David B. Hart on “Can Persons Be Saved?”

“What can be stated with considerable certainty, and with quite a good deal of scriptural evidence, is that wherever the narrative of salvation becomes most developed, especially in Paul’s theology, it necessarily expands into an affirmation of the universal and cosmic scope of God’s saving work in Christ. Whether or not Paul was ever explicitly a universalist, it is obvious that his understanding of the logic of salvation in Christ becomes completely internally coherent only as a universalist narrative. Thus, such famously difficult verses as Romans 5:18 or 1 Corinthians 15:22 (difficult, that is, for proponents of eternal perdition) ought not to be treated as incautious hyperbole or rhetorical excess, but as moments of extreme clarity in the unfolding of the Pauline vision. So too, verses such as Romans 11:32 and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 cannot be confined within the logic of limited election without dissolving into empty babble.”

Read the entire article at Public Orthodoxy:

Can Persons Be Saved?

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16 Responses to David B. Hart on “Can Persons Be Saved?”

  1. Tom says:

    Here’s hoping Dr. Hart wanders by and has time to comment.

    Related to this, a friend refers to the following Hart passage (talking about how St. Gregory of Nyssa reads Genesis and Adam – BOTI p. 404):

    “In Gregory’s exegesis, however, the primal Man is neither in any real sense ‘preexistent’ nor finally transcendent of the plenitude of persons who come into being in the course of history; persons are neither shadows of, nor separated participants in, ‘Man’; but are in fact the very substance of the creation God wills from before the ages’.”

    My friend admits he cannot quite pin down what Hart means.

    Hart also writes:

    “In his great treatise ‘On the Making of Humanity’, Gregory reads Genesis 1:26–7—the first account of the creation of the race, where humanity is described as being made ‘in God’s image’—as referring not to the making of Adam as such, but to the conception within the eternal divine counsels of this full community of all of humanity: the whole of the race, comprehended by God’s ‘foresight’ as ‘in a single body’, which only in its totality truly reflects the divine likeness and the divine beauty.”

    If all he means is that God creates with the end in mind, that makes sense. A sculptor goes to work on a block of marble with the final form in mind, guiding every stroke. But this is standard teleology, no?

    Is this David’s point in saying that “Adam” is not a particular human being in history “but the conception within the eternal divine counsels of th[e] full community of all of humanity”? So here it seems Adam, a “conception” in the divine counsels, is an ‘ideal’ reality. But Hart seems to deny that Adam is an ‘ideal’ reality?

    Perhaps the essential point he has in mind is the essential unity of the final whole. Humanity is not a collection of marble blocks, each person a separate sculpture bearing its measure of glory. Rather, God’s working on single block and each of us is a ‘member’ of it. That’s not how many Christians typically imagine their individual destiny, so Hart really is saying something a bit shocking (and true). A few of us are just not quite sure what he means.



    • I’ve not read the passage in question, but here is a thought of mine:

      Both “all humanity” and “each man and each woman” are created in the image of God and to share in the Divine likeness. Indeed, all humanity is created in the image of God and to share in His likeness because each human person is so created: it is as described in the last chapter of Perelandra: it is not each for all, but all for each and in this – all being for each, rather than each being for all – all and each are one in God, who dwells, all of Him dwells, within the smallest grain of dust. By all being for each, each is one with each other, in the Great Dance, where all is justice and there is no equality (or even place for equality or lack thereof; after all, it is the Dance, and each is the center, for in each is Maleldil in all his fullness).


  2. DBH says:

    Gregory did not reject the existence of Adam. He believed, however, that Adam and Eve were brought into being as the first human members of the “second creation” (ie, Genesis 2). The “first creation” (that of genesis 1), humanity in the image and likeness of God, is the primordial and eternal creation of the whole human pleroma. For us–being created in our last end–that is a future reality. For God, it is the eternal reality of creation in its completeness. What for us is the last state is, from God’s perspective, the most original reality of who we are. This isn’t really that obscure. God eternally creates the “Man of the First Creation” who has Christ as his head, and who as a whole “embodies” Christ. For creatures, who dwell in time, the “second creation” comes first, and for them the eternal reality of who they are is a terminus ad quem.

    Anyway, the point here is that, in Gregory’s terms, Adam is not the “man of the first creation.” He is the first human being of the second creation.

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  3. apoloniolatariii says:

    I think the argument on personhood is probably the best argument for universalism. It would be hard to have a heart of a child and not see the truth of it. (Of course this argument should also be seen with the rest). It’s just hard to conceive of persons in heaven when there are some persons in hell.


  4. I think people not uncommonly call a statement or phrase hyperbole or ‘rhetorical excess’ as a means to avoiding having to grapple with the statement, with what it might actually mean, or with something outside of our comprehension – maybe, even, as a means to avoid simply admitting that there’s something outside of our understanding going.


  5. Ed H. says:

    The problem with hyperbole is that it swings both ways. Our Lord’s statement regarding Judas (“It is good if he had never been born”) is incompatible with universalism. But we are told that the statement is hyperbole and thus does not refute universalism.
    Infernalists in turn look at a proposed list of universalistic NT passages and announce that these are the ones that are hyperbole.
    Then we are told that, since there are more universalistic passages than infernalistic passages, the univeralistic passages win by a score of 27-10 (or whatever).
    Thus we end up in our discussions looking like evangelical Protestants, who all have their favorite passages of Scripture that are used to trump the passages they do not agree with.


    • DBH says:

      True. But, confidentially, the score is 49-2. And those 2 are doubtful. But don’t tell anyone I said that, because I quite agree about proof-texting and such. (Still: 49-2.)


    • Alana.K.Asby says:

      ‘Born’ is not the same thing as ‘conceived,’ not the same thing as ‘came to exist.’ There are lots of people who would have been better off as miscarriages. I know several.

      “Let the day perish on which I was to be born…
      Because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb…
      Why did I not die at birth?…
      For now I would have laid down and been quiet…
      Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be;
      As infants that never saw the light.”

      Job 3, excerpts


    • Alana.K.Asby says:

      Ugh. Was my comment not clear?

      A) The Lord’s statement is NOT hyperbole. Given a choice between dying before birth or betraying the Lord, the former is clearly preferable, without recourse to exaggeration. And that is because dying before birth is NOT the same thing as never having existed and therefore missing out on eventual beatitude. It is also because that is the only either/or being discussed – other alternatives such as dying at age 5, or being raised somewhere he’d never meet Jesus, are neither discussed nor ruled out of logical possibility. Clear?

      B) The Lord’s statement is nothing whatever against Universal reconciliation! If Job thinks that an infant who dies without seeing the light is “at rest” then why shouldn’t Jesus have seen it that way, as well? Why shouldn’t my miscarried baby be in Heaven? In fact, it is the non-Universalists who have the real problem with this verse. Taken to the logical extreme, their position leads to the belief that miscarried babies are in Hell, meaning that dying before birth would have done Judas very little good.

      And by the way, can we stop calling it Universal salvation? Clearly, salvation in this limited sense refers to being spared from the wrath to come. But most Universalists aren’t saying that everyone will be spared from the wrath to come. We mostly believe that wrath, for those who are not spared, will be proportionate to harm caused by sins, will lead to a cessation of sin, and will therefore end.


  6. My question is basic, I think: Is it true that both universal salvation and “inscrutable election” share a common acceptance of the principle of Predestination?

    I won’t swell this query with my reasons for holding predestination to be formally flawed (ie., it’s not just wrong when it predestines to perdition, but also when it predestines to salvation).

    But I would gladly stop suggesting to people that universalism is “just another form of divine predestination” if it’s not. So what do we think? is it correct (or not) to say that universalism is on the same footing as election in the latter’s dismissal of a role for finite will in the matter of initiating everlasting life?

    I feel my question is too basic to be worthy of a response from Dr. Hart, and I haven’t done the reading anyway (except the four Pauline texts). Is there a fellow student who can shed light?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Greetings, John. Welcome to Eclectic Orthodoxy. May I take it that you have not yet read That All Shall Be Saved. Hart does in fact speak of the human being’s determination to the Good. To help you catch up, may I suggest that you read three articles that I wrote in an attempt to exposit Hart’s thought on this, beginning with Human Being is Absolute Desire for God.” At the bottom of the page you’ll find a link to the subsequent two articles.

      In light of Hart’s argument, I have no trouble whatsoever about saying that all human beings are predestined to salvation in Jesus Christ. But take a look and share with us what you think. And who knows, maybe David will make an appearance to help us along. 🙂

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      • Thank you Fr. Aidan for so graciously trying to get me up to speed! I have now read your three review posts and feel that my stock view of universalism and predestination needs an upgrade. I will re-read your three posts (and Dr. Hart’s article) before getting back into this (it seems they may suffice, as far as I want to go with it).

        I need to sort out my own position in terms of the labels that are thrown around here. But I see this is certainly a good place to discuss enlightened will, irresistible divine love, and everlasting longings. 🙂

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