by Jordan Daniel Wood, Ph.D.
I had resolved to avoid, at all costs, making the substance of my reflection on David Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved about its rhetoric. Rhetoric features prominently among the main concerns of the book’s alacritous critics, whose reviews read mostly like a culled catalog of naughty words combined with implicit and explicit allegations of guilt by association (with nineteenth-century Unitarians, Moltmann, Rob Bell, Satan, and so forth). And so, having read the book three times, I wanted to ignore these diversions. But then I came to suspect that the gross caricatures of Hart’s rhetoric throughout the book betray a more fundamental misunderstanding of his actual viewpoint and its supporting arguments which, predictably, have gone mostly undiscussed.
And yes, that is my position regarding his rhetoric. I don’t find Hart’s rhetorical or polemical tone particularly menacing or overweening. That judgment, I confess, might well be the result of immersing myself in scripture, where Jesus calls Pharisees “sons of hell” and Paul wishes aloud that his opponents would castrate themselves and John revels in the vision of the Whore of Babylon’s fatal demise; and in the Church fathers, who so frequently depict their interlocutors as “godless atheists” and attribute their error to “moral and intellectual stupidity” (to quote a passage of Cyril’s I read just a few days ago). Maybe I’ve become altogether tone-deaf to razor-sharp rhetoric. Nevertheless, I shall argue that Hart’s universalism entails exactly the rhetorical stance he adopts in the book, and that, conversely, correctly appreciating the rhetorical performance aids comprehension of the fundamental dialectic he employs in defense and explication of apokatastasis.
Hart’s thesis is as plain as it is bold: “If Christianity taken as a whole is indeed an entirely coherent and credible system of belief, then the universalist understanding of its message is the only one possible” (3). His is no half-spoken, Balthasarian “hopeful universalism,” for which Hart has “very small patience,” especially “when it seems like a strategy for crediting oneself with a tenderheartedness that one might nevertheless be willing to doubt in God” (103). Balthasar asked if we might dare to hope for universal salvation. Hart contends that “Christians dare not doubt the salvation of all” (66). Not that Hart pretends this radical thesis ever enjoyed some sort of majority status in Christian tradition, contrary to the claims of certain critics. He knows he represents the underdogs of Christian history, and that his case might “serve merely as a kind of negative probation of the tradition—the plaintiff’s brief dutifully submitted by an advocatus diaboli, on behalf of an eccentric minority position, in full anticipation that the final verdict will go to the other” (5; cf. 187, 199, passim). He knows that even among churchly sympathizers universalism “was never, as a rule, encouraged in any general way by those in authority in the church” (201). Any insinuation that Hart seeks to dupe the reader into thinking universalism was ever anything more than an underground current in Christian tradition is dishonest and should be dismissed out of hand as fraudulent.
I will proceed through three phases, then a finale. First I portray the rhetorical stance Hart occupies throughout the book, which, once again, I hope will burn away a few more strawmen. I’ll then distill what I take to be Hart’s two basic dialectical theses and the way they imply one another—that rational freedom is only truly free when it possesses full knowledge of its own origin and end, God; and that God’s infinite goodness is revealed just to the degree he does not create any rational creature who will perpetually fail to attain to true knowledge and thus true freedom. Here again, I hope to clarify a few misunderstandings and misprisions about these arguments. Attending carefully to the dialectic should manifest the profound unity of Hart’s dialectical theses with his rhetorical stance, and indeed uncover just what sort of position universalism is and is not. My final remarks countenance the unique necessity of the universalist’s rhetorical and dialectical unity. That unity shows the rhetoric involved is not a matter of arrogance, but of faith. Or, to put it frankly, Hart’s universalism is a pious (and childlike) rebellion against every species of theological and religious nihilism.
Hart never accuses any individual person of anything. Nowhere in this book will you read that x or y person “is a moral cretin,” to employ a favorite fabrication of the detractors. Not that Hart shrinks from excoriating specific doctrines or theological views. The doctrine of infants’ limbo, for example, “mitigates but does not dispel” the “moral idiocy” of the idea that unbaptized babies will not attain the beatific vision (76). Or the Evangelical apologist’s urging that we should cease to pity the damned because such pity is fruitless “is nothing more than a counsel of moral imbecility” (147). But the apologist himself is not simply an imbecile. Hart never links the genesis of his opponents’ views, however heinous or incoherent he takes these to be, to the bare fact that they are mere morons or willful idiots. That includes every type of infernalist, too. And that, I think, is because he’s committed to the absolutely fundamental (and traditional) conviction that error, lies, and even enmity are always nursed by ignorance.
When Hart does characterize the actual persons who propagate the views he judges illogical or morally repulsive, he does so in the very terms he uses to characterize the whole of fallen humanity: as at least partial victims of circumstance, of error and prior falsehoods, misunderstandings, ignorance, delusion, as well as the crippling sense of external and lamentable constraint. Right from the start he recognizes that most infernalists, “even very intelligent persons,” tender arguments for understanding hell as the eternal conscious torment of the damned because “they feel bound by faith” to do so (12; cf. 28, 35, 43–4). Nor does he place the blame solely upon the shoulders of this or that scheming group or individual: “The conspiracy, so to speak, is an entirely open one, an unpremeditated corporate labor of communal self- deception, requiring us all to do our parts to sustain one another in our collective derangement.” Hence he regards
the entire process as the unintentional effect of a long tradition of error, one in which a series of bad interpretations of scripture produced various corruptions of theological reasoning, which were themselves then preserved as immemorial revealed truths and, at the last, rendered impregnable to all critique by the indurated mental habits of generations. (19, my emphasis)
When Thomas followed Lombard in affirming that heavenly bliss is amplified by the sight of the damned, he was “the victim not only of a defective narrative, but also of the rigor of his own mind.” Thomas, after all, was unquestionably “a brilliant thinker,” but raw capacity and sincere piety offer no invincible defense against ignorance and error; genius can even aid these latter (168). More, Hart even evinces a form of empathy for that great spectral nimbus hovering about the Reformed tradition: “I do not hold Calvin himself necessarily accountable for this, since in this matter he was the product of centuries of bad scriptural interpretations and even worse theological reasoning” (51). If Calvin is to be distinguished by anything, it’s the rigor and candor with which he makes plain what lay latent in previous tradition (80–1). Tertullian, Lombard, Aquinas, Luther, indeed all purveyors of the majority view receive the same partial exculpation: “None of these good pious souls was doing anything other than following the only poor thread of logic he had to guide him out of a labyrinth of impossible contradictions; the sheer enormity of the idea of a hell of eternal torment forces the mind toward absurdities and atrocities” (78).
Hart, then, to the degree that he does assume a rhetorical stance toward his individual interlocutors, addresses them as (understandably) self-deceived, in opposition to their own most basic desires and intuitions of the truth. Infernalists “do not really believe in it at all, but rather merely believe in their belief in it” (29; cf. 204). That’s to say, infernalists are not yet explicitly aware that their putative outlook contradicts “the deepest moral promptings of their souls,” as Hart puts it. And he knows that this judgment will be met with his opponents’ reproach “for presuming to know what they really believe better than they themselves do” (31). Yet his presumption about their deepest held convictions—that “we refuse to know that we know” that the mere possibility of eternal conscious torment for even one freely created rational creature stands as “a complete contradiction” to the simultaneous confession that God is the Good itself (202–3)—is, I maintain, an ineluctable issue of the very dialectic native to his arguments for universal salvation. It is no patronizing piece of polemic.
A necessary corollary of Hart’s rhetorical stance that infernalists do not fundamentally believe what they think they must is that Hart himself cannot but disbelieve what he knows he cannot. “I certainly cannot believe what I find intrinsically unbelievable” (202). There is a palpable inevitability in truly seeing universalism and seeing it as true, you might say. Unless one sees the truth as truth for oneself, a doctrine or belief, however venerable or obligatory or cherished it may initially appear, might just as well be an error believed in good faith—but an error nonetheless. If, though, seeing heaven’s truth entails the inability to see it otherwise, and if universalism is a truth of heaven we can perceive at all, then seeing it as the truth will seem to us like “a conversion of the heart” whereby one “comes to see, precisely where one formerly had perceived only the fires of hell, the transfiguring glory of infinite love. And ‘love never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13:8)” (62).
Just here rhetoric fades into dialectic. We have not yet considered Hart’s rhetorical form as a performance of his dialectic. That requires tracing his arguments for universalism. I do so now. Hart actually makes several arguments—philosophical (about the interrelationality of persons, for instance), theological, christological, exegetical, and so on. I consolidate these into two dialectical theses. These correspond to the two basic questions which frame the entire book:
- Does it really lie within the power of a rational creature freely and finally to reject God?
- Can we call God “good” (or the Good) in any intelligible sense if he freely wills to create a world which includes the possibility that one rational being will fail to embrace God and thus be reduced to a state of unending conscious torment?
Hart’s theses are meant to answer both with “an unyielding no” (27–8, 208). Let me state them succinctly and in my own terms:
- Perfect rational freedom requires an ultimate object of desire and total knowledge of that object, God; without the former it’s not “rational,” without the latter it’s not “free.”
- Divine freedom and goodness require that God would never create rational creatures he would or could not truly liberate.
Both, of course, are logical arguments based upon what Christians say of God as the sole origin and end of all creation. The first thesis provides a philosophical account of freedom derived largely from the classical metaphysics of rational freedom and its natural orientation toward the transcendentals (the Good, the True, the Beautiful, the One), which are convertible with one another and are God himself. The second thesis offers the inverse inflected by theodicy. By “theodicy” I do not mean that Hart’s universalism promises an explanatory solvent for particular tragedies or provides a determinate justification for any particular evil. I mean rather that it seeks to preserve the rational and moral integrity of predicating infinite goodness (and mercy and justice and love) of God, which, Hart insists, infernalism necessarily threatens. In this sense Hart’s second thesis invokes theodicy’s more basic acceptation, whether, that is, God is just, reliable, trustworthy, morally coherent enough for me to recognize and to believe in. And, in fact, Hart is crystal clear throughout the text that it is the second issue, that of our moral picture of God, that constitutes his “primary” and “chief” concern in these matters (12–13, 17, 47, 52, 79, passim). I’ll return to that point after examining each thesis more attentively.
1. Rational freedom. Hart knows that the most popular infernalist defense today is to claim that rational creatures must possess the “ability” to reject God in perpetuity or else they are not truly free. Freedom, they say, must not be coerced, must only ever choose and act towards its end out of its own spontaneity. God himself cannot guarantee a rational soul’s final outcome without thereby rendering that soul unfree. Perhaps, then, hell, if it contain any soul, is itself contained in and in some sense created by that very soul—its hatred, enmity, ignorance, rage, rebellion. So perhaps, as in Dante, “every fallen soul can become fully what it has chosen to be” (22–3). Hart confesses that he himself was “briefly content with this way of seeing things” (17), and that, though this view is quite wrong, it is not “contemptibly so.” It does not inflict “irreparable harm to one’s understanding of goodness or of God, and so without requiring the mind to make a secret compromise with evil (explicitly, at least)” (171).
Notice that the free will defense of infernalism involves a claim about what must finally be the case for rational freedom. Infernalists sometimes rest their case on the very pedestrian observation that, obviously, we experience the fact that rational creatures can and do refuse God everyday. Surely, the argument runs, at least some number of rational creatures might do so without end, falling progressively into themselves, into an ossified state of obstinate rejection of all that is good and holy. This view might even appear decked in the form of self-deprecating piety. I can imagine all God’s creatures basking in eternal bliss except me. I alone will suffer perdition’s relentless torture. The pious version strikes me as particularly odd, since, of course, it still appears eminently preoccupied with oneself. When we deal with primordial origins and final ends, the universalist would surely retort, why fixate on yourself as if your current condition of ignorance and hostility yields the deepest insight into God’s own goodness and ingenuity? Why imbue your current weaknesses with final significance? And do you not sense that God, at least, would suffer tragedy at even your eternal loss? Here we begin to sense that Thomists and Augustinians alike indulge an unwarranted epistemic optimism, a supreme confidence in their ability to derive what’s final from what’s provisional; it’s just that Thomists prefer happier inferences, Augustinians grimmer ones. On the whole, though, the crucial thing is to realize that the free will defense amounts to an extrapolation from what is provisional to what is supposedly final. Hart’s treatment of the nature of rational freedom, then, merely meets the infernalists on the very ground they themselves have staked.
For Hart (and many before him), if a choice or act lacks a determinate end, it is indistinguishable from “a pure brute event” or a “sort of spasmodic ebullition, emptily lurching toward—or, really, just lurching aimlessly in the direction of—one chance object or another, without any true purpose” (40, 174). A rational act differs naturally from impersonal forces, obeisance to nature’s laws, or aleatoric events exactly to the extent that it necessarily involves a determinate end and the accompanying desire to actualize that end. Of course the end might be mistaken, morally wrong, a sheer delusion. But error still means intending an end, though one that is not true. Error itself makes sense only as an end-making act. Despite some odd proposals from a few wistful Neo-Jansenists, there really is no sense in calling something a rational act that lacks any determinate end, still less sense in thinking such a happening rises to the level of moral culpability. No one is blameworthy for obeying gravity or suffering an embolism.
I said a rational act must contain a determinate end and the desire to actualize that end. Rationality always involves the will, and it always involves willing something as good for the agent willing. This is an ancient and venerable insight. Even the murderer, as Augustine notes (Conf II), acts under the delusion that killing will bring something good for him—the satisfaction of revenge, the vindication of (vigilante) justice, or some more sadistic pleasure which, as pleasure, the murderer still desires as a relative and appealing good. None of this, as Hart notes (41), serves to exonerate all malefactors of whatever degree. Actually, the situation appears in many ways far more desperate. These insights into rational action mean that when we do evil, we do so (assuming we’re not simply insane) with enough knowledge of what is good to be culpable and with enough ignorance of the Good to be enslaved to our own delusions. We are slaves to sin (Rom 6.15–23), not masters of it. Every creature is “subjected” to vanity (Rom 8.20), not gods of it. We are not Dr. Frankenstein’s monster; we are the ancient dragon’s playthings (Rev 12.17).
But “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8.32). And that is absolutely so in the case of the ultimate object of truth and love, God. For God is the very origin and end of every rational will. He alone, as Truth itself, perfects the intellect. He alone, as Beauty and Love itself, perfects the will. True freedom, as opposed to the modern libertine conception of freedom as sheer spontaneity and indeterminacy (which not even Kant would abide, really), is exactly the freedom to become what and who one truly is, without impediment. And who can be what they truly are apart from union with God, one’s very origin and end? So Hart:
We are free not because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well. And to choose well we must ever more clearly see the ‘sun of the Good’ (to employ the lovely Platonic metaphor), and to see more clearly we must continue to choose well; and the more we are emancipated from illusion and caprice, and the more our will is informed by and responds to the Good, the more perfect our vision becomes, and the less there is really to choose. (172–3)
Or, as Maximus elaborates the same point, commenting explicitly on God as our “beginning and end” (Rev 20.6):
For from God come both our general power of motion (for He is our beginning), and the particular way that we move toward Him (for He is our end). If an intellective being is moved intellectively, that is, in a manner appropriate to itself, then it will necessarily become a knowing intellect. But if it knows, it surely loves that which it knows; and if it loves, it certainly suffers ecstasy toward it as an object of love. If it suffers this ecstasy, it obviously urges itself onward, and if it urges itself onward, it surely intensifies and greatly accelerates its motion. And if its motion is intensified in this way, it will not cease until it is wholly present in the whole beloved, and wholly encompassed by it, willingly receiving the whole saving circumscription by its own choice, so that it might be wholly qualified by the whole circumscriber, and, being wholly circumscribed, will no longer be able to wish to be known from its own qualities, but rather from those of the circumscriber, in the same way that air is thoroughly permeated by light, or iron in a forge is completely penetrated by the fire, or anything else of this sort. (Amb 7.10)
If we can know God as he is and yet refuse him to his face, then he is not the origin and end of our rational will. Conversely, if we do not yet desire him as he is, it is because we do not yet know him as he truly is, namely as our own ultimate object of desire. That is why Maximus states plainly that “evil, then … is ignorance of the benevolent Cause of beings,” which scripture represents as the Tree of Disobedience whose fruit introduces the “mixed knowledge” of good and evil (QThal 1.2.16); and this mixed knowledge inculcates illicit self-love; and this self-love subjects us to the vanity of ever vacillating between pleasure and pain, all of which stems from “ignorance, which is their primary cause” (QThal 1.2.21).
In fact for Maximus, as he argues at length (Amb 42), to deny that our perfect freedom and desire lies only, ultimately, and naturally in God himself severs us so completely from God as our origin and end that we become, unwittingly perhaps, either Manicheans or … Origenists! If we can possess full knowledge of God while our will remains unmoved to love him unto ecstasy, then this lends credence to the putatively Origenist idea that we might grow tired of God, as if the unfathomable plenitude of his beauty and love and joy were not quite enough to sate us. We might, then, lapse again and again upon (re)union with God. Or if, having fallen once from our first love, and having then undertaken the torturous odyssey of return to God, who is our “homeland,” we are then rendered somehow indissolubly united to God, our true and stable desire—in this case God on his own appears unable to accomplish what an excursion into the netherlands of tragedy and sin and ignorance—evil—proved able to secure, that is, everlasting bliss in the embrace of God. On this account, Maximus perceives, really we owe our eternal reward to two fundamental principles, God and evil, since only through the work of both were we made whole without threat of further dissolution.
One might object that this renders our freedom vacuous because it determines our end in advance, as it were. Hart retorts that only a determined end can make us truly free, since, of course, “rational volition must be determinate to be anything at all.” Otherwise it’s just a chance event. “Freedom is a relation to reality,” he writes, “which means liberty from delusion” (178). Thus our fallen condition is more profoundly dire than the view that simply extends our current rebellion-in-ignorance ad infinitum. On Hart’s view, we are enslaved with shackles of ironclad links, for we cannot be truly free unless we are liberated from ignorance, and yet we must come to desire what we do not yet know so that we might be truly free.
[I]t seems to me impossible to speak of freedom in any meaningful sense at all unless one begins from the assumption that, for a rational spirit, to see the good and know it truly is to desire it insatiably and to obey it unconditionally, while not to desire it is not to have known it truly, and so never to have been free to choose it. (79–80)
And if the rebellious rational soul never truly knows what it rejects under a veil of deception, and thus was never truly free fully to know what it rejects—how could anyone think it just that such a soul would be damned to eternal conscious torment in perpetuity? “Hence, absolute culpability—eternal culpability—lies forever beyond the capacities of any finite being. So does an eternal free defiance of the Good. We are not blameless, certainly; but then again, that very fact proves that we have never been entirely free not to be blameless—and so neither can we be ever entirely to blame” (43).
2. Divine freedom and goodness. The first dialectical thesis leads inexorably to the second. If God is the origin and end of rational creatures—including their freedom—then no rational creature could or would refuse God without doing so ignorantly. And so if a creature does in fact perpetually reject God unto final and everlasting torment, then God would have freely elected to create a being from nothing that God knew (and thus willed) would be damned, afflicted by an ignorance God himself would never undertake, or is powerless, to rectify. But would or could an infinitely resourceful, omnipotent, good, just, merciful God create such a world?
All of us, we are told, have been born damnable in God’s eyes, already condemned to hell, and justly so. And yet God, out of God’s love, races to rescue (some of) us from God’s wrath, because God would otherwise be technically obliged to visit that wrath upon us, if lovingly, on account of that ancient trespass that bound us helplessly and damnably to sin before we ever existed; at the same time, however, God also lovingly fails or declines to rescue many of us, because he lovingly grants us the capacity freely to love, even if he lovingly withholds the conditions that would allow us to recognize him as the proper object of our love… (and so on). In the end, somehow, justice is served, love is vindicated, God is good; of that we can be sure. Happily, all of that is degrading nonsense—an absolute midden of misconceptions, fragments of scriptural language wrenched out of context, errors of translation, logical contradictions, and (I suspect) one or two emotional pathologies. (24–5)
It is nonsense, Hart argues, because the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo makes God’s act of creation a supremely moral act. Precisely “because God and creation are ontologically distinct from one another,” he writes, “they are morally indiscerptible” (68). Creation does not complete the divine nature, as if God had to undergo a process to become God. God doesn’t need the world as an instrumental means to become what he is. The world, then, is nothing but the sheer expression of divine goodness and freedom. The one thing creation ex nihilo adds to the metaphysics of emanation, Hart notes, is “the further assurance that in this divine outpouring there is no element of the ‘irrational’: nothing purely spontaneous, or organic, or even mechanical, beyond the power of God’s rational freedom” (71–2). And if creation’s sole rationale is God’s own rational freedom, then all the possibilities and especially the final actuality of creation manifests the very character of God: “Precisely because creation is not theogony, all of it is theophany” (73). The end reveals the beginning; both are God’s freely elected self-manifestation. Nothing but God made God make the world. It is a product of his pure will, and what God wills reveals what God is like, who God is.
If matters prove otherwise, then I, at least, cannot see how John could have presumed to know from Christ that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1.5). The bottomless abyss of the divine will would render any of God’s actual desires merely partial manifestations of the vast and dark sea of infinite possibility that remains ever dark to our gaze—except, apparently, not dark enough that many still presume to know that God has not done all he could have done. But we can set that point aside for the moment. Hart’s immediate point is simple enough: even if God created a world on only the unlikely possibility that one of his beloved rational creatures might languish in eternal fire, then God’s act, as a perfectly moral and free act, has already accepted the relative goodness or justice or value of willing such a possibility at all. “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard,” as Hart quotes Mallarmé. Whatever God could possibly permit reveals something eternally present in God himself.
This is an easy thing to grasp. Suppose someone tells me that my father might have murdered an innocent old man for twenty dollars, and I say: “Well, maybe. I’d like to wait and review the evidence before I judge.” That very hesitation is already a moral judgment about my father’s character. What must I think of him to think him capable of such a thing, even if I don’t presume to know he actually did it? Rather, because I know my father, I would say to this person straightaway: “No he didn’t.” And no one, I take it, would consider such confidence evidence of blameworthy presumption on my part; it would be a necessary result of my absolute confidence in the sort of man my father is. Who would dare to blame me for this? If, of course, it turned out that my father did murder an innocent person, my response would be: “I suppose I never really knew him.”
That, I think, is really the nature of Hart’s second thesis. Given all we know of God, particularly in and through Christ, if it somehow turns out that God did create a world that included even the slight possibility that he freely create a person in full knowledge of that person’s tragic end in everlasting misery, and for a rebellion that is itself always circumscribed by ignorance, then all we can really say is: “I suppose I never really knew him.” We call him just, good, merciful, love, light, possessive of a power that means “with God nothing is impossible” (Lk 1.37; Matt 19.26). And indeed we certainly know that he wills the salvation of all (1 Tim 2.3–6; 2 Pet 3.9). So if, in the end, we see that God did not accomplish this will, or did not will the kind of world within which his will would be accomplished (which is to say that he didn’t consequently will what he antecedently willed—a contradiction and nonsense), and yet freely willed to create a world that would deny his own will—then perhaps the gloomy depths of moral irrationality really do constitute the deepest truth of God our Father. I guess we just never knew him, and so never spoke sensibly of him at all.
Hart’s deliberations in these pages are not far, therefore, from the kind of thinking he’s been doing for years. The Beauty of the Infinite asked whether Christianity’s evangel of peace can proclaim a God who is truth itself and beauty itself without succumbing blissful to the specter of ontological violence. Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God defended the coherence of classical conceptions of God by challenging atheist critics to appreciate those conceptions on their own cogent terms. The Doors of the Sea probed and found wanting many blithe responses Christians utter before unspeakable tragedy, and sought to retain Christian credibility only by renouncing all such claims to rationalize history’s surds. In these and other works Hart has always played the relentless examiner of the Christian picture of God and world, and he did so with the sort of confidence anyone laying claim to know the truth should have—with the conviction, I mean, that such exposure to dialectical fire will only prove the faith still purer, if, that is, it is indeed the truth. It really should not shock us, then, that he regards “the traditional majority view of hell” to be “the single best argument for doubting the plausibility of the Christian faith as a coherent body of doctrine or as a morally worthy system of devotion” (65). One might not get all the fuss, or perhaps one has made existential peace with the prospect that God has the prerogative to be(come?) precisely the contrary to whatever one conceives as “good” in an intelligible sense. But it still seems odd to fault Hart for taking the Christian faith too seriously when it claims to reveal not just some fun facts about God, but very God in the flesh.
Before terminating this section, I should pause to say what Hart’s dialectical argument is not. It is an argument about final outcomes and primordial origins (these are the same—God), not insight into any particular case as particular (60). It’s an argument that all shall be saved, not how that will unfold. Surely the latter is where the true mystery lies. And, really, perhaps that is one way to characterize the fundamental divide in these matters: infernalists perceive divine mystery in the possibility that divine wisdom and power, looming as far above our ken as the heavens above the sea, might freely will a world that it knows cannot accomplish the divine will; but universalists perceive the mystery in the fact that divine wisdom and power, which has assumed for us definite form in Jesus Christ crucified, will somehow accomplish the divine will to save all and so become “all in all” (1 Cor 15.28). Paul, after all, was never thrust into rapturous ecstasy before the brute “beyond” of divine transcendence, as if the grandest mystery of Christ amounts merely to the injunction that we dare not judge him according to the “justice” or “wisdom” he in fact became (1 Cor 1.30; 2 Cor 5.21). And Paul doesn’t think much of the Athenian altar to the “unknown God” except to make that God known (Acts 17.16-34). What does elicit Paul’s utter astonishment and praise and marvel and wonder and worship is his coming to see that “God has shut up all in disobedience that he might have mercy upon all“—”Oh the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom 11.32-3). I tell you a mystery: Christ our God will save all; he alone knows how to penetrate to the core of the most obdurate heart. But do not ask me how!1
Hart’s two dialectical theses unite to form a single substantive argument. If God himself is a rational creature’s ultimate object of desire and truth (thesis 1), and yet that creature might in ignorance forever repel God, then this would mean God freely created that beloved being without the conditions for its own liberation; it would mean, that is, that we could no longer sensibly distinguish God’s act of creating this creature from his act of damning it—a notion which evacuates the very idea of divine goodness of any intelligible content (thesis 2). If we are truly free, we know the Truth; if we do not know the Truth, we are not yet truly free. Thus “true freedom is contingent upon true knowledge and true sanity of mind. To the very degree that either of these is deficient, freedom is absent. And with freedom goes culpability” (177, my emphasis).
At length I circle back to my own basic thesis that Hart’s dialectic implies his rhetoric. If Hart is correct that God is the Good whom we desire even as we desire wrongly and in error, then no error—including the error of infernalism—merits complete culpability. The infernalist is deceived about God to the extent that he or she fails to see that God will save all. And yet this too is a misjudgment made in ignorance. It is an error, in Hart’s view, and so it is irrational, morally moronic, and the rest. It impugns the very nature of God, so what else could it be? Do we not recall that one of the commonest reasons many Fathers rejected certain literal interpretations of scripture, and opted instead for spiritual or mystical readings, is because the literal rendering would be “unworthy of God”? So Hart’s rhetorical stance issues necessarily from his dialectical argument, just as necessarily as denying and ridiculing the possibility that God commanded literal genocide in Joshua was for Origen and Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus and even Augustine (at times) required by our assurance of God’s goodness, mercy, justice, and love.
If I’m right about the rhetoric-dialectic unity autochthonous to Hart’s universalism, then two observations follow.
First, universalism is not a calculative speculation. It is a claim about God’s very being, and indeed a claim that God’s very being is our own deepest and most proper desire. The very logic of universalism demands that it make the most absolute claims, or else it isn’t true at all. Its denial, then, given its truth, can only be held under a veil of ignorance, a necessary symptom of the inability to see something essential to God. This is not some cheap or condescending rhetorical trick. Nor is it a mundane point, as if I mean merely that any error is necessarily an unintentional one, so that immediately consequent upon seeing the truth one renounces one’s prior ignorance. No, I mean rather that if a truth is of God’s very essence, misapprehending or doubting or denying it cannot, under the universalist logic of rational freedom Hart defends, be anything other than an epiphenomenon of ignorance, an unintentional or gnomic wavering of transcendental conviction, a betrayal of one’s own most deep down desire and knowledge of the true God—our delight, our all, our truth, our irresistibly gorgeous love.
Second, universalism, then, inexorably dares to claim that its truth is the very truth every rational creature believes, even as that creature thinks it does not believe it. Willing in error is still itself a sign that one wills God as one’s own ultimate transcendental object and horizon. And choosing to believe the infernalist picture of God is a willing in error. It is therefore not entirely culpable, which is why Hart could never attribute the infernalist’s belief in their belief, as he puts it, to the infernalist’s very person. Hart’s contention throughout the book, which also unifies his rhetoric and dialectic, is that what has become for him an explicit conviction and matter of conscience about the God who creates nothing that he will not save is in fact everyone’s truest and deepest conviction. That, I think, is why he concludes the book with these precise words:
As I say, for me it is a matter of conscience, which is after all only a name for the natural will’s aboriginal and constant orientation toward the Good when that orientation expresses itself in our conscious motives…. Nor do I believe that this is arrogance on my part. For me, the option of such assent simply does not lie open. It is not even conceivable…. We may revere tradition or respect the sincerity of those who tells us all those venerable tales that we are asked to accept on faith. But there is only one path to true freedom, and so to God. In the end, we must love the Good. (208–9)
What profound audacity to presume a correspondence between one’s own eschatological vision and the visio dei! And yet I’ve often heard infernalists make this retort: How could the Church have been in error about this for so long? Leave aside the convenient appeal to “the Church,” whose exact referent almost always eludes. Notice instead how the riposte expresses exasperation, disbelief, even, that God might permit opacity on so grave a matter, and permit it at length. Has it occurred to these protesters that this disbelief is precisely the universalist’s own, though admittedly the latter’s opens upon a far grander scale and about far graver matters? How, after all, could God permit the opacity of devastated creation to prevent so many and for so long from coming to a knowledge of the truth—God’s very self? And to allow—nay, to positively and intentionally summon forth the very conditions for the possibility of—an opacity which misleads and induces ignorance, an ignorance that incurs the most drastic and final and horrifying consequences imaginable to the human soul! So many are loathe to entertain the possibility that “the tradition” might have been wrong or unclear on significant matters, only then not to bat an eye at the possibility—indeed the likelihood—that God has providentially permitted a considerable number of human lives to pass under the thick cloud of finitude, sin, trauma, tragedy, loss, pathology, miscalculation, misperception, malformation, miseducation, and a host of other mostly unwanted constraints that have veiled their own heart’s true desire from them for an eternity of conscious torment and perpetual vanity. God, it seems, would never abide his pilgrim Church to trouble my certainty about such matters; he apparently has little problem allowing the mass of humanity to err unto perdition. And, even more apparently, he certainly cannot brook disbelief about the latter belief, even if that disbelief proves inspired by saints within that same pilgrim Church.
And so it seems that, in the end, the infernalist too presumes a rather tight correspondence between his or her own eschatological view and the very truth God is: infernalism commends God’s sovereign prerogative to call forth creatures from which he has every right to withhold the conditions of their own liberation from ignorance—prevenient and efficacious grace, say. Thus an ardent universalism can seem to them only as a sort of rebellion against God. Infernalists, then, are so profoundly certain of their view that they come to regard those who oppose them as evidence of their view’s veracity. They too dare to wed rhetoric and dialectic. Only they do so against their own deeper and diviner instincts.
😀 That Single Footnote 😀
 This is just how Michel Corbin, SJ, concludes his marvelous (and neglected) work, La grâce de la liberté: Augustin et Anselme (Paris: Cerf, 2012), 359–60. He doesn’t think Paul’s discussion of election and universal salvation in Romans 9–11 yields a “dialectique que l’homme puisse maîtriser,” but it does offer “cette assurance” that Paul’s conclusion in Rom 11.32 is the world’s destiny. In fact, I recommend reading Corbin’s interpretation of Romans 9–11 (in a final chapter called, “La restauration universelle,” 319–60) alongside Hart’s (133–8), since they arrive at the same conclusions.
* * *
Jordan Daniel Wood is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology at Providence College. He wrote and defended his doctoral dissertation on the christological metaphysics of Maximus Confessor at Boston College. Most importantly, he’s the husband of an ICU nurse and father to three daughters under age 5.
Thoughts … I fully sympathize with this “dialectic.” As St. Siluoan said, ” Love could not bear that. ” (any person’s everlasting damnation) But human reasoning in divine matters is limited. “Web do not know as we ought to know … our knowledge is imperfect. And our God is ineffable, inscrutable, in the final analysis. However airtight our logical constructs seem to be, there may be more factors beyond our knowledge to be considered. That the Church never called St. Gregory of Nyssa for his understanding of apokatastasis is curious, in that the majority believe in everlasting damnation. I’m an Orthodox Christian because the Church is one, and I believe that the Holy Spirit has faithfully guided the Church through thick and thin. In light of this, the majority view troubles me.
A thought – gradations of heavenly life. Let’s say, arbitrarily, there are seven heavens (ascending levels of nearness to God). To a person in the sixrh heaven, the third heaven seems dark, even hell-like. Those in the 3rd heaven, seeing the 6th, realize they are missing out on higher joys, and the thought troubles them to some degree. For those in the 1st heaven, who also sees the 6th, the same thought troubles them to a greater degree than those in the 3rd. And it all depends on the the purification of the will away from self-centeredness and self-reliance and toward God-centeredness, a more and more complete orientation toward God. This is an hypothesis, heaven and hell as a continuum, St Gegory’s dynamic understanding of life in the New Jerusalem.
“So many are loathe to entertain the possibility that “the tradition” might have been wrong or unclear on significant matters, only then not to bat an eye at the possibility—indeed the likelihood—that God has providentially permitted a considerable number of human lives to pass under the thick cloud of finitude, sin, trauma, tragedy, loss, pathology, miscalculation, misperception, malformation, miseducation, and a host of other mostly unwanted constraints that have veiled their own heart’s true desire from them for an eternity of conscious torment and perpetual vanity.”
Nicely stated. The reversal of moral umbrage, the sudden turning whereby righteous indignation on behalf of the Church and a particular notion of tradition becomes complacent acceptance of the most outrageous injustice attributed to the God who is Love ought to give pause — ironically manifesting the perdurance of opacity, ignorance still largely unabated. Rhetoric must become poetics to say more . . .
LikeLiked by 2 people
Before reading _That All Shall Be Saved_, I read about a hundred or so reviews & commentaries. Then I procured the audiobook in addition to the written, which helped me with pronunciations (I lack the requisite formal academic background).
The best review & conversations were here at EO is my view. Of those, it seems the best was Cana-like saved for last. This take is my favorite. Thanks!
LikeLiked by 4 people
Thank you, Dr Wood.
I’m not a logician or student of rhetoric. Because I closely read the New Testament (in English – alas, I lack the Greek), and N.T. Wright’s “Big Books”, I came to believe, while still a Protestant Evangelical, that no aspect of God’s character – his justice, or his holiness, or anything else – could tie one hand behind God’s back, so to speak. If God is love and God is truly Good, then Christ’s death on the cross was/is redemptive for all; otherwise, when all is said and done, the devil wins. And I could never believe a story where the devil wins. One reason I became Orthodox is that there is dogmatic space in the liturgical expression of the Church (containing a small table where I’m sitting with St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac of Nineveh) for me to hold that hope.
Secondly, I had 3 children in 4 years. Some days you just put one foot in front of the other and do what needs to be done, and that is a good thing – you don’t need to justify yourself as a parent, if you can catch what I’m saying. God bless you & your wife! Pray whenever you get a quiet moment…
Jordan, what do you make of the charge that DBH has advanced a deterministic view of divine causality, and thus destroyed human freedom?
LikeLiked by 4 people
I’d say three things:
First, what Hart is saying is really not controversial from a classical standpoint. Almost every sort of Platonist–Christian, pagan, Jewish, Islamic–has advocated at least the formal definition of freedom Hart does. St. Anselm, for instance, notes that if “necessity” is necessarily opposed to being free, then God is not free, since God cannot be anything other than who and what he is. So the objection to Hart’s freedom needs to show why the fact that rational freedom must have a determinate end automatically makes it *deterministic* in the strong sense. It’s only in the late 14th century, and especially in the modern era, that freedom comes to be conceived as indeterminacy, as if having a determinate end and being free were mutually exclusive. As Hart says, rational freedom, classically conceived, is a “relation to reality”; or, as Bulgakov would have it, is “a mode of existence,” not an exception to having God as one’s own origin and determinate end.
*I think we can glimpse true freedom–when we are at once passively moved and yet *more* free in our consent–in our own experience. Have you ever “been moved” by a piece of music? By a poem or a homily (less often, surely)? Your spouse on the wedding day? On such occasions, are you *less* free because you’re *passively* moved to know and desire the beauty you experience? I witness the birth of all three of my daughters. When I saw their face, I immediately loved them without qualification, and indeed loving them so was the same thing as truly seeing them. Was I less free because I never felt the choice *not* to love them? Surely not, and surely that’d be a nearly immoral thing to claim. The truth is this: sure, we can choose among relative goods without much determinism, whether from within or without; sure, we can be deceived or mistaken about what something is and therefore whether it is desirable; but in the most important matters, when we are confronted by the absolute significance and final value of a being–a child, a sunrise, an act of supreme love and compassion–we cannot help but *be moved*, we cannot help but love what we see, and the very fact that we did not hesitate to love what we saw and see what we love is itself the sign that, in those moments, we tasted what true freedom really is.
Second, orthodox christology, as Hart mentions, absolutely demands that true freedom exclude (gnomic) choice-between-alternatives. Jesus Christ could not have sinned. Which is a sign not of his deficiency, but of his excellence and perfection. We must recall that St Maximus defended dyothelitism–the doctrine that Christ possessed two wills (bouleseis/voluntates)–because he conceived the faculty of rational will as *an intrinisic mode of nature*, and nature, of course, is what it is because it bears a definite end. If rational freedom, human or divine, were *not* powers of nature, but, say, the state of indeterminate wavering among options, then Maximus would have been wrong and needlessly divisive to insist that Christ possessed two distinct (not separate) wills, and to insist unto death. Jesus Christ could not have sinned *not* simply because he was fully God, but also because he was fully, perfectly, completely, unfailingly *human*. True human beings do not choose among *final* options (they might choose among relative goods), since true human beings know God alone as their love, delight, beginning and end, absolute bliss and joy and fulfillment. Not even death caused Jesus to waver on this, because he knew his Father as his own origin and end, not just as divine, but as human.
Third, and as I emphasized in the reflection, it is crucial to notice that Hart’s two dialectical theses form a *single* unified argument. You need both to comprehend his view (or that of any great universalist in Christian tradition). His argument about rational freedom should not be understood as some general account that explains every *particular* case–how, for instance, that mangled and perverted and despicable will of Hitler will be turned into the truth that lies behind his own will, and with his own consent. Knowing that is the proper and sole work of divine judgment, absolutely inscrutable to us. This is the nature of all our great objects of (certain) eschatological hope. Take the general resurrection–do we know *how* that will occur? Do we know the mechanisms, I mean, by which we will one day be raised in physical continuity with our organic bodies? Will we possess all the same atomic and sub-atomic particles that variously came and went to compose our bodies throughout our earthly life? How will this be? We don’t know. But of course that doesn’t mean we don’t know *that* it will in fact occur. Eschatological hope is not a road map for how each and every soul will embrace its own freedom. It is–as the second thesis makes plain–a deep, faith-fueled conviction that this will occur by God’s omnipotence, omni-wisdom, omni-benevolence, mercy, justice, resourcefulness, unfathomable love. From this vantage, though I do not know precisely *how* the most wicked will turn–I scarcely know how I will turn–I know *that*, somehow, all will, and I know this because the very fact that God created such creatures at all is itself the greatest evidence that they will be saved, for God does not create what he does not or cannot save. God alone knows how to turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.
LikeLiked by 10 people
I think this is all spot on. On the issue of freedom/determinism, I would only want to add a few points.
Firstly, the conception of freedom that always seems to be implicitly assumed by contemporary free-will defences of hell is one that does not really avoid determinism. The confusion on this point seems to arise because people fail to consider the issue at an appropriately fundamental and general level, and, as Jordan Daniel Wood points out, focus instead on our experience of choosing between finite alternatives, within the context of some order of ends and relations with other things that is taken for granted. If human freedom were grounded in a sheer indeterminacy then a genuinely free act would have to be one that is absolutely unrelated either to any origin, other than that indeterminacy, or any end. A choice between tea and coffee would only be free, in this sense, if it were utterly unrelated, causally or intelligibly, to either my thirst, my desire to keep myself awake while reading yet another negative review wilfully misrepresenting Hart’s argument etc., or the broader context of causal or intelligible relations within I am always already immersed. A desire for coffee, rather than tea, is already something determinate. Therefore, the question immediately arises: do I desire coffee, in itself or rather than tea, because it is intrinsically desirable, or is it desirable because I desire it—in other words, because my desire is not a relation to a desired object, but rather a radically indeterminate act on my part? Only the latter is really compatible with the conception of freedom as indeterminacy. In the former case, my will would still be limited and determined and drawn by some “object” (the desirable cup of coffee). In the latter case, freedom becomes something closer to the idea of a sort of wilful assertion, which if pushed far enough is difficult to distinguish from a notion of self-creation, or even more radically, of the indeterminate will’s creation of all givenness.
It may not be immediately clear how this relates to my initial suggestion that the conception of freedom assumed in defenses of hell fails to avoid determinism. It may seem as if it really leads, if we still claim to be speaking about human beings, more in the direction of a sort of extreme libertarian freedom. The connection here is the realisation that when pushed to its ultimate logical consequences, such a conception must, in order to safeguard its grounding in utter indeterminacy, completely abstract from everything that make an individual person the determinate person they are—all of their relations to others, to the rest of the created order, and to God. Here, if anything can be said to be the “subject” of such freedom, it is not me or you, but a completely impersonal indeterminacy/nothingness. Hence, one cannot really say here that “I” choose a cup of coffee, but only that a completely impersonal indeterminate will prior to any of my conscious acts, or any of the objects of those acts, manifests in both (and by extension in everyone and everything else). By the time one gets to the level of the concrete persons and concrete choices one started with (even the concrete choice between God and hell) it is already too late. It seems to me that these reflections are already implied in Hart’s suggestion that a free act understood in this way would be indistinguishable from a brute natural occurrence.
Secondly, and this is related to my earlier points, it seems to me impossible to hold to such a conception of freedom as indeterminacy without necessarily implying that freedom is either intrinsically amoral, or positively evil. This seems evident if one considers what it really means to say that the very same free will can choose, in precisely this way, either God, or hell. If one does not unjustifiably smuggle in certain aspects of the classical conception of freedom which Hart defends, then this surely amounts to the claim that human (and presumably angelic) freedom is, in its very metaphysical nature, something completely neutral with regard to these two “options”. To still count as free, in this debased sense, it could not be a choice for one or the other “option” because it is more intrinsically desirable. It would have to be an utterly irrational and arbitrary willing of one or the other. Not being a theologian, I have no idea whether there are resources in the tradition to make sense of such a notion; however, on the face of it, it seems impossible to reconcile the existence of this sort of absolute neutrality with the orthodox Christian vision of God and creation. It is important to note that neutrality would characterise not only the relation between the choice of a damned individual and God, but also their relation to hell. They would not be choosing hell because it is more desirable to them; rather, their “choice” in either case would really be more like an assertion of the absolute priority of this completely autonomous, indeterminate nothingness as against both determinate options. At this point, attentive readers may recall that the Christian tradition presents us with a certain exemplary figure of such resolute (and hopeless) rebellion against all forms of givenness, in favour a sort of self-creative absolute autonomy. In other words, the conception of freedom assumed by infernalists seems to be fundamentally Luciferian.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Dr. Wood, thanks for further clarifying your and Hart’s views. I agree with your statements about true freedom, especially regarding orthodox Christology. Well said. St Maximos rightly taught that the natural will spontaneously inclines toward the Good and accords with the will of God. Yet the thorny issue remains that gnomic wavering is always possible for those who have yet to become, as you put it, fully, perfectly, completely, unfailingly human. We have no guarantee that all rational creatures will eventually realize their natural orientation to God and embrace true freedom, i.e., become slaves of God (Rom 6:15-23). To argue that God would not create a world in which he could not guarantee this outcome is mere speculation. Some men may always remain slaves to sin.
St Maximos also teaches that the renunciation of false freedom comes through a “voluntary death” (Qu. Thal. 30.2). Men are enslaved to sin, yes, but Scripture says they are willingly enslaved. In turn, men must voluntarily embrace—through the labors of ascetic discipline—their natural will and its corresponding telos or risk forever remaining in an unnatural state. Christ voluntarily submitted to God’s will in humility, even unto death. As we voluntarily die with Christ, we put aside our own (gnomic) will and submit to God’s perfect will. This is the path to true freedom. But God cannot guarantee that “all shall” take this path, namely because of man’s gnomically-oriented fallen state. A man must voluntarily deny himself, take up the cross, and follow Him.
It’s not just “speculation.” If God would create a world like that then he either wouldn’t be Good or would have to have made a compromise with evil. Both options mean God is not God. The logic really is irrefutable. If God is God then all will be saved because of His omnipotent power. And no this doesn’t mean He forces you against your will. It means he takes the darkness from men’s eyes and once they see the light they will never want to go back. Maybe not all in this life, in fact that is sure. But it is inconceivable that He would have the means and desire to enlighten all His creatures and yet would refrain from doing so.
I think they would suggest there is an article that would need to be switched in your assertion that “This is THE path to true freedom.” It seems, they’d suggest that “this is A path to true freedom.” Either way, Christ is still the path. I can imagine that most of those who are “willfully always saying no to God” typically do so because they don’t believe a God to actually exist. In my experience, I can’t think of any person who says “Yes I believe there is a God, and I don’t care.” If they do actually say that, it’s sardonic, and clearly they don’t actually believe that being to exist. Even if they are agnostic to the fact, some proof would inevitably change that outcome. Logically, we could imagine someone “being that person” but that might also be a logical example that doesn’t actually exist. So I would venture to say that speculation is ok there, as experience lends itself to point it to being true. If the thing you never believed to exist shows up, and with the power of what you’d experience in who that person is….I don’t think anyone would be able to say no at that point, not due to a lack of choice, but its unfathomable to see how you actually could.
If we buy the notion that the fires of hell are a purification of the soul to its original state, the gnomic will would no longer be needed and also must be burned away, as it is a will that is also responsible/the vehicle for the bad that we have. Maximus doesn’t seem to suggest, unless I haven’t read it yet, that the Gnomic will is meant to last into eternity. It would essentially be unneeded in the end as the only will that would matter is the natural will inclined towards God as he restores everything to its intended order. You’ve arrived at the original point of it all, and it is no longer necessary for the gnome anymore.
I think…I could be way off here.
Maximus (strange to be speaking to you),
I take special issue with this remark:
“We have no guarantee that all rational creatures will eventually realize their natural orientation to God and embrace true freedom, i.e., become slaves of God (Rom 6:15-23). To argue that God would not create a world in which he could not guarantee this outcome is mere speculation. Some men may always remain slaves to sin.”
Two problems here.
First, the universalist claim is that we have the same sort of “guarantee” about the final destiny of all creatures as we do about the general resurrection: not a step-by-step account of *how* each and every soul will embrace God of their own free rational desire, but only *that* each will. It’s a certainty about the product, not the process. That’s the same with the general resurrection. Can you explain, step-by-step, how exactly every atom and sub-atomic particle which has materially constituted our organic bodies will one day, having dissolved and constituted other organic bodies, be raised in identifiable continuity with our current body? Of course not. No one can fathom such a process. But is that therefore a reason to deny our certainty *that* such will in fact occur? No. That’s often the nature of eschatological hope, which is based in faith’s certainty (Heb 11.1). It’s no different for the universalist thesis.
Second, if it is “mere speculation” to be certain that all will be saved, it is no less speculative (in this deflated sense) to be certain that all can forever reject God. How do you know this about what is finally possible? You will point to Christ, scriptures, the tradition, etc. The universalist does the same. Best, then, not to pretend that any side is innocent of “speculation” in this sense. And so when you say, “some men may remain may always remain slaves to sin,” this is something you claim to know about *final* possibilities, and you seem to claim this by assuming that what is currently and provisionally the case for imperfect human freedom is also finally and definitely the case for the prospects of final freedom. But that is itself a thesis which requires an argument, especially given that Christ has in himself revealed both that perfect human freedom is not gnomic and that perfect divine will is for the salvation of all (1 Tim 2.3-6). That is, you must make an argument about why God’s will might actually fail, why and how, that is, God has made rational freedom such that it has the “capacity” (actually an incapacity) to resist God, or fail to know God, or both and in perpetuity. Your argument will be speculative too. Thus either speculation can be can be shown to be correct–and so calling the universalist thesis speculative begs the question; or speculation can never be shown to be correct, and so your speculation about final possibilities is itself more than anyone could ever claim, and so should be ignored. (Though even the latter requires an argument for why and how we know this limitation).
The universalist case claim is far more modest: God alone is our own freely desired, ultimate satisfaction; and God alone is so infinitely good and resourceful as to know *how* to drag all to himself (Jn 12), as he undeniably wills to do. We don’t need to know how he will do this to know that it is true.
LikeLiked by 5 people
Thanks for the feedback, Dr. Wood.
To your first point, I certainly agree that no one can explain the mechanics of the general Resurrection. It stands as a clearly revealed truth, not a teaching that needs to be explained in order to be believed. Because of its revealed nature, we can have assurance about its fulfillment. But to claim such certainty is “no different for the universalist thesis” overlooks the fact that universalism seems to deny other clearly revealed aspects of the faith—namely, human free will—whereas the Resurrection does not. The actual process only needs to be considered when other fundamental teachings are involved/threatened. To make a convincing case for universalism, it must be demonstrated how free will remains intact. The burden of my comment was to state that arguments for universalism, the “product,” cannot demonstrate such a “process” and thus ought not be believed.
To your second point, I did not claim it was mere speculation “to be certain that all will be saved.” I was making a more specific claim, namely, “To argue that God would not create a world in which he could not guarantee this outcome is mere speculation.” More importantly, however, when I state, “Some men may always remain slaves to sin,” I make such a claim (again) on the basis of Revelation. And notice the qualifier, “may.” With all we have received from Christ, the Scriptures, the Tradition, etc., wouldn’t you admit this claim to be the more modest? Your point about God’s will applies here, since God’s will indeed “fails” every day when I break fellowship with Him. Is it not possible such apostasy may continue in perpetuity? The Church, in the vast majority, has “speculated” that, yes, it may. And for some, like Cain, Judas, and the satanic spirits to whom they’ve submitted their wills, it does. Of course, this brings us back to Revelation. Either the mind of the Church authoritatively counts for something, or it’s just your speculation (with supporting arguments) verses mine. I’m happy to live with some doctrinal ambiguity, but in this case, thankfully, we don’t have to.
Far be it from me to interpose myself between a man and his determination to believe the incredible, but please attend to the actual structure of the argument here. There is a reason why the two sides of the question, in all their simplicity, must not be separated.
1) If a rational spirit should eternally reject God, that act by definition would not be a free act, but a form of bondage to error, delusion, and emotional injury. It may be possible, but it could not be truly free in any meaningful sense, and thus the moral defense of the idea of eternal perdition as the result of creaturely freedom proves to be false. Thus, also,
2) If God should create a world in which he allows so much as one spirit to descend into eternal torment as a result of bondage to error, delusion, and emotional injury, without ever really having had the freedom to do otherwise, then he has positively willed an evil outcome and is not good (much less the Good).
There is no speculation involved here at all. There is only a clear definition of terms. By the simplest and most inevitable logic of what it would require to perform a truly free action or make a truly free choice, the eternal free rejection of God on the part of a rational spirit is simply a contradictory idea. By the simplest and most inevitable logic of what is entailed in the claim that God wills only the Good that he himself is, the notion that he would directly or permit eternal dereliction for a rational creature is nonsensical.
Since I imagine you do not want to reach the conclusion that God is evil, or that he is a finite being capable of both good and evil, I am going to have to suppose that you are not thinking through the implications of your own speculations.
LikeLiked by 7 people
Dr. Hart, your comments here are helpful. They crystallize the argument for me. As a traditionalist on this issue, I seek through my counterarguments not only to defend what seems to be the Church’s teaching but also to understand the entire argument better. Debate often serves well the cause of truth. So, thanks for clarifying.
I’m sure you realize that my determination to believe the traditional teaching stems largely from a certain ecclesiology. I believe the nature of the Church is pivotal for all theological debate, and such an ecclesial commitment can fall anywhere on the spectrum between fideism and rationalism. I hope I’ve struck a healthy balance. Christians nevertheless ought to feel no shame in confessing, “I believe in one…apostolic Church.” If the Church does not epitomize the Apostolic faith, shall we then be saved by logical arguments? To whom shall we go? So run my own presuppositional thought processes concerning the importance of the Church on this issue.
With that said, I concede that your argument compels a response. It must be answered with either hearty assent or sufficient counterargument. Perhaps some will just dismiss it, but I don’t. Yet, even with your clarifying remarks, there are still elements that irk me. For instance, when you assert, “…the eternal free rejection of God on the part of a rational spirit is simply a contradictory idea.” The fallen angels certainly situate under the category of “rational creature,” and so their redemption is also ensured in your schema, is it not? Indeed, hell was expressly “prepared for the devil and his angels,” and if hell’s sanative purpose applies to all rational creatures who encounter its influence, why should it not apply to those for whom it was explicitly fashioned?
I appreciate your concession under point (1) that “it may be possible” for a rational spirit to eternally reject God. Agreed. Yet, of course, your point (2) precludes this could ever be the case in our world. If God “allows so much as one spirit” to remain eternally in hell, he would be an evil creator. Again, though, the fallen angels certainly count as created spirits. According to the logic, then, the devil and the demons shall be saved. How could God create them, damn them eternally, and yet still remain—under your clear definition of terms—the Good? Since God wills only the Good that he himself is, divine moral rectitude seems to demand Satan’s salvation.
These are the implications of your logic, Dr. Hart. Yet don’t they contradict Hebrews 2:14-16? Christ assumed flesh and blood on behalf of those share the same, so that He, through death, might render ineffectual the one who holds the power of death, the Slanderer, and thus liberate His human brethren, i.e., the seed of Abraham. Yet “surely he does not reach out to angels.” These fleshless powers and principalities receive no liberating help from the incarnate Christ. Their sins are not expiated by the merciful High Priest who assumed our flesh and blood (cf. Heb 2:17). But your logical system seems to require the opposite—namely, that all rational spirits be saved lest God be an evil creator.
These are the sort of perceived peccadilloes that keep emerging as I think through your argument. Various points seem to rub against Revelation in an uncomfortable way. And since Scripture, not reason, is our canon, it seems to me that this is why our Tradition has consistently taken the traditional view on eschatology.
I have a question Maximus. Do you really think it is possible that reason and revelation should be opposed? I don’t mean the vain imaginings and “human wisdom” that is not the wisdom of God, but do you really believe Truth can be opposed to Revelation? In your position you seem to always have to defend an absurd duality that pits God against Himself. I don’t think Truth and Scripture contradict one another. The fact that you say “Scripture, not reason, is our canon” leads me to believe that you lean much more to fideism than you let on. After all, how do you even know that Scripture is canon unless you use your reason? You made a judgment to follow Christianity, not Hinduism, etc.
Why do you think so many of the Fathers “spiritualized” the imprecatory psalms and books like Joshua, etc? We know why, their clear and explicit testimony is that such a literal reading “isn’t befitting of the Almighty Creator.” Why can’t all of the metaphorical images of hell be just that, metaphors and parables etc. since they also don’t seem to be worthy of the Ineffable One. In fact it would be very traditional to read these passages as such since it is using the same criterion as the Fathers. Why not trust the clear and explicit promises of universal salvation and realize when God desires something it ultimately comes to pass? “Infernalism” puts far too much emphasis on human desires and power and not enough trust in the power of the Lord of All to accomplish his desires in my estimate.
LikeLiked by 1 person
TJF, by asserting Revelation and not reason to be the Christian canon, we are merely demonstrating a hierarchy among principles of authority, not diametric opposition. To your question about the cursing psalms: it was not logical argument that evoked their allegorical rendering by the fathers, but rather the deposit of apostolic faith, the new Revelation in Christ’s fulfillment of the Scriptures, that illumined their “other meaning.” No such Revelation has been given since. But since you bring up the psalms, do you recall who were the allegorical recipients of those divinely-inspired curses?
You don’t think the Fathers thought highly of logical argument? My patience is getting exhausted. What a bizarre and nonsensical claim. There is no hierarchy of principles. There is identity. Truth manifests itself and is itself whether or not it is Scripture or reason. All truth is found in Christ. Of course the enemies of the imprecatory psalms were interpreted as demons. But even then not all Fathers thought that demons should receive nothing but our contempt. St. Isaac comes to mind…
Thanks, TJF. Sorry to exhaust you. I agree there is no hard line between “general” and “special” revelation. Human philosophy is not intrinsically bad, just subservient to the guidelines of revealed truth. As long as we retain the “ancient boundary markers that your fathers set,” reason and revelation can fit together seamlessly.
I would just add, TJF, that Isaac is certainly a marvelous saint. As is St. Peter, who (briefly) practiced Judiazing; as is St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who taught a temporary kingdom of Christ on earth; as is St. Gregory of Nyssa who asserted apokatastasis; as is St. Augustine of Hippo, who ascribed to absolute divine simplicity and the filioque. These saints all represent beautiful examples of living faith in their written corpus, but they also share a common denominator: the Church has not followed them in their missteps.
That seems to be the fundamental difference between you and me. You think apokatastasis is a “misstep” that has been absolutely and irrevocably rejected by the Church. I do not. I see two distinct traditions that are diametrically opposed and both cannot be true. The majority view (eternal punishment) and the minority view (apokatastasis), but I would say that neither has been absolutely affirmed nor rejected by the Church. Thinking so against all the latest scholarship seems to me to be based on a defective view of Tradition. Is Tradition for you holding onto a static, inert and ossified deposit or is it maintaining continuity with that which was from the beginning, the dynamic life of the Church in the Spirit?
So yes, apokatastasis is the minority view and as DBH says probably always will be (until the end), but there is no consensum partum on this issue, just 2 distinct traditions neither of which has been dogmatically sealed, in my opinon.
LikeLiked by 2 people
It is not just your opinion TJF, but it is a brute fact for the Eastern Orthodox: there has been no dogmatic determination about the duration of hell.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Many, many elements of the Orthodox faith have no “dogmatic determination” attached, if by such nomenclature you mean explicit definition by an Ecumenical Council. This fact is both the beauty and bane of Orthodox theology. Desiring such immaculate definition seems to signal a legalistic mindset characteristic of Roman Catholic dogmatics. RC’s have it all “nailed down.” Orthodox don’t. The consensus on apokatastasis, however, seems indisputable. Just pick up any Orthodox “dogmatics” handbook; we aren’t haggling over minutia here, but well-known basics of the faith. Hart honestly concedes this overwhelming majority on universalism and bravely stands with the few, and he has my respect for crafting a tight argument and standing by it. Perhaps only after the dust settles will the “pillar and foundation of the truth” make its mind on the current debate more explicit. As it stands, though, it already seems pretty clear to me.
Honest question: If the Church did, somehow, more fully clarify its position in opposition to apokatastasis, would you submit to such theological leadership and recant the teaching?
It is only baneful to those who cannot abide dissent, who must silence all by the wielding about of unassailable dogma. Don’t lose your soul, move on.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Maximus, I have a couple of things to note here before I give my answer because it isn’t a simple yes or no. First off just because the majority believes something does not mean that is what is true. I don’t think I should have to give an argument for that, but I will if need be, but it seems self-evident. There are examples from church history. Most people by the time of the council of Nicea were subordinationists. The reason why St. Athanasius is aka Athanasius contra mundum is because he was almost all alone in the fight against Arianism. That’s one example of how a wildly popular tradition can be completely overturned by the minority and in fact mainly due to the efforts of even one man. We also see this in your namesake in the fight against monothelitism for which he suffered at the hands of the church so severely. So I would urge you that it doesn’t seem credible to me to believe, as you seem to, that apokatastasis is the clear error just because it is the minority position. Nicean trinitarian theology, dyotheletism was also the minority view for a long time, now it is not. The arguments of the Fathers didn’t rely on the fact that the Truth was the majority view, they used Scripture and logic in order to enunciate what Revelation actually was which is why I think it is so insane to pit them against one another and to believe that the majority view should automatically be given any credence whatsoever in light of church history and just basic life experience. Sure the majority view should be taken seriously and be given an answer, which I think DBH has done satisfactorily. I am convinced.
Secondly, I don’t believe it is possible for the Church to teach error, so if a governing body did start teaching error, I would understand that to mean that whatever that body is would have gone astray from the Church. It’s not so simple a question of would I abandon the church or would I crucify my intellect and remain? I would consider it tantamount to blasphemy to force myself to believe something I am certain is false. I do understand that I do not know everything and if I am in error, I would ask God to forgive me and enlighten me to follow the true Light that enlightens the world. If ever there was a council in my lifetime that did absolutely without question affirm eternal torment, then yes I am sure this would produce schism with those believing in apokatastasis following what I would consider Truth and abandoning the schismatic body that declared error. That’s exactly what you would think, except the reverse. I was a Roman Catholic before converting to the EO Church. Why did I do it? I found what I believed to be error and am doing my best to follow the Truth. It’s a delicate balance of trying to discern where the Spirit is active and leading one and I can’t say I know for absolute certain whether I am following His will or mine. May God grant the gift of discernment to me. And I know I have been short with you in some of our exchanges. Please forgive me any offense I have caused you. I am still early on in my ascetic endeavors to purify my heart. May you have a blessed Lent and may God aid you in your struggle in the arena with the demons that is fast approaching.
LikeLiked by 2 people
TJF, I really appreciate your comments. I take them all to heart, though I believe there may exist further questions concerning the dynamics of “consensus” and “majority,” questions I am not competent to answer. May God grant you many blessings during this Great Lent. And as Forgiveness Sunday approaches quickly, I ask yours as well. Peace to you, and thanks for the conversation.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I begin by saying I am not seeking confrontation, and I am treating the notion of universalism as seriously as my capabilities allow.
This is telling – I tell you a mystery: Christ our God will save all; he alone knows how to penetrate to the core of the most obdurate heart. But do not ask me how!
And yet one gets the impression that something is missing from universalism.
It seems to me that universalism seeks to justify our incomplete (and subsequently erroneous) view of God. God took all responsibility on the cross. We are required to accept our responsibility for our actions – claiming that we are incapable to do this seems to cut through the doctrine of salvation.
Scripture teaches us that a couple were created without evil, were placed is an ideal garden, could commune directly with God, were offered access to eternal life, and yet were tempted to choose the knowledge of good and evil. How would universalism hope to cope with this, when they espouse freedom as being with God, and now we are free only after all things are renewed?
On the HOW of salvation, scripture is clear, and we are required to make a fundamental decision to reject evil in our nature and turn to God to help us choose the good, and be transformed in Christ. This requires a free and informed act from each human.
How can universalism teach we are not free, when we must be free to truly repent?
I am not sure in what sense you are using the word “free” when you say universalism teaches we are not free, or what you mean when you say we must be “free” to repent?
Hart’s basic idea is that a free choice is only free if a deliberate one made with full knowledge of the facts and free from any mental confusion or uncontrollable irrational impulses preventing a considered choice being made.
If anyone freely and rationally chooses hell over God, then either their nature is such that there is some unhappiness or lack that they would experience with God, or such that for them there is some good or advantage they can only gain in hell. In either case, that would be a deliberate choice by God to make them that way such that they would be or might be at risk of being damned to hell.
Alternatively, if someone chooses hell because they are (through sin or otherwise) chained by ignorance, confusion or irrational impulses, then they have not made a free choice at all. In these circumstances, although they have not freely chosen hell at all, still God either deliberately chooses not to relieve them of their chains, or (assuming it is logically possible at all for God to make a burden too heavy for himself to lift) has deliberately made them and contrived things such that their salvation becomes impossible even for God.
In either case, so Hart reasons, we are completely wrong about the loving nature of God, and he is nothing like Jesus says or demonstrates him on the cross to be.
Nothing in universalism suggests we are not free to reject God for as long as we care to do so: the assertion is that since we are created by God for the purpose of being with him and that is the ultimate end of our natures, that is our inevitable end, even if we only get there by the most tortuous route of our own free devising by exhausting every possible way to be wrong.
George, you’ve read ‘That All Shall Be Saved,’ yes? If yes, let’s bring the author of the book which Jordan has reviewed into the conversation, rather than merely talking in generalities. Please cite specific arguments, with quotations, that Hart makes and then write your response.
If you haven’t read Hart’s book, then you need to read it first and see how Hart addresses your concerns.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes Fr Kimel – I am re-reading Gregory’s the making of man, and if in this reading I am convinced the saint supports universalism than I will make an effort to read Hart’s book.
My compliments, George. Reading St Gregory is no easy task. But no matter what you decide about Gregory’s universalist faith, I do ask you to read That All Shall Be Saved if you wish to continue the present conversations, which presuppose an acquaintance with Hart’s arguments. I think you will find that he discusses many of your concerns. Thanks.
Since I have a distinct dog in this fight, I feel I must respond to this.
QUOTE: “If God had respected my free will, I would still be involved in a panoply of sins so disgusting and heinous that I will not mention them here. Or I would now be long dead and gone from this world. Given the severity of my wickedness and the insanity of my actions, I think probably the latter. Think of the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s and imagine every licentious, dirty, and wicked thing that the Movement promoted. That was me, and that was my “free will choice,” so to speak. I loved the sins of the flesh, I had declared myself an atheist, and I despised Christians. I wanted nothing at all to do with them or their Jesus. That was my free will. Go away God! Go away Christians!
So how did I come to the point of repenting and turning to Christ in sorrow for my sins? Did God overtake and remove my free will, eliciting from me a robotic response of repentance which He desired? Was my will violated in such a manner that I had no choice but to do what I was told?
No, God simply let me “run out my string.”
There is a saying in the Twelve Steps book of AA which says that you cannot make an addict change until he has hit the bottom and is watching his last bubble of air float to the surface. That is exactly what God did with me, allowing me to, of my own “free will,” hit the bottom and realize that all the “fun” I was having was about to kill me. Far from the sense of carnal excitement I felt when I took my first hit of marijuana, my life had become, in four years of unrestrained hedonism, a joyless tedium racked with sorrow and drug-induced psychosis. I was in deep trouble and I knew it, filled with suicidal thoughts but dreadfully scared of the black void which my atheism said was the ultimate end of man. Of my own free will, I began an intense search for the garden gate which offered escape from this fool’s paradise into which I had eagerly dashed. No one had to tell me it was get out or die – and no one was coercing me! I had come to the point that I knew it was the only option left for me. Yet even then, I could have chosen to shake my fist at God and die. I took the choice to live and began my search.
The gate out of my individual hell came in the shape of a cross.
Did God in any way violate my free will? Or did He simply allow me to come to a point where the foolishness, the vanity, and the destructiveness of my choices could no longer be ignored, and the “joys” of unrestrained hedonism were not worth the price I was paying?”
This description, from a longer post on my blog site, goes to the heart of the issue. In this life, there are many conditions which keep us in a state of deception. As DBH says, only when we have come to the point of realizing the truth can we make a clear and informed decision with a will that is truly free. You cannot take modern man, with his Lexus in his garage, his 72″ flat scree TV, money in the bank, and political freedom (I speak particularly of American politics) and convince him that he needs to repent and turn to Christ? Why should he? Life is good for him and he is convinced that God is on his side. He thinks this way precisely because he has not seen himself in truth – his pride, his noxious selfishness, his lack of love, etc – and therefore feels no need.
One second (if there is such an existence of chronological time there) in eternity seeing He who is truly the desire of our hearts, will change that all. The man who refuses church because the NFL is playing on Sundays, whose greed says “This money is mine. How dare you suggest I give it to the lazy poor,” whose whole heart is wrapped up in himself, will see clearly that the best for him is to step out of himself and leave that shell of sin behind.
No, there is no way that I was free or that anyone else in this cursed and darkened existence can be said to be truly free. Only when all deceit is stripped away and the soul stands seeing its true telology standing before it will it be free. And to the hellists who then say that it is then too late – you have no idea of what the love and will of God in that love truly is. For Him – it is never too late.
God did not violate my free will at all. He just changed the locus of its desire by letting me experience truth.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I sometimes wonder if there is a tension that exists in both perspectives because there is a tension in audience that both Paul and the Nyssen seem to address. The former brings up this point in 1 Cor. and the later brings this point up in his Catechism.
For Instance: 1 Cor. 1:18-20 (NRSV)
“18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
The tension I mean is what it takes to convince someone who is Jewish(signs/”Power”) or “Greek”(wisdom/”reason”). I can’t help but notice that most of our “Power” texts which lend themselves to depictions of eternal judgement, always seem to fall within the context of heavy Judaic audiences. Even when you take someone like Luke, as someone who is recounting what he’s heard or investigated, it’s from that particular perspective. There is also a commonality that would not be foreign to people within that context. Israel had a long history of judgement that felt, i’m sure at times, eternal (ie Babylonian Captivity, the Wilderness, etc.) However, all the pain that they endured, ultimately always led to a restoration. No matter what the sin, from the beginning to the advent of Christ, the story is wrapped up in choosing against the good, paying for it, and then being restored full tilt. IF we look at Matthew 25:46 that way, one can see that he use of Kelasis would imply a torment that would be corrective until the time determined by God. That, to me, is no different than the wilderness, captivity, etc. I think the average Jewish listener would have understood this point. Choose life to avoid all that pain and suffering that our people seem to always want to choose. Coupled with the signs that go along with it, you have your tool of understanding for them. This is sprinkled through the synoptics. Even Paul uses the idea of perishing above because the audience is mixed. He uses both examples to make his point.
Now on the other hand, you have your Pauline turn. The apostle to the “Greeks” who would have to use the tools of their understanding to communicate to them. You take all of his philosophical musings, and they are pointed to churches who would have been much more rooted in “greek” understandings. Everything from Mars Hill to rich Pagan converts, to the well learned Hellenized Jew, would have seen the world in the view of everyone from the Stoics, to Plato, and more. Paul may merely be using the tool of reckoning he knows he has to use. Gregory sets his Catechism up the same way. If you talk to this type of person, here is your dilemma. If you talk to that kind of person, here is your dilemma.
I find it kind of interesting that even when you take someone like Peter, who we know that while being open to “Greeks” still waffled heavily towards the Judaizing side of the argument, his reference about torment is also mixed with a metaphor that strikes of Paul, even using the same language of patience and “all to repentance” in 2 Peter. Revelation is no different if we accept Hart’s conclusion about who actually wrote Revelation as coming from a Jewish Christian perspective.
(side note: I don’t know the literal Greek to know if it actually says the destruction of the Godless in 2Peter 3:7 although, according the the logic listed above, no one could technically every be Godless. If it does, that again could be an example of Power/Fear, as we’ve referenced before from that perspective. Even Christ says fear the one who can kill the soul. Not that God would, but I imagine He reasonably could exercise that power if He so wished. )
Anyway…just a thought, maybe wrong but strikes me as something to consider. To the “greeks” in all of us, maybe we just side on that side of the message. To the “jews” among us, maybe we see the power and fear as a reminder of who exactly is in charge. Maybe the overarching point, as Hart I believe has shown, is that it is both in the text and with the Fathers. Maybe it’s just about picking the appropriate metaphor and coming to the same conclusion through a winding path of context.
Thanks as usual, guys.
Pingback: Is the Past Permanent? – S L O W – W O R M
After reading several reviews, I finally read the book for myself. And like Jordan says, I think the complaints of bilious rhetoric were largely overblown. In fact, by DBH standards, it could almost be described as restrained.
On the theme of rhetoric, I think it’s important to note the social and political context in which the book is being received. I don’t think there’s any doubt that one’s tribal affiliations, especially within the church itself, will play a large part in how one responds to the book.
For the more “conservative” wing–I have in mind Evangelicals and so-called “Trad Caths,” among others–the last 50 years or so could be characterized as a period of catastrophic “progressivism” wherein traditional church “morals” and dogmas have been subverted by secular forces from without and reformers from within. The west is undoubtedly post-Christian, and regarding social issues one might say *militantly* post-Christian. The “culture war” flashpoints, perhaps with the exception of abortion, have all been trending in a more “liberal” direction.
So I can’t help but wonder if many will view Universalism as just another post-Christian sentimentality re-packaged in Christian grammar, another surrender to the forces of secular modernity for whom Christian tradition is nothing but the history of bigotry, misogyny, sectarian violence, and authoritarianism.
It is no such thing, but I fear that will be the perception. And the rhetorical challenge for Universalists will be to disentangle all of the peripheral issues and presuppositions that color one’s judgement such that the otherwise straightforward arguments are considered apart from that quagmire of attrition.
The two most “progressive” secular ideologies are, as I see it, the newer post modern radical inclusive liberalism that insists all things must be permitted and everyone and everything accepted without reservation, and the older socialist progressivism with its vision of a future socialist nirvana where crime, poverty and sicknesses be eliminated. What are these, though, but the atheist, secular equivalents of universalism and apokatastasis respectively? I think Hart is right that these things are the inevitable logical conclusions of the Christian message. Rather than, then, to say that upholding these beliefs would be a surrender to modern sensibilities, I think it could be said that the rise of these secular progressive ideologies is itself directly traceable from Christian thought. They derive directly from the Christian promise that it should be and will be on earth as in heaven, and that all should be and will be invited to the feast. It is because the Church will not accept these things, and insists on hell and infernalism, that the secular progressive, sensing that these are things which ought to be and will be, has abandoned the Church that will not accept them and seeks (futilely) to fulfil by human means alone what the Church ought to be preaching is the promise of God.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I would like to add to Jordan Woods and David Hart’s admirable exchange with Maximus what may not need explanation, but I surmise the latter may still insist that definition of terms and logic are somehow “outside the tradition.” Such a view is getting pretty close to what Catholics call invincible ignorance. In any event, it may be helpful to clarify that to refuse the definition of terms as Woods and Hart explain ultimately nullifies any analogical purchase on the Good, retreating into a fideism that is convertible with what Hart has appropriately called theological nihilism. In short, the universalist argument is not a metaphysical imposition cast over revelation which is telling a different story (this is a common claim by traditionalists who resist apokatastasis,) rather it is the proper teasing out of the metaphysics implicit in revelation. Ironically, it is the infernalist who projects onto scripture a speculative metaphysical understanding that is foreign to the Gospel.
LikeLiked by 4 people
Such a handy lever ‘tradition’ comprises, but let us not pay attention to the man behind the curtain.
Thanks for that Brian, some crucially important points you underline here.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Dr. Wood, have read the Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott and That all may be saved by DBH. I find the conclusions to be inescapable. However, I have one question in regard to your article. You state that “On this account, Maximus perceives, really we owe our eternal reward to two fundamental principals, God and evil, since only through the work of both were we made whole without threat of further dissolution.” To be frank I don’t understand how evil can be a fundamental principal by which we are made whole. Isn’t evil a fundamental principal that would lead to further dissolution?
Your worry is the the one I attribute to Maximus. We agree that evil cannot act as a co-eternal principle of creation, let alone of its perfection (which is the same, really). Maximus’s further point is that imagining that we could behold God in full knowledge and then have it in us to refuse God suggests that there is something in us that does not take its primordial origin and end from God himself; or, to put it bluntly, God is not the creator of all that is in us, since apparently even our voluntary power presents an obstacle he cannot contend with, or knows not how to.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Let me see if I understand this. The premise that DBH argues from is that rejection of God is only properly understood as ignorance of God. If a person were not ignorant of God, they would do what is in their nature to do and choose God. When not constrained against their will birds fly, fish swim, dogs chase cats and people choose God. The very fact of not choosing God is an indicator that there are still constraints to the expression of one’s human nature. A simple yes or no will do.
LikeLiked by 1 person
According to my understanding, I’d say yes.
This is a penetrating and thoughtful review. Per Aristotle, “ἡ ῥητορική ἐστιν ἀντίστροφος τῇ διαλεκτικῇ.” Were I still teaching classical rhetorical theory, I’d use this piece as exemplary. I’ve followed the TASBS controversy and read the attacks with skepticism. Time to read DBH. Grateful to be able to do so with this essay under my belt. Cheers
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you, Steve.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Shhh. Jordan is very clever, but we’re trying not to let him know, out of solicitude for his spiritual wellbeing.
LikeLiked by 2 people