The Polemics of Perdition: David Bentley Hart and his Critics

It’s been four months since David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved was published, and the internet is now littered with reviews (ten available on this blog). As one might expect, the responses have varied dramatically, from the enthusiastically approbative to the churlishly deprecative. The latter have been the most fun to read. Although the nega­tive reviewers do not always agree in their evaluation of the book’s arguments, they do agree on one point: David is a rhetorically mean person. Michael McClymond was so impressed by the offensive tone of the book that he took the time (God bless him) to count up the insults: “in total the book contains no less than 118 derogatory denotations of his opponents, their theological views, their God, and their understanding of hell.” For a small 209 page book, that’s not too shabby. “One strains to think of another theological work of the past or present that so con­centrates its venom.” (Actually, I didn’t have to strain very hard to come up with far more egregious examples. St Athana­sius’ Contra Arianos imme­di­ately came to mind, as well as any number of works by Tertullian and Martin Luther.) Douglas Farrow, invoking the trope of a boxing match, writes that Hart’s arguments are interlaced with the kind of “copious trash talk normally reserved for pre-fight hype. Our pugilist all but exhausts the world’s stock of insults, leaving his critics little to work with.” The judgment of Benjamin Guyer is even more severe:

Hart believes that he is defending the logic of divine love, but if so, one suspects that the deity could have found a mouthpiece less infatuated with its own capacity for embittered vitriol. Tracking with the likes of Martin Luther and John Calvin, Hart has appointed invective his handmaiden. His defiant egotism renders his volume a tedious read.

More brutal still is reviewer Craig Truglia. One cannot accuse this blogger of pulling his ad hominem punches:

Lastly, the book is written with such vitriol it barely refrains from profan­ity. That All Shall Be Saved reads more like a series of blog posts than a book. The author comes across as a tragic figure, struggling with bipolar disorder or some sort of serious mental illness.

One may describe reading the book’s torturous 200 pages of streaming insults and schoolyard “arguments” as a form of intellectual masochism.

Whatever was really going on in Hart’s mind when he wrote the book, the character he plays is a bitter man who probably could not get along with anyone for eternity.

One who reads the book cannot help but feel sorry for its author. There is something very wrong with the man and he needs emotional support.

After surveying these and other reviews of the same ilk, one might conclude that That All Shall Be Saved is little more than a nasty diatribe. That would be a serious error. The reviewers have grossly misrepresented the nature and intent of the book’s polemic. Make no mistake. Hart’s polemic is fierce, trenchant, acerbic, impassioned—but it is directed not against individuals (though Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin each have their visits to the woodshed) but against a life-destroying distortion of the gospel. If eternal perdition is a moral and theolog­ical abomination, then it demands righteous denunciation. As Jason Micheli writes in his Christian Century review: “As much as the prophets, Hart thunders against the corrosive effects of Christianities rendered cruel through their incoherence.”

It is not my intention in this article to defend all of David’s rhetorical choices. In my small circle of theological friends, we have long bemoaned (while guiltily delighting in) his apodictic and combative style and have worried that it needlessly detracts from the substance of his thought. But, we finally concluded, David is David. To demand that he become a polite academic would effectively silence him. Like it or not, approve of it or not, David will always be a pugnacious controversialist and practitioner of the “Chicago way.”

Orthodox Christians thoroughly enjoyed David’s polemic when he took on heathen and heretics in Atheist Delusions and his articles in First Things. How wonderful, we said to each other, that we finally have on our side a brilliant thinker who can obliterate our enemies with a single twelve-letter word. Even those who found David’s rhetorical style distasteful could not but admire the depth and sophistica­tion of his metaphysical reflec­tions. Almost single-handedly he forced us to reconsider the viability of Neoplatonic philosophy as medium for theological expression. Yet with the publication of That All Shall Be Saved, it appears, in the minds of many, that he has crossed an unforgiveable, yet indiscernible, line.

Last summer I read and re-read That All Shall Be Saved in preparation for my September pre-review. When all the ad hominem reviews started coming in, I was con­fused. Had we read the same book? Was it as vicious and venomous as the reviewers were assert­ing? I did not think so. So I decided to read it yet a third time. What I found was what I found on the first reading—a passionate proclamation of the absolute love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This love, Hart vehemently declares, is incompatible with the tradi­tional assertion of everlasting damnation. The two cannot be reconciled. How did we ever persuade our­selves they could be? A truly loving and omnipotent God would never, could never, create a world in which a portion of his beloved humanity would be eschatologically condemned to inter­minable torment. Love would never tolerate, much less intend, the actualization of such a horrific fate. Here is the moral core of That All Shall Be Saved. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is absolute goodness and wills only our good. He has freely brought us into existence, purposing in Christ our participation in the bliss and joy of his trinitarian life. But what of the damned? Can an immortal life of unrelievable misery be judged a gift? Hart thinks not:

A gift that is at once wholly irresistible and a source of unrelieved suffering on the part of its recipient is not a gift at all, even in the most tenuously analogous sense; and, speaking for myself, I cannot see how existence as such is truly a divine gift if it has been entirely severed from free and rational participation in the goodness of things. Being itself is the Good itself, no doubt. But, for creatures who exist only by finite participation in the gift of existence, only well-being is being-as-gift in a true and meaning­ful sense. (p. 20)

The above should be obvious, yet for many it is not. It’s as if the advocates of everlasting hell have never themselves experienced severe and prolonged suffering or never known anyone who found life so unbearable that suicide became their only option.

How is it that so many Christians do not see that the traditional doctrine of hell strikingly violates their foundational belief in a God who loves absolutely, infinitely, unconditionally, without qualification or reserve? David offers this provocative suggestion: in their heart of hearts, most do not believe what they believe:

I am convinced that practically no one who holds firmly to the majority tradition regarding the doctrine of hell ultimately does so for any reason other than an obstinate, if largely unconscious resolve to do so, prompted by the unshakable conviction that faith absolutely requires it. (p. 29)

Consider the example of a respected philosopher of Thomist persuasion, devoted husband and father of five children, who, as Hart puts it, “believes that he believes the dominant doctrine of hell, and can provide very forceful and seemingly cogent arguments in its defense” (p. 29). Yet does he really believe in hell? The life he actually lives suggests otherwise:

I cannot take the claims of this Catholic philosopher entirely seriously from any angle, for the simple reason that his actions so resplendently belie what he professes to believe. If he truly thought that our situation in this world were as horribly perilous as he claims, and that every mortal soul labored under the shadow of so dreadful a doom, and that the stakes were so high and the odds so poor for everyone—a mere three score and ten years to get it right if we are fortunate, and then an eternity of agony in which to rue the consequences if we get it wrong—he would never dare to bring a child into this world, let alone five children; nor would he be able to rest even for a moment, because he would be driven ceaselessly around the world in a desperate frenzy of evangelism, seeking to save as many souls from the eternal fire as possible. I think of him as a remarkably compassionate person, you see, and so his more or less sedentary and distractedly scholarly style of life to my mind speaks volumes, even libraries. If he were really absolutely convinced of the things he thinks he is convinced of, but still continued to go his merry recreant’s way along the path of happy fatherhood and professional contentment, he would have to be a moral monster. But I do not think that he is a monster. So I have to think instead that, in his heart of hearts, at a level of calm conviction so deeply hidden beneath veils of child­hood indoctrination that he is all but unaware of its existence, he keeps and treasures the certainty that in the end—in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)—“All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” And I believe that at that same level he also knows that nothing can be ultimately well if the happy final state of things for any of us has been pur­chased at the cost—or even only at the risk—of anyone else’s eternal misery. (pp. 30-31)

Here David is describing a dilemma discussed in the philosophical literature on hell—the doxastic problem. How should our belief in eternal perdition impact our lives, and what does it mean if it doesn’t inform them in the ways that we would expect? The bringing of new life into the world is an event of great joy for parents. Not for a moment do we believe that we have begotten our children unto unimaginable suffering. Of course we don’t. We could not live that way. If we believed that their damnation was a genuine, perhaps likely, possibility, we would take all measures to prevent their conception (antinatalism, any­one?). Nor do our pastors warn us of the danger—quite the contrary. They encourage us to procreate and assure us that it is one of God’s great blessings. Clearly something is amiss, yet we take no notice. One reviewer, John Panteleimon Manoussakis, notes Hart’s reasoning and dismisses it with a tu quoque wave of the hand:

But he [DBH] who makes this argument is also a “Christian thinker” whose quaint routine of professional engagements remains, as far as I can tell, unaffected and undisturbed, not by the remote potential of a future pain awaiting his fellow human beings (for he doesn’t believe in it) but by the very real and actual suffering that millions of other humans undergo presently. If life for Hart himself is not disrupted by the endless suffering afflicting others in the here and now, why does he scorn others for their alleged indifference to an eternal damnation that might or (as we hope) might not happen eschatologically?

I find Manoussakis’s interpretation of the devout philosopher story curious. Not only does David not scorn the philosopher, but he attributes to him an inextinguishable hope that the man’s infernalist convictions belie. That’s not an insult but a compliment. As far as Manoussakis trying to turn the moral tables upon Hart … argumentum ad hominem tu quoque is a logical fallacy and unfair to boot.

David’s attribution of blindness and self-deception to the advocates of hell allows him to speak harshly of the infernalist teaching, without attributing moral guilt to its teachers (“Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they teach”), yet I suspect that many readers have found this tack offensive. “How dare Hart tell me that I do not believe what I believe. I affirm eternal damnation because the Father of Jesus has revealed this truth through his Scriptures and the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” In other words, they believe that rejection of apokatastasis represents infallible dogma and is therefore an essential, indisput­able element of Christian doctrine. To doubt it is to doubt the entire edifice of faith. It’s all or nothing, and we cannot bear nothing. If the Church has gotten hell wrong, how can we trust her witness to the atoning death of Christ and his defeat of death in his resurrection? Our existence as Christian believers is thus called into radical, and intoler­able, question. Hell, therefore, must be defended, even if it mischarac­terizes the Creator, introduces profound incoherence into the gospel proclama­tion, and causes incalculable personal damage. Here, I submit, lies the driving force of the ad hominem reviews of That All Shall Be Saved. The dogma of everlasting perdition, precisely as dogma, inhibits its adherents from fairly con­sidering the merits of David’s arguments. The stakes are too high. It’s far easier to attack his rhetoric and person; more strategic to discredit him right from the start. Heretics deserve neither a hearing nor our civility.

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77 Responses to The Polemics of Perdition: David Bentley Hart and his Critics

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A comment that I thought about including in the article itself but finally decided to just say something in the comments section. Readers will note that in this piece I frequently refer to DBH by his first name. This does not mean that we are best buds. We’ve only met once (over a decade ago in the bookstore at St Vladimir’s Seminary–I doubt David even remembers the occasion) and have exchanged a few emails over the past 15 years or so. But for purpose of this article, I thought it proper to refer to him by his first name, just to remind everyone that he is a real human being and our brother in Christ. I have been taken aback by the utter ad hominem meanness of some of the reviews of TASBS. It’s as if these reviewers have taken David’s polemical style (of which they disapprove) as an excuse to engage in abusive rhetoric far worse than anything found in the book.

    Liked by 4 people

    • DBH says:

      For the record, Al, I do not accept the idea that any of the language I use in the book is excessively harsh or even needlessly provocative. I do not even accept the suggestion that the book is polemical. I say this not only because none of its animadversions are aimed at any individuals, though that is true. I say it because the traditional concept of a hell of eternal torment–and of its justice–is far more depraved than I am able, with my poor skills, to express. It is only the effects of the mass hypnotism of dogmatic indoctrination and the traumas of the horrifying tales told to us as children that somehow blind us to the obvious hideousness of the teaching. If anything, my language in the book is far milder than it might have been, and probably milder than it should have been.

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  2. Quote: If eternal perdition is a moral and theolog­ical abomination, then it demands righteous denunciation. As Jason Micheli writes in his Christian Century review: “As much as the prophets, Hart thunders against the corrosive effects of Christianities rendered cruel through their incoherence.”

    My point entirely in my own response to Hart’s critics, which may be found here:

    https://http4281.wordpress.com/2019/10/31/defending-david-bentley-hart/

    “Regarding “embittered vitriol,” perhaps you have never been negatively influenced by Scripture hucksters in polyesther suits as I have, but having been on the recieving end of patently dishonest theology parading itself as genius, and having suffered from it in my inability to become the kind of Christian I should (i.e. loving, gracious, and kind, as opposed to bitter, judgmental, and vindictive – i.e. American Baptist Fundamentalism, from which I have, Gratias Deo, been delivered) I find it all too easy to understand the contempt with which DBH holds certain theologians. Augustine’s wretched attempts at Bible translation are one of the causes (certainly there are others as well, including the error of Caesaropapism in the Orthodox East) of the lamentable schism between East and West and the theology of God as Merciless Condemnator rather than loving Father (i.e. the God of the West).

    In short, bad theology hurts people, and having been hurt by it, I find in DBH a kindred spirit in despizing lazy theologians and inept religious theologies posing as wisdom.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Basem says:

    Hart has to be offensive to our fallen sensibilities but before Hart was offensive, Jesus of Nazareth was way way more offensive! He spoke of good samaritans, beloved prodigals sons, hypocritical religious leaders, exalted faith of pagan peasants and soldiers, and radical forgiveness while being nailed to a Roman cross. He revealed the Heart of His Father to the dismay of the Jews; the so-called elect people! We, wretched and fallen, want and desire hell and punishment to our offenders yet the cosmic proclamation of forgiveness echoed through all generations from Calvary. Proclaimed in a moment in time yet it was only a revelation of a reality that transcend time as John the Beloved saw the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world! Ain’t our venomous embittered nature that gave birth to doctrine of eternal hell but also to all kind of blasphemous theories like ancestral sin and penal substitution atonement! We made a god in our fallen image repaying back the God of Abraham the favor! Truth of the Heart of the Father has to be offensive and scandalous. Jesus was offensive and scandalous as Isiah prophesied Him to be 700 years before His birth! Hart only re-stated the genuine message of the Gospels. We are are just too embittered to accept good news. Lord have mercy!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Ben says:

    There’s no mystery here, except for the mystery that in the internet age people (even people with higher degrees) seem to be increasingly unable to read books with continuous arguments. Manoussakis made a fool of himself by proving he couldn’t follow a single one of the book’s arguments, even the simplest, and he’s a fellow who sells himself on his Facebook page as a genius (ha!). People like Farrow, McClymond, Truglia, and Guyer tell what they probably know are lies about the book’s “venomous” tone either because they found themselves unable to answer its arguments, or because they read the harsh remarks about cruel ideas as implicating them somehow, or both. A lot of it is self-accusation projected onto the man who was inconsiderate enough to torment them with arguments that make them face the real implications of their own horrible beliefs. The insane, exaggerated responses to TASBS prove to me that it pierces a lot of these reviewers in ways they can’t defend against except by misrepresentation and insult.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jedi Scribe says:

    Reblogged this on Symmetria.

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  6. w.s says:

    very well stated – spot on!

    Like

  7. Grant says:

    Well I think for many of the above reviewers is that eternal torment is the heart and centre of their conception of the faith, the corner stone on which all else depends and hangs, the foundation stone. Perhaps the most depressing thing (well, besides the monstrous idea of God bring into being a universe where people suffer endlessly without relief or hope of salvation or are doomed to anhilation after a short, painful and tragic existence) is that this conviction essentially makes hell, not Christ who saves from death and hell the centre of the Christian faith, upon which all else orbits, which God bows down to and serves, helpless before it’s terrible and is inscrutable power, a best negotiating for a few to be spared (or worse, is it’s author and creates the situation in the first place, in which goodness and love are delusions and a terrifying and cruel abyss beyond comprehension is the truth of all reality, and of course Christianity which insists God is love is false). In this death and hell are the true God, the ultimate and absolute and fundamental reality of all things, on which all else depends.

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    • Ben says:

      To which a good Calvinist might reply, “Yeah. What’s the prob?”

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Alas, it is the majority position one has to contend with. If it were only restricted to Calvinists….the negative and dismissive responses to TASBS have come from all quarters.

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  8. markbasil says:

    For years now I have wanted to somehow communicate to David Hart how much I appreciate him and his writings. I belong to a quiet Orthodox Christian community, and we often discuss his works and very much appreciate him. During our “bibles and beers” meetings, we most enjoy reading from his translation of the holy scriptures; it brings such a revitalization to our shared familiarity with the writings of the New Testament.

    I once asked a beloved monk friend why in Orthodoxy there are so few voices that articulate the nonviolence inherent in the way of the cross. He told me he knew of many holy persons who held such an understanding, “but it is the nature of our nonviolence that we keep silence.”
    I suspect likewise that there are very many- perhaps I dare say ‘the best of us’- who agree that all shall be saved, in the vein of St Isaac’s inebriation with God’s love. But these are the ones who are not contentious for the truth, having tasted it.

    Still my own desire is just to thank David, and let him know that a handful of insignificant Orthodox Christians in a small town in British Columbia- and a few correspondence partners of ours around the world- really love him and his work.
    -Mark Basil

    Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      Merci.

      Like

      • markbasil says:

        I am so grateful to see that my rather long shot thanks landed home.
        As I mentioned we are a small and quiet and definitely insignificant community out here on the edge of Kootenay lake, but we so enjoy what you have brought to us (in light of the next comment below, we make an effort not to make you tiresome in just these ways- which are tiresome to us too when we see so much reaction to you and your writings- and a good part of my spur to try to thank you).
        You’re nothing to us that you’re not trying to be, I dont think. But you are a very appreciated contribution to our understandings, challenging us to go deeper and more broadly, and more lovingly into our Tradition, within our contemporary modern context. I personally have enjoyed having to ‘get used to’ your voice, and now just really feel a love for you as you are, and feel more personally related somehow even for those very ‘tonal elements’ that at first ruffled me a bit. We also adore the activity of your conscience (the respect for which has a prized place within our Tradition).
        Just to say, we like you out here and very much. We consider you a beloved older brother in our communion. And we dont get too upset when you do things your own way, because you are your own person and not trying to conform anyone to your own self. You just are yourself. And you are our brother.
        This may sound a bit unclear and I dont want to muddy my thanks (it’s the challenge of trying to write this ‘in public’ that is really just meant to be expressed for you personally).
        Just to say that we really try to ‘get you’. And in that register, we really like you and thank you for what you have brought to us.

        ’nuff said, eh.
        Merci beaucoup.
        -Mark

        Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          In fact, you’re very clear, and it does in fact mean a very great deal to me to hear it. Many blessings to all of you.

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  9. eandrewschenk says:

    When I actually read the book I thought that the invective was far less severe than many reviewers had made it out to be. I don’t personally find Mencken and theology to be an appropriate match ( as much as this former Baltimorean appreciates Mencken). However, most times I found that Dr. Hart was making a good point, and he was far less mean than he was made out to be, if mean is the right word.

    Hart does have an abrasive style. However, my impression is that for many who post on this
    site Hart is justified in his manner of rhetoric not just because he has the freedom to do so as a writer but because the times and topic demand it. Universal reconciliation demands a champion of this sort to cut through the fog of so many centuries of theological obfuscation. This just begs a question however. Why are we in this position to begin with? Clearing away the theological clutter only leaves us with the historical baggage which obscures the goodness of God nearly as well. This is a major difficulty , one that demands an explanation, as much as universal reconciliation demands a defense. Hart does does not offer one though. Dismissing the Latin world with one hand and crowning Gregory of Nyssa with the other does not constitute a Christian justification of history. Jabbing reviewers that they need to “become Orthodox” won’t do the trick either. That Hart admires Bulgakov and that Bulgakov is Orthodox, does not give Hart the authority to dress down any tradition that does not affirm universal reconciliation. Sure, all of us encounter serious difficulties trying to reconcile universal reconciliation with “T”radition. Its understandable that Hart rails against Calvinism or what have you. With that said, Benjamin Guyers makes a perfectly fair observation when he says that Greek and Russian Orthodox authorities have upheld eternal torment through the centuries nearly to the extent that the Western tradition has. What authority does Hart appeal to when he presents universal reconciliation as a specifically , capital O, Orthodox teaching? He appeals to no such authorities. There are none, unless you consider Bulgakov to be one. Hart makes an absolutely convincing theological argument for universal reconciliation but then he makes no effort to reconcile it with history, and specifically Orthodox history. This is necessary as he is clearly wrapping his argument in the mantle of Orthodoxy. In other words, he is not simply making a theological case. He is making a theological argument that necessarily touches upon questions of ecclesial authority. These questions require an examination of Church history. All of history, not just the platonic ideal of Church history called the 4th century. Hart has not done this, he essentially ignores the question and his reviewers know it.

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    • DBH says:

      Andrew,

      Sorry, but that’s all total nonsense. You are simply misrepresenting me.

      “Dismissing the Latin world with one hand and crowning Gregory of Nyssa with the other does not constitute a Christian justification of history.”
      No doubt, But I don’t do anything of the sort. Neither say anything about universalism being an Orthodox doctrine. As for your reference to the exchange with Peter Leithart, that was a comment about adopting allegorical exegesis, not about universalism.

      “This is necessary as he is clearly wrapping his argument in the mantle of Orthodoxy.”
      No, I most definitely do nothing of the sort. I explicitly say that eternal torment is the majority teaching of all Christian traditions. The aspects of Western theology I “dismiss” are things like substitutionary atonement and inherited guilt.

      “Hart has not done this, he essentially ignores the question and his reviewers know it.”
      A complete non sequitur. Since I didn’t make the claims you attribute to me, this is irrelevant My book is a philosophical and theological argument made on its own terms. It doesn’t claim any ecclesiastical authority. That’s the point. My claim is that the whole of ecclesiastical tradition is internally incoherent except when corrected by the minority opinion. If I were interested in the issue of authority rather than the evidences of logic and scripture, as well as the internal rational coherence of doctrine, I would not bother with the argument at all.

      I do find it tiresome constantly to be told that I have said things that I most definitely have not said, especially in those cases when I have clearly stated the opposite opinion.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Jason says:

        Similar to Mark Basil above, Hart’s works have become passed around in my small circle of friends, many of whom are pastors that fall within the Charismatic-evangelical (sometimes fundamentalist) orbit. TASBS is one of the most important books I’ve ever read and for the life of me, I cannot understand negative reviews of the book that bemoan about vindictive rhetoric or what have you; to me, the book expounds upon the love of God and the love that we should all show forth for our neighbors in one of the most powerful and compelling arguments I’ve ever seen.

        It is poetic, not acerbic.

        Hart’s arguments against penal substitutionary atonement, inherited guilt, and eternal conscious torment are magnificent; his reclaiming the theologies of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and others that are largely ignored unknown in the laymen West is monumental. Yes, Hart is an academic, his work was written to other academics and scholars, and many of the contributors to this site are academics or scholars; but I can honestly say that TASBS has immensely impacted my circle of evangelicals and has caused us to dig deeper into the writings of the patristics.

        Thank you Dr. Hart for writing with conviction what you believe to be true, despite all of the opposition; and thanks towards this site for providing a useful and engaging platform to hold these discussions.

        Like

      • Andrew says:

        David,

        I deeply agree that the Andrew above has misrepresented your position and discussing your book with others has made me thankful for a Great Books education that taught me to actually read the actual text in front of me in search of what the actual author thought and said, versus the reduction of the author to a placeholder for a position I already have in my mind that he supposedly represents. I once came to nearly all the conclusions in TASBS in my own thinking and left Christianity. I read Balthasar’s Dare We Hope and it brought me back into the Roman Catholic Church. But, this has all haunted me over the years. In the meantime I’ve found the East and was attending a Byzantine Catholic Church before my mother had a stroke and had to return home to care for her. Now, I attend a Roman parish, have a Byzantine director, and read Eastern Theology. But…the question Andrew asks remains, and I will now posit it as one who agrees with you. What of tradition and authority? If the major traditions got all this wrong, why am I to believe that they got the rest of the key dogmas right? A related question is, if TASBS is true, where is “home”? My Orthodox friends argue with me and tell me this violates Tradition. I’ve heard this spoken privately and even preached as an option in the Byzantine Church. Is there any Church in the world in which this IS the Tradition? Did anyone get it right? How does your Orthodox community relate to your book and your beliefs? I just want to finally, at 49, after a life of searching from nominal Catholic, to Charismatic Protestant, to liberal Catholic, to reluctant Thomist, to Wojtylan Personalist Thomist, to a Byzantine-ish memeber of Communion and Liberation who has no time for theology because he reads nothing but cancer research trying to save his mom’s life, just simply have a theological home and, heaven forbid, a Church home. So, I would beg you to write an article, a book, post a link, or at least comment and tell all of us who bought your argument, and recognized it from our own search, “What now?” and “Where?” and “With whom?”.

        Sincerely,

        Andrew (let’s go with Andy for confusion sake)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Andy, I just discovered your comment this morning stuck in the spam queue. My apologies that it took a couple of days to approve it.

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        • DBH says:

          Well, Andy, universalism is the minority tradition historically, and is likely to remain so. Just keep certain things in mind. 1) A position advanced by figures as monumental and impressive as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Sergei Bulgakov (to skim the surface) enjoys a prima facie respectability that neither the weight of tradition nor the brute force of majority opinion can invalidate. 2) No matter how confidently certain persons–plucking their authority to do so from thin air–insist that universalism is a heretical position, no serious and intelligent scholar of the historical record would support such a claim; so just ignore those persons, or kick them. 3) Even if the position had been declared heretical, that would simply invalidate the ecclesiastical authority making that declaration, since not even God can bring about a logical impossibility, and a coherent Christian vision of reality that includes eternal torment for some is a logical impossibility. 4) Maybe Gregory of Nazianzus and others like him were right in maintaining a distinction among believers regarding what they are capable of understanding, and maybe some of us require the mythology of an exclusivist heaven and an eternal hell in order to function; I don’t like to believe this, but it may be right. 5) Since the dogmatic record is, in fact, totally ambiguous on this score, the belief in eternal perdition is nothing more than received majority opinion; and, in almost everything, the majority is always wrong. 6) The idea of a hell of eternal torment is inherently foolish and would convince no reflective person were it not seared into us by indoctrination in an obvious falsehood; so, no matter what, damn the torpedoes and sapere aude. That’s all I have to offer.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            Dear Dr. Hart,

            Since Fr Aidan has promoted TASBS, I have interacted with you several times concerning the book’s premises. I pointed out that your conclusion of universalism depends on a faulty doctrine of an absolutely simple God, a God of pure actuality, a God who is what he does. (You denied this dependence; but pp. 89-90 demonstrate my point). Because God is what he does—because the divine will and activities are identical with the divine essence—only three logically-consistent options obtain for the eschaton: either a double predestination to heaven and hell, a single predestination to perdition, or a single predestination to glory. (The fact that Augustine finally chose the first option shows his consistency; the fact that Aquinas chose neither shows his inconsistency.)

            Because you find the first two options morally repugnant, as do I, you opt for the third. Yet this still amounts to determinism, whether you dress it up as “transcendental” or not. According to your doctrine of God, of course, “the end of all things is their beginning”; that is how things work out in an emanationist ontology. The God of actus purus is bound, by logical consistency, to radiate/emit/emanate a world and its end as determined by his essence. For his creative activity and providence are identical therewith. This theology owes exceedingly more to the canon of Western philosophy than to the Orthodox patristic tradition. Hence Aquinas’ denial of the essence-energies distinction in St John Damascene, and his appeal to Maimonides to justify the denial!

            Along with the doctrines of God and determinism, the other major issue with your work is the problem of tradition and authority. Andy pleads for an answer to this obvious weakness. While your answer does contain some reasons, in the main it is playfully dismissive. If this is “all you have to offer” to such a major rebuttal as “the Church has not taught this doctrine,” then why should we believe your thesis? Upon what authority? You point (1) to Origen, St. Gregory, and Bulgakov as examples of “monumental and impressive figures.” Yet these men too can veer into heresy. Brilliant men are not impervious to mistakes; indeed, they are often more given to eccentricities. More importantly, there are vastly more monumental and impressive figures which have faithfully taught the Orthodox Tradition on this matter, contra universalism. Once this is understood, the respectability of universalism as an acceptable theological position is put into serious doubt.

            Categorically stating (2) that all who disagree with your reading of the historical record are neither serious nor intelligent is neither serious nor intelligent. Cannot a man of your intellectual capabilities help but realize that the 5th, 6th, and 7th ecumenical councils did indeed condemn universalism? Surely you have read the available documents from these councils. Indeed, I fear you have read them and understand what the Church has taught. Hence your immediate qualification under (3). Yet, while placing yourself, your rational powers, or even an airtight logical argument above the Church’s ecumenical condemnation may prove popular in the Protestant ethos prevalent in our day, it does not bolster your claim to provide a coherent “Christian” vision of reality. The latter term is defined only by Christ, among His Body, by the authorized successors to the apostles. Only the Church preserves the “one faith,” not the philosophers of this age.

            You allude to the traditional teaching as a mythology, but it seems to many that you have erected your own. Because of its philosophical rigor and rhetorical eloquence, I will admit that yours is quite attractive. I was stunned when I first read the book and was tempted to follow you. Perhaps some may need the mythology you’ve constructed in order to function. The indissoluble problem is that, no matter the pristine perfection of its logical consistency, TASBS is not the biblical-patristic vision of the Church’s faith. It is a high-level revision thereof, and it carries no authority other than its philosophical sophistication. In no way do Christ or His apostles ever require the faithful to follow such autonomously-prescribed teachings. If it is possible the Church could be wrong on nearly any part of the majority Christian opinion (5), the faithful really have no hope. For to what, then, are they being faithful? The Church’s Tradition is the very thing at which you take aim. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls.” You have pointed yourself and your readers in a dangerous direction.

            If these reasons are all you have to offer regarding Andy’s question on tradition and authority, then the faithful need not be unsettled by the alleged “force” of your argument in TASBS, for you have given no good reason why the Church, Christ’s Body, is wrong, and you as an individual are right. This “inherently foolish” doctrine (6) is what the Church has always preached. Worldly wise men provide perfectly reasonable arguments why it should not be the case; they like to think for themselves (sapere aude). Faithful Christians, however, submit to and obey their leaders; they are men under authority (Matt 8:9).

            Urging you to reconsider,
            Maximus

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I have taken the liberty of recopying Maximus’s comment. Please scroll down and you will find it below. If you wish to respond, please do so below.

            Like

  10. Jason says:

    Similar to Mark Basil above, Hart’s works have become passed around in my small circle of friends, many of whom are pastors that fall within the Charismatic-evangelical (sometimes fundamentalist) orbit. TASBS is one of the most important books I’ve ever read and for the life of me, I cannot understand negative reviews of the book that bemoan about vindictive rhetoric or what have you; to me, the book expounds upon the love of God and the love that we should all show forth for our neighbors in one of the most powerful and compelling arguments I’ve ever seen.

    It is poetic, not acerbic.

    Hart’s arguments against penal substitutionary atonement, inherited guilt, and eternal conscious torment are magnificent; his reclaiming the theologies of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and others that are largely ignored unknown in the laymen West is monumental. Yes, Hart is an academic, his work was written to other academics and scholars, and many of the contributors to this site are academics or scholars; but I can honestly say that TASBS has immensely impacted my circle of evangelicals and has caused us to dig deeper into the writings of the patristics.

    Thank you Dr. Hart for writing with conviction what you believe to be true, despite all of the opposition; and thanks towards this site for providing a useful and engaging platform to hold these discussions.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. joebeach5 says:

    Amen Jason. Your thoughts and experiences are the same as mine. To me, the book was beautiful passionate poetry. A love song. And I, too, read it three times carefully and prayerfully and I, too, felt that I’d read a different book than many of its harsher critics.

    Like

    • Ben says:

      I suspect that some critics peddle the story of a harsh polemical book just to dissuade as many people reading the book as possible. Is McClymond really so dumb that he thinks there are 118 insults in the book or is he just counting up every negative statement in TASBS and pretending it’s something it isn’t ? I don’t know, but I would guess he’s just lying in a way that he can reconcile with his conscience.

      My way of fighting back is to encourage people to leave five star reviews at Amazon. It’s not much but it’s something.

      Like

  12. Kyle Page says:

    For me, I will forever be grateful that I stumbled upon David Bentley Harts work. Its truly a breath of fresh air to read his view on this topic. His writing style, his clarity of thought(I certainly need a dictionary handy at all times mind you. But that’s a good thing), and his unfiltered, masterful command of language leaves me thoroughly engaged with the topic and understanding it. While I have only very recently questioned the validity of eternal hell, a belief I grew up with, reading Harts book has been just the kind of final nail I needed to hammer eternal hell into the coffin it deserves.

    Like

  13. Maximus says:

    [I have takent he liberty of relocating Maximus’s comment to allow for easier engagement.–AFK]

    Dear Dr. Hart,

    Since Fr Aidan has promoted TASBS, I have interacted with you several times concerning the book’s premises. I pointed out that your conclusion of universalism depends on a faulty doctrine of an absolutely simple God, a God of pure actuality, a God who is what he does. (You denied this dependence; but pp. 89-90 demonstrate my point). Because God is what he does—because the divine will and activities are identical with the divine essence—only three logically-consistent options obtain for the eschaton: either a double predestination to heaven and hell, a single predestination to perdition, or a single predestination to glory. (The fact that Augustine finally chose the first option shows his consistency; the fact that Aquinas chose neither shows his inconsistency.)

    Because you find the first two options morally repugnant, as do I, you opt for the third. Yet this still amounts to determinism, whether you dress it up as “transcendental” or not. According to your doctrine of God, of course, “the end of all things is their beginning”; that is how things work out in an emanationist ontology. The God of actus purus is bound, by logical consistency, to radiate/emit/emanate a world and its end as determined by his essence. For his creative activity and providence are identical therewith. This theology owes exceedingly more to the canon of Western philosophy than to the Orthodox patristic tradition. Hence Aquinas’ denial of the essence-energies distinction in St John Damascene, and his appeal to Maimonides to justify the denial!

    Along with the doctrines of God and determinism, the other major issue with your work is the problem of tradition and authority. Andy pleads for an answer to this obvious weakness. While your answer does contain some reasons, in the main it is playfully dismissive. If this is “all you have to offer” to such a major rebuttal as “the Church has not taught this doctrine,” then why should we believe your thesis? Upon what authority? You point (1) to Origen, St. Gregory, and Bulgakov as examples of “monumental and impressive figures.” Yet these men too can veer into heresy. Brilliant men are not impervious to mistakes; indeed, they are often more given to eccentricities. More importantly, there are vastly more monumental and impressive figures which have faithfully taught the Orthodox Tradition on this matter, contra universalism. Once this is understood, the respectability of universalism as an acceptable theological position is put into serious doubt.

    Categorically stating (2) that all who disagree with your reading of the historical record are neither serious nor intelligent is neither serious nor intelligent. Cannot a man of your intellectual capabilities help but realize that the 5th, 6th, and 7th ecumenical councils did indeed condemn universalism? Surely you have read the available documents from these councils. Indeed, I fear you have read them and understand what the Church has taught. Hence your immediate qualification under (3). Yet, while placing yourself, your rational powers, or even an airtight logical argument above the Church’s ecumenical condemnation may prove popular in the Protestant ethos prevalent in our day, it does not bolster your claim to provide a coherent “Christian” vision of reality. The latter term is defined only by Christ, among His Body, by the authorized successors to the apostles. Only the Church preserves the “one faith,” not the philosophers of this age.

    You allude to the traditional teaching as a mythology, but it seems to many that you have erected your own. Because of its philosophical rigor and rhetorical eloquence, I will admit that yours is quite attractive. I was stunned when I first read the book and was tempted to follow you. Perhaps some may need the mythology you’ve constructed in order to function. The indissoluble problem is that, no matter the pristine perfection of its logical consistency, TASBS is not the biblical-patristic vision of the Church’s faith. It is a high-level revision thereof, and it carries no authority other than its philosophical sophistication. In no way do Christ or His apostles ever require the faithful to follow such autonomously-prescribed teachings. If it is possible the Church could be wrong on nearly any part of the majority Christian opinion (5), the faithful really have no hope. For to what, then, are they being faithful? The Church’s Tradition is the very thing at which you take aim. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls.” You have pointed yourself and your readers in a dangerous direction.

    If these reasons are all you have to offer regarding Andy’s question on tradition and authority, then the faithful need not be unsettled by the alleged “force” of your argument in TASBS, for you have given no good reason why the Church, Christ’s Body, is wrong, and you as an individual are right. This “inherently foolish” doctrine (6) is what the Church has always preached. Worldly wise men provide perfectly reasonable arguments why it should not be the case; they like to think for themselves (sapere aude). Faithful Christians, however, submit to and obey their leaders; they are men under authority (Matt 8:9).

    Urging you to reconsider,
    Maximus

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Maximus,

      Could I ask –

      You mention three deterministic options (Augustine choosing the first, David choosing the third). You find the first two, not the third, morally repugnant, yet you find the third to be as deterministic as the first two. Ergo, you don’t find ‘determinism’ per se morally repugnant. What does he find morally repugnant? I ask. It must be the notion of hell as eternal conscious torment. Then – you take the 5th, 6th, and 7th Councils to infallibly define the Church’s position on hell – i.e., as eternal conscious torment (apparently, a view you find morally repugnant), while the one view you do not find morally repugnant (the third option – universalism) is not to be believed in because the Church has spoken infallibly. The infallible believe of the Church on this matter is a view you find morally repugnant. Am I understanding you rightly?

      Second, a comment. I don’t see anything on TASBS pp. 89-90 that shows David thinks the UR depends upon his view of divine simplicity and actus purus. I have a digital copy of TASBS, so my page numbers might be different. I’m showing section IV of the First Meditation beginning on p. 88 and the first 2 paragraphs of that section are pp. 89-90. Maybe you could clarify that for me, because as a universalist who isn’t committed to David’s particular view of divine simplicity or actus purus, I don’t at all see why UR would depend upon these positions. One needn’t embrace actus purus per se to agree with David’s moral, personal, and scriptural arguments.

      A final comment. Even if one grants the ‘determinism’ of the 3rd option you attribute to David, what’s determined is the destiny as such, the ‘final end’ of free creatures – not an exhaustive determination of all choices that define every journey. Nor does this impose a terminus ad quem upon the exercise of the will, a line in the sand at which point God simply determines choices. It simply posits that the will cannot ‘finally rest’, ceasing its wandering, until it rests in God. That’s a determination of the nature of human fulfillment, yes, but it’s perfectly compatible with the integrity of human choice. In any event – while I may differ from David in this or that aspect of his arguments for UR, what’s not the case is that UR logically requires his particular take on divine simplicity/actus purus.

      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • mercifullayman says:

        As someone who is also wondering where fallacies will ultimately creep in, isn’t any appeal to any person pro or contra just as a fallacious as the other? I mean, one could find any authority to bolster a claim with respect to their person or contribution, especially within the context of their time/era/intellectual epoch. So that seems a rather moot point for either side to consider. I, as an Orthodox person, understand why we have to appeal to tradition/authority, but when you are dealing in matters that aren’t necessarily frowned upon, then it seems rather open. Councils require context. One could point to the fact that some were still argued against even after their “passing” and led to small scale schisms, etc. Even when some were finally accepted, as in the case of 5, it wasn’t accepted by even necessarily the same men who argued the original case or point and the additions are so spurious as to whether or not one should even take 5 as credible (for the most part). (I often think of the modern understanding of a middle position with Monophysitism for example….It’s semantics after all these days according to the Church, if I’m not mistaken, correct?….I mean Council wise, it’s wrong, but in praxis it’s ok?)

        The other factor to consider in these decisions would be how much was for political power and how much was for purity of conscience? IF we are to follow the logic here, one could reasonably think that the whole church then was in error, say around the time of Maximos. There is clearly a time of error where this guy is being threatened and beaten for a belief that is clearly correct (and would ultimately be accepted), contra the church, and then until 18 years later when it autocorrects once imperial power changes hands. How is DBH any different in this case? Even if one doesn’t agree with him, he isn’t necessarily the first example of a major agent of change going against tradition/authority, amongst others, and being correct in the face of it….just to use an example from the time periods you mentioned.

        I also agree with you, Tom, on how a final end doesn’t necessitate a system of all choices. The arc of a lifetime doesn’t have to necessitate every action leading to a posited end. I’m sure there are some rather stunned individuals, who get to the end and say “Well I certainly wasn’t expecting this.” on both sides of the good/evil divide. (That could be my relational side talking, but even in DBH’s view, there will be some rather stunned people in the end, even if it’s all the way at the very end.)

        Ultimately, even if you are a staple version infernalist, you still will have a “determined” end. You’re in the camp of either/or following that logic. It is an end that is arrived and decided upon from eternity, even in their view. Most people are still holding the line on infernalism, I believe, in accordance with revelation of the persona of God in the OT coupled with statements from the New, outside of Paul. They see it as a collective through line, which does raise some interesting semantic points, of which, from what I’ve gathered per DBH’s response to a critic who raised these points up from the OT, that he is working through a medium that doesn’t necessitate dealing with those texts per se, because some of the patristics themselves frankly don’t either. For instance, how would Nyssa or Maximos deal with Jeremiah 18 (I referenced this in another post so its been on the brain as far as immutability goes. I do know that DBH has mentioned that the Prophets would be closer to the normative truth than the Pentateuch, so is Jeremiah wrong here, and also I love this passage as its’s cluing in of Paul’s same metaphor in Romans.)

        That’s why I think so many are so jarred. It flies in the face of the whole narrative that they’ve been taught, and does have narrative consistency when you take the text at face value. DBH is merely taking the next step, like any good teacher, and saying hey look, this is the deeper point just as many others have done as he’s stated.

        And yet maybe the most interesting thing in all of this is that the last ecumenical Council was in 787. I understand why there hasn’t been any more. Maybe the thing we shouldn’t be arguing about whether or not this point is so crucial, but why we haven’t had any meaningful dialogue or updating since 787. Surely, we could be rectify this, but pride and ego get in the way, just like the arguments we see here. Also, maybe then, it could be accepted on “Authority.” 😉

        My only complaint, and I don’t think it is one sided, is that 1 Peter 3:15 can seem to not exist in most of these debates. As generous and morally kind hearted as DBH as, the vitriol that sometimes comes, whether it is intended or not, doesn’t lend itself to much “gentleness and respect” when it comes to such a beautiful articulation of hope.

        Still love you DBH, and thankful you’re a voice in this world for those of us who need a champion.

        Like

      • Maximus says:

        Tom, please see my response below.

        Like

    • TJF says:

      Vladimir Lossky in Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church says that God is what he does if I am not mistaken. I just reread it a few months back. I can give a citation later if you’d like.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Maximus says:

    Tom, thanks for this. Because the thrust of my post was to address the issue of tradition and authority, I hastily wrote those first two paragraphs. I could have been more clear. Since I was referring to things I already said, I abbreviated several of my points concerning divine simplicity. Sorry for the confusion: I actually find all three of those options morally unacceptable because they preclude the free will of man, namely because of the doctrine of God in which they’re rooted.

    I explained in a prior comment that if God’s being and doing are identical, then several things follow. First, contingent divine action disappears from the scope of reality. All of God’s acts become necessary to who God is. Closely related to this, creation becomes co-eternal with God, coming about through a natural emanation from the divine being, something which DBH all but admits in TASBS. God’s freedom (i.e. the ability to do otherwise: a definition of freedom which pervades the tradition) is reduced to nil.

    Moreover, within the actus purus doctrine, nothing in creation can impinge upon God—nothing can condition God in any way—lest creatures somehow add to his perfections. But several fallouts follow. Were this the case, we would be left only with monergism in the economy; synergism would be precluded, which means no free engagement with God in a process of theosis. Why? Because election would be based, not on divine foreknowledge (a teaching which, strangely enough, DBH teaches in his NT translation), but arbitrarily based solely on God’s will and activity alone. Rooting election in foreknowledge would allow God to be conditioned from within the creaturely realm, an allowance actus purus cannot make. Thus, election is unconditional and completely arbitrary.

    This leads to the final move, and the reason why Thomistic-styled classical theism lies at the foundation of DBH’s argument in TASBS. In order to be consistent with absolute divine simplicity, salvation must be understood as either monergistic double-predestination (Augustine was consistent with his theology proper here) or monergistic apokatastasis in which all *shall* return to the One. (A third option is monergistic predestination to perdition, which nobody believes.) All these options preclude man doing otherwise—a la, hard determinism. Thus I reject all three. I fully accept the Church’s dogmatic position on hell.

    The passage I mentioned in TASBS is at the end of his chapter on creatio ex nihilo. In the print version, it starts on page 89. The quote begins, “Here, however, again, the issue is the reducibility of all causes to their first cause, and the determination of the first cause by the final….” The pertinent section reads, “And as God is act—as are we all in some sense—and as God is what he does, if there is a final irreconcilable dual result to his act in creating, then there is also an original irreconcilable dual premise stretching all the way back into the divine nature.”

    To be clear, I am not arguing that DBH thinks his doctrine of universalism depends upon his view of divine simplicity and actus purus. I am arguing that his views on divine simplicity and actus purus logically lead to one of the three options I listed, the third of which he defends, and that his own words in the book betray this logical connection. That said, I don’t think one needs to embrace actus purus per se to agree with DBH’s arguments. However, to embrace absolute divine simplicity and actus purus does logically entail embracing one of the three options named, which in DBH’s case is universal restoration. In other words, while I agree with your statement that it is “not the case is that UR logically requires his particular take on divine simplicity/actus purus,” the reversal of your statement is indeed a logical requirement (if one denies the other two options).

    To your last comment, I disagree that God does not determine human choices in DBH’s scheme, and that God merely determines the nature of human fulfillment. The title of the book, that all *shall be* saved, boldly reveals that God deterministically guarantees the outcome of universal restoration—a divine action which is not, with respect, “perfectly compatible with the integrity of human choice.” Such an unconditional guarantee, “shall be,” requires an unconditional election by God, quite apart from free human choosing or cooperation. The eternal, everlasting restlessness of human being is not an option for DBH, and his God has unconditionally determined from the outset, because he is essentially bound to do so, that all *shall* return to him.

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for those clarifying points, Maximus. That helps.

      If your belief in eternal conscious torment is secured by (among other things) what you believe is infallible, dogmatic, conciliar pronouncement – then that’s a conversation stopper. It wouldn’t matter whether I could make sense of the combined truth of ‘universalism as humanity’s final end’ and the ‘genuine integrity of human choice’. If you were to grant such sense could be made, even was obvious, you’d still be bound by the Councils. Am I right?

      Tom

      Like

      • Maximus says:

        Tom, yes, that’s right. I am bound to believe what the councils teach, under the leadership of my bishop. I believe the conciliar interpretation of the faith just is the Orthodox interpretation. There are areas to which we can apply philosophical reasoning in order to reach new conclusions. Indeed we must do this as new circumstances present themselves. But some things are settled. The apostolic deposit of Revelation and its authentic interpretation come to us only via the historic Church.

        Like

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Gladly your namesake did not take such a position and resisted to the death, in the lands of uncertainty, the leadership of the ensconced “Orthodox” hierarchs.

          Like

        • Maximus says:

          Indeed he did, Robert—not in the wanderings of prelest, God forbid, but on the basis of the Church’s conciliar faith. Bishops certainly have and can err. But have they all done so consistently for 1,500 years?

          Like

        • Tom says:

          Tom: If you were to grant such sense could be made, even was obvious [i.e., an articulation of UR that secured the integrity of human choice], you’d still be bound by the Councils [to reject UR]. Am I right?

          Maximus: Tom, yes, that’s right. I am bound to believe what the councils teach, under the leadership of my bishop.

          Tom: So, I’m wondering WHY you think it even meaningful to argue with Hart about the problematic nature of human choice as you understand it within his view. You’ve just said that even if UR can be made consistent with the integrity of free will, it’d be false on conciliar grounds. Indeed, you grant that there are no conceivable logical, theological, or moral grounds that could recommend UR to you since the question is closed on conciliar grounds. I’m just saying – it seems a bit disingenuous to attempt to dissuade someone of a belief the supporting arguments for which you admit would not change your mind even if you admitted their logic was airtight. Maybe I’m missing something. It looks like all you have left to do is attempt to persuade Hart of (a) the conciliar nature of belief in ECT, and (b) the infallible nature of the Councils (their official creedal pronouncements). Would that be right?

          Like

          • TJF says:

            Prelest seems to be in the eye of the beholder. No doubt Maximos’ critics probably believed he was in the grips of prelest.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes, the only charitable (i.e. Christian) way to proceed is to evaluate ideas on their merit.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            Thanks, Tom. I don’t think my urging DBH to reconsider is disingenuous. Now, it may be exceedingly naive, thinking that my meager words might convince him to do so. But perhaps my message will cause someone else to think again before buying into his very attractive, very dangerous arguments.

            There’s more to it than simply pointing to Church authority. Yes, the Councils have clearly condemned universal restoration. That UR is heterodox is a verifiable truth (see links below). But there are also reasons true things are true. There’s an internal logic to these truths of the faith, which can be demonstrated. I do think Hart’s argument contains a certain internal logical coherence of its own, but that may or may not have anything to do with the real world. The Councils tell us what arguments we can and cannot legitimately make. (We don’t get to decide the Christian faith for ourselves.) The point is that Hart is not restrained, as he has clearly confessed, by what the Councils say or don’t say. Wherever his reason leads him, he he seems to follow. At least that’s the trend so far. A man’s reasonable argument, however, is not judged in the Church by reason alone, but by Tradition handed down form the apostles. Without this criterion, we might as well become rationalists. St. Paul calls this human wisdom, as opposed to the mind of Christ.

            My urging Hart to reconsider is based on the reality that dogma leads ethos, the faith governs the spiritual life. And vice versa: Church dogma is the explication of sanctified spiritual experience. The holy fathers laid down doctrinal boundaries for the good of our souls, beyond which we wander at great peril, beyond which salvation is no longer promised. Of course, salvation is not promised within the boundaries, but within these boundaries it can surely be found. Only God knows the fate of outsiders (1 Cor 5:12-13).

            Eastern Orthodoxy Contra Universalism (Apocatastasis): The Canonical Grounding – https://godlightangels.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-orthodox-rejection-and-condemnation.html

            Against a Sophistry of Canons: Why the Anathema Against Universalism is Absolute – https://godlightangels.blogspot.com/2020/01/against-sophistry-of-canons-why.html

            Like

          • Basem says:

            It is not the point of this thread but seeing the councils as “infallible” is a dangerous position. A lot of problems characterized the Fourth Council where many heretics were validated and saints excommunicated! Heterodox teachings, and teachers, were accepted to be later rejected or corrected at the Fifth Council. Even more importantly, if the Councils, coordinated by Byzantine emporium and politics, go against the core message of the Gospel then it won’t only be incorrect to invoke that what the Councils spoke was of the Holy Spirit but also be blasphemous!

            Like

        • Ben says:

          Thus reason abdicates and fideism is enthroned.

          If the Councils contradict reason, then the Spirit did not guide them.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            To Maximus:

            No, there is nothing to reconsider, at least not on my part. Fideism of any kind is contemptible, though it is especially silly when attached to the kind of risibly, excruciatingly bad scholarship and bad reasoning found at the ends of the links you provide. I find your suggestion positively wicked.

            Principally, the issue is reason. To believe a logical impossibility because it is required by confessional allegiance or on account of some hazy mysticism of conciliar authority is not faith, but sheer epistemological nihilism, and so submission to falsehood. The arguments in my book do not merely possess a certain internal coherence. They are self-evidently correct. If you do not grasp this, you simply have not understood them adequately. If that sounds arrogant, understand two things: 1) All I mean is that my arguments point out truths that are self-evident and that should not have needed to be pointed out at all; and 2) All I claim that those arguments prove is that any version of the Christian story that is not universalist is incoherent and self-defeating (it is a wholly negative case, that is).

            If you believe the councils condemned universalism–which clearly they did not–the only morally commendable course of action on your part would be to reject the authority of those councils. The “holy fathers” were not infinitely wise or infinitely good and there is no reason to accept their authority if it involves believing illogical assertions. Clinging to them is in fact a vice. And tradition isn’t magic. It is a complex and difficult negotiation with ambiguity, a constant struggle between clarity and confusion. Childish oversimplifications of the record and empty apodeictic pronouncements by little internet popes are nothing but clamor from the nursery.

            I can neither respect nor pretend to respect the position you hold. If I thought Christian adherence required belief in even the possibility of eternal torment for rational natures, I should conclude from that only that Christianity is a heap of nonsense–one that occasionally and admirably produces holiness, as many religions do, but not one worthy of serious credence.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            Fair enough, Dr. Hart. At least it’s clear where you stand: “Principally, the issue is reason.” Rationalism has its merits, and I don’t necessarily think you’re arrogant for having confidence in your arguments. But to say they are self-evidently correct to all who have understood them is naive. I have read your book, and your arguments all flow from your theology proper, as described in The Experience of God. Is your teaching in this book also axiomatic? If not, and if you’re wrong about “classical theism,” then all you have left in TASBS is internal coherence. I argue that this, in fact, is the actual state of things. Lose absolute divine simplicity and you’ve lost the ostensible invincibility of TASBS.

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          • DBH says:

            No, Maximus, you are talking nonsense. The issue of divine simplicity is utterly irrelevant to the argument one way or another. You have said that several times, and it is objectively false.

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          • Maximus says:

            Well, I would agree with you, Dr. Hart, but then we’d both be wrong. 🙂 By the way, absolute divine simplicity logically results not only in the 3 eschatological options I listed in my initial post—of which you choose universalism—but also in philosophical perennialism. If this is doubted, one only needs to take the pulse of Roman Catholic theology these days, where Thomistic-styled simplicity is dogmatic, to behold this sort of inclusivism as the fruit of one’s doctrine of God. Absolute divine simplicity, if one is rationally consistent, will lead one to believing that many religions may produce true holiness (as you stated). I sensed these tendencies in my own beliefs back when I was defending Plotinus, Origen, Augustine, and Thomas on simplicity, around the same time I was devouring The Experience of God, and I’d wager many of your fans are moving in this direction as well. It’s all a very consistent case for the systematic elegance of pagan philosophy, but I repeat what I said above: no faithful Christian should feel the least compelled to believe it.

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          • DBH says:

            Maximus

            Again 1) Wrong and 2) Irrelevant.

            Repeating the same nonsense over and over again is not an argument. It’s merely an indication of an intellectual pathology. I don’t care that you clearly don’t understand classical metaphysics, but it would be nice if you demonstrated an ability not to keep gnawing on the same red herring. It’s disturbing to watch.

            It must be insomnia that prompts me to reply.

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          • Ben says:

            Monomania is disturbing. I have to say, anyone who thinks divine simplicity is a dispensable metaphysical position for genuine theists has really got things confused and twisted. There are neopalamites and analytical American vangies who think that way, but they have to be pitied. Unless they really mean to be Zeus-worshippers. Then they should be medicated.

            Mister Maximus is disturbing not just because of his bad metaphysics. It’s more disturbing that he’s come up with some argument in his head about classical theism leading to universalism and then attributing this equation to Hart’s book, even though Hart’s argument works with or without divine simplicity. It’s like watching someone carrying on an argument with an imaginary friend at the table next to where you’re eating lunch and then berating you for siding with his imaginary friend.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Maximus, as Tom has rightly noted, you have invoked divine authority to close, or perhaps more accurately foreclose, theological reflection on apokatastasis. This puts a special burden upon you, however. It’s easy enough to claim God’s authority to support one’s opinion in a theological debate, but proving that God has in fact clearly and definitively spoken on the debated question is a different matter. The Catholic Church even has a canon law to guide her members in such matters: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such” (749).

      You have made strong claims about ecumenical councils, consensus, and infallible dogma, as if Orthodoxy has actually dogmatically and irreversibly spoken on all of this. But where and when did this happen? Clearly no ecumenical council has ruled on this. We do not have the equivalent of a Vatican I in our tradition. We do not even have a long tradition of theological reflection on ecclesial and doctrinal infallibility (though we all agree that the bishop of Rome does not enjoy special prerogatives when it comes to defining infallible dogma). What are the conditions that a doctrinal statement must fulfill to be recognized as infallible or inerrant? What does it mean to claim that a doctrinal statement is irreformable? Are there different levels authority for doctrinal statements? May the Church revisit a doctrinal statement? Where are questions like these even substantively discussed, much less authoritatively presented? Yet here on the internet one runs into all manner of Orthodox who are convinced that their private understanding of dogma and infallibility is not only THE Orthodox view, as if differences of opinion do not exist within Orthodoxy on all of this (and they do!), but revealed truth. As a result, theology is reduced to mindless proof-texting, whether of Scripture or conciliar statements. It’s irresponsible, thoughtless, and embarrassing.

      Here’s an example: last week I had a brief discussion on Facebook with an Orthodox priest who asserted that even though Origen died in communion with the Church and was not formally condemned during his lifetime for teaching apokatastasis, the fact that an ecumenical council condemned him proves that he died a heretic and therefore outside Christ. I was quite frankly stunned. This is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon nonsense. This is what happens when the Church’s faith is treated as if it were an ideology.

      I raise all of this not to begin a discussion of Orthodoxy’s understanding of dogma and infallibility. This thread is not the proper place for the discussion. I raise it as a challenge to all Orthodox who thoughtlessly dismiss the greater hope by invoking dogmatic authority, without consideration of the concerns and arguments that ground that hope. This is nothing more than the abdication of our theological and catechetical responsibility.

      Liked by 2 people

      • TJF says:

        Can a saint be a heretic?

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      • Maximus says:

        Fr Aidan, thanks for a thoughtful response. I do wonder, however, if your approach to the Church’s Tradition leaves many, seemingly non-negotiable, teachings susceptible to future revision. The eucharistic Real Presence and the episcopal structure of church governance come to mind. Clearly no ecumenical council has ruled on these items, have they? May the Church revisit, reform, or even deny them? If not, why not? In my view, because these items are assumed in the Councils, discussed by the canons, and received among the consensus of the Fathers, they are irreformable teachings of the Church. This delimits the faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.

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        • TJF says:

          Maximos, I am very confused about the Vicentian canon you have invoked. It seems self-evidently false. I would like to know what you think about what Tom and I bring up. How can saints be heretics? Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Nineveh among many others, if you believe Ilaria Ramelli have been open proponents of UR, and yet they are not considered heretics. Why not? I don’t think the idea that “saints can be wrong” gets you far, because in your estimation they were not wrong on a theologumenon, they were in error about dogma, which is heresy. How are they not heretics? If they aren’t why not? Both of these two great saints have had major impacts on the Church. Shouldn’t they be anathemized and all their writings be burned? How can we say everyone has believed the same thing everywhere by all when these two and many others have not believed that? Ss. Basil and Augustine said that UR was the dominant opinion of their time, so how does the Vicentian canon make any sense. Also, if you read up on the Arian controversy, it appears Arianism was the most “traditional” view. You don’t get Athanasius contra mundum, if the faith is the same by everyone everywhere, there would be no fight then. I think the Vicentian canon is absolute nonsense. Sounds nice, but it’s wrong.

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          • Tom says:

            When the Orthodox publicly recognize St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac of Nineveh by name as heretics (on account of their universalism) and forbid their veneration and condemn their writings, THEN I’ll come round to reconsider the orthodox status of apokatastasis. Until that happens, I’m not taking seriously any claim that apokatastasis as such is anathema.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Maximus says:

            TJF, you may find helpful this article on the consensus patrum, which unpacks the statement of St. Vincent of Lérins. There is also a section, “Inaccuracies in the teachings of the holy fathers.” http://orthochristian.com/106134.html

            See also here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/4204.html#_ftn8

            From the second article: “So the consonant attitude of the holy fathers to the eschatology of St. Gregory of Nyssa is well known and leaves no room for any speculation: these features were known and condemned.” Sts. Isaac and Silouan of Athos are also discussed.

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          • TJF says:

            Maximus, I will read it and let you know my thoughts. Thanks

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        • TJF says:

          That article never answered the question. It just said that saints could be wrong on something. But it still makes no sense to me that a saint could be wrong about A DOGMA THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY FOR SALVATION. Which is what you claim ECT is, in your reading of the councils. That was not addressed in the article. Can you please tell me how that is possible? It just said saints could be wrong about unimportant things or that if some were wrong on doctrinal or dogmatic issues then they are a minority and we should go with the majority. Every fibre of my being goes against that. It seems self-evident to me that truth isn’t determined by consensus or majority. Truth is truth whether 1 person believes it or 1 million. Not to mention my previous argument. There would be no “Athanasius contra mundum” if there was no mundum for him to be contra. There are also ridiculous statements in the article stating that “modernists” don’t have any respect for the holy fathers. That’s ridiculous. It does seem like your position is about respecting ossified error, not seeking Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

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          • TJF says:

            I forgot to add that I didn’t see where any of this thought is stated in dogmatic affirmations in any council. There was a grand theological narrative presented in the article, but it seems like it has a massive hole. It posits that the only authority respected in Orthodoxy are conciliar determinations, yet everything it is using as arguments were never made as conciliar affirmations. Weird.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Maximus, I understand better than you know the desire for churchly faithfulness to the essentials and dogmas of the apostolic faith. At the conclusion of my long ministry in the Episcopal Church, I spent two years immersed in John Henry Newman. There was a time when I thought I was channeling the man. Above all, he impressed upon me the need for dogma in the Church. He also believed that only an infallible Church could secure fidelity to dogma, and for him that meant a living Magisterium. Inerrant doctrinal statements from the past are insufficient, because those statements always need to be interpreted, both historically, within the cultural period in which they were composed, and theologically, within the total compass of the Christian faith. On my way to Orthodoxy I spent a couple of years in the Catholic Church. It was a big mistake, for several reasons. One reason is that I quickly learned that the claim to infallibility did not really solve anything. It only shifted the debate from discussion of theology proper to (never-ending) discussion of the conditions and limits of infallible dogmatic statements. Having a Pope is supposed to make the resolution of theologial debate easier, but in practice it doesn’t work out that way.

          What I learned is that no ecclesial mechanism exists to secure the Church’s fidelity to the dogmas of the faith, if for no other reason than every dogmatic statement always needs to be interpreted by fallible, sinful believers, and that means there will always be disagreements, whether we like it or not. That is intrinsic to our historicity. Only the Spirit can secure fidelity, and he so so in manifold ways. I do not think that means that everything the Orthodox Church believes is up for grabs. Clearly there are core doctrines that are apprehended as being irreformable, yet even their irreformability is of a special type. The Church confesses Jesus Christ as homoousios with the Father, yet Christians have continued to debate the meaning of this confession since Nicaea. It’s easier to identify the positions excluded by the homoousion than to clearly state its positive meaning. Can the homoousion ever be seriously questioned? I would think not–not because, or at least not just because, it’s a dogma–but because it speaks a truth so vital and deep that its denial overthrows the Orthodox faith altogether. Ditto for the Chalcedonian definition affirming the divinity and humanity of Jesus.

          But now consider the first anathema of the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas: “If anyone advocates the mythical pre-existence of souls and the monstrous restoration that follows from this, let him be anathema.” This is the canon, we are told, that dogmatically excludes every formulation of universal salvation. We can put aside the question whether the 5th Ecumenical Council formally promulgated it. Let’s assume that it did. Does this canon categorically reject, say, the universalist formulation of St Gregory of Nyssa? After all, he too rejected the “the mythical pre-existence of souls,” and the universal restoration that he proposed is in no way dependent upon the pre-existence of souls. Yet in the canon the pre-existence of souls and the restoration (whatever that means here) are clearly linked. The latter flows from the former.

          So what precisely is the dogma that this anathema is supposed to affirm? At the historical level of interpretation, the anathema rejects a two connected teaching of the sixth century Palestinian Origenists, and that is all it literally rejects. But to infer from it a broader and more general dogmatic rule (“Do not ever preach a happy ending for all rational beings”) goes far beyond the canon itself.

          But, some Orthodox tell me, for the past 1500 years the Orthodox Church has interpreted the canon to mean the broader, more general dogmatic rule. Surely that consensus establishes dogmatic infallibility, right? Why should we believe that? Yes, theological consensus should always be taken seriously and should not be lightly dismissed, but no where are we promised that God will correct doctrinal falsehoods according to our timetables. For example, do you believe that all adults who die without baptism are damned? Perhaps you do, but I know plenty of Orthodox who would be unwilling to affirm it. Yet that was certainly the position of the Church in East and West up until the 20th century or so. No doubt one can find exceptions, but I think the generalization will hold under critical historical analysis. When St Augustine claimed that infants who die without baptism are damned, he was not simply speculating out of thin air. He was thinking through the implications of a consensual belief in the salvific necessity of baptism. The medieval Latin doctors were not happy with Augustine’s position, and so they invented limbo to ameliorate the post-mortem suffering of the unbaptized infants. I imagine they might have welcomed Eastern testimony that God will save these infants regardless, but where is such testimony to be found? As luck would have it, St Gregory of Nyssa. 🙂

          Bottomline: there’s dogma and there’s dogma. God grant us the wisdom to see the difference.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Grant says:

            The problem with the appeal to consensus of the majority is it tends to fall flat on any real close inspection or historical scrutiny, reducing or ignoring the diversity that has (and still does) within ancient Church communions (not to mention before any formal split). In fact it was part of these problems of cultural and liturgical translation that contributed much to Church divisions.

            But more fundamentally, if majority consensus decides truth and the correct understanding of the truth, no one would Christians, as the majority consensus at the time of Our Lord’s ministry and Resurrection was He was not Messiah but a false prophet and the Way a heretical deception. So, following this appeal, none should accept Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and again, take the Arian controversy, they were the majority at one point, so we should all be Arians. And take the current situation, if you are not a Catholic, then your are by definition flying against majority Christian consensus at which point I’m sure suddenly non-Catholics are suddenly very eager and quite firm that majority doesn’t decide truth. And among Catholics themselves, I imagine given various contentious divisions, a number would be suddenly very reluctant that majority opinion and consensus should decide truth (they could the minority opinion after all, and would not be willing to say they are in the wrong on that basis). And the same could be said for conflicts within other Christian confessions, and of course, Christians have always been a minority of the world’s population as a whole, even now at roughly 2 billion, we are still a minority in the 7 billion world population, therefore, if consensus and majority decides truth, Christianity is false.

            As you say, consensus must be respect, but it doesn’t decide truth, truth recommends itself, it is sovereign, and cannot be coerced or manipulated or decided by vote or any convention, and majority consensus has been wrong, including among Christians (including in this very issue, at times universalism has been a majority opinion, then infernalism, and neither fact can be used to decide what the truth of the matter is).

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          • Maximus says:

            Father, thank you. In the past, you have also brought up baptism an example of a development in the Church’s teaching. My understanding of the Orthodox Church’s teaching is that it has not changed. Baptism saves (cf. Mk 16:16). Baptism is necessary for salvation, since water baptism in the Trinity’s name is an incorporation into Christ, His death and Resurrection, and the Church just is Christ, His Body. There is no salvation outside the Church, outside of the Body of Christ. After all, it’s only in the Church that the eucharistic Body of Christ is received, and whoever does not eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood does not have eternal life. These seem to be basic Bible truths. “You must be born again.” Are there exceptions? Maybe. But the patristic literature—upon which Orthodox theology is based and the mind of which the Orthodox Church perpetuates—is brimming with statements that salvation without baptism is impossible.

            However, in the words of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, “At the same time, no definitive answer was given concerning the fate of those who died unbaptized through no fault of their own, such as ignorance or those who did not receive baptism ‘through ignorance.’” This ignorance does not apply to those who deliberately defer or neglect baptism. Alfeyev also discusses those who died a martyric death before they could be baptized and are justified thereby. Along with this baptism of blood, St. John of Damascus mentions a “baptism of tears” in the sacrament of confession, as well as the last form of baptism in hell fire, “which is not saving, but which destroys evil: for evil and sin no longer have sway: yet it punishes without end.” (see Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, Orthodox Christianity, Vol. V, SVS Press, 2019)

            The consistent teaching of the Orthodox priests and bishops I’ve heard lines up with this testimony on baptism. Salvation is found in the Church. The Church does not make definite pronouncements about those outside her boundaries, for God will judge as he sees fit (1 Cor 5:12-13). The Church prays for the salvation of all mankind, even the reposed, *prior to the Final Judgement.* After this point, however, when Christ says to some, “Depart from me…,” no hope is given to those who do not know Him. This is the teaching of the Church. You mention that “plenty of Orthodox would be unwilling to affirm it.” But it’s also true that plenty of Orthodox are unwilling to keep the fast. This does not negate the teaching of the Church, nor does it demonstrate a doctrinal evolution. It may, however, demonstrate a fad. And this is exactly what “plenty of Orthodox” think universalism is at the present moment.

            You quoted the first anathema of the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas. But this statement is not the full story, as you know. Of the nine anathemas Justinian leveled against Origen and Origenism, the ninth states, “If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.” Anyone who says or even thinks these things. I do not understand the mode of theology which seeks to venture into terrain that seems unambiguously unsafe. Sure, there may be certain levels of importance within the realm of doctrine/dogma. But with all the warnings in Scripture against false teachers, why not err on the side of caution? Why seek to blaze a trail that, with all probability, has been declared dangerous for oneself and one’s hearers? Because a handful of people make a supposedly powerful, “reasonable” case for universalism can never overturn the global voice of the historic Church.

            Thank you again, Fr Aidan. Although I clearly represent a dissenting, often lone, voice in the context of your blog, you consistently treat me with kindness and respect, even when our exchanges sometimes contain “strong” words and arguments.

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    • Based on your interesting arguments against determinism, might I ask you to read a blog post I made a while back in which I attempt (feebly, but nonetheless an attempt) to address this issue from my own experience?

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

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  15. Tom says:

    I don’t get it. I’m looking in as a Protestant outsider (with huge admiration for and attraction to the Fathers), and I have to say that to see Orthodox believers even debating this among themselves is a bit shocking. I mean, if one takes C5, 6, and 7 together as establishing/confirming the condemnation of universalism per se (in all its forms) – retroactively as well (!) – then Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac have to be equally condemned. Do any Orthodox make that move? At that point I’m like, come on now. I’m an Evangelical and even I cannot bring myself to recognize Gregory or St. Isaac as anathematized. But again, I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t have a dog in this fight.

    But if an Orthodox believer wants to take C5, 6, and 7 as establishing all forms of universalism as anathema and he/she doesn’t publicly extend that to Gregory and St Isaac, isn’t something desperately wrong there? Origen is condemned for believing in apokatastasis but Gregory not? Didymus condemned by St. Isaac not?

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      “Do any Orthodox make that move?” People do all kinds of things – but the C7 bishops in council lauded Gregory of Nyssa thus: “Let us then, consider who were the venerable doctors and indomitable champions of the Church, Gregory Primate of Nyssa, who all have called the father of fathers.” Odd move, think you not, were Gregory and his teachings condemned, as Maximus and the hyperdox cabal would have us believe? We see rather that Gregory is extolled – which I don’t think should be taken as an endorsement of UR. However, it isn’t condemned either. Which makes all the sense as theological opinions were traditionally given great latitude then, as they are now in the Orthodox church. The move to dogmatize is a power move to legitimize their own and condemn others, by the intolerant among us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Exactly. It is not possible to suppose a Council that venerates Gregory in such a manner would knowingly condemn all who hold to and espouse apokatastasis in any form.

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      • Maximus says:

        “Are we wrong when we do not believe those words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, considering them forgeries, or, even if they are original, to not accept as contradictory to Scripture and to the general dogma?” ~St. Mark of Ephesus, Pillar of Orthodoxy

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Now you are reaching for straws. The authenticity and provenance of St Gregory of Nyssa’s oeuvre are in no way disputed by any experts in this field. I am not aware of any exceptions. Perhaps some obscure letters or fragmented documents, but as a whole, including those works which touch on UR, there is no about authenticity his extant work.

          Disagree with St Gregory about UR all you want. Just don’t overreach.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            * no question about the authenticity in regards to his extant work.

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          • Maximus says:

            Surely St. Mark’s words carry some weight for you, Robert, even amid the modern experts in the field? I reference St. Mark not only because he reflects the mind of the Church on universalism but because his view was shared by many around the time of Nicaea II.

            I cannot remember where I read this claim, and thus cannot flesh it out historically. But it makes good sense, especially in light of the way Fathers like Sts. Maximos and Photius the Great seek to separate Saint Gregory from his putative teaching on apokatastasis.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Zero weight, absolutely nothing, on the basis of horrifically bad scholarship. To cite a 15th century quote by a bishop caught in a maelstrom of his own charged by a contentious religious and political east/west polarization, and which has no bearing on Nyssen’s position on UR, and which is so terribly vague as to be pliable to mean just about anything, bears no credence by anyone, anywhere. You have no basis for your claim that St Mark’s position in the 15th century was that of “many around the time of Nicaea II.” On the contrary we have the bishops at Nicaea II lauding St Gregory of Nyssa.

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          • TJF says:

            His words only carry as much weight as they are worth. It is question begging to say that St. Gregory’s universalism is contrary to the scriptures and dogma. Obviously Gregory didn’t think so. That’s the issue at hand. It does prove the Vincentian canon wrong, unless the Orthodox anathematize the “Father of fathers.”

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  17. NicholasofKentucky says:

    I’ve personally come to wonder if the discussion around apokatastasis would be changed, even if ever so slightly, by attempting to think of it more in the terms of a contemplative experience of God. One thing that I’ve come to appreciate about all the great universalists, classic and modern, is their familiarity with and potential deep practice of the contemplative tradition within Christianity. Perhaps just as wonder was the beginning of philosophy for Plato and Aristotle, a continuing familiarity with that wonder through the Scriptures and the sacramental life is the beginning of a deeper knowledge of God for the Church Fathers. And perhaps it is that degree of sensitivity to wonder (barring certain exceptions) that leads some to feel drawn to apokatastasis and some to reject it. I would also think it wise to not divorce the content of The Experience of God from its title.

    Even though I am someone who also has no dog in the fight as far as the the issue of conciliar authority is concerned, I still nonetheless find it a somewhat strange approach to think that the assumptions of the bishops who sat on those councils should also count as dogmatically authoritative. It seems to me like certain of those assumptions are intentionally left out of the dogmatic process precisely because they are seen to already bear witness to those truths that the council is attempting to pronounce upon. Any attempt to reverse that order makes the mysteries of the faith a dry tautology; a foundationless process that has no beginning or end but itself as an eternal assertion, making it only a meaninglessly sustained middle.

    As for divine simplicity, it really shouldn’t be overly complicated. The only thing that those Fathers and philosophers are really trying to say when they assert that God is one, is that his life is more original than any death. In God, there is no “order” wherein things are defined as being opposed to something else, where life is merely one of two possible choices that are equally matched to one another. A denial of divine simplicity runs the risk of thinking of God as some kind of well hidden dualism. It is, in fact, an understanding analogous to divine simplicity that makes the resurrection possible in the first place. At its most simplest form, it really is just a way to say that God hasn’t eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

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