Apprehending Apokatastasis: Ravished by Irresistible Love

“No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it.”

Five years ago David Bentley Hart delivered a now much-discussed lecture titled “God, Creation, and Evil.” When I watched the video of the lecture, the above-quoted lines jumped out at me. It was a quiet eureka moment. Everything fell into place. Of course, I said to myself, how could it be otherwise? That God is the Good whom all human beings seek I had been taught by my parish priest when I entered the Episcopal Church decades ago. I later came to hope, thanks to St Augustine, that the grace of God is irresistible. I likened it to falling in love. Does the lover choose to fall in love? Certainly not in the way one chooses to order bacon rather than sausage for breakfast. All lovers know the existen­tial difference. Falling in love comes as astonishment and revelation. “Here is the woman I have been looking for. Here is the one who completes me.” The choice is embedded in the recognition. To be in the presence of one’s beloved is perfect joy; to be joined to her in coital congress, rapture. Lovers find each other enthralling. They see each other with the eyes of God: “You are altogether beautiful; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Songs 4:7). They are drawn togeth­er, as if by some kind of gravitational or magnetic force. Frequently they will invoke the language of slavery, even madness, when speaking of their mutual attraction—yet it is a slavery of utter freedom and an insanity of delight and truth. They are filled with an intensity of life they have never known. Their one joy is to give them­selves to their beloved and become one flesh and one soul.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Lovers know they will adore and cherish each other forever. They cannot imagine a future apart from their beloved. They exchange solemn vows and promises. Their bond tran­scends the hardships and limits of time.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

Surely this must be what it will be like when we see God face to face. All doubts and hesitations will vanish; all obstinacy forever banished. Here is the true happiness I have been searching for all my life, though I did not know it. Here is the abundant life that conquers death. Even the ecstasy of lovers will be infinitely eclipsed.

“Falling in love”—a door, I propose, through which we might enter to understand Hart’s vision of apokatastasis and human freedom. I do not say it is the best door, nor do I know if David would approve. But his writings reveal an author who is passionate about many things. Perhaps he secretly writes love poetry or watches “Shakespeare in Love” once a year.  A nonsentimental case for the eroticism of the God-human relation can be made. The Holy Scriptures, after all, contain the Song of Songs, one of the most beautiful love poems in all of literature, and many of the saints have written commentaries on it. In his first homily on the Song, St Gregory of Nyssa writes:

Therefore since it is Wisdom who speaks, love her as much as you are able, with your whole heart and strength; desire her as much as you can. To these words I am bold to add, “Be in love,” for this passion, when directed toward things incorporeal, is blameless and impassible, as Wisdom says in Proverbs when she bids us to be in love with the divine Beauty.

In in his sixth homily, commenting on 3:1-8:

What is higher than to be in the One who is the object of desire and to receive the object of desire within oneself? But in this situation too she bewails the fact that she is needy for the Good. As one who does not yet have what is present to her desire, she is perplexed and dissatisfied, and she broadcasts this perplexity of her soul in her story, describing in her account how she found the one she sought.

Charles Williams speaks of romantic love as a foretaste of heaven: when we fall in love, “a sudden apprehension of the Good takes place.” Human lovers mirror our encounter with the divine. To know the Good is to desire the Good; to know Love is to surrender to Love. The metaphysics of the Good and human consciousness is difficult to grasp, but we know some­thing about the irresistibility of love, if not by direct experience then through literature and cinema.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

We return to the featured sentences. Hart has incorporated them in That All Shall Be Saved, with minor changes:

But to me it seems 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. (pp. 79-80; emphasis mine)

Note the addition of the response of obedience. The embrace of the Good immediately engenders the obedience of love. The will of the lover freely conforms itself to the will of the beloved. But perhaps we need to reverse the roles. In the biblical narrative God is the Lover who has, in Christ, made us the objects of his mercy. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And this love arouses within the soul a reciprocal love for the divine lover. “For when God loves,” writes St Bernard of Clairvaux, “he desires only to be loved in return. His love’s only purpose is to be loved, as he knows that all who love him are made happy by their love of him” (quoted in The Experience of God, p. 276).

Sinners most especially know that it is only by the ravishment of God that they may attain the liberty of the blessed.

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

But does this not sound like some kind of determinism? Here is Hart’s answer:

For those who worry that this all amounts to a kind of metaphysical determinism of the will, I may not be able to provide perfect comfort. Of course it is a kind of determinism, but only at the transcendental level, and only because rational volition must be determinate to be anything at all. Rational will is by nature the capacity for intentional action, and so must exist as a clear relation between (in Aristotelian terms) the “origin of motion” within it and the “end” that prompts that motion—between, that is, its efficient and final causes. Freedom is a relation to reality, which means liberty from delusion. This divine determinism toward the transcendent Good, then, is precisely what freedom is for a rational nature. Even God could not create a rational being not oriented toward the Good, any more than he could create a reality in which 2 + 2 = 5. That is not to deny that, within the embrace of this relation between the will’s origin and its end in the Good (what, again, Maximus the Confessor calls our “natural will”), there is considerable room for delibera­tive liberty with regard to differing finite options (what Maximus calls the “gnomic will”), and considerable room in which to stray from the ideal path. But, even so, if a rational creature—one whose mind is entirely unimpaired and who has the capacity truly to know the substance and the consequences of the choice confronting him or her—is allowed, without coercion from any force extrinsic to his or her nature, to make a choice between a union with God in bliss that will utterly fulfill his or her nature in its deepest yearnings and a separation from God that will result in endless suffering and the total absence of his or her nature’s satisfaction, only one truly free choice is possible. A fool might thrust his hand into the flame; only a lunatic would not then immediately withdraw it. To say that the only sane and therefore free natural end of the will is the Good is no more problematic than to say that the only sane and therefore free natural end of the intellect is Truth. Rational spirit could no more will evil on the grounds that it is truly evil than the intellect could believe something on the grounds that it is certainly false. So, yes, there is an original and ultimate divine determinism of the creature’s intellect and will, and for just this reason there is such a thing as true freedom in the created realm. As on the cross (John 12:32), so in the whole of being: God frees souls by dragging them to himself. (pp. 178-179; emphasis mine)

Hart bites the bullet. Yes, humanity is determined to the Good, but we must not think of this determinism as a kind of violence or external coercion.  It does not constrict our freedom but creates and establishes it. Apart from this innate relation of reason to the Good, the Beauti­ful, and the True—in other words, God—we would not will anything at all. Volition is intrin­sically teleological. We act to attain a specific end we deem good. This is easy enough to see when considering how we actually make choices. Invariably we have our reasons:

At the same time, rationality must by definition be intentionality: the mind’s awareness, that is, of a purpose it seeks or an end it wishes to achieve or a meaning it wishes to affirm. Rational freedom, in its every action, must be teleological in structure: one must know the end one is choosing, and why. Any act of the mind or will done without a reason, conversely, would be by definition irrational and therefore a symptom of bondage to something outside of or lower than the rational will. It is not even very sensible to ask, then, whether a free will might not “spontane­ously” posit an end for itself out of the sheer exuberance of its power to choose, and then pursue that end out of pure unreasoning perversity. Absolute spontaneity would be an unfree act, a mere brute event beyond the control of mind and desire, while merely partial spontaneity would still be guided by some kind of purpose. If you wish to prove this to yourself, you need only attempt freely to posit an end for yourself without rationale. Then again, do not bother, since you would not actually be acting without rationale; you would instead be pursuing the conscious purpose of following my suggestion that you try to act spontane­ously. Anything you might willfully choose to do for the purpose of doing something arbitrary would not, in fact, be arbitrary. And you will find also that even that supposedly arbitrary act, if you conceived of it before doing it, was not really arbitrary after all, but rather corresponded to some concrete intention that you knowingly chose, and for some specific reason, out of a strictly limited range of possible options. This too you can prove to yourself. You would not, for instance, simply in order to try to prove me wrong, leap off the top of a high building. Or, rather, if you did, the rest of us would immediately recognize your action as a feat of lunacy, and therefore not truly free. You cannot actually force yourself to behave “irrationally” except in an ultimately rational way. And to seek to find a first moment of perfect mindless impulse in any free act is to pursue a hopeless descent back along an infinite regress. (pp. 173-174)

All of this, as I said, is easy enough to grasp upon analysis of specific decisions and actions. I eat the apple because I am hungry. I get in the car because I want to go downtown. I study the ant farm because I wish to understand how they organize their societal life. I give $5 to a homeless person because I want to assist him in his or her need and thus fulfill my duty to my neighbor.

Coco Olson

But what, or who, awakens the will to act in the first place? If we stay within the Christian reading of the Song of Songs, then there can be only one answer: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, who has created us in dynamic orientation to the transcendentals of being and thus to himself. Christ is “the transcendental horizon of reality that animates every single stirring of reason and desire, the always more remote end present within every more imme­diate end. Insofar as we are able freely to will anything at all, therefore, it is precisely be­cause he is making us to do so: as at once the source of all action and intentionality in rational natures and also the transcendental object of rational desire that elicits every act of mind and will toward any purposes whatsoever” (p. 184). In the depths of the human soul, he acts upon our mind and will as ultimate source and final cause. Because we are enveloped by the Good, we are moved to pursue finite goods for ourselves and the welfare of others. Because we are encompassed by the Truth, we desire to understand stars and quasars, mole­cules and neutrinos, bats and cuttlefish. Because we are enfolded in the Beautiful, we seek out the delights of Beethoven’s 5th symphony and the poetry of John Keats and William Butler Yeats. In all our actions we intend the the one Lover in whom we live and move and have our being.

I know what many readers are thinking:  I can still say no to God, can’t I? I could still choose eternity in hell if I wanted to, right? But can you, could you, and most importantly, why do you want to? There’s something deep in Adamic man that resists the the notion that the grace of God is ultimately irresistible. Consider Gerhard Forde’s answer to the question “But you don’t mean that grace is irresistible, do you?”

Another tricky question. But again the answer can only, in the end, be yes. “Yes, I find it to be so, don’t you?” Remember it is grace we are talking about, not force. Absolute and unconditional grace has by very definition to be irresistible, one would think. Did you ever meet someone with irresistible grace? All that means is that you are utterly and completely captivated and so cannot finally “resist.” Certainly God’s whole purpose in coming was to make grace irresistible, was it not? Do we not hope that in the end all ene­mies will be overcome, all opposition stilled, grace completely triumphant and God all in all? How can that be if grace is not finally irresistible? (Theology is for Proclamation, pp. 169-170)

The irresistibility of grace brings us back to Hart’s key claim that humanity possesses by its creation a natural desire for God. Every particle of our being cries out for the Good, Beauty, and Truth that is our Creator.

As a hart longs
for flowing streams,
so longs my soul
for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
(Ps 42:1-2)

(Go to “The Necessary Choosing of the Good”)

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

37 Responses to Apprehending Apokatastasis: Ravished by Irresistible Love

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Thank you Fr Aidan, a beautiful summary which ‘captures’ the overwhelming fullness of God’s love. It takes a poet to be a theologian.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Tom says:

    The one remaining aspect of his argument that I find the weakest and the least convincing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alex says:

    Adam and Eve seem to have said “no” to God, even though they had everything they could ever have wanted, existing in a sort of perfect communion with God. There was no reason for their action, so to ask why they acted as they did, why they rejected God, is really like trying to rationalize what they did, to justify it. But sin is by its very nature irrational, at least in its ugliest forms, and like all moral evil, it defies any and all explanation. That is exactly what it means for something to be irrational, that it has no explanation, no reason. It would seem then that we have an example of human beings behaving irrationally, indeed, the first human beings, and they rejected God. Therefore, they apparently had the ability to resist God’s grace which they in their state were able to witness at least very near to its fullness in the garden. There’s no real way to explain why they did it other than perhaps through purely irrational inclinations such as pride or malice, but even these cannot ultimately explain the act as they seem only perhaps to give motives, whereas we cannot make out the object of their act. It certainly wasn’t God in this case. Or if it was God it was only a movement against God or away from Him and not towards Him.

    It might be true that the intellect and the rational will with it are in fact determined by the Good, God, as their object. Yet if all this is true of Adam and Eve then it must be true that they were able intentionally to cloud their intellects, to distort reason and thus were they enabled to do what is irrational, that is, to reject God.

    All of this would make sense if God created the universe in freedom, such that rational creatures such as ourselves might be able to freely choose Him, yet this would also admit of the possibility of rejecting Him. Grace is not force, it is true, yet if His grace is presented towards us in an irresistible fashion when we have not chosen God for ourselves then I can’t see what the difference would be between force and grace. This God who “drags” us and “ravishes” us then begin to sounds more and more like a violent rapist than a gentle lover.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Alex, my next article (or the next after) will hopefully address your concerns. Stay tuned. 😎

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    ‪”The ultimate and highest end possible for any soul … is that “embrace” or “kiss” of union with God in love, in which words and concepts have no place at all because they have been entirely overwhelmed and vanquished by the immediacy of God’s infinite beauty. And even then God still infinitely exceeds all the soul can understand.” ~ DBH‬

    ‪https://renovatio.zaytuna.edu/article/pia-fraus-our-words-and-gods-truth‬

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  5. Tom says:

    DBH: That is not to deny that, within the embrace of this relation between the will’s origin and its end in the Good…there is considerable room for deliberative liberty with regard to differing finite options…and considerable room in which to stray from the ideal path.

    Tom: This is the whole question though, is it not? i.e., the question of the nature (more specifically, the need or necessity) of the deliberative/gnomic movement of the will from origin to end. There is no other way for the will to traverse that distance. Hence, gnomic deliberation is the will’s ‘origin’ and the distance between origin and end God-given (not a rupture in a more original plan). If the deliberative capacity of the will is not original, i.e., if it constitutes the will in its fallenness, then how are we do conceive of the distance between the will’s origin and end at all? Origin and end would thus collapse into each other and no explanation of history would be possible. (A fair point Manoussakis makes, however sideways he is on other aspects of his objections to UR.)

    DBH: But, even so, if a rational creature—one whose mind is entirely unimpaired and who has the capacity truly to know the substance and the consequences of the choice confronting him or her—is allowed, without coercion from any force extrinsic to his or her nature, to make a choice between a union with God in bliss that will utterly fulfill his or her nature in its deepest yearnings and a separation from God that will result in endless suffering and the total absence of his or her nature’s satisfaction, only one truly free choice is possible.

    Tom: Totally agree – so long as we remember that one chooses one’s way (deliberatively) into seeing (in ever increasing measure, until there is nothing left to deliberate, until one becomes what one chooses). I believe David makes this point as well. My point is, there are sinful ‘impairments’ (self-inflicted and avoidable), true. But the deliberative capacity which makes possible the will’s movement from origin to end is not itself (per se) a sinful impairment, however subsequently enslaved it may become. Logically speaking, gnomic deliberation precedes any original sinful departure of the will as its possibility.

    I’m trying to qualify, not deny, UR. ECT (eternal conscious torment) is ruled out, yes. But one doesn’t for that reason get a mechanism by which a ‘terminus ad quem’ is imposed (however transcendentally) upon the will’s movement. The gnomic will IS the prodigal; it is what left home. It is what must come home to enjoy its inheritance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Would you explain Tom how in your view this makes it weak and the least convincing? I’m not understanding.

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    • DBH says:

      Tom

      I never said the gnomic will is an impairment. I quoted Maximus–or referred to Maximus–for whom the gnomic and natural will become distinct actual movements only when the will has been partially estranged from its true end. Otherwise, the gnomic will is not a separate reality. I can’t actually figure out what you think you’re disagreeing with. To speak of the gnomic will as the “origin” of freedom is logically meaningless. There are several “origins”: the final causality that is God, the “efficient” causality of the finite will moving toward its end, the transcendental orientation of the rational will, the concrete situation of the empirical will…

      If you think that freedom entails the power to deny what reason and one’s nature freely desire, out of a purely spontaneous refusal of the good, even if one had a direct and unimpaired knowledge of the good and a fully sane will, then you are talking arrant nonsense. That’s a leftover of a libertarian delusion that in fact has nothing to do with freedom. If by “origin” you mean only that we start from a position of finitude, and have to make deliberative choices as we advance toward a better or worse apprehension of what truly makes us free, who denies that? What’s your point?

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      • Tom says:

        Dr. Hart,

        Thanks for responding. Such an honor. Sorry for my delayed response. I read your note just after losing in chess for only the 3rd time in 20 years to my youngest son. So I’m feeling my mortality a bit more than usual! I hate playing against the Scandinavian defense.

        I didn’t mean to suggest you had actually claimed the gnomic will is an ‘impairment’. I only wanted to be clear that my own view was that it was not. But I do get the sense than many/most Orthodox do view is the gnomic will as ‘something gone wrong’.

        For example, when you describe Maximus’s view that “the gnomic and natural will become distinct actual movements only when the will has been partially estranged from its true end,” that seems to suggest that the gnomic movement of the will – deliberation per se – is the fruit of an original estrangement, in which case it’s not a God-given condition in which the will must move from its origin to its end.

        Why not view the deliberative movement of the will as an original God-given term in which the will must move from origin to end? Thus, we were not in our God-given origin what we shall be in our end. We didn’t fall into the distinction between the gnomic and natural movements of the will. God created us as such so we could move toward our end in him.

        ———————

        Dr Hart: If you think that freedom entails the power to deny what reason and one’s nature freely desire, out of a purely spontaneous refusal of the good, even if one had a direct and unimpaired knowledge of the good and a fully sane will, then you are talking arrant nonsense.

        Tom: No, I don’t suppose freedom to be any such spontaneous motion of the will. There is no escaping the transcendental orientation of the will (which is why eternal conscious torment is an impossible view).

        Dr. Hart: If by “origin” you mean only that we start from a position of finitude, and have to make deliberative choices as we advance toward a better or worse apprehension of what truly makes us free, who denies that?

        Tom: It sounded like you were denying it above, in saying (with Maximus) that we are only capable of making such choices in consequence of a more original ‘estrangement’.

        Sorry if I’m being unclear.

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  6. armsopenwide says:

    I think for many, the pertinent question question is, “Can we repent after death?” I think this comes into play when we will be bodiless spirits, without means of action. In the “Christmas Carol,” Marley shows Scrooge departed people who wish to repent of their lack of love but are unable. Of course, this will not be an issue after the resurrection. Will there be a waiting period, even a long one? It’s a mystery, as time will not be the same as we know it. Some speak of an eternal now. Can progress be possible in an eternal now? Of course St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac the Syrian think so. Godly love requires, I believe that we hold, with St. Siluoan, that love cannot bear the eternal damnation of anyone.

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    • DBH says:

      Moral intentionality, not being an emergent product of antecedent physical causes, does not depend upon a certain kind of bodily composition. And finite intellect cannot exist without intentionality and so could not exist in a truly timeless now.

      But, more importantly, would a good God create rational spirits on conditions so dire and viciously hopeless as that? It would mean that in this life we are unable to be truly free because we are in the body of death, and beyond this world we would be unable to be truly free because we have shed the body of death. Not really a very generous sort of situation. At that point, we really are dealing with a rigged game (which, in all fairness, has been the dominant view of much Christian tradition down the centuries).

      Of course, the traditional answer is “grace.” Good answer–unless grace is limited, in which case it is not grace, but only a demonstration of arbitrary divine sovereignty.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Kristofer Carlson says:

    As the river flows to the sea, so to does the soul flow toward God. Sometimes the water gets caught in an eddy, and sometimes it evaporates and falls back to the earth as rain. But eventually, it finds it’s way to the sea.

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  8. Maximus says:

    Fr Aidan, thanks for this post. I believe this is the most important part of the book. And I also think it’s Hart’s weakest point. The entire argument fits together coherently and is beautifully constructed, each premise bolstering the next. But if he fails to convince on this point, one begins to question the other, fully-interrelated premises. Pretty soon, the whole artfully-construed superstructure is in danger of collapse—not in Hart’s estimation, but in the eyes of those who once considered dwelling therein. The stately mansion, on closer inspection, begins to look more like a fixer-upper.

    I appreciate the admission that grace is irresistible in DBH’s system. Indeed, grace must be irresistible in order to confess that all “shall be” saved. God must pre-program men for this end, or else the universalistic outcome could never be guaranteed. And such pre-determination must be unconditional, not based on divine foreknowledge or foreseen human merits. The moral choices we make in this life, thus, do not admit of eternal consequences; they are not eternally load bearing. By design, men will be “dragged” to supreme liberation in union with God, their hearts battered by divine love. (When I was a Calvinist, I too loved John Donne’s poetry.)

    Here is my question. Since it is obvious that the grace of the Holy Spirit can be now be resisted (Acts 7:51), what will happen to a person, eventually, to make such grace irresistible? We all agree with St Maximus that, in this age, “there is considerable room for deliberative liberty with regard to differing finite options…and considerable room in which to stray from the ideal path.” Yet, what exactly diminishes, and ultimately destroys, this “considerable room for deliberative liberty”? If a person resists the Spirit’s grace today, and tomorrow, and next week, what will prohibit them from forever resisting that grace, again and again and again?

    I believe this is the most obvious chink in Hart’s logical armor. Apart from a “kind of violence or external coercion,” how could we ever claim that all “shall be” saved? You deny this sort of divine coercion in your article but then seem to smuggle it back in. The “ravishment of God,” in Donne’s usage, comes dangerously close to the notion of divine rape, a molestation of the human hypostasis. And yet, such an assertion seems necessary if universalism is absolutely guaranteed. Even with all the glamorous metaphysical language, Hart’s eschatological doctrine still only amounts to a single, unconditional predestinarian schema. John Calvin would be half pleased!

    It seems that no one here denies St Maximus’ notion of natural will. “Volition is intrinsically teleological. We act to attain a specific end we deem good.” Agreed. We all have a natural desire for God. But when someone makes an argument, not that we can *hope* all shall be saved, but indeed that all *shall be* saved, it must be shown how St Maximus’ other notion, that of the gnomic will, fits logically into the eschatological picture. This has not been done. Hart has not demonstrated why the gnomic will must eventually submit to the natural will—our tropos to our logos—rather, he’s only asserted that this shall occur, indeed, must occur. The mystery of iniquity and our voluntary participation therein is not so easily solved.

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    • DBH says:

      What would make God irresistible to the soul would be the soul’s liberation from ignorance, sin, and death, because–as Christ says–everyone who sins is sin’s slave, but the Truth sets free. Maximus would tell you as much: Gnomic alienation from God is irrational and therefore subject to the determinism of the irrational; gnomic reconciliation with God is liberation from that determinism and a return to the natural free orientation of every “logikos” to the fulfilling final cause of its nature, the Logos.

      Now, if God were so cruel as to leave his creatures without the light of real knowledge, here and hereafter, then, yes, eternal rejection of God might be possible. In that sense, Meditation Four does not by itself lead to the inevitability of universal reconciliation. Only in its place within the book’s whole argument does it yield the full universalist conclusion. Especially in union with the first and third meditations. But I say that in the book. Quite clearly, quite explicitly, quite successfully, Meditation Four is meant to demonstrate that the ultimate rejection of God would not be a truly free act and that therefore the free-will defense of eternal torment (which eases many a conscience) is circular and illogical. That’s it. That’s the issue. That’s the whole point. I’m dealing there with the last respectable redoubt of infernalist orthodoxy–the false claim that we can, in full possession of our faculties and full knowledge of the truth, compos mentis and undeceived as to who God is and what we are, *freely* lock God out. If that were true, God would not be God and rational freedom could not exist.

      If you haven’t yet grasped why that’s so, you’re simply confused. If so, I implore you to pause before you speak again, to think, to think again, to think once more, and then to start over at the beginning of my argument.

      Or don’t.

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      • Maximus says:

        That’s actually really helpful, Dr. Hart. I believe, in my own small way, I do understand the points you’re making about freedom and knowledge of God, but your clarification concerning the singular purpose of Meditation Four helps me better grasp the contours of your project. Thanks for responding.

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      • Tom says:

        That is helpful, indeed.

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    • TJF says:

      Gregory of Nyssa answers your question in De hominis. What ultimately destroys this room for liberty? It’s simple math. He says that evil is finite and God is infinite. Eventually even the most hardened sinners will basically “run out” of and get bored of evil, even if that takes a very long time. In math, infinite trumps finite. This argument convinces me. My understanding of it may not be exact, so I’d go to the original. Off the top of my head I believe it is De hominis 16. But it’s a short treatise so shouldn’t be too hard to find. George MacDonald gives a glimpse of this in Lillith and Tom Talbott gives a good answer I think. God punishes us until we learn. He is infinitely patient and we are finite.

      This was the epistle from yesterday, at least in my diocese. Heb 12:1-10 (RSV)

      Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

      3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?—

      “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
      nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
      6 For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
      and chastises every son whom he receives.”

      7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

      He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

      I don’t believe He will stop disciplining us until we end up learning. Sending people to hell forever is tantamount to giving up for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maximus says:

        TJF, thanks for answering my question. This is exactly what I was asking. And this is, I think, the strongest case for solving the issue: He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. This sanative perspective on God’s discipline would seem to fit well with a purgative view of hellfire. I will give you my honest reasons, however, why this picture doesn’t persuade me. The passage you quoted from Hebrews makes the distinction between sons and illegitimate children. The latter do not receive God’s chastisement unto their transformation. They resist change, even under duress. St Paul’s exhortation here is to “be subject to the Father of spirits and live.” Yet, this is just my question: how can God guarantee all will become subject to His will, guarantee that all will subject their tropos to their logos and live? I concede that St Gregory’s “math” provides a compelling answer. I think it’s a strong case, but not conclusive. For other reasons—clear biblical passages to the contrary, vast consensus of the Church’s teaching, etc.—I am not persuaded by it. But I really appreciate you taking the time to explain it.

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          The Hebrews passage doesn’t say that the illegitimate children fail to respond to discipline and resist change; it says that illegitimate children are not subject to a father’s discipline at all. It is the fact of being disciplined that identifies the children as a father’s legitimate children for whom the father is taking responsibility, not their response to it.

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        • Maximus says:

          Thanks, Iain. It seems you are right. I read too quickly, attributing God’s discipline to all men without qualification, a reading based incorrectly on the phrase “in which all have participated.” You are correct—the “all” here refers only to God’s sons. Another case of its limited usage. I would point out, however, that there’s a consistent teaching in Scripture that God’s presence and action in the world provokes differing responses from men. Divine light hardens some and softens others. I suppose I too quickly read this doctrine into Heb 12:1-10. Thanks for the correction.

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          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            I would agree that divine light hardens some and softens others. The problem is that for someone to *eternally* harden themselves against God they would have to have a strength and will and hardness equal in might to God’s infinite persistence in love. This does not seem possible to me. At some point they are going to give up, and God never will.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good morning, Maximus. I’m going to go out on a limb here. Bottomline: when it comes to human freedom, you are a libertarian, period. Which is simply to say, you have adopted, consciously or unconsciously, a specific understanding of free will. All the biblical and patristic considerations which you raise in these discussions are secondary compared to your primary philosophical commitment to libertarian free will.

      While libertarian free will is typically defined as the power to do otherwise, I woke up this morning with a more helpful definition, at least helpful for our present discussions: human free will is the power to damn oneself forever; divine freedom is God’s willingness to let us do it. Take it out for a drive and see if it doesn’t work for you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maximus says:

        Could be, Father. I’ve been called worse. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Haha. I’ve been called a lot worse too, especially by my fellow Orthodox. 😎

        I bolded the word “philosophical” because a philosophical position is not rationally established by divine revelation or patristic consensus. It’s worked out just like all other philosophical positions–namely by careful analysis and argument, i.e., reason. If Tom Talbott were here (and as you know he is an astute and careful analytic philosopher and Christian gentleman), he would challenge both of us to think more philosophically about the nature of rational freedom and what it means to say that a person can rationally and freely choose for himself everlasting misery and torment. And he would also challenge us to formulate a clear understanding of what determinism means in this context.

        David has raised precisely this concern in his 4th meditation, but he has also taken us to a deeper metaphysical level, a level where even analytic philosophers fear to tread. In your initial comment you say that you find his reflections unpersuasive. That’s not surprising. I suspect this is the initial reaction of most people because most of us (myself included) are unacquainted with metaphysical reflection. How many of us have any clue what a transcendental orientation to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful means? How many of us grasp David’s contention that creaturely freedom is impossible apart from this “deterministic” orientation? Having read a bunch of reviews of TASBS, it’s clear to me that David’s argument has gone over everybody’s head. We don’t understand it, so we dismiss it.

        So here’s my challenge to you: wrestle with his argument until you reach the point where you find it compelling and then advance your objections. That was the counsel given by a philosophy professor decades ago when I was at Vanderbilt. I’ve never been able to follow it, but I see its pedagogical wisdom.

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        • Maximus says:

          Thanks, Father. I admit I have not made the effort to carefully tool my own philosophical view of human freedom. My basic approach is that the will is free when uncoerced. I also affirm that God designed human volition with a transcendental orientation. To respectfully disagree with you, I do not think this notion is difficult to understand. But I also do not think such volitional design either constitutes determinism or logically results in universalism. For, most of us deny our transcendental orientation everyday through sinful choices. Such choices become habits. Such habits become lifestyles. And such lifestyles can seemingly become so ingrained that these choices carry into perpetuity. Are such choices free? In my (admittedly simplistic) view, if they are uncoerced, they are free. It’s true that such persons are not absolutely free, in the saintly sense, but they are free enough.

          Human persons are not merely victims of their upbringing and/or environmental circumstances. I sense the influence of a humanistic psychology at play in some of these discussions that seems to imply people are passively, rather than culpably, enslaved to their sinful passions. Conversely, Scripture describes our slavery to sin as culpable, as unto death—and thus we must retain some measure of freedom even as we perpetuate these sinful choices. For only free choices deserve to be condemned. (I know, I know—universalists still believe in hell and that our choices have consequences. But the point about modern psychology stands because our temporal choices no longer have eternal consequences.)

          I’m not sure I could ever convince you that I’ve understood TASBS. When I first read the book, I *did* find it initially compelling. Breathtaking, actually. I perceived the logic and felt the weight of its conclusions. I very nearly assented. From the perspective of DBH, this means that I very nearly understood the argument! From my perspective, this means that a beautifully-argued, coherent line of thought nearly swept me off my philosophical feet. But I gradually began to remember that coherence does not equal truth. Systematic presentation is helpful, but correspondence (to reality) is what counts. Numerous presuppositions and unchallenged assumptions lie implicit in the arguments of TASBS. I have tried to demonstrate some of these in our discussions. Have I misunderstood the book? All I can say is that I read it, seemed to cognize its clear contents, nearly believed its conclusions, but ultimately rejected it based on its faulty presuppositions.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            While it may be that such choices (and habits, and lifestyles, as you put it) contrary to the soul’s divine transcendental orientation are considered to be free (as you affirm), it makes them irrational in opposition to the soul’s first and final cause (i.e. orientation). Which means that, if carried into infinity, as you claim, the irrational triumphs over the Good, as the Good is not, as the first and the last, able to overcome the soul’s errant path. And such is yet simply just another expression of the libertarian free-will defense of unending hell. The good, the beautiful, the true, the lovely held captive by hell’s triumph. On to Pascha we go!

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          • Maximus says:

            Hi, Robert. Thanks for this. I understand what you mean, but it does seem that “the irrational triumphs over the Good” everyday, as we make sinful choices. I have no issue with the victory of Paschal power, of course, but only in its proper place—i.e., within a synergistic soteriology. The guaranteed “overcoming” of which you speak seems too monergistic to be Orthodox.

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          • DBH says:

            “Numerous presuppositions and unchallenged assumptions lie implicit in the arguments of TASBS. I have tried to demonstrate some of these in our discussions.”

            But you have not. Honestly, you have not. So, yes, you have, to some substantial degree, not understood it.

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      • Tom says:

        Fr Al: While libertarian free will is typically defined as the power to do otherwise…

        Tom: And do Orthodox generally deny the power of contrary choice?

        Fr. Al: …a more helpful definition, at least helpful for our present discussions: human free will is the power to damn oneself forever…

        Tom: I don’t know where Maximus (the poster, not the father) is on this, and you were addressing him, so forgive my barging in. But I’d affirm the former power of contrary choice (minimal libertarian agency) while denying that latter power (absolute power to choose outside the scope of the will’s transcendental orientation). The former doesn’t entail the latter, and it’s the former that remains interesting and relevant to the UR discussion even after the latter (and with it ECT) is agreed to be impossible.

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  9. Determinism has never been much of an obstacle for me given my Reformed background. While I don’t think the essential point of TASBS was to resolve the issue of determinism and freedom, it did go a long way toward helping me think more fully on what freedom actually is and how it coheres to the Divine will in creation. As someone who is more of an intuitive thinker prone to logical leaps, Hart’s work here has been helpful in filling in the gaps of something that must be true when we speak of God and of the relationship between Creator and creation.

    If anything, freedom has been a much larger problem for me to grasp because of the nature of causality and the coincidence of the final cause within the first. So, when freedom is described as Hart does (and from what I have read of both Maximus and Gregory of Nyssa), many of the issues I have when struggling with freedom dissolve. The problem then isn’t freedom as much as it is the ubiquity of modern, libertarian freedom, which has never made much sense to me.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    St Thomas Aquinas: “Only the perfect good, which is happiness, cannot be apprehended by the reason as evil or defective. Consequently man wills happiness of necessity; he cannot will not to be happy, or to be unhappy” (ST IaIIae, q13 a6).

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  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Of particular relevance to my article is DBH’s talk “Love and Knowledge”: https://youtu.be/HQdcH5qLWEw

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    DBH, when you write that the determinism of the will occurs at the “transcendental level,” what precisely does that mean? I have assumed that it refers to the will’s orientation to truth, goodness, and beauty. Is that correct?

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  13. Sherman Reed says:

    Somewhere I read or heard Dr. Hart say or read TASBS three times if necessary – so I did – I also listened to it three times. The third time reading it through all of his logic was unlocked in my mind and what stood before me quite simply was THE GOODNESS OF GOD. We can boil everything down to this one thing: If God is God as we have classically understood him and if He is truly good then all will and must be saved. And if we are being honest here – this should actually be just so obvious.

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