Plato does not really use aiōnios to indicate endless duration, because (to employ a slightly later terminology) all duration is a “dynamic” process, a constant passage from possibility to actuality; in the aeon, however, there is no unrealized “dynamis” or “potency” requiring actualization, as all exists in a state of immutable fullness, and so nothing technically “endures” at all. Hence also, for Platonic tradition as a whole, it may very well be the case that the aeon above is thought to persist only so long as the present world-cycle endures, and that at the end of the Platonic Year, when the stars begin their great rotation anew, one heavenly Age will succeed another. This notion of a changeless heavenly aiōn or (in Latin) aevum, moreover, which stands utterly distinct from the mutability of terrestrial chronos or tempus, was very much a part of Christian cosmology from late antiquity well into the late Middle Ages: here below, the time of generation and decay; there above, the angelic “age,” the ethereal realm of the celestial spheres; and then also, still higher up, the empyrean of God in himself, “beyond all ages.” In a similar but not identical way, aiōn also came in ancient usage to mean, as it frequently does in the New Testament, one or another universal dispensation: this present age of the world, for instance, or the age of the world to come, or a heavenly sphere of reality beyond this world altogether (as it seems to do in John’s gospel). On the whole, however, by the time of the New Testament the word’s meanings were far too diverse to reduce to any single term now in use in modern languages.”

            I think Bulgakov deals with all of this quite well, however, and for now I leave it to him. Let me just say that I think all spiritual beings have both a temporal and an “aeonian” story, that one does not precede the other, but that the latter is definitely both logically prior and logically posterior to the former. Or, as Origen and Gregory of Nazianzus would say, we fell down from there above. But that is different from a simple myth of successive pre-existence. Again, Bulgakov is the place to go.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            DBH, Where exactly should I start with Bulgakov. I have the Bride of the Lamb currently, but where else should I start in reading his work?

            Like

          • David says:

            Thank you very much for your reply Dr Hart. Just to clarify, I am yet another David, and not one of those yet fortunate enough to have read this particular book of yours – but I very much look forward to acquiring it soon and studying the passages you suggest.

            Would you happen to be able to offer any recommendation as to what parts of Bulgakov would be most profitable to read? I think I understand you rightly on the distinction between flowing time and the time of the aeon. In particular, I am looking for any reading that would help me address this point: given the absence, during this aeonic fall, of any flowing temporality – normally characteristic of deliberation and choice amongst alternative possibilities – it does not seem possible to argue that it was anything but inevitable that the fall occurred, at least not in the sense that it was chosen out of equally possible realities.

            Now, I am not very much convinced that this is all that big of a problem, given that sin is something that mysteriously entraps and enslaves us all from the outside (vertically?) as well as from within, and I do not see how it would be possible to ‘freely choose’ to fall into such a state – the very possibility of choosing evil, after all, already presupposes fallenness, and fallenness is enslavement, not freedom. So sin is not the result of an act of freedom, but rather by freedom become entrapped and ensnared by a parasitic non-human non-creation – perhaps understood in a way similar to as I suggest above, i.e. that our positive experience of the good, created by God, includes a kind of intellectual apprehension of evil (just as in understanding rationality one gains a taste of what it would mean to be irrational) – the mere presence of which in some way pollutes our soul by showcasing the possibility of evil and constitutes our fall. But that may be babbling, or worse, trying to reify theological poetry like some analytic philosopher. But I would love to read some Bulgakov and anything else to determine whether I’m on the right track and, if not, to switch to the next train as soon as possible.

            Like

      • William says:

        In the Maximian view, “difference” isn’t a problem to be overcome, certainly not in the sense of needing to be “erased.” Rather, differences as “divisions” or “separations” need to be united or joined. And all divisions are united in Christ, as in “in Christ there is neither male nor female.” Thalassios 48 depicts the unions not as any kind of doing away with differences but as “the way separated creatures are variously united through Christ. For Christ unified the human being, mystically removing, by means of the Spirit, the difference of male and female, freeing the principle of nature in both from the properties characteristic of the passions. He also united the earth, driving away the variation between the sense-perceptible paradise and the rest of the world. He united earth and heaven, demonstrating that the nature of sensible things is one and inclines toward itself. He also united sensibles and intelligibles, and demonstrated that the nature of the things that have come into being is one, being conjoined according to a certain mystical principle. According to a principle and mode beyond nature, He united created nature to the uncreated.”

        Like

    • dianelos says:

      DBH,

      I have always thought it strange that you would believe in compatibilist free will in the modern sense, simply because I consider you to be a pragmatic philosopher, and compatibilist free will makes nonsense of our everyday experience of life, not to mention of Christ’s ethical teaching in the gospels. I mean what would be the point of Christ commanding us to do this and that and lamenting our lack of faith – if we were made by Him lacking libertarian free will and thus lacking any power to do as He asks?

      In the above comment you put this misunderstanding to bed. Indeed what you write about free will corresponds exactly to how I experience free will in my daily life when I move either forward in repentance or backwards towards perdition. I wish that when thinking about free will people would *start* by considering their own experience of it, for we know free will only by personal experience. If one does this I think one will see that the distinction you describe between natural and gnomic free will (using Maximus’s terminology) is exactly right.

      So far so good. The fact remains though that many of your readers, not just David here, had the impression that you believe in compatibilist free will. I haven’t yet read TASBS to end – in fact I am at the beginning; I like to enjoy a good dish slowly – but I must say such a deep misunderstanding by so many educated readers suggests that your writing is more opaque than what is good for you as a writer. Your readers do not have your kind of mind for they don’t have your kind of life experience; they would profit if you made things really plain – just as you do in the above comment. Perhaps it would be useful if, taking advantage of the reactions, in the next edition of your book you added a vocabulary annex where you define what you mean by the most important concepts you use.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. DBH says:

    Sorry, incidentally, for getting hot under the collar. The compatibilism thing and the fascist’s paradise line made me wonder whether you were writing in good faith.

    Like

    • dbecke says:

      No worries. I hope I clarified a little above. Things don’t always come out as clearly as they should in blog posts. Anyway, I was a corporate litigator for over a decade, so there’s no name I haven’t been called.

      Like

  8. Tom Talbott says:

    Here is what puzzles me about your latest post, David. You identify yourself as a compatibibilist, and you then write: “But even if we adopt a classical compatibilist view of human freedom, we’re left with the reality of sin. The fact is, we choose unfreedom. Why? And if we choose unfreedom now, why should we think we’ll turn around and choose freedom sometime in the distant eschaton?”

    Are not these questions easily answered? Why do “we choose unfreedom”? Because it was so determined that we would; indeed, given the Augustinian understanding of original sin, we choose unfreedom because we are born sinners. No mystery there. And why will we “turn around and choose freedom sometime in the distant eschaton?” Because Christ died for our sins and God thus predestined or determined that we would all finally learn the lessons of love, albeit some later than others. Where is the mystery in that?

    You go on to write: “For Christian thinkers of various stripes, the “why” question always centers on what happened with Adam in the Garden. Hart skewers the crude Augustinian view of original sin, but the difference between humanity now and humanity in the Garden was important to all the Church Fathers.” Does that include Irenaeus? I cannot speak to Maximus. But if I have understood Irenaeus correctly, he did not believe that “Adam was in a state of spiritual perfection before the Fall.” The following is basically what I wrote in a previous post.

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

    Irenaeus seemed to hold, in other words, that our first parents came into being with the same imperfections and egocentric dispositions common to human beings in general, and that view seems to me no more philosophically problematic than the idea that an inherited sinful nature was God’s supposedly just punishment of the human race as a whole for the sin of Adam and Eve.

    Liked by 2 people

    • dbecke says:

      Tom, I tried to clarify this a bit above in response to David. Like David, I don’t think the modern “libertarian vs. compatibilist” debate is really that helpful.

      Like

    • dianelos says:

      Dear Tom,

      As it happens I find the story of the Fall quite incoherent when plainly understood. For starters the absolutely perfect God would not create a world which would soon break down. I hold that the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 is simply a first and primitive attempt at a theodicy. Now since I believe that truth comes from Christ alone and that scripture is but a pointer that guides us to Christ, I haven’t felt the need to struggle with the original account in the OT. Nevertheless while discussing with somebody about the story of the Fall an interpretation occurred to me which suddenly made sense. “Interpretation” is not quite the right word here, for I wasn’t really trying to understand the original meaning of the author but rather trying to use the same words to tell a different story. So in my rendition I would have the serpent not be a spirit of evil and deception, but a spirit of guiding truth which tempted Eve and Adam only in the sense of truthfully answering their questions and thus presenting them with a difficult but real choice among two radically different paths of being: Either remaining perfect like babies are in their current paradisaical state, or else becoming free moral agents by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and thereby suffering the presence of evil and temporal death (which indeed is what God had warned them from). So, in my account, by their choice Adam and Eve did not choose “unfreedom” (for them and for their descendants), but they wisely chose the painful way towards the true freedom that comes from repentance and freely embracing moral perfection, which makes humans God-like up and until theosis.

      Anyway I have always thought that my idea was too far away the beaten path and that the same idea could be expressed without shocking people by messing so radically with the venerated text. But then I discovered a lecture by Sarah Coakley in which she speaks of the “pedagogic rendition” of Genesis 3 by the ancient Syriac theologian Theodore of Mopsuestia and his followers (after min 38:15 in the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oR8C91vqmc ). What she says comports well with my own idea which suggests that I was not as alone in my speculations as I thought:

      “Whereas the traditional Eastern view began with an initial happy state that is disrupted by sin and deteriorates progressively with time, this alternative rendition of Theodore and Saurus [?] begins with a state of radical imperfection that improves under divine action with the passing of the ages towards better things. In this conception, man, though ultimately destined to attain a state of immortality and sinlessness, could not have been created thus in the beginning because he would have been incapable of appreciating this inestimable gift and of giving due thanks to God for it. For whereas God alone knows by his essence, created natures by intrinsic necessity can only learn by contraries, and hence without an experience of sinfulness and death they could never learn to appreciate sinlessness and immortality. Indeed if we had been created immortal and immutable from the beginning we would not have been better off than a pearl of comely beauty that is unaware of its own splendor and is not conscious whether it is fixed in the crown of a king or whether likewise it is set in a camel’s saddle. And hence we would have derived no profit from these priceless gifts. Thus in this view whatever gifts Adam may or many not have received in the beginning he was radically imperfect because he lacked the capacity to appreciate and benefit from the most important of the gifts that God intended ultimately to bestow on him. And when ever he knew would be best and man was able to receive them.”

      Interesting stuff. And what a pity that Christian theology’s imagination was stifled by dogmatism. But I think the light has a way to come through: Just today I heard this delightful talk by quaker pastor Philp Gulley (a fellow universalist, author, and self-defined “folk theologian” who wants to make it as easy as possible for people to understand deep truths – and, I think, also a great theologian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R2KRI-ff2A ). It was amazing for he also interpreted Genesis 3 as an educational process, as a “graduation” as he put it (and had God throw the firstborn out of his home the way good parents want their children to leave home when they can fend for themselves 🙂 ). I don’t know whether Gulley had read Mopsuestia; my guess is that not. Neither had I. So it feels like there is a spirit of truth working around here. I am pretty certain it is a spirit of truth because such a rendition makes God more lovely and thus lovable. Not to mention this understanding perfectly comports with John Hick’s soul-making theodicy which I find is the correct answer to the problem of evil in all its versions.

      Like

      • Grant says:

        Interesting but it is an interpretation I cannot agree with personally (giving all do respect to yourself and of course to Theodore and Coakley) because as you say Christ is who Scripture testifies to, and through Him death is seen as an enemy, one that has no place in creation and neither derives nor is intended by God. At now point does He endorse it or it’s affects but assaults it head-on, and in the resurrection the evil that holds us enslaved, as St Paul makes plan, death the enemy, the final enemy, defeated and to be destroyed.

        And of course it also creates problems saying God called creation int o being with death and suffering to train beings to appreciate His gift of immortality to come, as why woukd God who is infinite and creates freely under not constraints do it this way when He could so order it another way. But secondly it makes all temporal evil and suffering His purpose and His direct intention (so cancers twisting and consuming people, stravation, all myriads of genetic faults, and all terrible thungs we have and will do to each other), it makes Him the direct author of it. And again this conflicts with Christ as I see it, we are only free we the Son sets us free and so know the Truth (death teaches us nothing, only warps our perceptions) abd Christ’s high priestly prayer on the Cross of ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’ further indicates this. Fundamentally God does not require evil, nor death to exist to achieve His aims or manifest who He is or His purposes, otherwise He would not be God, but just a being who needs needs and negotiates with evil (or evil is intended and He is not Love or the Good).

        For mean such ideas only possibly work in the context of an already fallen universe where death stalks creation and as St Paul subjects it to futility (and even then I don’t agree myself with the origin idea, and would very much qualify the rest of human experience as revelation in spite of death, not because of it). The problem is our ability now to conceive of creation without death, as it has so warped it (including how we think and conceive things, our minds and natures developed by eons of evolution in a environment already subjected to death, to the pull to non-being) it becomes natural often to normalize it (which is what most antique pagan religions did but holding off and dealing with the cosmic chaos and destruction by placated offerings and regulating it, and accepting it’s dominion). The radicalness of Christianity as it burst on the scene was a rejection of this picture, and instead brought to the fore the unnaturalness of death, suffering and how seen in the light of the Resurrection this is alien and against God, and just what Christ has liberated from, a Cosmos and being twisted by it till all be liberated and death be destroyed.

        With St Paul refering to falling short of the glory of God that suggests a misuddrstanding of being but I agree that this would be pre-temporal, which Robert and particularly Hart discussed quite well here (what I see it pointing too and read with Tolkien’s song of the ainur both as mythic representations of that pre-temporal call into being, and fall to very extents of the order of creation in confusion from our true selves of all of us in Christ, the turning from Eden and the tree of life to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – thus of diminishment towards non-being – and loss of freedom, truth and wisdom bring played out in the becoming of creation in time and our awareness of it, out of Eden where it remains an distant half remebered dream and hope unable to be given full expression, and in Tolkien the playing out of the Cosmos because of the confusion in becoming that tends in that confusion to nothing and non-being). From this Christ enters and breaks us free, delivering us from death and non-being.

        Like

  9. DBH says:

    By the way, obviously I reject the typical analytic account of “compatibilism.” And it certainly doesn’t apply to the classical intellectualist understanding of freedom.

    It is enough to say that, if there is such a thing as rational freedom (which a Christian must believe–all that God, goodness, imago dei, truth stuff), then freedom must be rational. The intellectualist definition of rational freedom is practically a tautology. And so, without transcendental determination, there can be no empirical liberty. Otherwise, everything is determined at the empirical level, which means as the result of empirical causes, which cannot be free except in the way accidental events are free.

    I should also note, David, that you seem to think that my reflections on freedom are an argument for universalism. Here is why I keep begging you to recognize that my book is a single continuous argument. The principal brief FOR universalism is laid out in the first two chapters and first three meditations–it all has to do with the doctrine of God, the logic of creation, the possibility of meaningful theological predication, and so forth. The fourth meditation is mostly AGAINST the free-will defense of hell, and only secondarily a positive argument. What I have joined together let no man put asunder–please.

    But I have decided, to be honest, that none of your posts has emanated from true conviction. It is clear to me that you’re arguing as you are because you feel obliged to argue for at least the possibility of something that I believe is impossible. I think your arguments fail, but I also think they had to fail. My advice to you–and to any believer–is stop presuming you have to defend the idea of hell’s eternity, allow yourself to think about it as if for the first time and with no sense of obligation, and I think you’ll see that the very premise has always already undermined arguments in its favor. If I get one good cogent critique of my book that doesn’t rely on either misrepresentations or vacuous assertions, I will be surprised. Again, not because I think I’m too brilliant to be wrong, but because I’m too bloody-minded and arrogant to refuse to point out the obvious when it’s so resplendently obvious.

    Liked by 2 people

    • dianelos says:

      Dear DBH,

      I am struck by the: I “obviously” reject compatibilism. As a matter of fact several serious and admiring readers when reading the fourth meditation understood that you are a compatibilist about free will. So I wondered why that was. I haven’t yet finished reading TASBS, but what comes next in your comment suggests the explanation:

      “It is enough to say that, if there is such a thing as rational freedom (which a Christian must believe–all that God, goodness, imago dei, truth stuff), then freedom must be rational. The intellectualist definition of rational freedom is practically a tautology. And so, without transcendental determination, there can be no empirical liberty. Otherwise, everything is determined at the empirical level, which means as the result of empirical causes, which cannot be free except in the way accidental events are free.”

      The key to the confusion caused is perhaps found in language such as “transcendental determination” which suggests some kind of determinism. I think much of the theological discourse would become clearer if we used the qualifier “true” (or perhaps “perfect”) when we mention something that pertains to the divine. So if would be better to say that “a creature’s true free will is to do God’s will”. And God’s will is transcendentally “determined” – for God is there.

      But here comes a second round of potential confusion I think. It’s not like in repentance and the perfectioning of our soul we freely choose to do God’s will so that our will is submitted to his. Or rather, it is like this but not like one may imagine when one reads this statement. For God’s will is determined by being there, but it is not a fixed thing. It is not like the saints in heaven will do exactly the same thing, moving in unison like a robotic army LOL. Rather God’s will, reflecting God’s character, is creative and in that creativity is freedom making. I say that God’s will is not characterized by its content but by its quality, namely by being inspired by perfect love.

      So it’s not like there is one fixed divine will but a myriad, for there are myriad expressions of perfect love. It’s not like when we have become saints (and our will indeed perfectly comports with God’s) there will always be just one thing we may choose. Human free will is not determined in that sense not even in heaven. Rather human free will in heaven will flower in a myriad expressions; we shall then be more free in all senses of the word. An analogy here on Earth is perhaps to be found in artistic expression. So it’s not like two perfect painters, or two perfect composers, would therefore produce exactly the same work of art. On the contrary, two perfect artists would certainly produce different though perfect works of art. It would a poverty of creation – either this world or the afterworld in the afterlife – if the space of choice open to true free will were to be spiritually limited.

      So, come to think of it, instead of saying “in repentance one submits one’s will to God’s” it would be more truth-tracking to say “in repentance one frees one’s will in God’s”. For as God is perfectly free and in that freedom creative in the most fecund and beautiful way, so too shall we be in heaven when we have transformed ourselves into the likeness of the God-human Christ.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        Thanks.

        This I have answered repeatedly. It is also laid out in the book to my satisfaction, though perhaps I need to lay a larger bridge between philosopher readers and the general readership.

        True compatibilism tries to reconcile the language of total determination of the empirical will and a libertarian description of the acts of the empirical will. Anything else is not really compatibilism. Only if the empirical will is in fact determined irresistibly (as for Dennett) does the issue arise. The only alternative to both compatibilism and fatalism is to recognize that not everything is prompted by a prior physical cause, and that acts of rational will have a real final cause that sets them free from physical (material) determinism.

        My claim is the classical one: There is a determination of the transcendental will toward a real end. That is to say, there really is such a thing (morally and epistemically) as rationality and freedom, because there really is such a thing (ontologically) as truth and goodness, and so reason is real and freedom is real. It is precisely because of this transcendental horizon orienting our acts of recognition and evaluation and judgment and choice that there is an open world of choices and decisions presented to the rational will as an empirical faculty, rather than just a lot of spontaneous lurching of an illusory freedom in whatever direction the winds of material causality dictate. But for this transcendental determinism, there could be no empirical liberty.

        Obviously this does not mean that every will must be like every other, or every saint must sing the same song. It does mean that there is a difference between more and less rational choices, and so a difference between more and less free choices, since the more one knows the freer one becomes, even though in a sense there is less need for “choice.”

        And the upshot of that is simply and solely that the free-will defense of hell fails. It depends upon a model of freedom that is logically incoherent, and that also does not accord with the Christian view of reality.

        Liked by 1 person

        • dianelos says:

          Thank you. That was remarkably and eye-openingly clear.

          The only bit that left me a little perplexed is a statement near the end: That the freer one becomes (and thus the closer to a saintly condition in heaven) there is in some sense less need for choice. I hold that the saintly condition in heaven will be characterized not just by moral perfection, but in general by the perfection of the human nature, and thus by great creativity. And creativity needs an ample space for choosing. When one creates one feels especially free, almost as having the power to create the choices themselves, and not just to pick among them.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            “in a sense”

            There is less need of choice to determine one’s relative relation to good or evil. One’s creativity is another issue. Choice is often a deliberation between external possibilities. Creativity is a free unfolding of interior powers.

            Like

  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have to admit that it took all my will power not to change the section title “Problems with Maximus’ Protology” to “Problems with Maximus’ Proctology.” But I figured that might get the discussion going in the wrong discussion … or maybe not. 😆

    Like

  11. Thomas says:

    > In my view, where scripture leaves us here is where theology leaves us. We want the certain answers of one system or another, but we’re not given a neat, rational system, we’re given light and the waters of chaos, gardens and serpents and trees.

    If Scripture and theology cannot get us there, perhaps we had best turn to philosophy. It is quite plausible that one take the intrinsic intelligibility of being as a major premise, the unintelligibility of suffering without healing or of a developing, evolving universe that cannot reach fulfillment, and conclude deductively to a final restoration. Though this seems somewhat similar in spirit to what Hart is arguing, I have in mind the isomorphism of knowing and being and the discussion of special transcendental knowledge in Lonergan’s Insight.

    This path gets around the difficulties posed by human and personal development. Specifically, in fact people do what they know they should not, not because they do not know what they ought to do, but because they lack the good will to do it. As virtuous habits and decisions form the person in such a way that they are increasingly prone to further virtuous habits and decisions, so vicious habits and wrong decisions can create a downward spiral (to borrow a technical term from Trent Reznor) that sets the conditions for future sin and establishes moral evil in one’s character.

    Universalists often identify principles that drive the upward cycle (the intrinsic orientation of the will toward the good), but overlook the conditions for the downward spiral. The question whether one can be brought out of the downward cycle, even by grace, raises a panoply of problems extend into empirical psychology. Appealing to features of the human psyche will inevitably raise issues of the empirical human sciences, and Maximus is of rather limited help there. (The tendency to talk of the orientation toward the good in an abstract, rather than operational fashion is by no means limited to ancient times.)

    Appeal to the necessary intelligibility of the universe and there may just be a much more direct route–in fact, a deductive proof.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m going to try to refrain from personal attack here, but the question you ask — “But even if we adopt a classical compatibilist view of human freedom, we’re left with the reality of sin. The fact is, we choose unfreedom. Why? And if we choose unfreedom now, why should we think we’ll turn around and choose freedom sometime in the distant eschaton?” – leaves me scratching my head in disbelief.

    Honestly, first of all, did you not read DBH’s book? If you did, then how do you even ask this question? We do not choose unfreedom. We choose that which appears to be “the good” to us, based on thinking and rationality that is A.) utterly in darkness due to the Fall B.) in some manner influenced by external circumstances and events and C.) without any reference to what “the good” really is.

    I’m going to make this real damn personal now, partly because the kind of question as I see above drive me nuts. Do you really think that I, of my own unfettered free-will, chose to do drugs, get drunk most weekends, and wind up a pornography addict? If you do….never mind. I said I would refrain from personal attack (even though my blood pressure is probably spiking right now)

    Powerful forces, much beyond my control and yet having profound effect on my psyche, were at work, hindering me from the very beginning from making wise choices (“I’m not doing THAT”) which would have been in my best interest. In AA and other similar help groups, we speak of “self-medicating,” that is, doing things which either take away the pain of our existence or in some way give us a false sense of being loved and cared for.

    Now suppose you had given me, at 18 when the shit really began to hit the fan in my life, a clear, unfettered experience of just how good moral choices could be, as well as a taste of the future horrors that almost drove me to suicide by the time I was 22. Suppose I had the full experience of both bliss and horror and then was told “Now make your choice.” Do you honestly think that I would have turned away the very thing that I was looking for in all the wrong places??

    I wrote my own piece in response to the ind of thinking you just posted regarding free will theodicies. While it is nowhere on the level of the musings of Davd H., what it is is a very personal account of just how my free-will came to submit to the King of Kings. And my experience is simply, in my opinion, a kind of microcosim of how this will work in eternity.

    I do hope you will at least read it, even though I doubt it will change your mind one iota. Some of us do have answers for the objections that infernalists throw at us.

    https://http4281.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/gods-hand-our-free-will/

    Liked by 2 people

  13. William says:

    “Neither the Genesis narratives, nor Paul in his appropriation of them, nor the Greek Fathers (including Maximus), nor Augustine, properly explain why Adam made that first choice or why that first choice was metaphysically possible. “

    Perhaps this is not a proper explanation, but it seems to be a commonplace among several fathers that Adam made that choice because he was deceived. As Tom Talbott points out, Irenaeus highlights Adam’s childlikeness (i.e. ignorance, naivete, immaturity). Athanasius held a similar view.

    One might reject Maximus’s conclusions about sexual procreation, but I don’t think that truly upsets his line of thinking, which is not about sex but rather about attachment to sensual pleasure or “pleasure contrary to reason” rather than to the natural “intelligible pleasure” — desire for sensible pleasure rather than desire for God. Maximus draws his conclusions about sexual procreation not from any negative notion of the body or physicality but perhaps in connection with his notion Adam forsook intelligible pleasure in favor of sensual pleasure at the very same moment he was brought into being. There was no “prelapsarian Adam” for Maximus. There was no Adam “in a state of spiritual perfection” for Maximus. And Maximus says that “the way to freedom was barred for all who were subject to the tyranny of unrighteous pleasure.” These ideas (all found in the early paragraphs of Thalassios 61), suggest that Adam was never truly free in Maximus’ thought.

    To think that in any way Maximus “recoils” from embodied humanity is to have missed something vital in his thought, for one his notion of man as the priest that unites the division between spiritual and physical creation. Maximus entire doctrine of virtue is about manifesting Christ in physical creation. Mystagogy Chapter 7 is a good example. There are multiple places where Maximus describes the flesh’s participation in the transformation of theosis. For Maximus, the incarnation of the Word was the “great and hidden mystery … the blessed end for which all things were brought into existence … the divine purpose conceived before the beginning of beings … the preconceived goal for the sake of which everything exists, but which itself exists on account of nothing … the limit and goal of God’s providence, and of the things under His providential care, since the recapitulation of the things created by God is God himself.” (Thalassios 60)

    Liked by 2 people

    • William says:

      Honestly, the more I read what you wrote about Maximius’ thought, the more it bugs me how much mangled caricature is there. For Maximus, sexual procreation isn’t “unnatural” but rather provisional. It can’t be unnatural in Maximus’ thought if it was provided by God, even if provided in advance with a view toward the lapsed state of human nature, even if Maximus believed that God would have given human beings a different mode of origin if there had been no fall (such questions are largely or even completely irrelevant, though). What is “unnatural” about sexual procreation, for Maximus, is the fact that, he believed, it is invariably accompanied by the desire for sensible pleasure. And in the Maximian system, sensible pleasure is not the proper object of the desiring/appetitive faculty of a rational creature. The proper, “natural” object of a rational creature is intelligible pleasure found in union with God. What’s so bad about desire for sensible pleasure? Is it seen so simply because of some Platonic revulsion for physicality, materiality, the body? No! It’s because such desire falls short of truth and because sensible desire has supplanted desire for the true goal, the true object of desire — God. This is the problem for Maximus, not the body as such or material existence. Sexual procreation is also not a “consequence” of the fall for Maximus, but it does not exist untouched by the fall. Still, as I said before, one can (as I do) set aside Maximus’ belief about sexual procreation being merely a provisional means of human generation, and it wouldn’t shake anything else in his vision regarding these things because the basis of his views is not sex per se but attachment (perhaps compulsion is a better word) to sensual pleasure. When Maximus makes much of the distinction between Christ’s mode of generation and the usual human mode of generation, even this is not so much about sex for Maximus as it is about the notion that Christ’s humanity did not originate in connection with this fallen appetite for sensible pleasure, which for Maximus comes with the just consequence of pain and death. The whole point for Maximus is that the suffering and death Christ willingly bore was unjust because it wasn’t consequent on any sensible pleasure, and because of this he transformed the mode and function of suffering and death.

      Your understanding of the connection between protology and eschatology seems too colored by the all-to-common temptation to consider how much Platonism influenced this or that father without the so-very-necessary recognition of how much this or that father adjusted or changed the Platonic scheme (all the supposedly Platonist fathers tinkered with Platonism significantly, suggesting that their aims were less about platonizing and more about adapting the philosophical conceptualizations of their time, something that probably happened as a matter of course, something we all do now, speaking often in the terms of our own zeitgeist because it simply can’t be helped). Maximus loves to say how the beginning is the same as the end, but he also says the end is different from the beginning. The beginning is unattainable, he says, so in a sense it is not a return, but when the end is reached, it is found to be the beginning. This is because the beginning is not a state once enjoyed and then lost but is rather the eternal logos of man’s creation (equivalent to and found in the Logos himself) and the end is the logos of creation realized. There was no previously lived prelapsarian state of spiritual perfection to return to for Adam/us, but there is and was the eternal logos of man’s creation and the logos of each person’s creation that preceded all, and it is to this that we “return.” The “return” is in quote marks because we have never existentially been there before. All of this is very necessary in Maximus’ thought because you cannot be in a state of spiritual perfection and fall away from it, which is the notion of satiety he sought to correct in Origen (or, perhaps more properly, in the Origenists).

      Your take on Maximus’ distinction between gnomic and natural will seems a bit too simplified. It seems to suggest that the gnomic will is a result of the fall (though I know you didn’t actually say that). The natural will is, for reasons stated above, not oriented to any prefallen state. It is aligned with the logos of our being, with our nature. The gnomic will in human beings, in the Disputation with Pyrrhus, is associated with human hypostasis and is connected to the tropoi (modes) of our being. Gnomic will is also connected with our becoming and with our limitedness. The gnomic will is an aspect of our creaturely personhood. This is why there isn’t a gnomic will in operation in Christ for Maximus, because the hypostasis of Christ is the uncreated Word of God who is unlimited and does not become. The natural human will of Christ’s humanity in this circumstance naturally harmonized with Christ’s divine will. Maximus’ views on freedom and will and the variety of distinctions he makes between different kinds of willing are best seen in the Opuscula. It’s all more involved than just a matter of gnomic will choosing between passions and natural goods. Gnomic will is not a result of the fall, but rather a function of our undivinized creaturely condition. It is a mode and a means of modes.

      I’ve put a lot of this into my own words because I don’t have the time or inclination to hunt down various references. But I believe at least some hasty justice for Maximus’ ideas was needed here in the face of some distortions made above.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maximus says:

        William, I appreciate the clear explanations you bring into these threads concerning the teachings of St Maximus. They resonate with my own readings, though I’m not nearly as adept to synthesize them. May I ask, what are you thoughts on apokatastasis in Maximus? I know there are subtleties in the debate, but do you think he was a universalist?

        Like

        • William says:

          Maximus, I started to write a long answer to your question but I’m not up to the task. But I will say that I think Ilaria Ramelli’s case is quite convincing that St. Maximus most probably upheld a doctrine of universalist apokatastasis. I have felt that universal salvation is an unavoidable implication of the logic of Maximus’ thinking, in spite of some fairly blunt statements he makes at times that seem to deny it. Ramelli, in just a few pages on Maximus, did nothing but confirm that feeling.

          Liked by 1 person

      • dopderbeck says:

        Except that, for example, in Ad. Thal. 61, Maximus says “When God created human nature, he did not create sensible pleasure and pain along with it, he furnished it with a certain spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffiably. But at the instant he was created, the first man, by the use of his senses, squandered this spiritual capacity — the natural desire of the mind of God — on sensible things. In this, his very first movement, he activated an unnatural pleasure through the medium of the senses.” (in Cosmic Mystery, 61.)

        I think it’s hard to escape that Maximus thought mutability, rooted in sexual generation, was unnatural, and that he did not see sex as part of created human goodness.

        Like

        • William says:

          I take that passage to be supportive of what I’ve been saying. I even paraphrased parts of it above to dispute you. So you and I clearly must be reading it in different ways and bringing different assumptions to the text.

          It seems to me that you read “sensible pleasure and pain” to mean the actual sensations felt bodily, and that leads you to understand the first sentence as saying that God didn’t create human nature with bodily sensation, or at least not with the sensations that we now consider pleasurable or painful. Or maybe you are equating “sensible pleasure” in this passage as referring to sex itself. But what’s described as having gone amiss in this passage is not the body and its capacity to sense and perceive and feel things, it is the human intellect, which took pleasure in the sensing, the perceiving and the feelings — rather than in God and the intellectual/spiritual pleasure found in God. Nowhere in this passage do I get the notion that the body wasn’t meant to sense or that the intellect was meant to be ignorant of the body’s sensations (if those even were meant to exist at all). On the contrary, it’s a fundamental element of Maximus’ thought, scattered across what seems like every other page he wrote, that the intellect is supposed to spiritually receive the sense-data brought to it by the body such that it is able to perceive the logoi in all things, the inner principles present in the material world, all of which refer to and are contained in and made one in the one Logos. In short, the material world and the body serve to lead the intellect to a hymn of praise and thanksgiving and ultimately beyond this “natural contemplation” to the divine contemplation of true theology itself. Given the importance of natural contemplation for Maximus and his frequent descriptions about the intellect’s proper use regarding the physical world and the bodily senses, I find it impossible to conclude that Maximus had a negative view of physicality or that he considered sensation itself as problematic. After all, the eternal logoi exist within material things and make them possible. If anything has a logos, it is most certainly natural. It is most certainly blessed by God. In the passage quoted above, Maximus is consistent with all these other ideas: Human nature was furnished with a spiritual (i.e. intellectual) capacity for pleasure. That capacity, which is also called desire (because Maximus elsewhere defines pleasure as desire fulfilled and desire as pleasure sought), was meant to find that pleasure in God. The intellect was meant to desire God and to seek/see God in all things (including in sensible things, but deriving spiritual pleasure through them, via the logoi found in them). But at creation, Adam squandered the intellect/mind’s natural spiritual desire/capacity for pleasure by finding it not in God (not in the logoi, which Maximus elsewhere equates with God) but in senses — in the gratification they bring to the self (because for Maximus this is all about self-love). The senses, as already mentioned, were certainly part of the original God-given constitution of man. It’s not the sense or the sensations that are unnatural, it’s the self-loving pleasure taken by the intellect in the senses that is unnatural. This is unnatural not because there is anything evil per se about senses, but because the principle of the intellect is to desire God and perceive God, through the logoi that exist in all things, sensible and intellectual and which are all united in the Logos himself.

          Mutability isn’t rooted in sexual generation for Maximus. Mutability, movement, change are natural to humanity from the start. Your statement that mutability is seen as unnatural seems to be saddling Maximus with the Origenist scheme of stasis-kinesis-genesis. But Maximus didn’t follow that scheme. He spoke of genesis-kenesis-stasis. The genesis or origin is the beginning of motion, he says. And every condition of rest logically presupposes natural motion. (these from Ambigua 15) His whole notion of logos and willing/acting “according to nature” or according to the logos of one’s being,” etc. is connected to this. The perfection is in a thing’s principle, in its logos, and it moves from its beginning to its perfection, via modes, ways, which imply change. Maximus speaks of the “changeable movement of things naturally subject to motion” that will eventually come to rest in the “state which is definitively bounded — in which the movement of things subject to motion will, through change, naturally and necessarily come to rest.” He says “If then, the world is a place that is definitively bounded, and a state that is circumscribed, and if time is circumscribed motion, it follows that the movement of things living within it is subject to change. When, however, nature in actuality and thought will pass beyond place and time (in other words, beyond the necessary conditions without which it could not exist, that is the limits of stasis and motion), then, without any intermediary, nature will be conjoined to providence, finding providence to be a principle that is naturally simple and stable, without any kind of circumscription, and thus absolutely without motion.” He goes on to say life in this world is natural and is changeable but when nature comes to be in God, it will acquire an ever-moving stasis and a stable movement identical with itself, moving eternally around God. (This is all from Thalassios 65, similar things can be found in Ambigua 7). So mutability is not rooted in sexual generation. It is rooted in the very fact of coming to being into a world with circumscription.

          “… He did not see sex as part of created human goodness.” This isn’t a question of goodness or falling short of goodness. It seems to ignore that Maximus continually calls sexual procreation, in Thalassios 61 and elsewhere, a “mode of generation,” with “mode” being the operative word. He says more on this in Ambigua 42. Modes (tropoi) are provisional, not integral nor necessary, just as with the gnomic will as I’ve already described elsewhere in this thread. A mode is connected with good or evil depending on how it is employed. We already know from Jesus himself that sex is provisional, “for in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” The resurrection is where our true logos and perfection is, for Maximus. Sexual procreation is the mode in which we happen to be generated. Given that Maximus sees the fall as immediately following Adam’s coming into being, it could not be otherwise for him that sexual procreation for Adam and his descendants would not happen in conditions in which the intellect was not already given to unnatural pleasure (as described above). It’s not sex that’s “unnatural.” It’s the motion/direction of the intellect that moves/is directed contrary to its nature, contrary to its principle, its logos, that is unnatural. It has found its pleasure in sensation rather than intellection, and that is what is unnatural.

          I suppose some people might get bent out of shape about Maximus’ notions about sexual procreation because he is somehow disparaging sex by suggesting that God may have multiplied human beings through other means (which is irrelevant anyway because the reality that we inhabit is the only reality that is). But besides that, I don’t see his doctrine as substantially expressing something vastly different from what countless other Christians express when they say we’ve inherited our fallen and corruptible state from Adam through our ancestors and parents. He just gets more technical about it.

          Like

          • dbecke says:

            Thanks for these comments. You said: “It could not be otherwise for him that sexual procreation for Adam and his descendants would not happen in conditions in which the intellect was not already given to unnatural pleasure (as described above). It’s not sex that’s ‘unnatural.’ It’s the motion/direction of the intellect that moves/is directed contrary to its nature, contrary to its principle, its logos, that is unnatural. It has found its pleasure in sensation rather than intellection, and that is what is unnatural.”

            I’m not really sure that distinction helps. If the desire to procreate through sex is contrary to our nature, then sex is a problem. In my view, this means Maximus is still drawing too much on Platonism rather than on the view of the Hebrew scriptures that sex and sexual procreation are a central part of our created goodness. As I’ve said, this doesn’t mean I think Maximus’ views are all wrong or not helpful — not at all! But I do think a connection between protology and eschatology that is this intellectualist needs some correction from the embodied perspective of the Hebrew scriptures.

            And to anticipate something, no, I’m not channeling some kind of Harnackian thing about how early Christian Platonism completely ruined the Hebrew context. But I think it’s fair and important to note that Plato and Aristotle are just philosophical modes that in the historical context of the Church Fathers helped clarify some concepts revealed by the scriptures and revealed in the incarnate Christ. We’re not ancient Greeks, we’re Christians. As such, we also, I think, need to recognize where tendencies in Plato and Aristotle start to run contrary to the scriptures. In my view, this is one of them, and an important one for a healthy spirituality of human embodiment.

            Like

          • William says:

            There are a number of different directions that could be taken in response, and I’m not sure I will choose the best one(s). But perhaps something in my scattershot commentary will hit some kind of stray target of mutual interest even if it’s not anything we were aiming for.

            No, I don’t think Maximus says the desire for sex is contrary to nature. Maybe a better way to put it is that for him (and for other fathers) this desire (along with other human desires), since Adam, has operated in a context in which we have been spiritually blinded to our highest and true good, which is God and his glory in us as temples, in which context our gaze doesn’t see beyond our physical/sensual/biological existence to the spiritual reality that is more real than this physical one (that is biblical), in which we are easily prodded and yanked by the urgencies and fears and limited knowledge inherent in such an existence (passions, the fear of death … and from a cold evolutionary standpoint, what else is the biological impulse to procreate but the urge to propel the species forward in time and stave off death and extinction?), and in which that physical/sensual/biological existence is corrupting, dying, slipping away from us and never could fulfill in us what we have sought from it (which is something like stability). Even a “more biblical” understanding of sexual procreation that is more overtly celebratory of embodied existence and physicality requires us to raise it all up into something more lofty and beautiful than simply the brute grunting evolutionary animal and functional aspect of seed, ovum, sweat and orgasm. It elevates us to union and love and covenant and family and loyalty and sacrifice and instruction, and I daresay this is or approaches a spiritualization of the strictly bodily realities of procreation, dropping offspring and instinctive rearing. But back to Maximus. I also get from him that the problem is not with each particular instance of sensual desire and pleasure, as if such things were “totally depraved” or something like that, but that sensual desire/pleasure is part of a back-and-forth with pain (which includes the realities of corruptibility and death) where pleasure does not come without pain (because God arranged this for human correction, as exemplified in the attachment of the pain of childbirth with the pleasure of conception or the pains of toils attached to the pleasures of the earth’s fruits), while the experience of and fear of pain drives people to seek its avoidance in pleasure. However much this might get packaged in platonic patristic language, much of it seems confirmed simply by observing everyday experience in the world around us and in the stories that we tell and in the cases of serious addictions (which in so many ways are the tragically exaggerated instances of what is otherwise the normal way of living earthly existence).

            As an aside, even if Maximus saw sexual procreation as something provisional (which, as I said earlier, Jesus also asserted when he said that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” indicating that this was a provision for our life in this world but it is not part of our perfection), that fact of provisionality does not preclude it being “a central part of our created goodness” (although I’d submit that the word “central” in your formulation should be replaced with “vital”). After all, sexual procreation is the way that God brings human beings into existence. God does it, and this exactly how Maximus sees it. In Ambiguum 42 Maximus agrees with Gregory the Theologian that Christ “honored” our mode of birth with his own birth from a woman, and this can be extended beyond birth itself to the whole apparatus of sexual generation in the way Maximus speaks about the way our souls and bodies come into being simultaneously through this mode. Sure, in this Ambiguum (among other places) Maximus suggests that God had a way to multiply humanity other than sexual procreation, so one might be tempted to zero in on that. But it just is not even barely close to being the most important thing in his flow of thought. Whenever he mentions it, he mentions it in passing and doesn’t argue the point. It’s almost as though he mentions it because it was a given in his circles, which it might well have been.

            When you see things like this as being too divergent from the vision of life presented in the Hebrew bible, I can’t help but think that the perspectives found in the letter of the Old Testament and found among its people, are visions that rarely glimpsed a horizon for human life beyond the limits of this earthly existence. Death was the horizon by and large, and so of course the good things of this life take prominence, with our enemies vanquished and turned away and God’s blessing on us and many years for us and our many children into the generations. That is perhaps the best that could be hoped for. Ecclesiastes sums it up nicely. Lest you think I’m disparaging the Old Testament, I’m not. I’m talking about the surface vision, which is not the Christian vision of the Old Testament. In the Christian view the scriptures aren’t there so we can think like the Old Testament people did. The scriptures are those writings which testify about Christ and life in him, something in most cases impossible to see without enlightened spiritual eyes (which is the same thing as saying with intellects operating according to nature). And so the Church, from the New Testament forward, interpreted the Old Testament spiritually in order to find in its pages the witness to Christ where it wasn’t obvious. (The mystery was hidden from those who wrote it, they longed to see it. More on all this in John Behr). Related to all of this, where you say “We’re not ancient Greeks, we’re Christians.” I would add that “We’re also not ancient Hebrews, we’re Christians.” One thing about Christianity is that it emerged in a world that was, obviously, Hebrew, but also quite Greek. Paul was hellenic and first-century Judaism was saturated with hellenic influence. It absolutely natural (and I agree with fathers who said it was providential) that the development of Christian thought would occur largely in a Greek milieu. I know the early Syriac tradition gives us a more Semitic perspective, one that bears more resemblance to the bible with its liveliness, imagery and earthiness, and it is beautiful. No patristic writings give me more joy than Ephrem the Syrian’s hymns and the Macarian homilies. But even this Semitic Syriac perspective rapidly embraced the influence of Evagrius, arguably the most “intellectualist” Christian writer of them all.

            So anyway, take these words for what they’re worth. If anyone were to change your perspective on the thought of Maximus the Confessor, it’s not going to be some internet rando like myself; it can only really be Maximus himself through his own writing. But at least you can put in your “duly noted” file that some avid readers of Maximus don’t take for granted what you posit as obvious regarding his conceptions of bodily existence. I hope you haven’t felt I’ve wasted your time. I’ll cede to you the last word if you wish. It’s time now for me to crack open my new copy of “That All Shall Be Saved”!

            Like

          • dbecke says:

            No reply button below your last comment for some reason. In any event — great discussion, highlighting that different perspectives are always possible. Cheers.

            Like

  14. Geoffrey A McKinney says:

    David Bentley Hart wrote: “My advice to you–and to any believer–is stop presuming you have to defend the idea of hell’s eternity, allow yourself to think about it as if for the first time and with no sense of obligation, and I think you’ll see that the very premise has always already undermined arguments in its favor.”

    Indeed.

    Further, imagine oneself as utterly ignorant of Christianity. Further imagine that you start to read the first Gospel out of curiosity. You would need read no more than the first sentence to recognize the notion of eternal torments as utterly foreign to Christianity: “The beginning of the good tidings of Jesus the Anointed.”

    The words “good tidings” are not recondite theological or philosophical terms. The words are, rather, part of the effortlessly understood lexicon of a toddler. My daughter, even at age 2, when told, “Good news!”, knew that she was going to subsequently hear something delightful.

    The notion of eternal torment is obviously not good news. It is not even ambivalent news. Nor is it merely bad news. Rather, it is the worst possible news conceivable. When someone considers the worst possible news to be “good” news, we have arrived at the utter disintegration of both thought and language.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ben the enophile says:

      Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

      Like

    • Upon reading your post, my mind went to a phrase that I can only describe as something putrid if you believe in eternal conscious torment. I don’t know if this phrase exists in the East, but in the West I heard Adam’s fall from grace being described as:

      “O Blessed Fault, that would bring to us such a Savior.”

      REALLY?!?!??!

      Blessed fault that winds up sending the majority of human beings ever to be conceived and live to an eternal screaming torment? Well, I guess you can look at it that way if you are real sure that you are not one of those who are going to join that cacaphonous chorus. For the massa damnata, the unelect of Augustine’s musings, one would hardly refer to such an event with such a horrendous outcome as “blessed.”

      Sheeeeesh!!!!

      Like

      • Steven says:

        Reminds me of a passage from Irenaeus’s “Against Heresies”, which goes even further than that line:

        “Hence also was Adam himself termed by Paul ‘the figure of Him that was to come,’ because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God; God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.”

        I think this logic makes sense (or can only make sense) situated within a view that creation is still unfolding as movement toward its final end in God, as a whole. As opposed to a view that a completed creation went off the tracks and God is salvaging what he can before the end.

        Like

  15. DBH says:

    Εάν αποκαλύψετε το μυστικό, ο ουρανός θα πέσει, τα αστέρια θα σβήσουν και η θάλασσα θα μετατραπεί σε αίμα. Μόνο η αλήθεια του αιώνιου μαρτύρου στο Τάρταρο μπορεί να μας σώσει από το χάος.

    Like

  16. George Domazetis says:

    I feel compelled to add the good news also includes:

    Matthew 4:17 (KJV) From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

    Like

    • Ben the oenophile says:

      And…?

      Like

      • George Domazetis says:

        I am trying to make a point that repentance is central to salvation and this would modify the simple understanding of “all will be saved”. I will add to this exchange (with some trepidation) that we must repent for our evil, and also for “listening and following” the source of evil, Satan. I may speculate that if the person/soul were to be completely altered through falsehood and evil into other-than-human, a human being has to be within the spirit of falsehood. In contradicting factual knowledge a human being does not necessarily loose himself completely to freedom. Such a human being would develop the attribute of falsehood and would be on the wrong path, so to speak. However, if the human spirit were ‘united’, as it were, to the spirit of falsehood, then he is lost to freedom. The ‘spirit’ of such a human being cannot be the self as that person, and would instead be ‘transformed’ into a synthetic falseness. In this way, we understand that Lucifer was transformed into other-than, or as stated in the story, was re-named and became Satan, the adversary, and the one who was now the origin of sin. A detailed discussion of these matters is the subject of theodicy and for another discussion.

        Like

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          George no one is making the case that repentance is unnecessary, indeed it is understood to be an integral aspect of salvation for all.

          Liked by 3 people

  17. Nothing of substance to add, though I love the thought of Dr. Hart’s dog feeling disdain as they walk together 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Having read DBH’s book and done my best to follow the arguments one thing that puzzles me is the relevance of the definition of “free will” to the largely bogus free will defence of hell.
    Infernalists and at least the DBH flavour of universalists it seems to me agree that:
    – there is a hell (whether conceived as place or experience);
    – some people will (at least initially) choose hell rather than God;
    – God will allow them their choice (even if it is by way of allowing them to experience him as hell); and
    – They are in grave error in so choosing.
    The difference is that an infernalist will insist that some or all making that choice will be stuck with it for eternity whilst a universalist would say that God will, by some means or other, cure them of their error and bring them out again.
    The issue as to whether the initial choice of hell over God is in any sense a free choice is therefore an utter irrelevance: they choose and are there, free choice or not, and everyone agrees while they still so choose, or are still bound by sin and unable to choose otherwise (take your pick) there they remain.
    The issue, if an infernalist, is why or how God cannot or will not cure them of their error in so choosing – and free will arguments are irrelevant here. No-one sensible could assert that to enlighten someone in error is an offence against their free will. And once the soul in hell reaches the point of saying “On second thoughts, I don’t like it here after all.” they are no longer in hell of their own free will, regardless of how you define “free”.

    Like

    • dianelos says:

      Iain,

      I see your point but I disagree in the following sense: God’s essence is goodness which entails that the very fabric of created reality is moral. Now suppose that people choose to be in hell, albeit choose not freely, say the way a chess playing computer chooses its next move. Given that even temporal hell is a place of significant suffering, if these conscious creatures chose hell not freely but in some deterministic manner, then their suffering in hell becomes morally unjustified. Which renders all of creation morally incoherent, since it is God who orders it both in this life and in the afterlife. Thus any coherent account of soteriology in general or universal salvation in particular requires that creatures possess free (that is libertarian) free will.

      Like

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I don’t see how you are disagreeing with me. I certainly don’t disagree with you. My point was that even if you assume that people only go to hell of their own choice, it still doesn’t justify (or even explain) them being stuck there for ever.

        Liked by 2 people

        • dianelos says:

          Iain,

          You claimed that the question of whether free human choice is free as we normally understand it (i.e. in the libertarian sense) or is free in a deterministic way (i.e. compatibilist) is irrelevant. I responded that, given the requirement of moral coherence, libertarian free will is indispensable for any soteriology, whether univeralism or infernalism. If I understand you correctly, you are responding that the distinction is irrelevant for the free will defense of infernalism. You point out that, as everybody agrees, as long as a soul in hell freely chooses to stay there God will respect that choice, and that this principle stands whatever kind of freedom that soul really possesses.

          But I am saying that the distinction is relevant because the infernalist’s argument actually depends on the premise that human free will is libertarian. Here is why: The infernalist’s argument says that, at the very least, it is possible that a soul that has freely chosen hell will freely choose to continue to stay there for ever. But for theism (and the infernalist is a theist too) becomes incoherent unless all souls posses libertarian free will. For if a soul has chosen to suffer in hell by some deterministic process of free will then that suffering (even if only temporal) becomes morally unjustified: Lacking free will the soul could not possibly have avoided that suffering and is literally determined by God to suffer in hell. Thus not only the universalist’s position but also the infernalist’s requires a libertarian notion of free will. That was my argument.

          Now I find there is a second reason why the infernalist’s claim requires that free will be libertarian. Consider: We all agree that God desires the salvation of all his creatures. If human free will were conpatibilist and humans choose the way a chess-playing computer chooses its next move, then it would be trivially easy for God to set up that deterministic mechanism in such a way that every soul will in the end choose him and thus be saved. You see given enough time one can make any mechanism end up choosing whatever one wants, even if only by having it try sequentially one alternative after the other. So even (as some of DBH’s detractors have done) the infernalist suggests that DBH’s argument from moral coherence is flawed because in our fallen condition our moral sense is deeply compromised and we fail to see that whatever God wants to do with his creatures is moral (and this includes him wanting to predetermine some of them to suffer in hell for ever) – even then for the free-will defense to go through the infernalist must assume libertarian free will. Because only if we have libertarian free will, no matter God’s wishes and Christ’s efforts, it is possible that an evil soul will for ever choose to reject God. (Not to mention that believing both that God wishes every soul to be saved and predetermines that some will not, is incoherent by itself.)

          There is a third reason why the infernalist must affirm libertarian free will. Their argument is based on the plausible idea that a God who is love will respect every creature’s free choice. Indeed we know from experience that true love entails respect for our beloved’s moral autonomy. But if a creature chose hell the way a chess playing computer chooses its next move, that moral imperative is destroyed. So, for example, if some malicious person has injected my beloved with some poison that drives her to choose in a way that causes her pain – then my love would move me (indeed demand of me) to disrespect her determined choice and do whatever is necessary for saving her from the implications of it. I am saying that only a libertarian free choice deserves respect.

          I conclude that theists on both sides of the debate have good reason to reject the compatibilist hypothesis and to affirm that we possess libertarian free will. Which in any case is the obvious choice.

          So, what then? What if the infernalist accepts libertarian free will but insists that our moral sense is hopelessly compromised by the Fall, which defeats DBH’s argument from moral coherence (overlooking the fact that it throws out the baby with the bathwater for it defeats the epistemic grounding of all theology)? And points out that it is at the very least possible for a soul possessing libertarian free will to reject God for ever? I think the universalist’s response here is that the infernalist equivocates logical possibility with metaphysical possibility. One can show that actual reality transcends any possible abstract model of it, and that what is possible in an abstract logical model of the human condition is not possible in the real world of human experience. Which is of course what counts: We want to know whether in actual reality we or any of our neighbors may suffer eternal separation from God.

          Like

          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            Still no disagreement here. I think we are at cross purposes. To be clear:
            1. I accept libertarian free will and don’t in fact think determinism is compatible with or even coherent in reality as we experience it; nothing I have said, however, was even intended to engage in that particular debate.
            2. I am a universalist not am infernalist and don’t think there is in fact any moral or logical justification for an eternal hell: I thought that was clear.
            3. I agree libertarian free will is required to justify the *existence* of hell. The issue between infernalists and universalists currently being discussed is not however whether hell exists, but whether anyone is consigned there permanently. My point is that (for the reasons already given) libertarian free will can’t logically provide any justification for permanently consigning anyone to hell having made that choice even ignoring arguments as to how “free” their choice to go there in the first place really was.

            Like

  19. Mark says:

    Dr. Opderbeck,

    Things don’t seem to be that clear cut with Maximus, similar to how he sometimes seems universalist, and sometimes not!

    https://www.academia.edu/1474147/Living_above_Gender_Insights_from_Saint_Maximus_the_Confessor.

    If you read Ambiguum 41, Maximus presents male and female, and perhaps sexuality, as a pre-fall reality that needs “binding together,” just like the other divisions in the cosmos.

    My guess is, Maximus didn’t have a definitive view of how the fall lines up with gender/sexuality, and he probably didn’t have a definitive view of apokatastasis either (though it seems clear he didn’t consider the Nyssen’s version of a it a heresy!). This doesn’t mean he wasn’t as systematic as we think he is, but that he just hadn’t made his mind up on everything yet.

    In John Behr’s work on Gregory of Nyssa’s “On the Making of Humanity,” (entitled “The Rational Animal: A Rereading of Gregory of Nyssa’s he takes the minority scholarly position that Gregory doesn’t have the concept of prelapsarian sexuality that we think he does, and he argues this pretty convincingly. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236785761_The_Rational_Animal_A_Rereading_of_Gregory_of_Nyssa's_De_hominis_opificio

    Like

    • Mark says:

      Also, I think if you read through Gregory’s “On the Making of Humanity,” and Behr’s work on it, one could see how evolution lines up with this rather nicely. Andrew Louth talks about this a bit in his “Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology” book.

      Like

      • dbecke says:

        Thanks Mark. I don’t disagree with you at all that Maximus’ (and Gregory’s) comments about these things often can be read different ways. I’m not trying in this blog post to put forth any kind of definitive interpretation of Maximus — something I’m not qualified to do anyway! I just want to note that, to the extent we’re invoking an account of the human person and the will that shies away from all the goodness of human embodiment — as Maximus at least seems to do at points — we need, IMHO, to circle back to the narrative of creation in the Hebrew scriptures, which ringingly affirms the goodness of our bodies in all their functions and likewise ringingly affirms that our will and intellection is not disembodied but that we are whole persons.

        Like

  20. Pingback: I don’t feel like braining today | Random thoughts

Comments are closed.