‘That All Shall Be Saved’: A Review of a Review of a Review

It’s not often that one comes across a review of a book review. Sometimes a journal or magazine will give an author the opportunity to respond to a critical review. Sometimes it will publish a second review that offers a different assessment. But rarely does one encounter a review of a review. I mean, what’s the point? But Dr David C. Ford, Professor of Church History at St Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary, has given us precisely that. In response to Fr Michael Plekon’s sympathetic review of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved (published on the website of the International Orthodox Theological Association [IOTA]), Ford has written a critical review of the review (same website). Not only is he convinced that Hart has written a heretical book (though he does not use the word), but apparently he also believes that his assessment must be shared by every Orthodox theologian, assuming that they too possess a right understanding of the Ortho­dox faith. Given that Plekon failed to address the “serious problems” with TASBS, we may conclude either that he has acted irresponsibly in writing an “ostensibly neutral review” or that he is a heretic right alongside Hart. With his review of a review, therefore, Ford kills two birds with one stone: he publicly rebukes Plekon for not writing the review he thinks he should have, and he solemnly warns the brethren of the heterodoxy of a popular Orthodox theologian.

At this point I need to be upfront. I have never met Fr Michael, but we have corresponded a few times over the years on specific theological topics, going all the way back to 2003 when I put some questions to him about Sergius Bulgakov’s understanding of the Eucharist. Most importantly, he did me a great kindness in 2011. After I was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood, he asked me if I had been given a silver cross to wear, as is customary for Russian Orthodox priests. When I told him that I had not, he immediately sent me one. So I harbor a fondness toward Fr Michael and was chafed when I read Ford’s piece. I deem it unfair, if not disingenuous, to make a reviewer the target of one’s criticisms when the book’s author is the true target.

(Dr Ford, if you want to take on Hart, do so directly. If a “more accurate and thorough review of this very problematic work” is needed, then please write one [5,000 words max—that should be ample enough], and I’ll publish it here on Eclectic Orthodoxy.)

So let’s go through Ford’s objections to That All Shall Be Saved.

First, Ford takes Plekon to task for this sentence: “[Hart] argues that in the early church, there was little evidence of a widespread, common conviction that God’s wrath required the eternal banishment and punishment of human beings.” Ford counters:

It’s simply not the traditional Orthodox understanding that ‘God’s wrath requires the eternal banishment and punishment of human beings.’ Rather, it’s God’s infinite love that some human beings and the demons continue to reject; and that, for them, is hell.

Ford’s objection misses the point. Hart has advanced a historical claim that a diversity of opinion on the final judgment existed in the early centuries of the Church, yet Ford counters with an appeal to what he believes to be “the traditional Orthodox understand­ing.” These are two different kinds of claims. Even if Ford is correct, Hart’s historical claim is not disproved. But is Ford correct in his assertion that Orthodoxy has traditionally understood damnation, not as just punishment, but as the experiential consequence of obdurate rejection of the divine love (and are they mutually exclusive)? What evidence can he provide? Can a wide­spread belief in non-retributive damnation be clearly documented in, say, the first six centuries of the Church’s life? Seven years ago I did some amateurish excavation of the early Church Fathers, and found that while one can easily find Latin and Eastern testimonies to the retributive nature of eternal punishment, texts supporting the now popular Orthodox view that “hell is heaven experienced differently,” as Bishop Irenei Steenberg felicitiously phrased it, are harder to come by. St Isaac the Syrian is often quoted on this point—“Those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love”—but this sentence reads very differently once one remembers that he was a universalist and believed that the sufferings of Gehenna were purgative and temporary. I published my non-scholarly findings in my 2013 article “What is Orthodox Hell?” and followed up with a second piece, “Hell and the Torturous Vision of Christ.” Orthodox Christians are of course free to adopt the hell is heaven experienced differently position. It’s an attractive view, at least by comparison to the punitive model of hell; but I’m skeptical that it accurately represents the consensual teaching of the Fathers or can be declared the authoritative view of the Orthodox Church.

Second, Ford criticizes Plekon for saying that Hart identifies St Basil as a universalist. Ford is right. Hart doesn’t say that, so score one point for the Church history professor. But if Ilaria Ramelli’s research holds up, Basil’s universalist sympathies may have been stronger than is generally thought.

Third, Ford accuses Hart of relying too heavily on figures associated with various heresies (Origen, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, as well as Sergius Bulgakov) than on the principal authorities within the Orthodox tradition. Whether any of these four men should be judged heretics I’ll leave to others to decide. What I do know is that they died in communion with the Holy Orthodox Church. It’s true that Hart positively mentions each, but he does not rely upon any of them. Only one theologian features significantly in Hart’s theological presentation of the universalist case—St Gregory of Nyssa. Is Gregory to be dismissed because he’s a minority of one? Is theological truth determined in the Orthodox Church by counting patristic noses? Ford continues:

Furthermore, Fr. Plekon does not point out that St. Gregory of Nyssa’s supposed Universalism, upon which Hart relies the most by far in his book, is not a definite fact by any means, as his commentary on the Beatitudes makes clear: “You looked not with compassion, so you will get no merciful looks; you ignored suffering, so you will be ignored as you perish” (addressing the rich man who spurned Lazarus; On the Beatitudes 5.8).

I chuckled when I read this. It’s true that a handful of scholars have recently challenged the long-standing scholarly interpretation of Gregory as an advocate of apokatastasis, but they have found few followers. Gregory’s teaching on apokatastasis is just too clear. Certainly no student of the Nyssen is going to be persuaded by that one sentence quoted by Ford. Judg­ment and punishment are intrinsic constituents of the universalist visions of Origen and Gregory. As Taylor Ross notes: “There is good reason to think that apokatas­tasis, the term of art for universal salvation in Origen of Alexandria and his heirs, entails a concept of judgment just as exacting, just as rigorous, and every bit as righteous as the sort of purely punitive punishment on offer in any version of the doctrine of eternal damnation” (“The Severity of Universal Salvation“).

Fourth, Ford challenges Hart’s reliance upon his own private judgment instead of explicitly grounding his views on the accepted sources of revealed truth:

Even more serious, Fr. Plekon does not explain how Hart’s ultimate source of authority is not the Scriptures and the consensus of the Church Fathers—and not the hymnography of our Church, or her iconography; and not prayer, or guidance from the Holy Spirit, or ascetic and/or mystical experience, or consultation with others of his own time—but rather, his own reasoning power. As he says, “My reasoning convinces me entirely” (p. 6).

For purposes of accuracy, here is the last sentence in its entirety: “For better or worse, my reasoning convinces me entirely, and that—sadly or happily—will certainly never change.”

What are we to make of Ford’s criticism? We may concede that Hart’s book does not resem­ble a typical work of Orthodox theology. It’s not peppered from beginning to end with quotations from Scripture, Fathers, Byzantine hymnography, and the holy elders of Mount Athos, though it may be noted that in meditation #2 Hart cites numerous New Testament verses that “plainly” affirm the universalist hope. My guess is that these verses did not persuade Ford. Why not? Because with a bit of effort that feels like no effort at all, they can be interpreted in consonance with the infernalist dogma. Hart of course knows this. He knows that his affirmation of apokatastsis directly challenges a venerable interpretive tradition that has controlled the Christian reading of Holy Scripture for some 1,500 years. In a situation like this, little is gained by focusing on individual texts. One must first persuade the Church to take off her infernalist spectacles and put on a new, but equally venerable, pair. One must look at Scripture and the entirety of the dogmatic tradition in a fresh way. But how does one persuade the Church to give the universalist spectacles a try? Hart’s solution: by confronting the Church with a logical incoherency embedded her evangelical message:

  • God freely created the cosmos ex nihilo.
  • God is the Good and wills only the good.
  • God will condemn a portion of his rational creatures to everlasting torment.

One may affirm any two of the above premises with logical consistency but not all three. I’m not going to rehearse the argument, having already done so in “The Incoherency of Eternal Perdition” and “Revealing the God Behind the Curtain.” It’s a cogent line of reasoning that deserves careful attention and analysis by Orthodox theologians. It should not be ignored simply because it challenges what we have long believed to be infallible dogma, nor can it be treated as a minor matter about which we may remain compliantly silent. That the Holy Trinity is absolute and triumphant Love belongs to the heart of the gospel. This is the great truth revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the one truth the Church is commanded to proclaim at all times and in all places, for it is the only truth that rescues sinners from death and brings forth a new creation. But is this truth—this thrilling, life-transforming good news—compatible with the affirmation of eternal damnation, or does the latter force us into an equivocity that ultimately subverts the gospel? The question cannot be answered by mere appeal to authority. We actually need to think and think deeply.

Ford then identifies three New Testament texts that he believes Hart has egregiously mishandled:

It’s also disappointing that Fr. Plekon does not observe how Hart’s handling of the Scriptures is problematic. To give three examples: Hart falsely trans­lates thelei in 1 Timothy 2:4 as “intends” instead of “desires” (p. 96); he flagrantly misinterprets 1 Corinthians 3:11–15, as he disregards the context of those verses (pp. 105–106); and he ignores the main Gospel passage about life after death—the one about the Rich Man and Lazarus, in which Christ makes very clear that after death there is a gulf fixed separating the redeemed from the lost, a gulf that cannot be crossed (Luke 16:19-31).

I’m sure that Hart would be happy to enter into the exegetical trenches with Ford; whether the St Tikhon’s professor would survive the encounter is another matter. Given that I do not read Greek and have given away most of my New Testament commentaries, I’m reluctant to offer an opinion about Hart’s alleged mishandling of the three cited texts; on the other hand, I’m just a blogger—so …

a) Is Hart’s translation of thelei as “intends” rather than “desires” a bad translation? Hart’s translation of 1 Tim 2:4: “Who intends all human beings to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth.” I contacted a New Testament scholar and expert on Paul and asked his opinion. He prefers the rendering “desires,” but he also copied the section on the word from the Bauer-Danker lexicon. It appears that thelei has a wide semantic range and can be used to signify intentions and volitional acts—so Hart’s translational choice doesn’t seem impossible or wildly irresponsible (also see Hart’s brief explanation). It may be noted that the translators of the King James Bible rendered 1 Tim 2:4 in an even stronger volitional sense (“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”), as does the New American Bible (“who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth”) and Young’s Literal Translation (“who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth”). Also of relevance is the Douay-Rheims rendering of the Vulgate: “Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri, et ad agni­tionem veritatis venire). I think that gives Hart sufficient cover for his lexical choice; but really, what is the difference between saying that the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent Deity desires the salvation of all and intends or wills the salvation of all? It all depends on who and what you think God is. God after all does not have appetites or needs. His desire is his will. He intends that which he desires and desires that which he intends. Does God, therefore, get everything that he wills, like the salvation of all? That is the question, and it can’t be begged.

b) Does Hart flagrantly misinterpret and misapply 1 Cor 3:11-16? Here are the verses, as translated by Hart:

For no one can lay another foundation beside the one laid down, which is Jesus the Anointed. Now, if on this foundation one erects gold, silver, precious stones, woods, hay, straw, Each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it is revealed by fire, and the fire will prove what kind of work each person’s is. If the work that someone has built endures, he will receive a reward; If anyone’s work should be burned away, he will suffer loss, yet he shall be saved, though so as by fire.

Hart cites this text in his elaboration of the universalist trajectory of St Paul’s escha­tology. For those who have not yet read That All Shall Be Saved, Hart proposes that eternal damnation is not found in the authentic letters of the Apostle. Yes, it’s a controversial claim, but is it wrong? Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa didn’t think so. As Hart notes, the last two verses only identify two classes of the judged. If Paul believed in a third class, “that of the eternally derelict,” he does not say so, either here or anywhere else. Again, the matter cannot be resolved solely by appeal to patristic or ecclesial authority. Many Orthodox, I know, will find this rankling. It sounds all too like sola Scriptura. But Hart’s historical exegesis of Paul can only be successfully refuted by superior historical exegesis.

c) What about Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? Ford is right. Hart does not discuss the parable. I wish he had, just as I wish that he had discussed 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. Oh well. That All Shall Be Saved is a little book, and it’s unreasonable to expect Hart to cover everything. Speaking only for myself, I do not believe that by this parable Jesus intended to provide divinely-revealed information about life after death. Its point lies elsewhere—namely, God’s judgment upon the refusal of the rich to provide for the poor and destitute. In any case, the parable speaks of life in hades before the Lord’s harrowing, about which Orthodoxy in fact has a lot to say, as amply demonstrated in Metropolitan Hilarion’s book Christ the Conqueror of Hell. The parable reads very differently when read through a hermeneutic of Pascha.

5. Ford chides Plekon for “not pointing out Hart’s misunderstanding of the crucial distinction between our human nature and our distinct human hypostasis, when Hart overemphasizes our unity with other human beings to the point of nearly extinguishing the distinctiveness of each human hypostasis (pp. 152–158).” I honestly do not know what to think about this objection. Read the chapter on personhood in TASBS and show me where and how Hart extinguishes the distinctiveness of the human person. On the contrary, Hart emphatically insists upon the distinctiveness of each person. It is only when every human being is reconciled to Christ in the eschaton that the body of Christ will be displayed in the fullness of beauty and glory. The loss of even just one person would diminish this display and “leave the body of the Logos incomplete and God’s purpose in creation unaccom­plished” (p. 144). We are not autonomous individuals. Our personhood “is created by and sustained within the loves and associations and affinities that shape us” (p. 153). We are human beings in communion. As Hart comments: “I am not I in myself alone, but only in all others. If, then, anyone is in hell, I too am partly in hell” (p. 157).

6. Ford raises the pastoral dangers of the universalist message:

This claim, that hell will not last forever—and that all rational beings, including the Devil and all his hosts, will indeed be saved eventually—is exactly what our profligate world would love to hear: “Great! I can live however sinfully and irreverently I want to in this life, and it won’t matter a bit! I’ll just plan on repenting the moment I get my first taste of hell.” Of course, anyone who really loves Christ would not think or act in such a way. But for many people, living especially in our promiscuous age of unfettered feelings/emotions/indulging in fleshly pleasure, the Universalist assertion very likely would provide a great temptation to make such a “deal” in their minds, even if not with God directly!

My experience as a priest, preacher, and pastor directly contradicts Ford’s concern. It is the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection that saves and converts, not the threat of everlasting torment. The latter may cause individuals to change specific behaviors, but it does not generate saving faith and repentance. It does not bring about that new creation that is ecstatic life and freedom in the Holy Spirit. What is at issue here is the moral character of our God. What kind of God punishes his children with interminable suffering? What kind of God abandons them to anguish and misery? The Orthodox may protest that they reject the Latin doctrine of eternal retribution, but their preferred model of perdition, popularized by Alexandre Kalomiros under the title “The River of Fire,” leaves the sinner in the very same place. In the end the damned can only wish they had never been created. Before the God who damns (directly or indirectly, it doesn’t matter), there can only be obsequious servitude, terror, despair, rebellion, atheism. Only absolute Love and infinite Mercy liberates us into the Kingdom of love and bliss (see my article “The Divine Presence and the River of Fire“).

Yet having said this, there certainly is a place within the universalist construal of the gospel for prophetic warnings and threats of punishment. The rejection of Love necessarily creates an ever-deepening condition of alienation, obduracy, and hatred, which in turn generates ever-increasing interior suffering. We know hell; we live it. Hence the time to repent is now. In George MacDonald’s novel Robert Falconer, the young Falconer pleads with his father to repent and turn his life over to Christ. His father refuses. “You will have to repent some day, I do believe,” Robert replies—”if not now under the sunshine of heaven, then in the torture of the awful world where there is no light but that of the conscience. Would it not be better and easier to repent now, with your wife waiting for you in heaven, and your mother waiting for you on earth?”

7. Finally for Ford, That All Shall Be Saved is damned by Hart’s “striking lack of humility—that virtue which is the hallmark of the Orthodox phronema—as he holds himself up as the final word on this issue.” I am shocked by this accusation. Hart’s pugilistic and polemical rhetoric is a legitimate target of criticism (but see Jordan Wood’s thoughts about it); but the extrapolation to judgments about his moral and spiritual state is a different order of criticism. Hart does not ask anyone to accept his arguments on his own personal authority. The truth speaks for itself.

In conclusion, David C. Ford has written a ghastly review of a review. It ignores the theological and philosophical substance of That All Shall Be Saved and pointedly refuses to take up the evangelical challenge David Bentley Hart has posed. It should be dismissed for the drivel that it is. Orthodox theologians can do better and must do better.

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34 Responses to ‘That All Shall Be Saved’: A Review of a Review of a Review

  1. Excellent response, father. Case closed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jordandanielwood says:

    Very well done. A quick note or two on the exegesis of the Rich Man and Lazarus. For one thing, it’s still pretty ridiculous to read a single parable as an objective news report from Hell. In this regard, why not read the parable of the Unmerciful Servant that way, which then clearly indicates a finite time period that will expire (“until you pay the last farthing”)? But it’s also a far better theological read (we get precious little theology from Ford at all) of this parable to say, as Evagrius and St Maximus did, that the Rich Man’s express compassion for his living brothers reveals a “seed of virtue” that yet lives in him, for compassion and mercy are fruits of love, and love is the perfection of virtue. Thus even if one reads the parable in a foolishly objective sense, as Prof. Ford recommends, we might well ask, inspired by Evagrius’s observation: What happened to the Rich Man later? Does the objective report ever indicate that the chasm will never be removed at any point? Does it tell us what became of the Rich Man’s compassion, the seed of virtue which lay in beneath the soil of his soul? I prefer the more penetrating spiritual and theological analysis of this text to Ford’s vapid, objective report.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. “You looked not with compassion, so you will get no merciful looks; you ignored suffering, so you will be ignored as you perish”

    This one sentence is supposed to demonstrate a rejection of apokatastais? I agree with you, that it does not! For one thing, compassion is necessary in Redemption – the one who has no compassion cannot be redeemed, can he? – so, perhaps, a component of coming to compassion, for one who has blatantly disregarded compassion, is to suffer as he allowed others to suffer, and so, perhaps, compassion will germinate in his heart, so that he may know and believe the compassion Christ has had for him all along.

    By the way, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus can NOT be a description of what an eternal hell is like, for God would not condemn anyone with even a mustard seed of love in his heart to eternal perdition. After all, “All who seek will find,” and God desires that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. If there’s any desire for love in the Rich Man’s heart, that desire will be rewarded. It’s just a monstrousity, clearly unworthy of Him who bore our sins in His own body on the Cross, to condemn to eternal damnation one who has any desire for Heaven. I don’t know how people can say such blasphemous things about the Crucified One, as that He will keep in hell men who wish to repent.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. DBH says:

    Well, I got annoyed at Paul Gavrilyuk for running a piece as idiotic as Ford’s on
    a putatively serious academic website. Paul in turn got annoyed at me for getting annoyed (which I find annoying). It was obviously a piece of editorial malpractice, comparable to (though not as spiteful) Rusty Reno’s over at First Bloody Things. I don’t object to Ford hating the book; I object to him hating it without actually having made an effort to understand it.

    But that’s not why I write. On the parable of Dives and Lazarus, I deal with it in the extended notes of the softcover edition of the New Testament and in the final chapter of Theological Territories. It is a conventional first century portrait of Hades, almost certainly drawn from the Book of Enoch. It refers to the terrestrial realm of the dead, not to the eschatological state of resurrected humanity.

    Liked by 4 people

    • DBH says:

      Oh, and “desires” is generally a bad translation of “thelei” even when the agent in question is not the omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent source of all reality. And it certainly does not fit the context in the passage from 1 Timothy. That’s why those extremely canny classicists who worked on the KJV–as well as their most educated successors–wrote “wills.” What Ford imagines the difference between “wills” and “intends” is I cannot say (but, then again, given his reading of the book, I think it may be the case that he’s not very familiar with the English language).

      Not that that particular verse is especially central to the book’s argument, but that was certainly the silliest part of Ford’s review of the review.

      Anyway, thanks All for writing a better reply than I would have penned. I’m more disappointed in Gavrilyuk than anything else. I expect somewhat higher standards from him. He’s a good historian of doctrine and theology and, while I do not share his extremely high estimate of Florovsky’s work, his book on Florovsky was good.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Mark Chenoweth says:

    I’m not sure why Ford singled out Hart’s comments regarding approaching the book of Revelation as a very metaphorical, allegorical text that is very hard to understand. Isn’t that why it took so long to get into the canon? And why we don’t read it in Church in the Orthodox Church? Not taking your dogma from the book of revelation seems like fairly traditional advice to me. It seems duplicitous to argue that we should be careful when interpreting the book of Revelation but then turn around and berate someone who argues that the hell passages in the book shouldn’t be taken literally. I need to take this advice as well, since I think the “her gates will never be shut” passage is a VERY universalistic passage.

    That being said, if Ford wants to be consistent in his literal interpretation, then the passage from Nyssen that he quotes would actually support annihilationism, not eternal torment. “Perish” doesn’t mean “exist forever in hatred of God,” it means to die or cease to exist. BTW, I think Nyssen was a universalist, but I’m just saying…

    1 Cor. 3:11-16 is such an interesting passage.

    I lean toward it applying mostly toward those who are Christian already, given its context. BUT! I also lean toward the sensus plenior of the passage applying to all people. What is perhaps more interesting than the fact that Paul never speaks about a third class of people is that Paul or Jesus or any other NT author speak of a SECOND fire that somehow just burns sinners eternally rather than burning up their sins. If the fire burns up the sins of those who have sinned a little, why would it not also burn up the sins of those who have sinned a lot? Nyssen’s logic seems right- it would take the fire LONGER to burn up the sins of those who have sinned to a greater degree, but I don’t see any reason to think the nature of this fire ever changes.

    This fire is the same fire that Jesus speaks about in Matt. 25, right? That would imply that “chastisement in the age to come,” or “age-enduring chastisement” is the better translation than “eternal punishment” of the Matt. 25 controversial verses. I know Catholics have traditionally interpreted 1 Cor. 3 as implying only the fire of purgatory, but I agree with Hart that it’s pretty clear in the text of the NT that no one ever speaks about 2 different types of fires. Separating the parable of the last farthing as many Catholics do from the parable of the sheep and the goats seems pretty arbitrary to me. They both clearly seem to be about the final judgment, rather than one being about purgatory and one hell.

    I have to say that despite Ford’s remarks, after reading (a lot of, but not all of) Ramelli very carefully and looking at the passages of the Church Fathers she cites in context, I can’t help but feeling that “the traditional” interpretation of the fire of 1 Cor. 3 was indeed Hart’s interpretation, at least for the first 500 years of the Church, and was still retained in Maximus.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mark Chenoweth says:

    I apologize to Dr. Ford! I don’t think he made any comments about Hart’s approach to the book of Revelation. I was thinking of something Fr Lawrence Farley said about Hart’s view of Revelation, not Ford. I’m trying to find Farley’s article right now.


  7. NicholasofKentucky says:

    If I might add to the comments about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: the parable strikes me as an explicit parallel that terminates in an open question for Lazarus to answer (who, curiously enough, never says a word throughout the whole parable). That there is an uncrossable chasm between the posthumous rich man and Lazarus is not substantially different from there being a locked gate between the two during their mortal lives. This seems quite suggestive to me, as the locked gate can be spoken of as impassible; it is just as difficult to get in through the gate as it is to cross an open chasm. And yet, surely the gate could have been unlocked and opened, just as it must surely be possible for the chasm between Lazarus and the rich man to be filled. That this has to be initiated by Lazarus can be seen from the rich man asking for relief from Lazarus through Abraham, rather than just appealing to Abraham himself, who is contextually the one doing the comforting. Further, the parallel between the state of the rich man and Lazarus, of being in a state of poverty at some point in their lives, whether spiritual or physical, brings up the charity of not only the rich man, but also that of Lazarus. The question that the parable leaves hanging in the air, perhaps with the expectation for Lazarus to answer it, even if only in his desire to see mercy accomplished, is: if the rich man was condemned for not charitably giving out of the abundance of wealth that was given to him, then what might happen to Lazarus if, in the course of some time, he does not give of the abundance of mercy that has been shown to him?

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Is “what might happen to Lazarus if, in the course of some time, he does not give of the abundance of mercy that has been shown to him?” to suggest some sort of repetition of the fall – in this case, from ‘the bosom of Abraham’ – in the ‘after-earthly-life’? Having read more of summaries of Origen’s supposed teaching than works of Origen available in translation, I’ve wondered this about his (supposed) ‘aionian’ thinking: can the Fall-Redemption cycle be volitionally sinfully repeated in the following Aion once the current Aion has been perfectly concluded – and why or why not? How might/do concrete created theological persons become properly ‘irreversibly’ ‘teleized’?


  8. Lamb says:

    Can belief in eternal hell be called Semi-Manicheanism, since even if it’s affirmed that God is one in the beginning, by the end God is quasi-split into an eternally “merciful” being in heaven and an eternally “just” one in hell; and, though all began with the eternal light, the end is an eternal separation of light and darkness, two everlastingly opposed kingdoms? Satan’s dark Miltonian romance reaches its ecstatic climax and he’s crowned king of an eternal pit of sadomasochists, which many infernalists have believed will be far more populous than Christ’s kingdom? Milton is not unique. It could be argued that a hidden flirtation with Satan has been part of the Church from the get go, and many Christians have found him perhaps a more fascinating figure than Christ Himself; certainly nobody has ever flattered him more than those who want to crown him the eternal “prince of darkness”, rather than the miserable snake and accuser the Bible presents him as.

    To the Accuser Who Is the God of This World
    William Blake

    Truly, my Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
    And dost not know the Garment of the Man.
    Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
    Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan.

    Tho’ thou art Worship’d by the Names Divine
    Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou are still
    The Son of Morn in weary Night’s decline,
    The lost Traveller’s Dream under the Hill.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      “Satan’s dark Miltonian romance reaches its ecstatic climax and he’s crowned king” does not clearly do justice to the subtlety of Paradise Lost – in which, so far as I can see, he carefully depicts the rebel angels as never in any etymological sense indeed ‘ecstatic’, though constantly indulging self-deceptively in what might aptly be called ‘pseudo-ecstasies’. Is it an improbable imaginative snapshot of such a rebellion ‘in progress’ (however protractedly – e.g., including Paradise Regained – and all human history up to the time of Milton’s writing, and ours)? In that sense is it, say, MacDonaldian-universalist incompatible? I would suggest the ‘problem’ for the soteriologically generous (e.g., anti-double-predestinarian) Milton is, how can rebel angels be saved, in contrast to the seduced (yet in their degree culpable) humans for whom they (i.e., in the first place, Adam and Eve in Book XII of Paradise Lost) rejoice in accepting the Son will become Incarnate, Suffer, Die, and Rise Again?


  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Stylistically or genre-critically or whatever, in how far is a review of a review (of a review) analogous to features of ‘classical’ polemical writing?


  10. bgoodness says:

    If I may humbly say so, this is an excellent review of a review. You have outdone yourself here, Father Kimel. This may well be one of the best posts you have ever graced this blog with. It is clear, concise, and intellectually honest.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not yet had the delight of reading any of the MacDonald editions in which David Jack has helpfully translated the author’s Scots passages – such as the Robert Falconer linked – but will, for the sake of thoroughness, note that people who immediately want a free taste of that novel, can find copies of several different editions scanned in the Internet Archive, and a transcription at Project Gutenberg (all, I think, as searchable texts).


  12. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It seems to me the Lazarus story is far less compatible with the infernalist position than the universalist. There is no difficulty with a universalist understanding of the story. Universalism, as I understand it, requires belief in the fire to operate, and understands the whole point of Chist’s death and resurrection as being precisely to visit the damned and bridge the gap between them and paradise, and when Jesus is telling the story, this has yet to come about. For the infernalist, though, Jesus comes for the saved, not the damned. In the story Lazarus is already saved and in paradise: if Jesus’s passion saves neither the rich man (who stays damned) or Lazarus (who is saved already) what, exactly, for the infernalist, is the point of Jesus?

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Ah ha. That’s actually quite ingenious. If you give me your address I shall send you a box of chocolates or 38 ozs. of smoked salmon. Then of course I’ll steal your argument.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        Thank you. I am immensely flattered.


        • SF says:

          I think the parable should approached more in its own right, instead of trying to fit it in with a systematizizing and idiosyncratically Christian theology.

          And in any case, the last line of the parable *Itself* seems to pretty explicitly suggest that there won’t be (or wouldn’t have been) any substantive difference whether this occurred pre-Christ or post-Christ — it has a tangible hint of the pessimistic and even deterministic.

          Further, some of Jesus’ very last words in Luke, where he tells the fellow crucifixion victim that he would be with him in paradise that very day, seems that suggest that Jesus held a fairly typical eschatological view, where rewards (or presumably punishments) would be meted out irrespective of his own person and mission.


          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            I agree that the parable isn’t really about the ultimate, eternal fate of sinners, but goes to who is to face immediate judgement. It is the infernalist camp who try and stretch if further.
            Jesus’s words about not believing if someone rises from the dead don’t add anything, they only suggest that the rich man’s brothers, who are the rulers and wealthy individuals of Israel, will share his fate: whether that fate is eternal or ultimately redeemable is the very question being debated.
            The thief on the cross is in the same position as Lazarus in the parable, being transported from his sufferings straight away to paradise. I am not sure how Jesus’s words don’t relate to his person and mission, since it is precisely the thief’s faith in Jesus’s person and mission which prompt’s Jesus’s reply.


          • SF says:

            Hey, you’re the one who countered the “infernalist” interpretation with one in which Jesus “visit[s] the damned and bridge the gap between them and paradise”… so I dunno how exactly you can think that pushing back against this is irrelevant to the “infernalist” interpretation..


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            “I think the parable should approached more in its own right, instead of trying to fit it in with a systematizizing and idiosyncratically Christian theology.”

            There’s certainly a place for a historical-critical reading of the parable, but that is to only to read it as historical artifact and not as Holy Scripture. A catholic Christian believes that the Jesus who spoke the parable is crucified, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father; and therefore will insist that the “meaning” of the parable for the Church and the preaching of the gospel can only be apprehended when interpreted through a hermeneutic of Pascha.

            Liked by 2 people

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Iain Lovejoy observes, “Jesus’s words about not believing if someone rises from the dead don’t add anything, they only suggest that the rich man’s brothers, who are the rulers and wealthy individuals of Israel, will share his fate”. Could they (vv. 29-31) not also suggest that Abraham is taking a less dismissive view of the rich man’s brothers than the rich man himself is? And that Jesus is underlining this to His hearers? The brothers – and hearers – listening to Moses and the prophets could soon have a happiness approaching that of Lazarus (who listening to Moses and the prophets) and St. Abraham (about whom Moses and the prophets speak).


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      This might be expanded by giving attention to Christ’s death and resurrection as ‘advancing’ the “already saved” like Lazarus – and St. Abraham – not least toward reunion with their “holy and glorious flesh” (as Charles Williams liked to quote Dante).


  13. Father Alban says:

    “What is at issue here is the moral character of our God. What kind of God punishes his children with interminable suffering? What kind of God abandons them to anguish and misery?”

    If, as Orthodox Christians, this is the God we preach, no wonder so many people today want nothing to do with him – or us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I daresay that most Orthodox bishops and priests do not intend to preach such a God. After all, do they not declare God to be Philanthropolos Theos? Yet still the love of God is conditioned by the vision of the River of Fire–God abandoning the wicked to their eschatological suffering. We insist that the damned themselves are responsible for this suffering. If they had only repented and begun the way of theosis, they would not be in a position where God’s love was a torment to them. That seems to relieve God of the moral burden–but only seemingly. As it turns out, God’s absolute Love and Grace takes a backseat to humanity’s God-given freedom. Man’s no is greater than God’s yes. Which is just another way of saying that God’s love is conditional.


  14. Jeremy Klein says:

    I’m not totally sure where to leave this comment so that people will see it, but I’m a former super fundamentalist Catholic who has become essentially convinced that no one will end up in Hell whatsoever. It seems that there is great parallelism between the possibility that many will end up in Purgatory until they go to Heaven in Catholicism, and the Hell described by DBH and many of the Eastern Fathers here.

    I used to be a very Thomistic person and believed his doctrine on Hell to be simply infallible. But… it’s just a bit convenient. No one who rejects God in this life truly has experienced God to reject Him so fully that it would be worth the infinite punishment they say it is. In fact, every act of sin is (as you and DBH have both said before) essentially no different than a deluded man stabbing himself. There are so many factors that influence a person’s decisions, and such hiddenness on the part of God, to make Him damning someone for eternity anywhere near close to fair.

    I need to read TASBS… Thank you for your work here, though. I’ve found it really uplifting.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Grant says:

    I can never tske people who take what the Lord was teaching with the parable of the rich msn and Lazarus seriously who ignoring that it is a parable and how He uses it along with the other parables in that section of Luke and the meaning He draws from it, but instead take it to be journalistic depiction of the afterlife and further the last judgement.

    I might be more inclined not to agree but at least take seriously their own belief that it does teach this they followed what such a take would therefore mean is demanded for salvation. That is, Lazarus is saved because he was homeless with nothing and sores, it is nit said he was pious or good or righteous etc, or that he repented. If they really believe this literal take then salvation is determined solely by having nothing and living rough, that alone saves. Not bad as it goes and there certainly sre more than a few passages indicating giving up all to follow Christ and to the poor (more than any of us want to acknowledge to closely myself included) of course here having nothing is the sole and only requirement of salvation, not Christ, repentance etc (again for those who insist on such a reading and demand it be taken as such).

    As such, I would take them seriously in their own stated reading of said parable and their conviction if they had got rid of everything they owned and lived homeless on the streets (of course why and how could they then be online 😉 ). I’ve yet to see and encounter this (and strangely those who are in the terrible situation of homelessness seem to not focus on this having immediate hell they look for salvation from right now), and until I do, I don’t believe they take this reading seriously either, but rather it is nothing more than an empty and disingenuous rhetorical point for thrm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daniel says:

      Never thought of this counter-point for people who want to interpret prophecy within a literalist legal framework. Love it!


  16. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    By the way, people might be interested in St. Asterius’s sermon on the Rich man and Lazarus, if they do not know it already – though as far as I know there are no English translations based on the critical editions online:


    Liked by 1 person

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