Committing Theological Fraud: St Basil the Great and David Bentley Hart

Having already published one caustic review of That All Shall Be Saved, First Things has just published yet another piece on the book: “Theological Fraud” by Michael Pakaluk. The accusive title will no doubt bait many clicks. So what is David Bentley Hart guilty of today?

Pakaluk has charged Hart with misrepresenting a passage from the short monastic Regulae of St Basil the Great. Basil is addressing the question whether there will be an end to eschatological punishment:

Question: If one will be punished with many beatings and one with few, how can some way that there will not be an end to punishment?

Answer: Things that seem ambiguous and expressed in a veiled way in some passages of the Scripture inspired by God are clarified on the basis of the more explicit words found in other passages. Now, in a passage the Lord says that these will go to αἰώνιος punishment, in another passage he sends some to αἰώνιον fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, and yet another time he mentions the Gehenna of fire and adds: “where their worm does not die and their fire is not extinguished”; again, the prophet has foretold, con­cerning some, that “their worm will not die and their fire will not be extin­guished.” In divinely inspired Scripture there are these and similar passages in many places. But, for a deception of the devil, many people, as though they forgot these and similar statements of the Lord, adhere to the conception of the end of punishment, out of an audacity that is even superior to their sin. For, if at a certain moment there is an end to αἰώνιος punishment, αἰώνιος life will certainly have an end as well. And if we do not admit of thinking this concerning life, what reason should there be for assigning an end to αἰώνιος punishment? In fact, the charac­terisation of αἰώνιος is equally ascribed to both. For Jesus states: “These will go to αἰώνιος punishment, and the righteous to life αἰώνιος.”

If one accepts this, one must understand that the expressions “One will be punished with many sufferings,” or “with few,” do not indicate an end, but a difference in punishment. For, if the Lord is a righteous judge, he is so not only with the virtuous, but also with the wicked, and renders to each one according to one’s deeds. One may deserve the eternal fire, and this, milder or stronger; one may deserve the worm that does not die, and his such a to cause more or less suffering, in accord with each one’s desert; and another may deserve the Gehenna, which is similarly differentiated in its kinds of punishments, and another person may deserve the outer darkness, where one may be found only in weeping, another also in the gnashing of teeth, accord­ing to the duration of these punishments. And it seems indeed to be the case that there are an outer and an inner darkness. And the Proverbs’ expression, “down to the bottom of hell,” indicates that there are some who are in hell, to be sure, but not on its bottom; these undergo a less severe punishment. Now, too, it is possible to notice something of the sort in bodily illnesses: one has fever along with other symptoms and suffering; another has only fever; the latter is not found in the same situation as the former; and yet another one has no fever, but is afflicted by some suffering in his limbs, and this one too, in turn, has more or less pain than another one. Now, also what the Lord said, “with many or few pains,” was said according to the established custom […] Likewise, the expression “to be tortured by many or few punishments” should not be understood—I repeat—in the sense of an extension in time or a fulfilment in time, but in the sense of a differentiation in punishments. (Reg. brev. 267 PG 31.1264C-1265D; trans. Ramelli; emphasis mine)

I first read this passage many years ago, as it’s included in Ilaria Ramelli’s book The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis. I recall Basil’s claim that because of the parallel structure of Matt 25:46, aionios punish­ment must be as eternal in duration as aionios life and found the argument persuasive. At least in this one dominical sentence, it would seem, aionios punishment must mean “eternal.” Later on I began to question whether the parallel­ism dictates the dura­tion of eschatological punish­ment. After all, we know that aionion life is eternal because we know this is entailed by Christ’s resur­rection and our baptism into his glorified body. What if we also knew from some other source—say the Apostle Paul or St Greg­ory of Nyssa or our own philosophical reason­ing—that the aionios punish­ment of the eschaton is temporary? Would it still be aionios punishment? In other words, can the same polysemic adjective be used to modify both eschato­logical punishment and eschatological life, even in the same sentence?

I’ve been wanting to ask an ancient Greek scholar this question (yes, it’s taken me a long time), so last night I texted Fr John Behr and described the problem. (He’s lying in bed recovering from leg surgery, so what else does he have to do but answer my silly ques­tions.) His answer: “Father Aidan, you are positively brilliant!” … okay, he didn’t quite say that, but he did agree that the meaning of aionios is determined by that to which it is applied. Hence when we read the sentence “These will go to αἰώνιος punishment, and the righteous to life αἰώνιος,” we need not jump to the conclusion that the aionios punishment must enjoy the same duration as aionios life. The principle, of course, works with all adjectives, and we don’t even think about it in daily life; but it’s helpful to keep in mind when interpret­ing words like aionios that have a wide semantic range. While the parallel between aionion punishment and aionion life is suggestive, it need not be determinative.

I think I’m on the right track here, but given my incompetence in Greek, I will wait on linguists and ancient Greek scholars to confirm or disconfirm my disagreement with Basil’s parallelism argument.

Back to the Pakaluk article. Take a look at it, reread the above Basil citation, and reach your own verdict. Personally, I think that David may have tried to get a bit more mileage from the passage than the words allow—but Pakaluk surely goes overboard on an inconsequential point. Apparently he believes that if he can impeach David of sloppy scholarship regarding Basil, the entire book will be discredited, thereby obviating the need to call additional witnesses … oops, a slip of the pen … I meant to say, actually address its substantive arguments.

But Pakaluk’s article also raises an interesting question about St Basil and his authorship of the above citation. Could it be an interpolation? If you want to know more, read this article by Ramelli:

(You can download the essay here. And check out Ramelli’s most recent thoughts about Basil in her book A Larger Hope?)

Ramelli’s proposal of an interpolation sounds like a desperate measure, and as far as I know, she is presently alone in proposing it, but ask yourself: Do you think that Basil believed—and would publicly imply—that his siblings St Macrina and St Gregory were deceived by the devil?

(Go to side note)

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61 Responses to Committing Theological Fraud: St Basil the Great and David Bentley Hart

  1. eandrewschenk says:

    If Basil did write the passage, the circumstance between he and his siblings would not be unique. Chysostom denied an end to suffering, both his teacher and his close friend said it would come to an end. Augustine denied an end to suffering, his teacher Ambrose said it would come to an end. We are left with the conundrum of trying to understand what exactly Tradition says about the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. TJF says:

    Kind of ironic that someone is accusing someone else of ethics violations in a thoroughly unethical and discreditable manner. But it fits in well with his analogy of being a sleazy lawyer more interested in contorting the truth than seeking it. I completely forgot DBH even wrote that and it has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with his arguments, it’s just a small comment in passing. This article is the very definition of mountain out a molehill even if true; which I have my doubts.

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    • Bob Sacamano says:

      Yeah, that’s sort of how I see it as well. Suppose we grant that DBH’s comment about Basil is misleading. Does that warrant the headline “Theological Fraud” and demanding a correction or retraction? It’s way way way over the top. At most, it’s deserving of a brief treatment in a critical review of the entire book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • eandrewschenk says:

        Im confused, is the quote in question which DBH cited at the beginning of his book even from St Basils rules? Isn’t it from some other work? And nowhere does DBH imply that St Basil advocated universal salvation, the quote is merely an observation on his times, similar to the one St Augustine made. What a desperate article.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          That’s a good question. I have assumed that the citation is DBH’s source, but I don’t know that for sure. Last month I read through Ramelli’s books searching for a possible source, figuring that if Basil had stated what David has attributed to him, then she would have mentioned it. If the Regulae passage is not his source, I don’t know what it is.

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          • Josue says:

            I’ve seen comments claim it’s a quote from “De Asceticis”:

            “The mass of men say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.”

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  3. John H says:

    Really the author of the First Things piece should know better than to accuse DBH of fraud. Being an attorney, he most certainly is aware that it is extremely difficult to establish scienter, which is an actual intent to deceive. In short, even if one accepts his interpretation of Basil’s position regarding Apokatastasis, the most that can be proven is negligence or sloppy scholarship. And negligence ain’t fraud.

    But of course I don’t agree with the author at all because I do believe that Ramelli has made a strong case that Basil agreed with his brother and sister concerning the final restoration of all things. If anyone is guilty of negligence or misunderstanding Hart’s argument it is the author.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Eric says:

    I think the commentators here are really seriously underestimating the seriousness of DBH’s distortion of St. Basil. It’s beyond “misleading”–he saying almost exactly the opposite of what St. Basil actually said on the matter.

    Fr. Kimel, in his “About” section of this site, says the following: “I quickly learned that when an Orthodox Christian prefaces his remarks with “The Fathers teach …” what you will probably end up hearing is not what the Fathers really did teach or what the Holy Orthodox Church authoritatively and irreformably teaches but rather one person’s very fallible, and occasionally ignorant, opinion, cloaked in the rhetoric of infallible dogma.”

    This should aptly be applied to DBH in light of Pakaluk’s analysis. I agree that Pakaluk was truculent and overboard with the “fraud” accusation, but we shouldn’t let that distract us from the seriousness of DBH’s error. And contrary to what others, including Fr. Kimel have said, it does cast a very bad light indeed on the entire rest of the book. Or, as Scripture puts it,

    As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

    Pax Christi,
    Eric

    Liked by 1 person

    • jordandanielwood says:

      Please, I beg you, go read pages 121-7 of Hart’s book. Then tell me exactly where Hart ever claims [1] that Basil was a universalist; [2] that Basil respected universalism; [3] that Basil’s text should be considered as anything other than *anecdotal evidence* of the basic fact that many (not most) Christians were, in fact, universalist and gave universalist readings of certain “infernalist” passages.

      We don’t even need Ramelli to be right about interpolation. There is absolutely no scandal in Hart’s use of Basil as anecdotal evidence. This is basic historiography. It’s very standard to cite opponents’ views as evidence for the contrary. We know, for instance, that some Christians participated in the Roman military in North Africa near the end of the second century. How? Because Tertullian cites and opposes them in De corona. We know that at least some Palestinian monks at the Old Lavra during the fifith-seventh centuries read Gregory of Nyssa as teaching apokatastasis. How? Because Barsanuphius and Abba John respond to an inquiry from a nervous novice about it, and then opposed it in their letters, and because Maximus the Confessor too gets this same inquiry and responds to it (somewhat ambiguously) in his Quaestiones et dubia. So too here: why would Basil even be asked the question, and why would he even feel compelled to answer it, if there really were not many Christians at all who thought precisely as we know his own brother and sister did? It’s exactly the same point he makes about Augustine’s “misericordes” remark, and surely know one’s going to accuse Hart of trying to bewitch readers into thinking Augustine himself was a great universalist.

      First Things thrives on controversy and sensational accusations. I can’t understand why so many are so eager to take this author’s word for it rather than reading what Hart himself says about the exact topics. The real scandal, then, lies there: so many are so unwilling to relinquish hell or (their understanding of) “tradition” or the “church” or whatever else, that they simply cannot give Hart’s book a fair and substantive engagement. This is really shameful.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ben says:

      Eric
      You obviously haven’t read the book, or you wouldn’t talk such absolute rubbish. Making assertions about a book you obviously haven’t read is the moral equivalent of lying.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Eric: “he saying almost exactly the opposite of what St. Basil actually said on the matter.”

      Eric, I presume you have read ‘That All Shall Be Saved.’ Pretend I have not read Pakuluk’s article. Please identify specifically Hart’s gross misrepresentations of Basil. The principal reason I reproduced St Basil’s passage was so folks could compare St Basil’s words with Hart’s comments.

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  5. jordandanielwood says:

    I don’t even think David got too much mileage out of this passage. Here’s why:

    The article grossly misrepresents Hart’s 7-page reflection on the term “aion” and its meanings (pp. 120-7 of TASBS; see too the footnote at his translation of Matt 25.46). Hart never, ever, claims some analytical univocity within any Greek word, least of all “aion” and its cognates. In fact his entire point is that there is no such univocity, and so the infernalist tendency to proof text two or three verses that use the term is misleading and begs the question.

    Here are some of examples of what Hart actually writes: “Much depends, naturally, on how content one is to see the Greek adjective *aionios* rendered simply and flatly as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’. It is, after all, a word whose *ambiguity* has been noted since the earliest centuries of the church” (p.121). Notice his point here: it’s the infernalist rendering of “eternal” or “everlasting” that’s flat and univocal, whereas Hart concedes only that it’s always been “ambiguous.” He even goes on to state exactly what Nathaniel and the article pretend he doesn’t: “Certainly the noun *aion* from which it is derived, did come during the classical and late antique periods to refer on occasion to a period of endless or at least indeterminate duration” (p.121). So the idea that Hart never admits or willfully ignores that “aion” can possibly mean “unending duration” is obviously false and a (willful?) misrepresentation of what he actually wrote. In fact, Hart then goes on to discuss the different time frames indicated by the word in Plato’s Timaeus, that the LXX can even use it to refer to a single lifespan (Deut 15.17), and so on—all to prove the obvious point that a univocal lexical equivalence cannot be found for the term, and so mere lexical analysis can’t settle NT eschatology. Look, he even explicitly states: “On the whole, however, by the time of the New Testament the word’s meanings were far too diverse to reduce to any single term now in use in modern languages” (p.123). THEN, and only then, does he make the same point about the term in the Greek and Syriac patristic era, wherein he mentions the anecdotal evidence from Basil’s text. That’s the actual context of Hart’s use of Basil and, for that matter, Augustine’s “misericordes.” This then is how he ends the reflection on the term *aion*: “The issue then is not one of how long, but rather of when, or of what time frame of reality—what realm, that is, within or beyond history” (p.127). In other words, one must consider the particular context, the metaphysical or mythological context, of the word when it’s used, precisely *because* those uses can vary so much.

    So what Hart actually argues and the point of his use of Basil is exactly the opposite of what the article and its enthusiasts claim. Look, I get it: Hart is brilliant, doesn’t write large works with extreme scholarly apparatuses that only a few people will read, and can sometimes be a big meanie. But, honestly, he’s not wrong to complain incessantly that most of the critiques he’s received are both captious and usually ridiculous caricatures from not reading (this is a generous take, since it’d be far worse if these misrepresentations came after reading his book). This ridiculous accusation of “fraud” from an accounting professor about Greek patristic texts is the latest (not to say most absurd) in the general trend to mischaracterize Hart’s book so as to avoid its substance altogether, and to do so thinking one has really accomplished something.

    Liked by 3 people

    • SF says:

      I’m not sure exactly which part of the First Things article you’re referring to about the author misrepresenting Hart on aionios.

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      • jordandanielwood says:

        It’s number six (6) in his chain of six claims Hart makes, all of which are fraudulent and misleading. There he reads Hart as claiming that Basil himself apparently thought the word “aionios” (in Matt 25.46) more obviously meant what universalists of his day said it meant–merely “an indeterminate” period that would eventually end–but that, in fact, when we read Basil’s own words, he clearly takes the term to mean “everlasting,” duration without end. Of course, Hart never anywhere claims that Basil himself was a universalist, nor does he claim Basil knew the word must always mean “indeterminate period.” Hart’s claim is far more obvious, simple, and honestly uncontroversial: Basil offers no *lexical* argument against the universalist reading, but instead appeals to Matthew 25.46’s context, that is, to the symmetry of heaven’s “aionios” life and hell’s there, in order to argue *against* the universalist reading. The article’s so confused and misleading on so many levels, it’s hard to fathom how absurd all this is.

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        • SF says:

          Unless I’m missing something, the main sentence by Pakaluk that I can see intimating that he thinks Hart thinks Basil may have harbored slight doubts (or whatever) about the word is this:

          // Hart is also wrong to say that Basil “offered no specifically lexicographic [sic] objection to such a reading.” //

          We can debate whether Basil did in fact offer anything like a “lexicographical” objection or not. (In fact, I made a brief comment about precisely that issue on the DBH Facebook page.) But I think Hart mentioned this for *some* reason; and I don’t think it was just a completely offhand, innocent comment that wasn’t intended to suggest anything. The first time I read it, I took Hart to mean something like “Basil couldn’t necessarily disagree with them.” This of course doesn’t mean that Basil *agreed* with them, either. But I don’t think that’s necessarily what Pakaluk was suggesting Hart was suggesting.

          By the way, Pakaluk didn’t quote the full line from Hart’s NT translation. Here it is, with an additional bit at the end:

          // Late in the fourth century, for instance, Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, reported that the vast majority of his fellow Christians (at least, in the Greek-speaking East with which he was familiar) assumed that “hell” is not an eternal condition, and that the “aiōnios punishment” of the age to come would end when the soul had been purified of its sins and thus prepared for union with God. //

          I could also see this being slightly misleading, as it seems to suggest that Basil made some specific remark about other Christians’ opinions on aionios in particular. But of course if we actually read this wider passage, Basil is actually responding to their optimistic views based on Luke 12.48, and not anything about aionios in particular. Basil is the one who says “hey, we have to look toward other passages that are clearer and elucidate the more ambiguous ones” — which is what leads *him* to then bring up Matthew 25.46 and Mark 9.44-48/Isaiah 66.24.

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          • Ben says:

            God, you’re a lousy reader, SF. Or dishonest. Is this how an academic nonentity tries to get attention?

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          • jordandanielwood says:

            As I’ve already stated, it’s not exactly a mystery why Hart evokes this Basil passage. We can read the immediate context in, say, pages 121-7 of TASBS. There are two clear reasons to cite it: First, given its genre (erotapokriseis), it serves as anecdotal evidence that enough people known to Basil did in fact read certain supposedly obvious infernalist texts in a universalist way, that he thought it necessary to raise the “question,” give a sensible answer, and put it in his Rule (assuming Ramelli’s wrong). And as I’ve mentioned already, this is a very common practice in many varieties of historical inquiry, patristics included (e.g. practically all we know of 6th century Origenists in Palestine comes from anecdotes hostile to them). Second and beyond mere anecdote, Hart does point out, rightly, that Basil offers no lexical argument for the term “aionios,” as if a mere catalog of its semantic range could easily and immediately settle the matter of interpreting these passages. Basil never says anything like, “Well, guys, it says ‘aionios,’ which always means an endless duration, so how could you even doubt that hell will have no end?” Instead he strings together a line of clearer texts and makes a specific exegetical and theological argument about the symmetry of the word’s usage (you know, the way universalists do with “panta” in Romans 5.16, 11.32-4, etc). So Hart’s second point is remarkably basic and, to me, uncontroversial: the lexical range of “aionios” is capacious enough that a simple appeal to it doesn’t help. That’s his entire point on pages 121-7, as I’ll never tire of insisting. And of course we have a good sense as to why Basil would know better than to make such a simplistic appeal: both his own brother and Origen, whose texts Basil had studied (some of which he preserved), openly note the expansive and indeterminate sense of the term, especially as it appears in the Greek bible (again, the LXX uses it to mean a slave’s single lifespan, for instance). Those who say or even just imply that Hart’s NT interpretation in a universalist direction (or Clement’s or Origen’s or Didymus’s or Evagrius’s or Gregory’s for that matter) rests on a univocal or even predominant meaning of “aion” and its cognates in the patristic or any era are either misreading Hart, not reading Hart, or are themselves indulging a little good old-fashioned smearing based, one might say, on literary and dialectical fraud.

            And so, once more, I say: where’s the big scandal here? Whither the great conspiracy, the fraud? It all feels rather like a Trumpian diversion—look, here we are quibbling about non-issues, meanwhile not a single substantive argument of the book remains even remotely addressed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • SF says:

            It’s curious that neither of two replies seems to have addressed (m)any of the specific points I made in my comment at all. The first is just a blanket insult that I’m a lousy reader, without specifying anything whatsoever.

            In any case, my comment was extremely narrow in focus, and was specifically in response to

            // There he [=Pakaluk] reads Hart as claiming that Basil himself apparently thought the word “aionios” (in Matt 25.46) more obviously meant what universalists of his day said it meant–merely “an indeterminate” period that would eventually end–but that, in fact, when we read Basil’s own words, he clearly takes the term to mean “everlasting,” duration without end. //

            My comment was about whether Pakaluk did indeed portray Hart as “claiming that Basil himself apparently thought the word ‘aionios’ (in Matt 25.46) more obviously meant what universalists of his day said it meant,” and nothing more. Again, I wasn’t really able to find anything in Pakaluk’s article relevant to this accusation, other than the paragraph reading

            // Hart is also wrong to say that Basil “offered no specifically lexicographic [sic] objection to such a reading.” Basil does discuss the meaning of words. He says that those who think the punishment of the unrighteous comes to an end are not paying attention to the meaning of the Lord’s words, like people who have forgotten them. He even goes so far as to say that “we do not allow it to be thought” that everlasting punishment has an end. So here is even more evidence that Hart speaks falsely about (6). //

            In any case, I think that looking at the original Greek of the most relevant lines in Basil can be helpful:

            // Εἰ γὰρ τῆς αἰωνίου κολάσεως ἔσται ποτὲ τέλος, τέλος ἕξει πάντως καὶ ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή. Εἰ δὲ ἐπὶ τῆς ζωῆς τοῦτο νοῆσαι οὐ καταδεχόμεθα, ποῖον ἔχει λόγον τῇ κολάσει τῇ αἰωνίῳ τέλος διδόναι; Ἡ γὰρ τοῦ αἰωνίου προσθήκη ἐφ’ ἑκατέρων ἴσως κεῖται. //

            The way I read it, Basil is trying to highlight a tautology in the idea (which he opposes) of there being a τέλος to αἰώνιος punishment. And it seems like, in highlighting this — in juxtaposing αἰώνιος punishment with αἰώνιος life, which is really *all* he offers in support of this (he doesn’t even bring Mark 9.44–48 back in here, which he had cited a bit earlier) — this necessarily depends on his understanding αἰώνιος to signify endlessness.

            The only other way I can see it otherwise is if he thinks that the mere concept of “life” itself somehow carries with it the idea of endlessness, and that this is what makes the juxtaposition with punishment meaningul. But he specifically states ἡ τοῦ αἰωνίου προσθήκη ἐφ’ ἑκατέρων ἴσως κεῖται. And if he thinks αἰώνιος is indeterminate, (or possibly limited in scope, etc.), then his merely pointing out that αἰώνιος is applied in the same measure to both things — to life and to punishment — would prove nothing whatsoever in terms of it not having a τέλος. Even the idea that he could have taken αἰώνιος to mean something like “eschatological” would have no direct bearing on the idea of punishment not having a τέλος.

            Instead, εἰ γὰρ τῆς αἰωνίου κολάσεως ἔσται ποτὲ τέλος, τέλος ἕξει πάντως καὶ ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή seems to be the same sort of reductio ad absurdum (forcing interlocutors/opponents to diminish everlasting life) that we find elsewhere in the patristic era in response to some of these same arguments, too.

            One might of course think that Basil’s was a lousy or oversimplified argument here. But this is of course different from it having not actually *been* his argument.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jordan, regarding my mileage comment, I was thinking of two passages from TASBS:

      Basil of Caesarea (c. 329-379) once observed that, in his time, a large majority of his fellow Christians (at least, in the Greek- speaking Eastern Christian world that he knew) believed that hell was not everlasting, and that all in the end would attain salvation. (p. 2)

      As I noted in my introduction, Basil the Great reported that the great majority of his fellow Eastern Christians assumed that the aionios kolasis, the “chastening of the Age” (or, as it is usually translated in English, “eternal punishment”) mentioned in Matthew 25: 46, would consist in only a temporary probation of the soul; and he offered no specifically lexicographic objection to such a reading. (p. 123)

      On the assumption, perhaps mistaken, that David is drawing on the passage from the Regulae cited in my article, I do not find Basil clearly saying what David says. Basil says that “many people” affirm temporary punishment. I question whether “many people” equates to a “great majority.”

      Now Pakaluk argues that “many people” refer to non-Christians. Maybe he’s right, but that sure ain’t clear to me from either his translation or Ramelli’s. Clearly David believes that Basil is referring to Christians, i.e., to the misericordes St Augustine mentions. That sure looks like a plausible reading to me. If it turns out he’s wrong on this point, then he’s wrong. No big deal. People misinterpret in good faith the writings of other people all the time.

      David interprets the “majority” mentioned by Basil as exploiting the polysemy of aionios to support their universalist hope. Hart then notes that Basil does not challenge them directly by saying “aionios always means eternal.” Rather, Basil advances an argument based on the parallel structure of the sentence, as I note in my article. I think this is a perfectly reasonable reading of the passage. That’s how i read the passage when I first read it years ago. Pakaluk, on the other hand, reads the passage differently, perhaps based on his belief that Basil is not talking about Christian universalists but the general population. Based on my reading of the two English translations, this seems less likely. Basil’s parallelism argument (a) is irrelevant to non-Christians and (b) only makes sense if he’s responding to the polysemy of aionios. Again, it may turn out that Basil scholars will confirm Pakaluk’s reading on this point over against Hart’s, but that doesn’t mean that Hart’s reading is obviously wrong or unreasonable.

      Does that make sense? What do you think?

      All bets are off, however, if David’s comments are based on some other passage in the Basilean corpus!

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      • Ben says:

        Not “many people”: hoi polloi anthropon, which means “the greater part of the people.”

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      • Ben says:

        Otherwise translated: “the multitude,” “the masses,” “the majority.”

        Not polloi anthropoi. Hoi polloi anthropon.

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      • Ben says:

        By the way, if Pakaluk weren’t sn ignoramus he would know that the general population in Basil’s part of the empire were almost all Christians. If he didn’t mean Christians, why the hell did he make his argument from Matthew’s gospel?

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      • jordandanielwood says:

        I can see why you registered that caution (though I cannot understand Pakaluk’s absurd frenzy over David’s use of “reports”—that’s the genre, a question-answer format that answers pressing and relevant questions of the time!). I agree with Ben that the specific rendering leans more clearly in David’s favor—“the many of human beings” approaches an idiom for “most people,” rather than just “many” or “a handful.” Incidentally, even the NT uses “hoi polloi” to mean “all” (in Romans 5, for instance). So quibbling over the exact idiom here doesn’t seem helpful or to the points he’s making, which I’ve specified. I mean, as you know, Fr Al, Hart nowhere claims universalism was ever the dominant view. In fact, in the Final Remarks of the book, he explicitly notes that his conscience (and his arguments) bid him oppose “the majority position” in Christian tradition, and he says this about the patristic era more precisely earlier in the book (I don’t have it to hand at the moment, but I marked it). So again, there’s simply no conspiracy as to what Hart thinks on these matters: he knows that his view is the minority report. Pakaluk’s piece is dishonest in its very spirit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ben says:

          Hart also says that Basil’s use of that phrase might have been hyperbolic. Pakaluk is either a fool or a liar. But why would FT print something so insanely over the top to begin with? (Answer: Because Hart stopped writing for them after Reno became a Trump mouthpiece and started peddling “national conservatism”.)

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  6. Robert Fortuin says:

    “Do you think that Basil believed—and would publicly imply—that his siblings St Macrina and St Gregory were deceived by the devil?”

    One should add a follow-up question – “Would St Gregory speak so highly and fondly of St Basil his brother, if indeed his brother had charged him with the accusation of demonic deception?”

    There is absolutely no evidence to suggest indications of such a substantial disagreement, indeed a most serious rift, between the siblings. Indeed, the evidence of extant writings indicates nothing of the sort – no rift, no disagreement about these or related matters- let alone accusations of demonic influence.

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  7. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Pakaluk basically lies to his readers about what Hart says.
    Hart’s lexicographical point about the St Basil passage is straightforward: St Basil understands “aionios” in the Matthew passage as meaning “everlasting” because in its parallel usage for aionios life it does mean “everlasting”, rather than because that is aionios’s only lexicographical meaning. Pakaluk pretends not to understand this, and claims Hart says St Basil thought the word ambiguous in context, which St Basil didn’t and Hart didn’t say. This is a deliberate dishonesty on Pakaluk’s part, designed to conceal Hart’s true point, which Pakaluk cannot, in fact, rebut.
    The second dishonesty is set up by asserting that St Basil thought “the many” who believed torment was not endless were very poor Christians, and very much misled; this is probably true. This does then allow Pakaluk to out-and-out lie to his readers by claiming that Hart by contrast fraudulently claims St Basil as thinking universalists fine, upstanding faithful Christians, when Hart of course says no such thing: Hart’s only point being that St Basil in this passage is admitting there were in fact an awful lot of them. It is this fact, that infernalism was once the minority view, which Pakaluk is desperate to conceal by throwing up a smokescreen of false claims about what Hart actually says.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Note: If St Basil didn’t write the passage, substitute “whoever wrote the passage” for “St Basil” in the above remarks.

      Like

    • SF says:

      // Pakaluk pretends not to understand this, and claims Hart says St Basil thought the word ambiguous in context, which St Basil didn’t and Hart didn’t say. //

      I don’t think Pakaluk says Hart claims that Basil himself thought it was ambiguous. (Wow, this is getting crazy.) Pakaluk portrays Hart as portraying this as being the opinion of many of Basil’s fellow Christians, and not Basil’s own:

      // Hart reasons that if, as Basil reports, the vast majority of Christians in his day believed that hell was limited and purgatorial, while they accepted the words of Jesus, then they must have thought that the word aiōnios meant only “for a long time” or “for the Age” (as Hart likes to render it in his translation of the New Testament), rather than “eternal.” //

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      • Ben says:

        SF once again demonstrates his acuity as a reader.

        Pakaluk accuses Hart of saying five things he clearly didn’t say. I won’t tell you what they are, though, because they should be obvious to any intelligent reader, Mr Fetzer.

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        • SF says:

          Does this advance the discussion in any meaningful way? If you think I’ve misread something, be specific.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ben says:

            Well, Pakaluk for instance clearly suggests that Hart thinks Basil was sympathetic to or tolerant of the universalist claim. All that garbage about advancing the devil’s agenda. And yet the passage in question is only about whether Basil makes any lexicographical arguments BECAUSE THAT”S WHAT THAT PART OF THE BOOK IS TALKING ABOUT. In all the lists he provides of universalist fathers, he never includes Basil. Pakaluk is clearly falsely attributing claims to Hart.

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  8. Tom says:

    Eclectic Orthodoxy – the ONLY way to fly!

    Like

  9. joel in ga says:

    Might aionios in Matt. 25 simply refer to the age to come, as in the line of the Nicene Creed that parallels the Apostles’ Creed’s “I believe the life everlasting”?

    Like

    • SF says:

      That’s precisely Hart’s argument — though there’s really no support for it other than arguing that the early Christians thought of there being two cosmic ages, and therefore that the same concept must underlie the use of the adjective. (Which is something like a compounded etymological fallacy.)

      That being said, the Nicene Creed’s use of “life of the world to come” is super interesting, in terms of why such an uncommon phrase made its way into it instead of normal “everlasting life.” It’s not entirely inexplicable, though, and we can come up with some pretty compelling speculations as to why this happened.

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    • Ben says:

      Yes. That’s an old and famous argument for Hart’s point. In the Creed, the “aionian life” is rendered by the equivalent “life of the age to come.” Again, an old debate that seems to be unknown to SF and others without a knowledge of theological history.

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      • SF says:

        What exactly was it about my comment, in which I referred precisely to my familiarity with that line/argument, that signaled the exact opposite for you? (I’ve in fact written extensively about this particular line in the Creed — as I have for literally hundreds of early uses of aionios and related terms.)

        I may be wrong, but the impression I get from your replies to me so far is that you’re someone who has an intellectual superiority complex, yet is somehow never able to really translate that into a cogent, substantive argument. I know you said your primary training is in classics; so if you just don’t anything relevant to add, you might be better served just not saying anything at all.

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        • Ben says:

          Well, let me ask it this way. Has it occurred to you that perhaps, if the line in the Creed–which is, barring the homoousios, a compilation of biblical phrases–appeared in place of the zoe aionios of Matthew and John and the Apostles’ Creed, it might be because, within the semantic economy of the early Christian communities, the terms were considered interchangeable? And that, if you go back over earlier patristic sources, you might turn up many hundreds of places where there is every reason to think the terms aionios and aion erchomenos are being used interchangeably? And that maybe you’re relying on the history of translation rather than delving into the textual exemplars to see whether the two ages language actually does make sense of some specifically early Christian uses of aionios? What I mean is that you keep asking for textual markers but you also keep assuming that the two ages language of the synoptics are not already the markers you are demanding. Again, how would Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 have been heard to the original listeners to the Greek text? Are Mark 3:29 and Matthew 12:32 two interchangeable versions of the same logion, so that the “aeonian” of the one is directly or indirectly the same as “in this age or in the age to come” of the other? And what would “eternal” mean if projected back onto first century Judean and Hellenistic Christianity. Just “long long duration without end”? Or “coming from the divine”? Or “coming from” or “belonging to the age to come?” You speak as if you know the answer because, somehow, first century Greek-speaking or Aramaic-speaking Jews would have been making clear semiotic and semantic distinctions among all the different interrelated “age” terms, but is that even conceivable except through the prism of later translations that break the semantic continuity up into different words like “age” and “eternal”? Can you imagine yourself back into a world where these words are interlinked and echoing and all repeating the same roots and so the same conceptual associations. I find it literally impossible to believe that any Christian in the late first century listening to a reader reading out Luke 18:30 would not have naturally connected the “aeon to come” to the “aeonian life” it will bring. In another context, without a substrate of an ages theology in Greek and Aramaic, one would not have to ask or speculate. But within that particular context the use will be determined by all the terms and concepts it reflects and inflects.

          I think you brush such questions and conclusions aside at your peril. Lexicography is not a guide to semantic function.

          Liked by 1 person

          • SF says:

            // Has it occurred to you that perhaps, if the line in the Creed–which is, barring the homoousios, a compilation of biblical phrases–appeared in place of the zoe aionios of Matthew and John and the Apostles’ Creed, it might be because, within the semantic economy of the early Christian communities, the terms were considered interchangeable? //

            I already said that I’ve written in detail about this line in the Creed in particular, specifically in relation to these larger issues around the meaning of αἰώνιος. If you’d like to see some of these specific things I’ve written here, I’d be happy to include them in my next reply.

            // And that, if you go back over earlier patristic sources, you might turn up many hundreds of places where there is every reason to think the terms aionios and aion erchomenos are being used interchangeably? //

            I’ve written about an 80-page review of Ramelli and Konstan’s monograph on αἰώνιος (and Ramelli’s own later monograph on apokatasis) that covers dozens upon dozens of their claims in this regard in extensive detail; so yeah, I’ve certainly contemplated the issue before.

            // Are Mark 3:29 and Matthew 12:32 two interchangeable versions of the same logion, so that the “aeonian” of the one is directly or indirectly the same as “in this age or in the age to come” of the other? //

            Okay, *now* we’re finally getting into the territory of specific arguments that can be meaningfully discussed, without falling into the unfalsifiability and vagueness of just “two ages doctrine, therefore αἰώνιος = of the eschatological age.” I actually discussed the relationship between Mark 3.29 and 12.32 in a footnote in my earlier post (“Eternal Punishment in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament”) that I linked a few replies ago. What I wrote there was

            // Εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα in the Septuagint and New Testament again functions synonymously with the normal accusative τὸν αἰῶνα, signifying permanence and/or totalities of time; and when εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα is negated (cf. Psalms of Solomon 15.4, etc.), this discounts the possibility of something ever happening. Mark 3.29, using a negated εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, is paralleled in Matthew 12.32. The literary relationship of the sayings is unclear, although the latter obviously does employ αἰών in the sense of the two eras of late Jewish world chronlogy [sic]. Interestingly, however, the different formulation Matthew uses is itself idiomatic, too — closely paralleled in rabbinic literature, and also virtually identical to the modern English idiom “not now, not ever.” In any case, on a syntactical level, the operative difference between the formulations in Mark 3.29 and Matthew 12.32 comes down to a lack of specified αἰών in the former (again, as the normal accusative τὸν αἰῶνα), and the different uses of εἰς and ἐν. //

            (I didn’t state this explicitly here, but it’s also worth noting that the parallel here is clearly between εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα and ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι [ἢ] ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι, and not between αἰώνιος and ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι [ἢ] ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι.)

            Let’s clear something up, just to make absolutely sure there’s no miscommunication here. No one on any side of the debate denies that αἰώνιος life is something that’s attained *in* in the eschatological age. The distinction is merely whether αἰώνιος life” itself carries with it that resonance of “eschatological life” itself, or is more or less synonymous with “immortality.”

            // And what would “eternal” mean if projected back onto first century Judean and Hellenistic Christianity. Just “long long duration without end”? Or “coming from the divine”? Or “coming from” or “belonging to the age to come?” You speak as if you know the answer because, somehow, first century Greek-speaking or Aramaic-speaking Jews would have been making clear semiotic and semantic distinctions among all the different interrelated “age” terms, //

            How is even this descriptor of “interrelated ‘age’ terms” not question-begging?

            Part of what I was trying to do in the paragraphs that I quoted in my previous response to you (“Αἰώνιος had likely by the fifth century BCE entered the standard Greek lexicon…”) was trying to situate the first century Jewish/Christian approach to the meaning of αἰώνιος — how it would have been parsed in the first place, even in terms of rudimentary vocabulary acquisition — within the framework of cross-cultural linguistics. This necessarily entails basic linguistic principles like etymology not being equal to meaning, and the rarity of people trying to break words down into their etymological components to discover their meaning, as opposed to acquiring this in a more natural way. Latin aeternus remains one of the best examples of this, in relation to Greek αἰώνιος, where we all recognize its etymological root as aevum, yet (as far as I know) no one has ever made an effort to understand aeternus as signifying any particular “age” or anything like this.

            And just to make absolutely sure there’s no miscommunication on this specific point, re: Mark 10.30 and other texts: no one denies that “αἰώνιος life” is attained *in* the age to come. The question is whether there’s even a *hint* of “αἰώνιος life” signifying something like “life of the Age (to come)” on its own, or instead whether any sense of “will receive, in the Age to come, life of an Age to come” would be so redundant and unnecessary as to make this interpretation practically unthinkable — as opposed to the one that’d see “αἰώνιος life” simply in relation to immortality, and that *this* is what would be attained in the eschatological era.

            In my previous comment (to which you never responded), I’ve already even given the specific name of the literary phenomenon of repeated sounds and roots, but without any greater semantic association between these (https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/02/05/apprehending-apokatastasis-what-the-bible-says-and-doesnt/#comment-29203).

            Now, I’m certainly open to hearing more specific counter-arguments to these various issues I’ve raised with the viability of reading verses like Mark 10.30 in the sense which you seem to think would be unthinkable *not* to do so. But unless there *are* such specific counter-arguments offered, I think the discussion/counter-argument will be doomed to abstraction and unfalsifiability.

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          • SF says:

            Oops — just realized that I forgot to delete an early draft paragraph that’s sitting awkwardly in the middle of my last reply (“Let’s clear something up…”), but that I later moved to later in the comment.

            Like

          • Ben says:

            Um but the unfalsifiability is then on both sides, isn’t it? You’re going with a standard rendering of aionios while trying to explain away tidily all the indicators of a broader function in early Christian usage. I think it’s obviously the case that the interchangeability I mentioned seems attested by consistent usage.

            So Hart’s solution of using “of the Age” or “for the Age” to leave all possibilities open while retaining the homonymy still looks good to me. You may think it’s too weighted toward the olam haba reading, but that’s not what Hart says in his critical apparatus.

            The problem isn’t that you’re wrong. It’s that you keep discounting the logic and evidence contrary argument without sufficient warrant for your confidence.

            By the way, have you done work on the renderings in the Peshitta?

            Incidentally I assume you know that some early scholastics made a distinction between aeternitas and aeviternitas. Ir so my Thomist colleague tells me. In any case, aeternitas is more removed from its root so it’s not a good analogy.

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  10. Nikos says:

    “Do you think that Basil believed—and would publicly imply—that his siblings St Macrina and St Gregory were deceived by the devil?”

    This seems about as productive a line of reasoning as using Basil’s condemnation of temporary punishment to imply that Gregory could not have possible taught it- that is to say it is entirely silly.

    It is clear that there are disagreements between the Fathers on this matter, even if they themselves never addressed it as such. The question really boils down to what we Orthodox mean by “Holy Tradition” and how much room for diversity we have within that understanding. It can’t really be solved by everyone compiling opposing patristic florilegia on the subject.

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    • Jay Kolb says:

      I made the similar point as afkimel over in the comments at First Things so for some reason feel obligated to defend it here.

      A. Michael’s interpretation claims that Basil holds that those who suppose that ‘the everlasting punishment of hell does not exist’ had engaged in ‘collaboration with the Devil’.

      B. Gregory of Nyssa was one to suppose that ‘the everlasting punishment of hell does not exist’.

      C. Basil holds that Gregory of Nyssa had engaged in ‘collaboration with the Devil’.

      If A and B are true then C is true
      But C is false so A or B is false
      B is true so A must be false

      Your comparison example is different.

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  11. David Moore says:

    This is a mystery beyond our understanding. Clothe the naked. Feed the starving. Let Christ’s light shine within you through trust. If God redeems every last reprobate through gratuitous compassion it is, as Isaac says, a mystery. God have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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  12. Grant says:

    First Things misrepresenting Hart’s arguments again, I’m shocked I tell you, truly shocked 😉 .

    I think all these truly terrible critiques that fail to engage Hart’s actual book but only engage in shadow boxing with an imaginary enemy with their strawmanning and ad hominens and so is actually a backward compliment to Hart and a testament to the impact it is having if it is generating this kind of hysterical response from the defenders of infernalism and says more about the fragility of their current arguments then anything else. Hart is clearly doing something right.

    Like

    • Sherman Reed says:

      Yes this is my take precisely. None these critiques actually bother to grapple with the logic in Hart’s creation ex nihilo meditation. Start there! If you can tell us how we can call God “good” in some meaningful and intelligible way while simultaneously maintaining this infinite God of wisdom, love, and power could have designed a cosmos, knowing full well it would end with the eternal damnation of even one soul, then you have truly undercut Hart’s book. But not until then.

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      • Logizomai says:

        Because Holy Scripture says so in no uncertain terms. The fact that DBH tortures the texts to twist them to his preferred interpretation not withstanding. You’re making the classic modernist mistake. You’re starting with your own philosophical presuppositions and twisting revelation to make it fit. Revelation comes first, we base our theology off that. Philosophy might imply that God is not a trinity of persons, why do we say God is a trinity of persons? Because God revealed it to us through scripture. Likewise scripture says that there is eternal punishment for sinners. If you can’t reconcile that via philosophy, that’s ok, you don’t need to! Just leave it as a mystery. God is good, but God also punishes sinners tot eternal torment. The fact you don’t currently have the faculties to understand this mystery doesn’t mean you spin off into creating your own novel theology.

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  13. Matthew Kirby says:

    I placed the following comment on the FT thread, but it was rejected as spam.

    While I am open to the larger hope and dispute the rationality of infinite punishment (which is not strictly necessitated by temporally unlimited punishment, interestingly), I am unconvinced by certain elements of DBH’s philosophical proofs, partly due to irreconcilable premises regarding the moral validity of vindictive justice per se.

    However, this critique makes several errors.

    First, it posits a false dilemma, since a warning against something still involves an observation that it exists. What St Basil did was in fact both.

    Second, there is a historical/contextual error of inference/interpretation, since St Basil’s reference to the “many” occured in a milieu where Christianity was becoming a majority religion and in a sentence referring to those who “forget” the Lord’s words. Pagans are therefore hardly in view here, but those he considers Christians defecting from correct understanding. Indeed, the view that Hell was divine punishment but was not everlasting (which is the specific concept to which St Basil is referring) was not a common pagan notion of the afterlife, but we know from other Fathers (including anti-universalist ones) that it existed among many Christians. Pakaluk’s claim that this statement was not a reference to Christians is untenable.

    Third, there is a straw-man fallacy. DBH does not make the general claim St Basil “did not object to it” as stated above (“it” being the interpretation of aionios as meaning of the Age to come but not necessarily everlasting). Instead he makes the specific claim that St Basil did not dispute that the word itself does not require the connotation everlasting in its lexical etymology. In other words, DBH is noting that the word does not mean everlasting of itself originally or automatically, and St Basil does not try to claim this. And this is quite true. Basil’s argument (as quoted above) for the meaning of the word as temporally unending is instead strictly contextual, limiting its connotative range here by its parallel usage in the Gospels. If the word had been intrinsically so limited in the ‘dictionary definition’-sense, such an argument would have been superfluous.

    Fourth, there is an implicit “no true Scotsman” fallacy. When Pakaluk says “in no sense is Basil speaking about what Christians profess, but only about what the Devil tricks people into holding”, he effectively treats the belief as not a profession by Christians because professing it proves demonic deception. But of course, even if it were a deception, that would not prevent Christian believers accepting it, as there is never any guarantee of individual Christians’ perfect orthodoxy and failures in this area do not normally change them into non-Christians.

    Finally, while this writer complains about the false impression left by DBH, this response leaves the impression that DBH presents St Basil as a universalist. He does not. Like other universalists, he is noting that even in non-universalist Fathers we can find evidence of the presence or popularity of this theological opinion in the early Church.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Matthew Kirby says:

    Please note, my comment above was a reply to Pakaluk, not Fr Kimel, and the “irreconcilable premises” I refer to are not incoherencies within DBH’s argument but differences between his and my assumptions regarding the moral validity of punishment purely as recompense for unrepentent evil. He rejects its validity, I do not. Because of this, I reject the image of the damned’s pains as sacrifice for the achievement of, or purportedly necessary evil potentially outweighing the value of, the joys of the blessed. Instead, insofar as they are just, they are simply a lesser good, and these sufferings cannot be offset against the happiness of the righteous. However, I am persuaded by arguments against the justice of the customary picture of Hell as infinite punishment, arguments I made at length in a Masters thesis and which led me to speculate regarding a quasi-annihilationist qualification of the majority view. Nevertheless, I hope Apokastasis is true.

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  15. Apparently Pakaluk somehow thought DBH claimed St. Basil as a Universalist, which adds more evidence to my suspicion that I’m reading a different version of TASBS compared to some reviewers.
    (Mohler’s copy somehow has DBH denying Heaven and “the doctrine of Afterlife”, so maybe I’m reading a counterfeit DBH or something, I don’t know.)

    I did see this link in the comment thread, which apparently says DBH misrepresented Calvin?
    https://calvinistinternational.com/2016/10/06/avoid-overdraft-fees-go-straight-to-heaven-david-b-hart-calvin/
    I wonder if DBH had done a take on Calvin more detailed than the remark cited in this article.
    (certainly, DBH’s remark is true to many Calvinists I see today, I just wonder if Hart did mistake modern Calvinists for Calvin…)

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  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Stewart and Ben (and of course everyone else): let’s maintain a high level of civility and thoughtfulness and avoid personal attacks. Count to ten before hitting the “post comment” button. If you think someone is an imbecile, it’s probably best just not to respond to that person.

    I would prefer not to put folks on 30 days suspension or ban them altogether.

    Thank you.

    Like

  17. Mark Chenoweth says:

    I have not read all the comments here, but here is my 2 cents.

    Hart’s only uses Basil to show us that universalism was probably the majority opinion at least around his time. Whether people took that as implying that Basil himself was also a universalist may be a minor mistake on Hart’s part because he was blatant enough. But his use of the quote is NOT out of context. And we have similar statements from both Augustine and Jerome.

    As for Ramelli’s claim that Basil’s anti-universalist passage is an interpolation, I’ve thought about it a lot over the last several months, and I honestly think it’s the most plausible explanation for a number of different reasons.

    1. The statements that Basil makes in his commentary on Isaiah are clearly universalist. I have not looked into how many scholars question whether it was by Basil however. If it is authentic, we have Basil making fairly straightforward universalist statements.
    2. Even if he didn’t write the commentary on Isaiah, we still have to deal with the fact that he is speaking about his brother and sister the same way he talks about heretics. Certainly, their culture was a good deal more rhetorical than ours (though Hart comes close!), but it’s very hard for me to believe that Basil thought his brother and sister were deceived by the devil. Was Nazianzen also possessed by the devil because he clearly considered universalism a permissible opinion? See his C. Eun. or. prodial 27.10. In my view, and also Balthasar’s, and Ramelli’s, there are also good reasons to think Nazianzen also leaned in the universalist direction himself. I also agree with Fortuin that Nyssa (and Nazianzen in my opinion) would not have praised Basil to the extent that they did if he called them deceived by the devil (essentially, language reserved for heretics like Arius, etc.).
    3. Are we also to believe that Basil helped Nazianzen compile large excerpts from Origen in their Philokalia when he thought Origen was deceived by the devil?

    I also don’t think Patristic heavyweights like Louth and Young, and a biblical scholar like Richard Bauckham (he wrote the foreword to her “A Larger Hope?”) would endorse Ramelli’s book if they thought she was making a completely ridiculous argument here, even if they ultimately reject it. The question simply hasn’t come up that much in Patristic studies, so to say that Ramelli is in a minority here isn’t really right. The authenticity of Basil’s passage hasn’t really been discussed.

    The idea that Basil was referring to non-Christians makes little sense to me given the other statements by Augustine and Jerome. Along with Fr Al, it also doesn’t make sense to me why he would refer to non-Christians here when he making a scriptural argument. Also, is there much evidence that non-Christians believed in the non-eternity of hell? Ramelli, of course, argues that Christians were the first to believe this. McClymond disagrees, of course.I haven’t really looked into this myself.

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    • TJF says:

      Just look at the last few pages of Gorgias and Phaedo by Plato. He clearly taught eternal damnation. I don’t know about other ancient pagan sources, but Plato did teach eternity of hell and he’s a heavyweight. But I would be interested also if anyone knows of focused studies on this topic.

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      • Related but not identical, Pusey’s “What is of Faith Regarding Eternal Punishment?” has a worthwhile section on pre-Christian Jewish beliefs regarding eternal punishment. I have a vague recollection he may also mention pagan beliefs briefly.

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    • Ben says:

      The problem with the Regula is tghat we don’t have a pristine text from Basil’s hand. As a handbook, it was redacted and redacted for years, and there are some clear interpolations. I happen to think Ramelli is probably right, because I think all the Cappadocians were sympathetic to Oriegenian eschatology, and so the strong language in the passage makes it dubious. But I wouldn’t base argue it vigorously.

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  18. What Happens to those who are Unsaved in the ‘Outer Darkness’ [Matthew 8:12], the ‘Unquenchable Fire’ [Matthew 3:12] & the ‘Worm that does not Die’ [Mark 9:48]?

    “… It is not enough, however, to come if one is invited: one must have the wedding dress, that is to say have faith and charity. Whoever therefore does not bring peace and charity to the altars of Christ will be seized by the feet and the hands, and thrown into the darkness from without. “There will be tears and gnashing of teeth. What are the darkness of the outside? Will there also be prisons and latomias? In no way; but whoever is excluded from the promises of the heavenly commandments is in outer darkness, because the commandments of God are light (Jn, xii, 35); and whoever is without Christ is in darkness, because the inner light is Christ. So it is not a question of the creaking of the material teeth, nor of some eternal fire of material flames, nor of a material worm. But this is to note that, as excess food causes fevers and worms, so too, if one does not somehow cook one’s sins by using sobriety and abstinence, but if, piling up sins on sins, one contracts as indigestion old and new faults, one will be burned by his own fire and devoured by his verses. So Isaiah says, “Walk in the light of your fire and the flame that you have lit” (Is., L, 11). The fire is the one engendered by the sadness of faults; the worm comes from the fact that the insane sins of the soul attack the mind and the senses of the guilty, and gnaw at the entrails of his conscience (Sag., XII, 5); as the worms are born of each, so to speak of the body of the sinner. So the Lord said it through Isaiah, saying, “And they shall see the members of men who have averred against me; and their worm will not die, and their fire will not be extinguished “(Is., LXVI, 24). The grinding of teeth also expresses a feeling of indignation, because too late we repent, too late we moan, too late we take it upon ourselves to have sinned with a perversity so tenacious. …” – Blessed Archbishop St. Ambrose of Milan, the first Great Latin Doctor of the Church, Teacher of Augustine (c. 340 AD – c. 397 AD)

    Source:

    https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/luke-commentary/ambrose-on-luke-14

    So, the Eternal (or ‘age-during’ shame/punishment) as Blessed St. Ambrose of Milan sees it as that they lose these Great Rewards in Comparison to those who attain it and are Sad permanently due to it.

    Blessed St. Ambrose doesn’t seem to see that they’re unsaved (because they are NOT in “prisons” anymore, “nor” will be placed there thereafter) but may be dwelling in the other darkness regions, to quote:

    “… What are the darkness of the outside? Will there also be prisons and latomias? In no way; but whoever is excluded from the promises of the heavenly commandments is in outer darkness, because the commandments of God are light …” – Blessed Archbishop St. Ambrose of Milan

    Edifying Comments:

    From the above, Blessed St. Ambrose does NOT see that the ‘Final Lake of Fire is literal (material, Revelation 21:8, Revelation 20:11 – 15)’ nor that the ‘Worm is literal’ (Mark 9:48) and Neither that the ‘Gnashing of teeth as literal either’ (Matthew 13:42, Luke 13:28):

    “… So it is not a question of the creaking of the material teeth, nor of some eternal fire of material flames, nor of a material worm. …” – Blessed Archbishop St. Ambrose of Milan

    This Concept of Understanding that the Final-Hell/Gehenna/Lake of Fire Punishment is not literal (e.g. as per the ‘gnashing of teeth’) but refers to the ‘soul’s thoughts tormenting it’ is expressed even by the Great Saint of Orthodoxy below, to quote:

    “…But as to “There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth ,” 54 we must confront them with the objection that, as in this life the creator has made every member of the body for some purpose, so he has made the teeth to chew solid food Why do the damned need teeth, then? Our brethren do not claim that they eat in hell. (2) And it must be pointed out that not everything in scripture is to be taken literally. Scripture says, “Thou hast broken the teeth of sinners, ” 55 and, “The Lord hath crushed the teeth of the lions ,” 56 but who is so foolish as to suppose that, while preserving sinners’ bodies, God breaks only their teeth? (3) Just as whoever wanted the lines to read like that was obliged by his discomfort with them to resort to allegory, so one must look for the gnashing of the teeth of the damned. The soul has the faculty of “chewing [on things],” and when convicted of its sins will “gnash its teeth” by the clashing of its thoughts . 51 16.6 But “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]” 58 perhaps teaches that the soul is incorporeal, or even, perhaps, means that

    the soul will not be punished apart from the body. …” – Blessed St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis and the ‘Hammer of Heretics’, (c. 310 AD – c. 403 AD, ‘ORIGEN’ , “Panarion or Medicine-Chest”, Points 16.1 – 16., Pages 146 – 147)

    Source:

    https://archive.org/stream/EpiphaniusPanarionBksIIIII1/Epiphanius%20-%20_Panarion_%20-%20Bks%20II%20%26%20III%20-%201_djvu.txt

    So, the Eternal (or ‘age-during’ shame/punishment) as Blessed St. Ambrose of Milan sees it as that they lose these Great Rewards in Comparison to those who attain it and are Sad permanently due to it.

    Blessed St. Ambrose doesn’t seem to see that they’re unsaved (because they are NOT in “prisons” anymore, “nor” will be placed there thereafter) but may be dwelling in the other darkness regions, to quote:

    “… What are the darkness of the outside? Will there also be prisons and latomias? In no way; but whoever is excluded from the promises of the heavenly commandments is in outer darkness, because the commandments of God are light …” – Blessed Archbishop St. Ambrose of Milan

    Peace to you

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  19. Reblogged this on Shadow Boxing with Thought Bubbles… and commented:
    Raises some interesting questions… what do you think?

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  20. Pingback: Christ Centered Universalism Mystery in First Christianity – Anonymous Christian

  21. Cameron says:

    Thank you all that you do. I’ve been reading everything you upload to Scribd for about two years now. I’m not officially Orthodox, but I love reading Orthodox theology, history, and “takes” on western practices and beliefs.

    Thank you for enhancing my life and keep up the hard work 🙂

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