In A.D. 754 Emperor Constantine convened a counsel of bishops in Hieria to condemn the veneration of icons and prohibit the practice in the catholic Church. It identified itself as the “Holy, Great, and Ecumenical Seventh Synod.” Twenty three years later, the Empress Irene summoned a second seventh ecumenical council to repudiate the Synod of Hieria and restore the veneration of icons—the Second Council of Nicaea. The synodical acts (minutes) record that the definitions of the iconoclastic synod were examined by the bishops one by one and refuted when necessary. The following exchange is of particular interest for those concerned about the dogmatic status of everlasting perdition:
Definition 18. Gregory reads: “If any one confess not the resurrection of the dead, the judgment to come, the retribution of each one according to his merits, in the righteous balance of the Lord that neither will there be any end of punishment nor indeed of the kingdom of heaven, that is the full enjoyment of God, for the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink but righteousness joy and peace in the Holy Ghost, as the divine Apostle teaches, let him be anathema.”
Epiphanius reads: “This is the confession of the patrons of our true faith the holy Apostles, the divinely inspired Fathers—this is the confession of the Catholic Church and not of heretics.”1
This exchange came to my attention via Craig Trulia’s article “Nicea II’s Teaching on Eternal Damnation, Origen, and Apocatastasis.” Mr Truglia treats Epiphanius’ statement as if it were an authoritative conciliar pronouncement. That’s an understandable mistake, given the exclamation of approval (“This is the confession …”); but it misunderstands how a church council defines dogma. If we wish to learn what a council has doctrinally determined, we look to its decrees and canons. Conversations between the bishops may help us to better interpret the decrees and canons, but they do not represent the dogmatic voice of the council.
I do not doubt that the anathema read by Gregory accurately states what many, most, or all of the bishops believed in 787; in that sense it is a valuable piece of historical evidence. In particular it tells us that the Church then taught (1) that God retributively punishes the damned and (2) that this punishment is everlasting. SS Augustine and Justinian would have been pleased. That the Church of the 8th century taught everlasting perdition does not surprise, but that she also taught everlasting retributive punishment may raise an Orthodox eyebrow or two. That’s what the Latins teach, not us. But these two passages from St Sophronius of Jerusalem’s Synodal Letter (680) confirm the retributive reading:
From thence he will come again to make judgement of the living and the dead, and to repay each one according to the actions which each has performed, whether someone has performed good and beautiful deeds, or foul and blameworthy. (2.3.17)
Being free of all their lawless babblings and walking in the footsteps of our Fathers, we both speak of the consummation of the present world and believe that that life which is to come after the present life will last forever, and we hold to unending punishment; the former will gladden unceasingly those who have performed excellent deeds, but the latter will bring pain without respite, and also indeed punishment, on those who became lovers of what was vile in this life and refused to repent before the end of their course and departure hence. (2.4.4)2
But is this what the Orthodox Church popularly teaches today? The answer is no. Orthodox bishops, priests, theologians are keen to distinguish the Eastern understanding of hell from the Roman Catholic doctrine. We do not believe that the philanthropic Trinity would endlessly punish his children. Fr John Romanides speaks for many Orthodox:
All human beings will see the glory of God, and from this point of view they have the same end. Everyone will certainly see the glory of God, the difference being that, whereas the saved will see the glory of God as sweetest light without evening, the damned will see the same glory of God as consuming fire, as fire that will burn them. It is a true and predictable fact that we shall all see the glory of God. Seeing God, that is to say, His glory and His Light, is something that will happen whether we want it or not. The experience of this Light, however, will be different for the two categories…. The Church does not send anyone to Paradise or to Hell, but it prepares the faithful for the vision of Christ in glory, which everyone will have. God loves the damned as much as the Saints. He wants all to be cured, but not all accept the cure that He offers.
Paradise and Hell do not exist from the point of view of God, but from the point of view of human beings. God will love everyone equally. He will send His grace to all, in the same way as He will send His grace to all, in the same way as He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Saint Matthew 5:45). But everyone will not accept God’s grace in the same way. Some will see God as Light and other as fire.
From this point of view, therefore, we Orthodox Christians agree with the most liberal people in the world. No message can be more liberal than that of the Holy Fathers of the Church, who not only stress that, ‘Son, we’ll all go to the same place’, as an old lady told me, but also emphasize that God loves everyone equally: the damned and the saved, the glorified and the saints, Angels and devils, good and bad, prostitutes and chaste … God loves all human beings equally, He loves everyone without distinction. From God’s point of view, God saves everyone. He wants the salvation of all human beings, and he has preordained salvation for all.
How do we know this? Because even Hell is salvation (the human being is preserved) and Hell is a way of making perfect, but it is Hell and not Paradise. Because the one who is damned is incapable of progress, he is unable to accept progress towards perfection. Why? Because his conscience has been hardened, his heart has grown hard. He remains so egoistic and self-centered that his personality cannot develop from selfishness to unselfishness. Since he cannot develop anymore, he is perfected in his selfishness. Even Hell is evil for him. Although it is not punishment from God’s point of view, it is punishment from the human point of view.3
The God of love only wills the salvation of human beings. In the eschaton all will be immersed in the divine glory. The redeemed will experience this glory as bliss and joy; the damned, as torment. In other words, God does not cause the eternal suffering of the reprobate; they bring it upon themselves, much as a heroin addict who refuses treatment brings upon himself the consequences of his drug use. The wicked, Romanides tells us, have not availed themselves of the divine therapy; hence they are incapable of experiencing the presence of God as anything but wrath and condemnation. Perhaps we might imagine the last judgment something like this: We are brought into a room filled with the uncreated light, infinitely brighter than 10,000 suns. Everywhere we turn, there is this blazing, inescapable illumination. Those whose eyes have been transformed in the Spirit will see God to their joy and happiness (God is their paradise); but those with untransformed eyes will find the light an excruciating, interminable, irrelievable torture (God is their hell). Romanides contends that he is accurately representing the consensual view of the Fathers, both East and West. I’m dubious. It’s easy enough to find patristic citations that clearly state that in his justice God actively punishes the wicked; it’s not so easy to find citations that suggest that the wicked suffer because they cannot abide the intense presence of God. That would cast the divine Judge in the role of a passive spectator. I suppose it’s possible to construe Epiphanius’s statement in a way that approximates the “hell is heaven experienced differently” position; but that really seems to be stretching things, both lexically and philosophically. Epiphanius, after all, speaks of retribution according to merit. In the words of our Lord: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Matt 25:41-43). Christ does not say “You have departed” but “Depart!”
If in their obdurate selfishness the damned suffer eternally, it is because God has determined that they deserve to suffer eternally. That is what retribution means. And if God determines that the damned should suffer eternally, then this is his ultimate, final, and just will. As David B. Hart has so cogently argued, in the eschaton God’s consequent will becomes his antecedent will.4 If he did not positively will the continuing existence of the lost in their irremediable condition of ill-being, they would disappear from existence. The final future reveals both God’s original purposes and his eternal character. If he continues to preserve the damned in their condition of ill-being, then this must be understood as divine reprobation and condign punition; otherwise he would be guilty of injustice. Everlasting damnation thus reveals that the divine love is not absolute and unconditional. In the eschatological end, justice (if it be justice) triumphs over mercy; the wicked are everlastingly subjected to God’s holy wrath. Such is the logic of the creatio ex nihilo. Romanides’ intent is clear. He wishes to absolve God of responsibility for the sufferings of the damned. Through a lifetime of iniquity and impenitence, they have freely chosen their fate. They have no one to blame but themselves. Romanides’ proposal, therefore, belongs to the free-will model of hell (“the doors of hell are locked from the inside”), which has become the dominant model in Catholic and Protestant theology.5 His Eastern construal differs from most Western free-will proposals in this one respect: the damned suffer not because of their alienation from the divine source of life but from the intensity of the divine presence. But this difference is minor and simply boils down to different metaphorical preferences. The “outer darkness” is no less a mode of the divine presence than the “consuming fire.” Romanides’ claim that hell is not punishment from God’s point of view but only from the point of view of the damned cannot be sustained, nor do I think that either Epiphanius or Sophronius would have found it coherent. It forgets what it means for God to be God and eschaton to be eschaton.6 Paradise and hell are not the same, no matter whose point of view we are considering. In their hardness of heart, the damned suffer everlastingly. This suffering serves no redemptive purpose, because not only are the damned incapable of altering their hardness of heart but so is their Creator! It’s as if God has created a rock he cannot lift. Why then does God condemn the reprobate to unendurable existence? If the infliction of retributive punishment is morally unacceptable, why not put them out of their misery? Would that not be the compassionate thing to do? We euthanize animals to relieve them of their extreme suffering; but according to Romanides, preserving the damned in an irreversible condition of ill-being and misery is an act of love. Nonsense and balderdash!
We are led to this conclusion: if Epiphanius has enunciated the dogmatic will of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, then the popular “river of fire” understanding of damnation is heretical. If it is not heretical, then a significant correction of doctrine has taken place. In both Orthodox catechetical instruction and preaching, hell as retributive punishment for our sins has been replaced by hell as self-inflicted incapacity to enjoy God. How then can the opponents of universal salvation insist that further correction is impossible? Apokatastasis is the logical conclusion of the intuitions and motivations that underlie the river of fire model of hell. The theological trajectory is clear and enjoys the strong patristic support of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian. If the word “correction” disturbs, substitute the word “refinement,” “clarification,” or “development.” The result is the same.
Romanides is correct. God is absolute love, and his love is a consuming fire. He is also correct when he writes that “even Hell is salvation.” How could it be otherwise? From beginning to end, the Lord wills our good and well-being, never our ill-being. For this reason he cannot and will not be satisfied until the wicked have been made pure and their wills converted to love and adoration. The dross of evil will be consumed in the eternal flames of the Holy Spirit. Love will be all in all. Again I ask, How could it be otherwise? Perhaps better than any theologian in the history of the Church, George MacDonald apprehended most truly and most deeply the consuming fire of omnipotent Love:
He is a consuming fire, that only that which cannot be consumed may stand forth eternal. It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our worship. He will have purity. It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus; but that the fire will burn us until we worship thus; yea, will go on burning within us after all that is foreign to it has yielded to its force, no longer with pain and consuming, but as the highest consciousness of life, the presence of God.7
Such is the glorious Spirit-inspired development of doctrine that the Orthodox mind must know and will know—and in its profoundest depths does know—to be true and genuine. Does it not resonate in the depths of your being? Does not this gospel of God’s absolute, unconditional, and consuming love inflame your heart with hope and transcendent joy?
But why has it taken so long for God to correct his Church and refine her teaching? Why did he tarry? We do not know. But why think we are still not in the early days of the Church?
 The Seventh General Council, p. 423.
 Pauline Allen’s English translation of the Synodal Letter may be found in Sophronius of Jerusalem and Seventh-Century Heresy. On the eschatology of the Church Fathers, see Brian Daley, Hope of the Early Church. Seven centuries after St Sophronius, St Gregory Palamas would declare: “For then it is a time of revelation and punishment, not compassion and mercy; then is a time of revelation of the wrath, the anger, and the just retribution of God” (quoted in Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death, pp. 509-510).
 Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church (pagination unknown). I have not read this book and have taken the citations from the net. If I have misinterpreted Romanides’ position, please let me know so I can make the necessary corrections. In my opinion, “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros remains the most compelling presentation of this model of damnation. Also see “Paradise and Hell in Orthodox Tradition” by George Metallinos and “Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife According to the Bible” by Peter Chopelas.
Several years ago Bishop Irenei Steenberg criticized the popular “hell is but heaven experienced differently” position on the now-defunct Monachos forum. In 2015 he was asked about his view in an interview. Here is his response:
You raise a big and a heated point. And you’re right that I have written and spoken about some of these questions, and have been criticized for not following what has become a popular line in modern day discussions. A tremendous amount of the discussion that takes place, particularly on the internet (which really is just the avenue for fruitless discussion), focuses on this idea that has become immensely popular since the mid-1980s that there is no distinction between heaven and hell—that they are one place that is “experienced differently.” Now, this simply is not to be found in the Tradition of the Church, save for, as near as I have ever been able to discern, two paragraphs in the entire history of the Church—one from St. Gregory of Nyssa and one from St. Isaac the Syrian. Two paragraphs … paragraphs. Not books, not lives, but paragraphs.
I trust I’m not the only one who is amused by the irony that universalist saints Gregory and Isaac are the the two principal sources behind the teaching.
 That All Shall Be Saved, pp. 69-71, 81-83, 186-187. Also see Hart’s article “What God Wills and What God Permits.”
 See Thomas Talbott’s entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Heaven and Hell in Christian Thought.”
 See my article “Divine Presence and the River of Fire,” as well as the constructive conversation between Zach Manis and myself in the comments.
 “The Consuming Fire.” Also see his unspoken sermons “Justice” and “The Last Farthing.” Read through these remarkable homilies and tell me that you do not hear in them the voice of St Isaac.
(Go to “Unconditional Divine Love“)
Father, there are major problems in this article and its teaching on councils, which betray having both not read the councils themselves nor Father Price’s writings (who is the eminent living scholar on the topic of the ecumenical councils.)
I am a little bit inundated at the moment, but I will in more detail respond to what you write here and hopefully we will both learn a lot.
This raises an interesting question about change in tradition – how is it understood that change is, or can be, brought about – only so by conciliar edict, or is there room for a more ‘organic’ development, change from the bottom up? If the latter, how is such change recognized or codified? Perhaps a third way – in matter not reaching dogmatic leves – can change merely be left uncodified, i.e. accepted by some, but not as to be accepted by all? That such tradition can be accepted with a wide range of divergence? This is troubling question for Eastern Orthodox particularly, lacking a centralized magisterium or the ability to ignore tradition altogether.
Why would anyone associate centralized control with God when He is absolutely transcendent? Is he not capaable of making his will known and effected through even the most chaotic of governing systems? Is tradition truly dictated through though centrality? Setting those reasonable questions aside, this characterization is false that is the pinning of episcopal authority against people who would willy nilly wish for some skort of candy land like utopia. No one within EO denies the authority of the ecumenical councils. The dispute is in their interpretation and understanding of those councils. To mistake this debate as a matter of lack of magisterium is to misunderstand where the crux of the debate that is taking place, at least in Orthodox circles.
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Absent an ecumenical council, what about the universal canonization of Saints for defending a particular doctrine? There aren’t many but Gregory Palamas does seem to fit this, though, of course, he must be interpreted. Perhaps St. Symeon the New Theologian for calling the light “God,” and, although I don’t exactly know what to do with it, St. Mark of Ephesus? Though again, he must be interpreted, and WHAT exactly they all believed that they were canonized for always isn’t clear either. I would hope for St. Mark, it simply isn’t because he cemented the divide between East and West. As Plested shows, he was far more “Western” than most Orthodox today.
But Fr Thomas Hopko suggested something like in an offhand comment as another way of the Orthodox seeing its doctrine crystalized, and I can’t think of any good objections to it. What do you think? Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately if you want either apokatastasis or “infernalism” dogmatized!), as far as I am aware, no saint has been canonized for either condemning or upholding the doctrine of universal salvation, which, aside from the all the squabling we all do over whether it was condemned at an ecumenical council, would seem to leave the doctrine open for discussion.
What do you think of this proposal?
Yes Mark what I am suggesting is that for Eastern Orthodoxy the scope and relevance of theological opinion and praxis is much greater than it is for Roman Catholics whilst yet also holding to the validity of conciliar decrees. This has relevance as to how dogma itself is understood as well as it would narrow and delimit dogma by definition to that proceeding only by way of ecumenical council.
Last night’s Simpsons dealt with universal salvation.
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It seems that Scripture and Tradition both teach both retributive and restorative divine justice. Sometimes as two sides of the same coin. Thus I believe it’s a mistake to set the “River of Fire” over and against retributive justice. A good example here is Saint Maximus, who writes:
To those who have willfully used the principle of their being contrary to nature, He [God] rightly renders not well-being but eternal ill-being (τὸ ἀεὶ φεῦ εἶναι), since well-being is no longer accessible to those who have placed themselves in opposition to it, and they have absolutely no motion after the manifestation of what was sought, by which what is sought is naturally revealed to those who seek it (ambig. 65.3).
Rendering eternal ill-being here is clearly retributive language. For those who place themselves in opposition to the Good, i.e. incapacitate themselves regarding participation in the Good through a formed disposition, their self-determined lack of participation is equivalent to punishment. But does God, according to Maximus, intentionally bring about punishment of the damned? Commenting on the above passage in his recent article, “Patristic Views on Why There is No Repentance after Death,” David Bradshaw notes (p. 13):
Although Maximus speaks here of God “rendering” eternal ill-being to the damned, we must remember that this is the same state described in Ambigua 7 as that in which “nothing will appear apart from God”. Evidently the same divine presence that is experienced by the blessed as bliss is experienced by the damned as torment. Maximus states this explicitly elsewhere [see below]. He also offers a number of lengthy descriptions of the torments of hell, envisaging it as “separation from God and his holy powers, and belonging to the devil and the evil demons, a state which lasts forever, without any prospect of our ever being liberated” [ep. 1].
Bradshaw’s mention of St. Maximus’ other explicit statements include this:
“When…I say ‘things contrary to nature,’ I mean the privation of grace producing unspeakable pain and suffering, which God is accustomed to bring about by nature when He unites Himself contrary to grace to those who are unworthy. For God, in a manner known only to Himself, by uniting Himself to all in accordance with the quality of the disposition that underlies each, imparts perception to each one, inasmuch as each one was formed by Himself for the reception of Him who at the end of the ages will be completely united to all” (qu. Thal. 59.8).
All will indeed participate in the Good, since all were formed for that purpose, “for the reception of Him,” to be united to God in the eschaton. Because of the Incarnation, all will be raised. Yet each will experience this union in accord with the disposition they have cultivated in this life: some to resurrection of life, some to resurrection of judgment. He’s the Savior of all, but especially of those who believe. All will share in God’s life, a participation that gives delight to some and renders punishment to others. Bradshaw also demonstrates a similar teaching in St. John of Damascus.
So you think when Maximus speaks about all of human nature, “only those who are worthy” eternally circling around the divine nature, and when talks about some experiencing God as torment, and some as bliss, he’s speaking about the same event?
I was waiting for your response to my Maximus article where I argue that this interpretatioon doesn’t make any sense. https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/st-maximus-the-universalist/
You “liked” some of Jeff’s comments, so you probably don’t find it convincing, but why? If you answer here, maybe I can modify my forthcoming article on this to more fully address your concerns.
How would you deal with this passage from Maximus, then? It clearly distinguishes between the judgment and a universal deification of all human beings?
Notice his specification here: “that other time”:
“Moreover, they [the prophets] researched and investigated, not simply the incorruptibility of nature and the principles of divinization associated with that incorruptibility, but also the time according to which the testing through sufferings for the sake of divinization would come about – a testing that would make manifest both the disposition of those who truly longed for divinization and the feigned appearance of those who falsely believed they loved it. At the same time, they researched and investigated that other time, by which I mean the age or aeon according to which divinization will be present in actuality to all, transforming all human beings into the divine likeness, in a manner proportionate to each, to the extent that each one is receptive of it.”
Ad Thal. 59.11, trans. Constas, 421
I plan to give Fr Aidan my next piece on Maximus HOPEFULLY this week, which will talk about passages like these in Maximus and other fathers in a more in-depth manner.
Thanks, Mark. I did read your article and actually made some preliminary notes toward a response. Unfortunately, other things came up, and I couldn’t respond. Concerning the reference above, “the time according to which the testing through sufferings for the sake of divinization would come about” is the present time, as 59.10 makes clear. However, “that other time” is, of course, the age of universal resurrection, in which all do participate in God, but in a qualified sense. Note the qualifications: “in a manner proportionate to each, to the extent that each one is receptive of it.” These are common terms of divinization for St. Maximus, according to whom not all persons are receptive of divinization.
For instance, he speaks in Ad Thal. 22 of “that end which will be actualized by grace according to its proper form in the divinization of the worthy” (22.6); again, “this is the property of divine grace alone, that is, to grant the gift of divinization proportionately to created beings” (22.7). Again, speaking of the divinization of human nature in Christ, “God has in truth actualized and brought to completion His own perfect Incarnation—[thus] we must henceforth await those other ages that are to come for the actualization of the mystical and ineffable divinization of human beings, [Eph 2.7 quoted] … completely and actively effecting divinization in those who are worthy” (22.4). The ones who are receptive of divinization in the eschaton are the ones who are worthy, made so through actively pursuing virtue in this life.
It’s important to remember here the real distinction St. Maximus makes between nature and hypostasis. This is how the Question begins in 22.2, and it sets the stage for an accurate description of divinization that follows. God the Word completely unites human nature to Himself and utterly divinizes it (cf. scholium 3). But distinct human hypostases must each become worthy, in cooperation with God’s grace, by actively pursuing virtue in this life. For, “God always willingly becomes man in those who are worthy. Blessed therefore is the one who through wisdom has actively made God man in himself [in the present age], who has brought to fullness the inception of this mystery, and who passively experiences becoming God by grace [in the age to come] , for this experience will never come to an end” (22.8). It is the worthy man, who has used this present life wisely, that St. Maximus considers blessed.
Another passage related to Ad Thal. 59.11, especially concerning each person’s receptivity to God’s divinizing presence, is Ambigua 42: “To put it concisely, they [creatures] move in accordance with their possession or privation of the potential they have naturally to participate in Him who is by nature absolutely imparticipable, and who offers Himself wholly and simply to all—worthy and unworthy—by grace through His infinite goodness, and who endows each with the permanence of eternal being, corresponding to the way that each disposes himself and is” (42.15). What we see here is that God offers himself with differing responses according to the disposition of each. God will indeed unite Himself to all, as the Incarnation fully flowers in the eschaton. He will indeed endow each with the “permanence of eternal being.” In this sense, all will be transformed unto the divine likeness by sharing in the Resurrection of Christ. But the existential results will vary from hypostasis to hypostasis, depending on their formed disposition. In accordance with their logoi, all things will receive either eternal well-being through virtue or eternal ill-being through vice.
Thank you! First of all, I’m not sure how Ad Thal. 59.10 makes your point, since he is constantly referring to “the future age” there, though I will look more closely at it later to see if I missed anything. How is divinization present to all in proportion to their virtue in this age? We’re clearly not all divinized. I’ll have to look at the greek, but why wouldn’t Maximus just say “this present age” then, or give some indication in that text that it’s THIS AGE? Greek has a way of distinguishing between “this” and “that,” and perhaps that’s significant that he says “that.” My guess is that Constas translated it fairly literally, but I’ll have to look.
As for the rest of what you say, I figured “in proportion to,” and “the worthy” would be your main response, and I do have a lengthy response to both of those objections. The first mistakes Maximus’ avoidance of Neo-Evagrianism (“in proportion”) as a statement on hell, and the second, more understandably, fails to make sense of how all of human nature could circle infinitely around the divine nature, and yet only the worthy are those that are doing the circling, i.e. everyone is made worthy. See his ecclesiastical mystagogy.
For the actual response to the “in proportion,” and “worthy” objections, with full citations, etc., I’ll wait till my blog post on here comes out.
Looking forward to see what you have to say in regard to it. Thanks again.
And sorry Fr Aidan, if this continues, if the comments on the “St. Maximus the Universalist” are still open, we’ll move this over there. I realize this doesn’t have much at all to do with this current blog
Thanks again, Mark. I don’t have much to add here, except to say, please read Ad Thal. 59.10 in regard to “the time according to which the testing through sufferings for the sake of divinization would come about.” In St. Maximus’ flow of thought, this is clearly a reference to the present age. Moreover, the distinction I mentioned between nature and hypostasis will answer your problem concerning “how all of human nature could circle infinitely around the divine nature, and yet only the worthy are those that are doing the circling.” The Word assumed human nature completely, but each human hypostasis must actualize their union with Christ and His divinized human nature, through faith, virtue and perseverance, during this life.
Sorry, yesterday, I was trying to prepare for a french class in the evening and looked at everything you said in a rather cursory manner.
First of all, you may very well be right about that section in 59.10 referring to the present time. “Suffering” does indeed make it sounds like this age. I’ll read through it again and see if can make more sense out of it. Maybe I’ll change that for the blog.
Second of all, I’m not very convinced regarding your second answer regarding human nature. I don’t think it really makes sense out of what Maximus is doing in his Ecc. Myst. or other texts. I’ll explain why in the post. Anyways, thanks, and best we leave this conversation be since it’s entirely tangential to what this blog post is actually about.
Sounds good, Mark. Glad to leave it there for now. Regarding the suggestion i made about the nature/ hypostatis distinction, however, one more item may help. Try making these associations: nature with logos, and hypostasis with tropos. Not that they are equivalent terms, but St. Maximus does see them as parallel sets: i.e., not every tropos aligns with its logos, just as not every hypostasis aligns with its nature. Just something to consider.
I intend to publish Mark’s new article on Maximus, as well as John Stamps’s next piece on Athanasius, next week (assuming Mark decides not to revise it after this discussion). I’ve been consumed with my last three articles, but I’ve now gotten them out and it’s time to take a breather!
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Father, I apologize for the delay. There are major problems in the above analysis and I recommend you issue a retraction. https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/2020/06/08/confuting-universalism-with-conciliar-fundamentalism/
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I urge everyone to read Craig’s piece and share with him your thoughts both here and on his blog.
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Truglia’s odd and eccentric understanding is a complete fabrication – even a beginning student of Eastern Orthodox conciliarity knows the importance of the most fundamental distinction in both meaning and authority between conciliar oroi on the one hand and conciliar minutes, speeches, arguments, expostitions, etc. on the other. The latter have absolutely no ecclesial legal force nor bear any dogmatic weight whatsoever.
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Odd and eccentric? I quoted Father Price who is the authority on this topic.
You fatally misread the Anglican Canon as endorsing the late development by partisans to ascribe an exaggerated importance to the minutes, debates, sessions and expositions of the councils. He merely identifies and describes this development. This fundamentalism was not adapted as normative, not then, and not since.
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You don’t understand the argument. THis is addressed in my article (not the Anglican part)
Yes I understand you very clearly – you are misappropriating Price to endorse your fundamentalism. You are not merely saying that Price finds this new development (this development is indeed a historic fact) – but you are fabricating things wholesale – misreading Price to use him in your scheme to prop up your idiosyncratic reading of the councils. Price is neither making a case for nor defending conciliar fundamentalism.
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I am most definitely not!
I’d take the your critique (and others) more seriously if you have actually extensively read the councils, Price, and the other things I am actually citing. So, of course to someone who has not read anything I am “fabricating things,” because you do not have reality to compare it to!
Does this “patristic fundamentalism” make an exception for the rampant anti-semitism of the period? Recall that John Chrysostom’s rabid anti-semitism was an inspiration to the Nazis, particularly his notion that Jews were “fit to be slaughtered.”
Or Gregory of Nyssa’s physiological speculations in On the Making of Man — can we set these to the side, or are we to take seriously the idea that sleep is caused by vapors in the nervous system?
Or perhaps should we instead not abandon our own critical faculties, and view the Scriptures, Councils, and perhaps Church Fathers as inspired, but also recognize the fact of intellectual development in the traditions.
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Thomas, I think you are discerning enough to understand that the arguments you bring up would eviscerate your own Scriptures. So, Saint Paul in Titus calls all Cretans “liars.” He also tells Timothy that wine is good for his stomach (which, contextually, is based of an understanding of physiology similar to St Gregory of Nyssa’s). So, unless you do not believe the Scriptures are word for word inerrant, the issue is with proper interpretation–not the Scripture or Father being at fault.
For what it is worth, I find Patristic Fundamentalism to be for more extreme and less universally applied. St Photius simply said not to look at the fathers’ “nakedness” if they were wrong about this or that. In a way, we treat the Scriptures in the same way and stop at nothing to reconcile passages so they all work.
I don’t believe the scriptures are innerent, at least if they are to be judged as error-free in regard to history or science. Fr Thomas Hopko did not believe they were inerrent in this way, neither does Fr John Breck, Fr Ted Stylianopolous, Fr Eugen Pentiuc, or Veselin Kesich. All these people were teachers at either St. Vladimir’s or Holy Cross Seminary. Similarly, Fr John Erickson, and (I’ll have to look at his article on non-Chalcedonians again, but I’m almost postiive) Bishop Alexander Golitizin do not believe the councils need to be 100 percent inerrant in the way that you seem to be believe they must be. No one is denying their inspiration here.
Are they all modernists who need to repent, and ask forgiveness? More importantly, has the Orthodox Church ever formally pronounced on HOW exactly the councils are inspired? Fr Aidan’s remarks seem to mimic the thoughts of most Orthodox priests and theologians I am aware of or have encountered in seminary. Their decrees are what theologians agree are to be accepted as infallible for the Church.
If the scriptures or the councils posessed this much authority, why did they not solve the problems of quantum physics or decide to discuss every single doctrine that needed a more clear articulation? Afterall, if they decided to do so, they couldn’t err, correct? They could have solved all our doctrinal issues right then and there by this interpretation of inspiration.
Perhaps I am misconstruing your understanding of inspiration. If so, please help me to better understand why a council couldn’t simply just solve all our theological questions in one fell swoop.
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Maximus allows for factual errors in the Scriptures pertaining to historical details (he also thinks each syllable is inspired with a purpose). But no one is going to say the Scriptures teach something pertaining to doctrine that is incorrect. The fathers presumed the same about the councils.
Hence, this sort of stuff about wrong scientific details and what not misses the mark entirely. What you are in fact doing is making a stawman and attacking it so you can question the authority of the council and its doctrinal stances. And, doing this is heretical.
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Perhaps I have created a straw man. I will look at your work more closely. But I must admit that Robert’s remarks seem correct to me. I’ve never heard of making the minutes of a council on par with it’s decrees. I don’t think any professor I had at seminary would agree with this. I would ask that you please not throw the word heretical around with such ease. As I was said, there is no universal understanding of HOW an ecumenical council is inspired despite what Fr Price says (is he even Orthodox? Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox can have different understandings on HOW they were inspired), and despite what certain saints have said down through the centuries. Orthodox can’t even agree if there were 7 or 9 ecumenical councils. Kallistos Ware in his Orthodox Church book specifies that the DECREES of the council are to be accepted as infallible (and that word needs to be interpreted). Perhaps certain saints through the centuries have interpreted councils this way, but many Orthodox theologians (though I’m sure some would agree with you), as far as I am aware, do not today. Are these theologians all “heretical”?
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In the minutes of Nicea II, in Session 6, it actually gives a definition as to what constitutes an ecumenical council. Only 7 definitely meet the bar. You can look up the minutes and read p. 306-307 yourself.
Those who contradict what the Church has already settled are ignorant. When they teach something untrue instead of keeping their ignorance to themselves, they are teaching (by definition) a heresy. This does not make them outright heretics.
If one goes to seminary or any school and have not read all the councils, but then wants to comment on them as some sort of authority, I would say that their training was deficient.
Mark, Richard Price is a Roman Catholic priest and former Professor of Church History at Heythrop College (which has now closed its doors). I do not know if he has found a new position.
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I thought he was an Anglican priest – but that is neither here nor there. He wisely does not make a case for this fundamentalism (as Craig argues), but he merely terms this development.
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Father Price is RC BTW. I do not endorse everything he concludes, but he is not the only scholar to find “conciliar fundamentalism” among the fathers.
If people actually read my article, they would notice that I wrote:
Father Price is highly critical of conciliar fundamentalism and calls it a “failure to distinguish adequately between conciliar decrees and conciliar debates.”
So, I am, notice that Fr Price recognizes its existence starting by the sixth century and disagrees with it (he disagrees with a lot of things in the councils, he is a liberal and accuses them of forgery and stuff.) I argue that the historical evidence shows conciliar fundamentalism precedes the sixth century, as Athanasius asserts the idea.
Keep kissing the icons of the council fathers on their various feast days, while accusing them of being liars, deceivers, stupid, and etcetera.
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Thanks for this post. As someone who’s “on record” defending the divine presence / river of fire model, I want to address a couple of points that you make here.
At one point, you write: “If in their obdurate selfishness the damned suffer eternally, it is because God has determined that they deserve to suffer eternally. That is what retribution means.”
I disagree. I think the concept of retribution requires (because it includes) the concept of artificial consequences. (Think: losing your license for reckless driving, rather than losing control of the car and wrecking it, which would be a natural consequence of the same action.) If the damned suffer eternally as a natural consequence of their character or past decisions they’ve made, it doesn’t necessarily follow that God has determined that they deserve to suffer *eternally.* Perhaps what God determines—in virtue of making us the kind of creatures we are, creatures whose telos is communion with God and whose flourishing is not possible apart from it—is simply that the damned will suffer for as long as they remain unrepentant. This suffering might turn out to be eternal, but if so, this will be because the damned remain obstinate in their rebellion for all eternity. The distinction is important, because the view you’ve described (“deserve to suffer eternally”) seems to run immediately into the problem of justice—the disproportion between the finitude of earthly wrongdoing and the infinitude of suffering in hell—whereas the view I’m describing (“suffer for as long as…”) does not. This is why an adequate view of hell must construe its punishment in terms of natural consequences rather than artificial consequences.
So the aforementioned view—a version of the free will theodicy—is one way to create some space between the effect of hell and God’s decree. But the view seems to assume that those in hell retain their free will and the power to repent, which many (most?) Christians apparently reject. There is, however, another way to argue that the eternal suffering of the damned is not God’s decree or intent. One could argue that, when Christ is fully revealed in glory on the Day of Judgment, it is God’s intention that this event will bring about a state of final and perfect communion of love between God and all human persons, the fulfillment of human nature. God *foresees*, but does not *intend*, that some will fail to experience it as such. But He does everything in His power to bring it about that this is the way every person will experience the divine presence in the eschaton – which is to say, He wills that all will be saved. This is the solution I defend in _Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God_. (I know you know this; I mention it for others reading this exchange who might not.)
Later in the essay, you pose these questions: “Why then does God condemn the reprobate to unen-durable existence? If the infliction of retributive punishment is morally unacceptable, why not put them out of their misery? Would that not be the compassionate thing to do?”
These are certainly important questions for the divine presence model. They’re the questions that, in my judgment, demonstrate the need for the model to include a second key claim: that the very presence of God is life-giving. On this view, God’s exposing all to His presence in the eschaton is not a separate event from God’s sustaining all in existence; the two events are one and the same. (For any readers who might be interested, the development and defense of this idea can be found in SPLG pp. 298-302 and 374-85.) So I agree with you that an overly minimal divine presence model seems hard pressed to explain why God doesn’t annihilate the damned. But a slightly expanded model has the resources to address this.
There are many other points we might discuss, of course—and have discussed, in previous posts!—but this is probably enough for now.
“If the damned suffer eternally as a natural consequence of their character or past decisions they’ve made, it doesn’t necessarily follow that God has determined that they deserve to suffer *eternally.*”
Actually, it could mean nothing else, and it would also mean that God, in his eternal counsels, is a brute, blackguard, and monster of relentless amoral power. If he is willing to surrender them to such misery, it is because he does not believe that anything in their nature is worth rescuing or worth loving enough to rescue.
Of course, it scarcely matters, because the model of free will you presume is totally logically incoherent. So please do not say he “values their autonomy,” because that cannot be the right counterargument.
The reason why the same bad arguments for an eternal hell circulate and recirculate is a very simple one: there are no actual good arguments, so we simply have to keep rephrasing the bad ones in the hope that they will sound progressively less absurd. That never happens, however. In the end, all that does happen is a kind of self-hypnosis.
There’s an interesting book out there that deals with all your arguments here, and to my mind destroys them quite economically and irrecuperably. If I could just recall the title…
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Thanks for your reply. I was afraid my post had gotten entirely lost in the heated exchanges that took place yesterday. Somehow you found it.
I think I might know the title of that book you mentioned. It’s a good one. I’m surprised to hear you say that it deals with all my arguments, though, since those arguments are from a book that came out just a month or so before yours. If your book was (even in part) a reply to mine, that was a very quick turnaround. I’d be very flattered if it were true, but I’m doubtful.
Regardless, I’m afraid I can’t seem to find any arguments in your comments above. Perhaps I misunderstood, but it seems to be just a string of bare assertions. I think I can safely infer that you don’t have much admiration for agent causation models of libertarian free will. Beyond that, you seem to be just pounding the table. I’d find it most helpful if you’d elaborate a bit.
To make things easier, here’s relevant citation from Hart’s article:
The book’s third theme may really be several distinct themes knitted together by logical interdependency, and so it requires particularly careful exposition. Stated most simply, it is this: given the metaphysics and logic of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, any distinction between what God wills and what God permits necessarily collapses at creation’s eschatological horizon; so too any distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent wills. Thus there are three cardinal tenets of Christian tradition that—if the teaching of eternal damnation be accepted—cannot all be true simultaneously: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God.
If God creates the world from nothingness, under no compulsion and with no motive but the overflow of his own infinite goodness, it is only in the finished reality of all things that the full nature of God’s activity will be revealed. What will be disclosed, moreover, cannot be only the nature of creation, but must necessarily touch upon the divine nature as well. If it is true that creation in no sense adds to, qualifies, or “perfects” God—if, that is, the God who creates from nothing is always already the infinite God who neither requires nor is susceptible to any process of becoming—nothing proper to creation is beyond his power and intention. Inasmuch as creation is not a process of theogony, by which God forges himself in the fires of the finite, it is a genuine theophany, and its final state—intended as it is in the very act of creating—must reveal something of who God is in himself.
Call this point “Theme 3)a”: While it is true that creation does not modify or qualify God, much less determine what he is in himself, and true also that creation is instead entirely determined by him, for just this reason—creation’s total dependency upon God’s will—the final reality of creation will reveal God for who he is in himself. Any intentional act that is not conditional upon some prior or more ultimate necessity is a revelation of the moral identity of the intending agent. If I happen to kill someone because, in willing some other goal, I end up doing so contre coeur, that fact does not disclose much about who I truly am. If I kill someone because I freely choose to do so, as a necessary part of an ultimate design that I was never bound to realize by any condition other than my own desire to bring it to pass, then that fact tells everything about me.
Remember, both according to any logical evaluation of the natural good of rational agents and according to the language of scripture (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; etc.), the eternal loss of a living spirit is at the very least a natural evil, contrary to the will of God. And a natural evil becomes also a moral evil to the very degree that it is directly intended by a willing agent. And yet, given the metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo, there is no logical room here for making a moral distinction between what God directly intends in creation and what he merely allows to happen. Call this “Theme 3)b”: at that final limit, will and permission necessarily become indistinguishable.
It is a logical truism that all secondary causes in creation are reducible to their first cause. This is not a formula of determinism. It merely means that nothing can appear within the “consequents” of God’s creative act that is not, at least as a potential result, implicit in their primordial antecedent. So, even if God allows only for the mere possibility of an ultimately unredeemed natural evil in creation, this means that, in the very act of creation, he accepted this reality—or this real possibility—as an acceptable price for the ends he desired. In acting freely, all the possibilities that the agent knowingly accepts are positively willed as acceptable conditions of the end the agent seeks to achieve. If I freely and knowingly choose a course of action that may involve the death of my child, knowing that that death will then be an ineradicable detail of the pattern of what I bring about, morally I have willed his death within the total calculus of my final intentions, as a cost freely accepted, even if in the end his death never actually comes about. One cannot positively will the whole without positively willing all the necessary parts of the whole (whether those parts exist in only potential or in fully actual states). And so, if God does indeed tolerate that final unredeemed natural evil as the price of his creation, he not only thereby reduces the “goodness” of his creative act to a merely relative goodness; he also converts that natural evil into a moral evil, one wholly enfolded within the total calculus of his own venture in creating, and thereby reveals himself to be not God, the Good as such, but only a god who is (at most) relatively good.
This also means, incidentally—call this “Theme 3)c”—that in such a final state of things the damned would in some very real sense be the saviors of the elect, or at least their redeemers: sacrificial victims whose eternal suffering is the cost accepted by God for the felicity of the blessed. For, whether the damned are predetermined to their reprobation or merely carried there by the unpredictable forces of chance, they—far more so than Christ—are the true lambs slain from the foundation of the world, the ransom eternally ordained by God and the blood eternally spilled so that the Kingdom may be established. They are what God is willing, either by decree or permission, to forfeit. After all, if this is how the game must be played in order for anyone to win at it, the losing lot might just as well have fallen to the redeemed.
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Hmm, I can’t seem to recall the title of the book David is trying to remember either, though I’m sure it will come to me as soon as I hit the “Post Comment” button. In the meantime, Zach, you might want to take a look at a blog piece by a David B. Hart, “What God Wills and What God Permits, which summarizes the relevant argument offered in the book whose title we can’t recall. 🙂
The key point, as I see it, is that we are talking about the eschaton, the culmination and consummation of cosmic history. At this point the distinction between what God permits (evil, suffering, privation, etc) and what he ordains collapses. All loose ends are tied up. Evil is obliterated. The dead are raised. The cosmos transfigured. Humanity is deified in wondrous union with its Creator. There is only the good and glorious conclusion that God has eternally intended in Jesus Christ through the Spirit.
Yet still, according to the divine presence model, some human beings abide in everlasting suffering. The retributive model at least attempts to justify this situation by appeal to retributive justice: the damned suffer the penalty their sins deserve. As you point out, this raises other, and unacceptable, problems. In your divine presence model, retribution is ruled out. The damned suffer because they are incapable of handling the divine glory and presence. How is God not responsible for this turn of events? This is the end he has eternally known and foreknown, the end he freely creates ex nihilo and eternally sustains in being. God cannot claim ignorance; he cannot claim impotence; he cannot claim poor planning. He did not have to create this world with this particular conclusion. Moreover, nothing is forcing him to maintain the damned in their hellish condition. In the eschaton everything that is is ordained by God. God’s antecedent will becomes his consequent will. To put it bluntly, God gets the eschaton he wants and has always wanted. If this were not the case, a new work of redemption would be needed, and the cycle would start all over again.
Also, I cannot agree with your suggestion that the damned remain free to accept God’s offer of salvation. If this were the the case, the world of becoming would still be on this side of the parousia. I think this is why the tradition has alway insisted that the damned cannot repent.
I don’t know if DBH would agree with what I have just written. If I’ve got it wrong, I hope someone will correct me.
What do you think, Zach? What am I missing? And by the way, welcome back to Eclectic Orthodoxy!
I think it comes down to this. If everything about the eschaton is exactly as God intends and desires, then some form of universalism must be true. To accept the antecedent and reject the consequent of the conditional is to embrace the theological abomination of Calvinism, or some form of Molinism that’s nearly as bad. (This isn’t quite accurate. One could also embrace Hugh McCann’s view, developed in _Creation and the Sovereignty of God_, which is neither Calvinist nor Molinist. But it has similarly objectionable implications for divine goodness and love, as I argued in my book.) I think we’re all in agreement about this.
One of the really interesting features of Hart’s book, in my opinion, is its demonstration of incoherence in combining the whole of the classical understanding of creation with a rejection of universalism. Of course, this account of creation includes not only a doctrine of creation ex nihilo, but also doctrines of divine simplicity, timelessness, impassibility, etc. (I don’t know if Hart holds all of the doctrines that comprise the classical account. Nevertheless, I think his arguments demonstrate what follows from them.) If the whole of creation—past, present, and future—is the product of one timelessly eternal creative act of will in which God is engaged, then, I agree, the world is exactly as God intends it. In fact, it’s exactly as God intends it not only in the eschaton, but right now (and at every other moment in creation). And of course I agree that God wills and intends the highest good for every person. So if the world is exactly as God intends it, then in the end all will be saved.
I don’t embrace this conclusion, however, because I reject the antecedent of the aforementioned conditional: I don’t think everything about the eschaton is exactly as God intends and desires. But your comments—and Hart’s book—reveal the cost of holding this view. As I argue in _Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God_, none of the existing accounts of divine sovereignty is easily wed to a traditional (non-universalist) view of hell. I’m forced to admit—as I do explicitly in the book—that I have no good explanation of why God creates the damned and, more generally, that sovereignty is a mystery on the divine presence model.
That’s a high price to pay. But it seems to me the next best alternative comes at an even higher cost: rejecting the Christian tradition on the doctrine of hell. I don’t see anything approaching consensus as to a theory of divine sovereignty in the tradition, or even a clear majority. But there’s certainly an overwhelming majority view on the issue of whether some will be finally lost. It’s important to appreciate the consequences of rejecting tradition at this point. In a previous exchange on EO, I tried to formulate this argument myself. Rather than repeat these same remarks here, I’ll instead quote a passage from Jerry Walls that makes a similar point:
“[W]hen a traditional doctrine is one that is rooted in biblical exegesis and enjoys centuries of consensus going back to the earliest Fathers and across all branches of the church, one should give it every benefit of the doubt. One should do so precisely out of respect for the authority of Scripture as God’s definitive written revelation. Here is why. If Scripture is revelation, then God successfully revealed his truth through it. And if so, then it makes sense to think that the church, making its best effort to correctly interpret Scripture, would succeed in doing so. If they fail to correctly interpret it, that raises questions about the clarity of Scripture and its status as divine revelation.” (_Four Views on Hell_, second edition, p. 96)
Every view has its costs. I’m willing to admit the costs of mine. Are you—and Hart, for that matter—willing to do the same?
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Woah – not so fast.
Walls’ gloss of tradition and scripture is grossly lacking and amounts to a kind of sleight of hand – not all of tradition is equally binding, and certainly the infinity of hell does not fall under the dogmatic decrees of the undivided church, not for Eastern Orthodox anyways. And, as DBH has demonstrated, the reading of an endless hell does not so easily comport with the testimony of scripture.
So the cost isn’t quite what it is made out to be.
See my reply to point 5 of Tom’s post, below.
Zach, excellent points here, especially for me: “One of the really interesting features of Hart’s book, in my opinion, is its demonstration of incoherence in combining the whole of the classical understanding of creation with a rejection of universalism.” Thank God we aren’t obliged to be “classical” anything other than Christians. It’s the scholastic, medieval (Thomistic) mind that feels compelled to wed secular philosophy and divine revelation into an overarching integrative theory. But the Saints take a different tact: while the natural speculations of “the Greeks” can be helpful, these never constitute our premises. Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition do. We don’t live in a two-story epistemological universe. God has spoken and all else is judged thereby.
Maximus, you remain blithely unaware that every theology presumes a metaphysics. Revelation does not exempt one from articulating the nature of being. And DBH, btw, excoriates the two-tier system that presupposes a “pure nature” with a final end apart from theosis. In this sense, one can rightly fault many Thomists for an insufficiently baptised Aristotelianism, though it’s a mistake to dismiss the entirety of Thomas’ metaphysics on that basis.
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Twaddle. Balderdash. (Excuse my coarse language.)
Maxie, you generally revert to the same nonsensical claim over and over—that the argument in TASBS is dependent entirely on classical theistic metaphysics—and now I find that Zach has joined you. But, again, that is false. The arguments of the book presume only the traditional divine predicates of omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, etc. They require no metaphysical commitments at sll. And so the incoherence the book identifies is not between philosophy and “revealed” doctrine. It is an incoherence within the theological tradition itself, and within the majority (mis-)construal of “revelation.” If you don’t grasp this, you must have been reading some other book.
So, for you and Zach:
A tradition that is manifestly logically and morally incoherent, and that can be demonstrated to be such, merits no loyalty from rational beings. The brute inertia of ignorance and prejudice is not authority. And there is nothing even faintly respectable about resolving to accept a manifestly absurd and cruel idea because past generations were indoctrinated and terrified into compliance Faith of that sort is just brute submission to irrationality. Since not a single good argument for the idea of an eternal hell has ever successfully been made, and all the arguments against it are more or less self-evident in their moral clarity, your position simply deserves nothing but polite indifference.
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“Maximus, you remain blithely unaware that every theology presumes a metaphysics.”
“Maxie,…The arguments of the book presume only the traditional divine predicates of omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, etc. They require no metaphysical commitments at all.”
Obviously, certain metaphysical commitments follow from those classical divine attributes. But those are presumably universally accepted by all but the most fundamentalist monopolytheist.
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Note how many questions Jerry begs.
I’ve known the man for twenty years and more, and he’s a good fellow. But his arguments for an eternal hell all presume what they are meant to prove, and then prove nothing that has not already been presumed. And what he presumes—such as the scriptural evidence—is inevitably a fantasy induced by long indoctrination.
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I’m happy to excuse your coarse language, but not your exaggerations. You claim that the arguments of TASBS “presume only the traditional divine predicates of omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, etc.” That’s either false, or you’re building a lot into the “etc.”
So let me ask plainly: what other attributes are you intending to include? Foreknowledge? Simplicity? Timelessness? Providence? None of these attributes is entailed by the three you mentioned (with the possible exception of foreknowledge being entailed by omniscience, but even that’s debatable, resting as it does on a host of other metaphysical assumptions). I see no possible way that your argument goes through without the inclusion of some such further attributes as these. At the *very least*, it requires foreknowledge and providence.
Again, I’m happy to admit—and I think I’ve been forthright about—the commitments and costs of the divine presence model. There’s no free lunch in philosophy. But some folks try to take their meals without paying.
No, none of my arguments depends upon divine simplicity in any particular construal, save that God is one, God is not a finite subject dependent upon a higher realm of possibility, etc. As for timelessness and foreknowledge, of course. Anyone who denies those denies both that God is omniscient and that he is the source of all things. So, yeah, if that’s what you mean, of course those are presumed. Only an incompetent philosopher would fail to presume them, so you’ve got me there.
As for the “costs” of your model, they far exceed the profit you gain by them. The cost of my arguments is that I deny a demonstrably false reading of the New Testament and a moral and logical contradiction. The cost of yours is a denial of divine goodness and love (albeit by way of periphrasis).
Why do you feel you must go to such lengths to defend an idea clearly absent from scripture and clearly incoherent in itself?
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“Only an incompetent philosopher would fail to presume them, so you’ve got me there.”
Any philosopher who rejects divine timelessness (Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff) or exhaustive foreknowledge (Peter van Inwagen, Richard Swinburne) is incompetent? You have a very high standard of competence.
“As for the ‘costs’ of your model, they far exceed the profit you gain by them. … The cost of yours is a denial of divine goodness and love (albeit by way of periphrasis).”
The accusation of periphrasis is rich; I’ll leave that one alone. How exactly is my view supposed to be a denial of divine goodness and love? An affirmation of the *maximal* goodness and love of God is an essential component of the model. Likewise for the claim that God does everything in His power to save everyone. The differences in our respective understandings of hell are rooted not in differing commitments to divine goodness and love, but in differing intuitions about the nature of human freedom and self-deception. In particular, a full appreciation of the latter—both the necessity of the human capacity for self-deception and the extent of its destructiveness when employed—seems to me lacking in your account.
“Why do you feel you must go to such lengths to defend an idea clearly absent from scripture and clearly incoherent in itself?”
I’m trying to respect the deepest theological commitments of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before me. It’s important to me to make every effort to learn from them, rather than trying to correct them. That, along with my previous points about the nature of revelation and what we should take to be prima facie evidence of the leading of the Holy Spirit, is the fundamental reason I go to such lengths to defend a traditional view of hell.
Am I wrong Zach in drawing the conclusion from your above comments about divine goodness and love, that you have not read Dr Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved? Just wondering.
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You are right, I hold Plantinga and Wolterstorff and all who think of God as a temporal agent to be philosophical incompetents on this particular question. Swinburne and van Inwagen even more so. These are not names to conjure with for me (though Plantinga is very good on, I admit, a lot of other things). If indeed you believe that God is both the source of all reality and an agent confined to the temporal passage from possibility into actuality, you are free to do so. But I am not a deist, I do not believe in any such chimerical hybrid of God and some local god; and Christianity is not deism, and none of the esteemed gentlemen you name has ever convincingly demonstrated how his vision does not collapse under the weight of its own modal incoherencies. Here Thomas and the whole of patristic and mediaeval tradition, not to mention classical pagan and developed Islamic philosophy, and of course all the great systems of India repeat a set of logical truths that cannot be denied without embracing the mythology of some finite psychological individual out there named “God” who does all sorts of things that such a being could not do. If you need a sky-god, go for it. But choose a more interesting one at least, not a spiteful brute who lets rational souls roast forever in the flames of his “love.” Odin isn’t doing much these days.
That said, it still does not matter for the better part of my book’s argument. The case against infernalism holds even if one is a theistic personalist.
By periphrasis, I meant nothing even remotely insulting. It is the customary path taken by all who feel they must defend the indefensible. When you claim that God does not necessarily think sinners “merit” eternal suffering even if he allows them to choose it, you are speaking nonsense. Clearly he must think obstinate refusal of his love “merits” the suffering it brings, even if that suffering be eternal, or his willingness to abandon souls to it would be a positive act of malice by an evil god.
The great cloud of witnesses, incidentally, is far more diverse than you think. And, frankly, they were just men, most of whom were repeating what was drummed into them. An echo chamber may seem like a multitude, and a crowd of indoctrinated minds may seem like a vast array of corroborating witnesses. It’s really only a handful of dubious voices echoing ad infinitum. Still, if you take that great cloud so seriously, then you surely must also accept all the tenets of classical theism, including timelessness and perfect foreknowledge. For Catholics and Orthodox, these are actually doctrinally defined definitions of God. And for all Christians they are part of the universal testimony of the whole tradition.
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By the way, Zach, I was assuming that you had read my book. If not, then your misapprehensions are understandable. But, for instance, when you say my arguments depend on a particular view of divine foreknowledge, for instance, it’s clear to me that you cannot have followed the book’s argument very carefully. The entire point of the first meditation–on the “moral modal collapse” of the distinction between divine will and permission, and between divine antecedent and consequent wills–is not based on any doctrine of divine foreknowledge. That’s the whole point of the game-theory argument. Even if eternal damnation is only a stochastic possibility intrinsic to the “wager” of creation, foreknown only as a possibility and not as a certainty, God in creating ex nihilo would still morally have positively willed a natural evil, and therefore would himself be the agent of a moral evil.
Please do not follow the lead of Maximus and assert that the argument is purely an exercise in classical theism. It is far more comprehensive than that, because it is far more minimalist in premises assumed.
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Oh, and re-read–or read–my account of freedom, carefully. I am as maximalist a believer in free will as it’s possible to be, precisely because I take the rationalist view of freedom to be unanswerably correct–even tautologously correct.
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It’s been a while since I read the first meditation, and in my previous comments I was going on my memory of it, which perhaps failed me. I confess I don’t remember clearly the details of the game-theory argument; I’d need to take another look to be able to comment on that.
What I do remember about my experience of working through the first part of the book was my impression that its theological vision seemed remarkably like that of a former professor of mine, the Catholic philosopher Hugh McCann, who defended the full panoply of classical theist doctrines in his understanding of creation. I’ve never been able to reconcile this account with anti-universalism, for the reasons I lay out in SPLG 134-42, despite its always having seemed to me an impressive and attractive system in other respects. In working through the first part of TASBS, it occurred to me that this might be what it looks like for the classical metaphysics to be worked out consistently. Perhaps I brought too much to the text.
The fourth meditation and its presentation of your understanding of freedom is fresh on my mind. And I confess it doesn’t seem to me entirely coherent. At one point, it sounds like McCann’s view (which he took to be Aquinas’s): that God doesn’t make you do anything; He makes you doing it.
“Insofar as we are able freely to will anything at all, therefore, it is precisely because he is *making* us to do so….” (p. 183, italics in original)
But on the top of the very next page it seems you’re advocating something closer to either Molinism or theological determinism:
“Knowing not only all the events that constitute each individual’s life, but also all of an agent’s inner motives and predispositions and desires—all thoughts, impulses, hopes, preferences, yearnings, and aversions—and *so knowing* what any given soul *will make* when confronted with certain options and situation among certain circumambient forces, God can (if nothing else) so arrange the shape of reality that all beings, one way or another, come at the last upon the right path by way of their own freedom, in this life or the next.” (p. 184, emphasis added)
In other places, it seems like most all of the work is being done by a notion of final causation:
“Freedom is a being’s power to flourish as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree.” (191)
(I’ll only remark in passing that if one’s view entails that oak seeds possess freedom, I would think something has gone wrong.)
And throughout, you seem to me to be conflating agent causation with the power to act randomly and without reason, which it most certainly is not. Either that, or you’re simply ignoring agency theories and replying to some older version of libertarianism that no philosopher holds these days.
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No, Zach, you are not following the argument in the fourth meditation at all. (In fact, I deny McCann’s Thomist claim that God can “physically” determine your actions without “morally” prompting your sins. ). You have entirely missed what the language of God “making” us will means. I clearly do not say that God forces us to make a particular deliberative choice; I say God makes us to desire the Good as a transcendental rational appetite, which provides us the index of valuations that makes it possible to act with actual deliberative freedom.
Moreover, what sounds like Molinism to you (and that is a wild misreading) is nothing but a conventional statement of providence—a doctrine required by both scripture and councils. My point there is that, even if one starts from the most minimal account of the natural will, the claim that God cannot “guarantee” what choices one will freely make is based on a vapid conception of what deliberative liberty is.
As for the issue of “agent causation” (which I most definitely deny), you are confusing the denial of a voluntarist account of agency for a denial of deliberative liberty. The fault there lies with you, not me. It is precisely the intellectualist insistence on the transcendental determinism of the natural will that provides a coherent defense of real free deliberative agency. In fact, any account of agency that presumes that rational liberty exists but does not start with that sort of transcendental teleology is inevitably defective. “Agent causation” is free because it is agency with a rationale. You have badly misread the argument there.
Let me help you here. If any argument of mine seems less than wholly coherent, then you have misunderstood the argument. You are free to disagree with me (if you can find a way to do so), but you will not find places where I am guilty of confusions. And, yes, I am just that arrogant.
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Agent causation (which I most definitely do NOT deny).
Al, feel free to fix that.
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Oh, and shame on you for confusing freedom in general with rational freedom (or liberty). Of course a tree is “free” if it is permitted unhindered to achieve the end its nature seeks, and the wind blows freely where nothing obstructs it. Rational freedom is the kind of freedom enjoyed by rational agents, and so the end it seeks is a rationale as well as an entelechy.
Now I admit that I am something of panpsychist (non-materialist), and believe there is a kind of intentionality in everything, and that all things “desire” God as their ultimate end. But, even if you do not believe that, you must believe that all real freedom is one or another modality of the movement of anything toward the end that “liberates” it to fulfill its nature. If you do not, your view of freedom is grounded in nothing and cannot possibly be logically coherent.
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Craig Truglia, I just skimmed through your article. You advance a provocative argument about the conciliar fundamentalism of the Fathers. As one of my seminary professors would say, interesting if true. I’m willing to concede, for purposes of discussion, that Fr Price is correct on this.
Is this a binding belief in Orthodoxy today? I seriously doubt it. In fact, let me put it more strongly. I’m confident that it is not. I have never read an Orthodox theologian appealing to the acts of a council in order to resolve a debate on dogma. Never. I have seen them quote the acts for purposes of clarifying a decree or canon, but I have never read even one who has quoted the acts of a council as a slam-dunk dogmatic argument. I’m sure there must be Orthodox theologians who do so, but there are plenty of Orthodox theologians do not–I guess they never got the memo. And the fact that there are plenty of theologians who do not appeal to conciliar acts in their determination of binding Orthodox doctrine, and have never been disciplined for not doing so, tells me that your conciliar fundamentalism can only be classified as theologoumena. Hence your argument is not just with me but with Orthodoxy. I suggest that before you criticize one of your fellow Orthodox brothers for not practicing the kind of conciliar fundamentalism you advocate, you first talk to your bishop and see if he agrees with you. If he doesn’t, you really don’t have a leg to stand on and shouldn’t be lecturing anyone on Orthodox theology and hermeneutics. If he does, well at least you have that going for you. One leg is better than none.
So no, I won’t be retracting my article, as you annoingly requested, nor will I be responding in print to your article. Given our differences in conciliar hermeneutics, what would be the point? I find your conciliar fundamentalism just as vacuous, incoherent, unsupportable, and spiritually destructive as biblical fundamentalism. It reduces doctrine to a form of legalism, divorced from the life and consciousness of the Church. No thank you. I’ve seen too much of that already in Orthodox internet apologetics. It’s deadly.
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Father, I appreciate the tone of your reply though I disagree with its contents. You ask:
“Is this a binding belief in Orthodoxy today? I seriously doubt it….I have never read an Orthodox theologian appealing to the acts of a council in order to resolve a debate on dogma.”
If you read the councils, you would see that councils do this with other councils. They were the Orthodox theologians of their time. What perhaps makes them different than the “theologians” of today is they have “Saint” next to their name–hence their opinion is known to carry authority over time as the Spirit, guiding the Church, has recognized their righteousness and correct teaching. We do not have this benefit of hindsight with the slew of modern intelligentsia styling themselves with theologians but with no ascetic practice to back it up.
“I’m sure there must be Orthodox theologians who do so, but there are plenty of Orthodox theologians do not do–I guess they never got the memo.”
Neither of us are born yesterday, so let’s admit the obvious. What you see in St Vlads Quarterly is different than what will be printed out of St Tikhon’s, Jordanville, and etcetera—and that’s just America. So, it depends what you read, where. Being that I quoted Contas talking about fundamentalism within the writings of saints, clearly Contas is getting published around the Orthodox scholarly world. Is he just making it up? Of course not. So, there is indeed something to what I am saying and it is the consensus teaching until the advent of modernism. It is worth pointing out that while we have modernists for more than both yours and my lifetimes combined at this point, we have no modernist saints. This is significant and it weighs on which lens of history we follow, the conservative or the newbies who are simply copying Protestant German liberalism from the 1800s.
“…have never been disciplined for not doing so…”
Father, can we speak like adults to one another? All sorts of people do not get disciplined. There are priests that commune unrepentant fornicators, sodomites, and non-Orthodox. There must be *someone* you would refuse to commune granted he is doing something you consider wrong and yet you know full well there is some priest somewhere that would most definitely commune him, everyone knows it, and he does not get disciplined. So, don’t take the historically extremely lax attitude of the modern Church as an indication that the views of modernists are correct. If anything, it just shows there has not been a modern synodical condemnation (and perhaps I am wrong on this–maybe it was condemned somewhere, I don’t read too much on modern stuff).
“Hence your argument is not just with me but with Orthodoxy.”
Actually, if you dispute the veracity of an ecumenical council, then that does not fit me it fits you. I am simply restating what the councils said about themselves. Furthermore, being that the council I quoted taught eternal damnation in its decrees, it makes it all a moot point for your case either way.
“I suggest that before you criticize one of your fellow Orthodox brothers…”
I thought I just did that.
“…talk to your bishop and see if he agrees with you.”
Father, can we again speak like adults? How many people go straight to the Bishop over matters like this? Do you after every blog post? For what it is worth, I did speak to my confessor about this (to avoid strife I will not name him) and his Bishop is your Bishop, and he agreed that I should write exactly the article that I did concerning yourself. So, if you like, how about you organize a conference call with you Bishop, yourself, and myself on the line and we hash it out together?
Granted, this is extremely unrealistic and you know as well as I do if you even suggest this to your Bishop he’d find it odd. But, it’s your idea. Let’s go for it! Maybe he is a regular reader of this blog, loves it, and he will call me a fool. What do you have to lose?
“I won’t be retracting my article, as you annoingly requested, nor will I be responding in print to your article. Given our differences in conciliar hermeneutics, what would be the point?”
I agree, there is little point in trying to discuss an intellectual issue with radically different epistemologies. I’d just that because the epistemology I am expounding is the epistemology of the councils and the saints by the admission of modern scholars, I will be praying for your repentance. And God works miracles. I think your repentance would bring so much glory to Christ it would be a magnificent thing to behold. And untold joy for you and for others. It gives me joy thinking about the great mercy of God and His compassion for mankind.
If Nicea II condemned all universalism in any form whatsoever, then why did the council fathers proclaim Gregory of Nyssa, an avowed universalist, the “father of fathers” at that same Council? Did NIcea II infallibly and irrevocably acclaim Gregory of Nyssa, who by your lights ought to have been posthumously anathematized along with Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius, or did Nicea II infallibly and irrevocably declare every form of universalism heretical? It certainly can’t be both!
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Judging from how some people read councils, I honestly will not make a judgement on Saint Gregory of Nyssa without actually reading him at length myself.
I think the universalists lack the credibility to accurately interpret Saint Gregory of Nyssa. Perhaps they’re right. But, they also push the conspiracy theory that Origen was never condemned. So, for me the jury is out.
When you find out he really is a universalist, as everyone knows, let us know how you have closed the cognitive dissonance loop once again, and continued to condemn people to eternal hell under an all loving Father. Don’t forget to include your continued protestations of personal sin, inadequacy to judge these matters as a layman, etc. Whatever rhetorical tricks work for you.
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Craig, I believe this example of St. Gregory is a favorable case for your point. If Gregory did indeed make some universalist claims out of weakness, the term “father of fathers” reveals how the saints actually read him, that is, as St. Photios would have us to read, to “cover the nakedness of the fathers.” Nyssan’s errors (real or merely alleged, it doesn’t matter) are simply not part of the mind of the Church, as Her liturgical life makes clear. As you have helpfully pointed out, this is just “reading history like the saints”—not historical-critically but iconically.
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As I mentioned in my previous comment, Craig, our hermeneutics of dogma–and, I suspect, our understanding of the gospel itself–are so drastically different we cannot have a constructive theological conversation–speaking one adult to another. I bid you good night, and may our Lord bring us into his truth.
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By the way, will I ever get my apology for being called a liar when I correctly said that you quoted scholars that said Origen was never really condemned, you denied it, and then you said you simply did not endorse its contents?
I find it strange that you make no concessions, make no apologies, and feel free to publicly say falsehoods and make false accusations. What sort of example is this?
For what it is worth, “No Apologies” is a great Bon Jovi song. If you have not listened: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YcSmYFkWmY
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Craig, enough is enough! You come to my blog and publicly accuse me of falsely calling you a liar and never offering you an apology; thus forcing me to explain the matter to my readers.
In the comments section on his blog, Craig stated that in my writings I had claimed that the 5th Ecumenical Council had never condemned Origen. I denied I had ever said that. In response he pointed to the long Ramelli quotation in my article on the 5th Ecumenical Council in where she suggests that the insertion of Origen’s name into canon 11 is an interpolation. By not correcting her, Craig stated that I had implicitly endorsed her opinion. In rejoinder, i pointed out that this does not follow. Just because a writer quotes somebody doesn’t mean that he endorses everything the person says. And so I denied his request for an apology. That’s all there is to it, and if anyone wants to check out the facts, please go to the webpage in question and scroll through the conversation.
At no point in the conversation do I ever accuse Craig of lying. That is easily verified. But because he has made publicly made this accusation, he is now guilty of defamation and libel. So if anyone owes anyone an apology, Craig, you owe me one.
But this is all silly–but since I can’t have you coming to my blog and accusing me of things that are not true, I am not putting you on the moderation list. Until you offer me and my readers an apology, any further comments by you will be blocked. And I suggest that you include this offence in your next confession. You have crossed a boundary you should not have crossed. I hope you can see that. I forgive you, but you still need to deal with the matter with the Lord and your spiritual father.
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I actually wrote that apology before I read the above. If people are interested, they can read the comments section–and read exactly what I said and the denial of what I said–only to find out it was true. I will not admit to lying. I am telling the truth. But I apologize for goading you, indeed. I wanted to bring out your dishonest tactics in furthering your agenda. My view of your dishonesty is not entirely relevant. I wrote my article. I proved my point from the scholars and fathers. Your are own personal failings are honestly not relevant and I should have not brought them out.
“Cover the nakedness of your fathers.”
I am just being petty now. No need to apologize to me. Accept my apologies for demanding it. But if you like that Bon Jovi song, I would like to know.
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Craig, given that no proposition can be understood apart from its historical, philosophical, and theological milieu, it would be good to remember that not all forms of apokatastasis are identical in scope, and hence, heretical aspersions should be held in check if you are not (a) certain of the exact nature of the doctrine condemned, (b) certain that the object of your aspersion holds the latter condemned doctrine and (c) certain that said proposition is infallibly promulgated. Leaving aside the point that many Orthodox theologians doubt the infallibility of this proposition, there are reasons to doubt that you sufficiently recognize the nuances involved in the first two by the fact that (a) you have lumped all forms of apokatastasis together as if they were identical and (b) the fact that you are calling someone to repentance who holds to a particular form of apokatastasis which was held by a Doctor of the Church declared by the very council under discussion as “the Father of the Fathers.” If you were a bishop present at Nicaea II would you have called for an anathema against Gregory of Nyssa for his heretical apokatastasis or would you have assented to the epithet “the Father of the Fathers”?
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This I will not totally deny. We must affirm the teaching of the saints. We must affirm that the council affirms, “neither will there be any end of punishment nor indeed of the kingdom of heaven.” We must affirm both.
I think Saint Maximus gives a good synthesis of both ideas. I am not prepared presently to flesh it out. Hopefully in a year or so, I am.
I have blocked Craig Truglia from further comments, for reasons stated above. Please do not reply directly to his comments, as he will be unable to reply. However, if anyone wishes to continue the discussion on the proper interpretation of ecumenical councils, feel free to do so.
My apologies for this unfortunate incident.
I hope we can refocus attention on the central arguments of my article.
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That conciliar obiter dicta are not dogmatically binding of themselves, but only the dogmatic canonical decrees issued by an Ecumenical Council, is dogmatics and canon law 101. If this is wrong, the church’s theological consensus, E and W, has been wrong for a long time, and ecclesial infallibility is destroyed on fundamentalist principles.
Also, if the Council’s texts are treated as literally inspired and inerrant in toto, then they are equivalent to canonical scripture, as claimed by precisely no one ever, whatever hyperbole one can find in various patristic encomia regarding councils. And, we will have to accept that certain ancient bishops were both orthodox in good standing (4th Council) and heretics anathematised (5th Council). And that there are 4 equally binding but inconsistent canons of scripture. And so on.
Let us suppose we ignore the above. How might such conciliar positivism be established as binding? Not by conciliar obiter dicta as that would be arguing in a circle. Not by ecumenical dogmatic decree, as no such decree exists. That leaves universality of tradition ab initio satisfying the Vincentian Canon. But, since there were no discussions of this particular issue before the 4th century, such a condition cannot be satisfied. Not to mention that there are patristic statements more critical of Councils generally, which undermines universality as well.
So, conciliar fundamentalism is a non-starter.
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Exactly! Thank you, Fr Kirby.
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Ecclesial community short of the eschaton is a messy business. I generally avoid it. It’s not for nothing that my nickname as a young marshwiggle was Puddleglum. David Bentley Hart has a provocative essay on Tradition and Authority in his collection, Theological Territories. I gather he has a separate volume coming out on tradition that I surmise may expand on what is contained in that particular piece. In any event, it’s bound to strike many readers as idiosyncratic. I think if you are creative and philosophical, you’ll find it amenable. A short excerpt: “If nothing else, if the source of a tradition’s continuity were not in some sense essentially hidden, it could never pass through, provoke, or survive so many successive conceptual and practical configurations; if it were not something that silently abides amid change, the constantly inexpressible within each transitory expression, it could never tantalize the new into existence nor banish the old to oblivion. How one knows this invisibility, however, is difficult to describe.”
Tradition is gift of Spirit, and has the quality of the ineffable freedom of the Spirit. Those who try to pin it down as a function of a kind of adamantine positivism are not attuned to the lively, mysterious quality of all things divine. One pithy quote more: “Dogmas establish certain boundaries but also invariably open up entire new vistas.” Evidently, there are many who fear any genuine porosity upon the infinite which necessarily involves a vertiginous leap. DeLubac somewhere writes, “but do not presume that you know what love is.” One may take that as an apophatic nihilism, or an equivocity that allows a voluntarist god to commit attrocities correctly deemed monstrous when done by mere mortals, or as the opening of an analogic gesture towards an ever greater expansion of meaning upon which we have a real, but limited purchase. The latter, I think, for reasons often discussed and explained on this worthy site of theological investigation proves congenial to the gospel of Christ as apokatastasis. No apologies given.
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Appealing to me is the analogic and epektasitic opening up as an always stretching forth to that which the creature can never fully grasp. The implications for tradition, dogma, art, poetry, theology, (even scripture – John 21:25 “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”) that there will always be those new vistas, new ways of seeing, thinking, knowing, participating. What we have is real but limited, as you say. It calls for a recognition of this veritable limitation, even in ecclesial community and authority.
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Pingback: On the Stupidity of Conciliar Fundamentalism: It Leads to Schism | Shameless Orthodoxy
For those interested in the conciliar fundamentalism question, see “The Stupidity of Conciliar Fundamentalism.”
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Judging by all talk of the synodicon on the Shameless Orthodoxy blog, perhaps more could be said about that. In a way, seeing that as dogmatically binding may also be a form of conciliar fundamentalism since there are things in it other than universalism that most Orthodox bishops and theologians would cringe at. For example:
“That whoever says that our Lord Jesus Christ at the Mystic Supper had unleavened bread (made without yeast), like that of the Jews, and not leavened bread, that is to say, bread raised with yeast, let him depart far away from us and let him be anathema as one having Jewish views and those of Apolinarios and bringing dogmas of the Armenians into our Church, on which account let him be doubly anathema.”
How many Orthodox Bishops, especially in an ecumenical gathering of Catholics, could read this and stand by it 100%? Some. But not everyone. From what I understand, most church historians think this whole controversy originated due to practical factors and later dogmatic overtones were then attached to the liturgical practices.
This also seems to be a problematic anathema:
“To them who dogmatize that matter and the Ideas are without beginning or are co-eternal with God, the Creator of all, and that heaven and earth and the other created things are everlasting, unoriginate and immutable, thus legislating contrary to Him Who said: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will not pass away’; to them who thus speak vain and earthly things drawing down the Divine curse upon their own heads,
By lumping matter and divine ideas together, this is in fact condemning a view that was held by the Cappadocians, Maximus, but also Lossky, and others: That Plato’s “divine ideas” have basically been christianized into the Logoi, which Maximus and Dionysius DEFINITELY say are eternal. Basil has a lot of passages on this idea as well. As does Augustine. Did this canon mean to condemn all their views as heretical?
Both Andrew Louth and Marcus Plested seem to argue that the additions to the synodicon, especially the condemnations of Italus, were forced onto the original 8th century document by imperial decree, but as far as I can see, these anathemas have never won universal assent in the Church, despite technically being in the liturgy. How many priests are actually reading this thing to their parishioners in the liturgy though? Next to none would be my guess. It would probably take a couple hours to chant through all the anathemas.
All this is to say, from these examples, that most Orthodox today probably hold some beliefs that were anathematized in the synodicon, so I’m not sure why its condemnation of universalism should be taken as dogmatically binding.
After reading Fr John Whiteford’s blog on universalism and the synodicon over a year ago, I was taken aback and thought that that settled it. But after taking some time to actually look at the document, and see what Orthodox scholars have had to say about it, I definitely don’t think it makes universalism an impossible belief to hold for an Orthodox. Even if it DOES intend to condemn the type of universalism held by Nyssen and Hart.
Fr Aidan, Robert, others, what do you think? Am I going too far here, or does this seem right? I know Hart’s assessment is basically the same. He said as much in one of his comments in this blog about it.
Mark, I really believe that invocation of the Synodikon as an instrument of dogmatic infallibility is an internet invention. Can you think of any respectable books of Orthodox theology over the past century that refers to the Synodikon as a source of doctrine? Years ago I specifically asked Fr Andrew Louth about this. In his reply he insisted that the authority of the various anathemas possess the degree of authority of the synods that promulgated them. They do not more authoritative by their inclusion in the Synodikon.
I trust Fr Andrew’s judgment. That’s good enough for me. Glad you asked him.
“By lumping matter and divine ideas together, this is in fact condemning a view that was held by the Cappadocians, Maximus, but also Lossky, and others: That Plato’s “divine ideas” have basically been christianized into the Logoi, which Maximus and Dionysius DEFINITELY say are eternal. Basil has a lot of passages on this idea as well. As does Augustine.”
Only Saint Augustine is actually vulnerable to the critique of this anathema. He makes a significant move the others you listed do not, namely, to find the divine ideas *in the divine essence.* Eternal creation immediately follows (as does the necessity of creation), hence the anathema. While the others listed do indeed posit divine ideas, they are distinct from the essence in their theology. Their theology is Orthodox, whereas it seems St. Augustine became too influenced by Greek philosophy in his doctrine of absolute divine simplicity.
So because Maximus, et. al. make the distinction that the logoi aren’t in the Divine essence, they escape these condemnations? How? They would still say they’re eternal. Their eternality is the issue, not a certain understanding of divine simplicity.
Mark, it’s not merely the eternality of the “ideas” which is at stake. It’s those who couple the eternality of the “ideas” with the eternailty of creation. Augustine doesn’t escape this critique; such a coupling is at least implicit in his theology because of his radical doctrine of simplicity. The Cappadocians, Dionysius, Maximus, and Lossky construe the “ideas” differently, coupling them with an eternal creation neither explicitly nor implicitly in their theology.
Fr Al’s place has the best convos in town. Some quick thoughts:
1) Zach, I’m surprised you agree that the damned remain open/capable of Godward movement. You appropriated SK to argue for the final, irrevocable foreclosure of the damned. So I’m confused at bit. If you do in fact agree the damned remain irrevocably open to God, then “they suffer so long as [they refuse to repent]” essentially becomes “as long as it takes” or “sooner or later” (in the sense that “God’s got plenty of time and isn’t in a hurry, and the damned aren’t going anywhere and cannot exile themselves from all possibility of turning to God”). You need a mechanism (God-given) by which the damned foreclose upon themselves all possibility of turning to God, and I don’t think SK gets you there.
2) A second related matter, Zach, you wrote: “This suffering might turn out to be eternal, but if so, this will be because the damned remain obstinate in their rebellion for all eternity.” But this doesn’t work. To say Hell turns out to be eternal just in case the damned “remain obstinate for all eternity” is nonsensical, since eternity is never successfully traversed. One never finally “remains” anything “for all eternity,” as if one crosses a line and turns round to view “all eternity” behind him. It’s important to note that the only way Hell is eternal (unending, irrevocable), other than through divine decree I suppose, is by means of some finite act of irreversible consequence.
3) A third question, Zach. You mentioned the standard slate of classical divine attributes (creation from nothing, simplicity, impassibility, etc.), commenting that you agree Hart’s arguments demonstrate what follows from them (i.e., UR). I just wanted to add that however true UR may follow logically from the combined truth of these attributes (classically understood), UR itself doesn’t require the all, and one can get to UR without lining up on them all in precisely classical form.
4) For Fr Al. You commented: “I cannot agree with [Zach’s] suggestion that the damned remain free to accept God’s offer of salvation.” I’m stumped. Apart from being free to turn to God, how are the damned to turn to God (as you believe they shall)? One doesn’t have to be an absolute voluntarist with respect to the will to assert that the eventual reconciliation of the damned entails their abiding capacity to choose God. As an universalist, you affirm all will finally choose God, so how are the damned incapable of turning to God?
5) For Zach. Jerry Walls’ quote: “[W]hen a traditional doctrine is one that is rooted in biblical exegesis and enjoys centuries of consensus going back to the earliest Fathers and across all branches of the church, one should give it every benefit of the doubt. One should do so precisely out of respect for the authority of Scripture as God’s definitive written revelation. Here is why. If Scripture is revelation, then God successfully revealed his truth through it. And if so, then it makes sense to think that the church, making its best effort to correctly interpret Scripture, would succeed in doing so. If they fail to correctly interpret it, that raises questions about the clarity of Scripture and its status as divine revelation.”
Never mind how troubling his logic is to me, Zach, let me ask, don’t you (and doesn’t Walls) mean “one should accept it without question” long-held beliefs going back to the earliest Fathers? I mean, to say one should afford a long-held Patristic reading of Scripture (we’re talking outside the Ecumenical/Creedal confessions of unified church, like Robert said) every benefit of the doubt is fine. But it’s not to say they cannot be questioned or be held to be in error.
Good to hear from you again! Let me respond to your points in order.
1. I don’t believe that Godward movement is possible for the damned. The tradition strongly sides against the view. (I don’t think Scripture rules out the possibility of Godward movement in the intermediate state, but that’s a different matter.) The point I was trying to make in my original post was simply that the logic of Al’s argument—the one that I quoted—seems to me flawed; the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. It’s possible to believe both that the damned will be in hell for all eternity AND that God doesn’t determine or decree this to be the case.
2. I think this is just semantics. I take it the point you’re making is that an actual infinite series of events cannot be traversed. Granted. But all I meant in saying that “the damned remain obstinate in their rebellion for all eternity” is that, regardless of how long they continue in hell, they remain obstinate. They never get to a point at which they’ve *already* been in hell for eternity. It’s a potential infinite—a never ending trajectory in the same direction—not an actual infinite.
3. Perhaps, but I’d like to see the argument. I suspect that DBH is building more into his analysis of creation ex nihilo than he’s explicitly admitting. It would be helpful to know exactly which classical doctrines he accepts, and which he rejects. Maybe he’s laid this out clearly somewhere in his writings; if so I’d be grateful for the reference. It’s not entirely clear to me how to reconcile _The Doors of the Sea_ with _That All Shall Be Saved_ in certain respects.
5. I think the question is what level of detail is unrelinquishable in unrelinquishable doctrines. (I think this term is more apt than “unquestionable”.) The doctrine of hell in its most general form—that there’s a hell and some persons are consigned to it—is unrelinquishable for orthodox Christians. I assume we all agree on this. The question is what degree of further detail should be included in the dogma. Obviously, a commitment to literal fire and brimstone should not. How about the eternality of suffering in hell? That’s the question. There’s no doubt the overwhelming majority of Christians though the ages have included this idea in their understanding of hell. Is that enough to establish its rightful inclusion in the dogma? Maybe, and maybe not. Some other beliefs—for example, that the damned receive incorruptible resurrection bodies for the express purpose of God’s inflicting infinite suffering upon them, or that the saints delight in the experience of witnessing the sufferings of the damned—*might* be equally prevalent in the tradition, at least up to a certain point, but I wouldn’t want to include them in the dogma on that count. I think what it finally comes down to is a judgment about what kinds of near-consensus beliefs in the tradition are such that, if false, would count as the Church’s fundamentally misunderstanding the doctrine. I’m inclined to think that the issue of eternal suffering might be one of these, which is why I’m so reticent to embrace any view of hell that doesn’t include it.
Hope this helps.
It’s good to see someone actually tackling Hart’s philosophical arguments. I think your arguments, along with Walls’ make hell logically possible, and perhaps not contradictory to our understand of God. I personally think you give the Christian theist a way to possibly make sense out of an eternal hell if she feels it’s absolutely necessary to do so.
However, your biggest problem with universalism seems to be tradition, so I’m curious if you’ve consulted Ilaria Ramelli’s work on this. If she’s right, this would mean the “heroes” of all but two ecumenical councils were universalists. This would mean the most significant shapers of Christianity in history (Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians, Maximus) all supported universalism. Even if the 1500 years after them is a long time, certainly their importance as shapers of Christian doctrine would mean that universalism stands as a completely legitimate option within the Christian tradition, no?
Thanks Mark. You’re referring to _A Larger Hope?_ Volume 1, I presume? Haven’t read it yet, but it sounds fascinating. Thanks for the lead. Cheers, Zach
That is good, but the university I teach at gives us access to her magnum opus https://www.amazon.com/Christian-Doctrine-Apokatastasis-Supplements-Christianae/dp/900424509X through our online library. Maybe yours does the same.
Saves about $300! The one you mentioned is a “popularization,” although it’s still comprehensive enough. The main difference is that you have to trust her more because she doesn’t quote large portions of text like she does in the larger work. I recently had a well-known patristics scholar say that he saw universalism as THE TRADITION beginning with Irenaeus all the way through Eriugena. If that’s right, and I believe it is (at least in broad strokes), it’s pretty significant.
But it’s good, when tackling something, actually to hit it. Zach has not done that. He has certainly not made eternal hell a logically possible proposition for the Christian theist.
Jerry Walls’s arguments are so circular that they refute themselves. His account of rational freedom leaves us with a freedom that has no possible real starting point–it can’t–and so it never actually applies to anything in reality.
And, incidentally, you seem to think Jerry’s arguments somehow elude the force of the cases made in the first and third meditation. I assure you, they do not. Even if they really were a plausible alternative to meditation four (which they are not), they would still lead into one pof the other traps laid in the text.
I accept all the classical philosophical doctrines of classical theism, That does not mean that the argument of my book is dependent upon all of them.
TASBS and The Doors of the Sea are entirely consistent with one another. See above. You need to stop falling into the analytical philosophical habit of thinking that models of free will are divided between compatibilist and libertarian accounts, That is a crude antinomy produced by a redution of free acts to a single empirical level–which, by definition, makes no sense.
One last thing, regarding tradition and clouds of witnesses: when all those clouds clear–and, believe me, there are many clouds, not one–the two most important witnesses are Jesus and Paul, surely. Paul certainly has no doctrine of eternal torment. But neither does Jesus. No good NT scholar believes that the later teaching is found in his language of the Valley of Hinnom, much less his metaphors of being destroyed in an oven, or of being left out of the wedding party to cry and complain, or of temporary detention and punishment in prison. Even Matthew 25L46 uses the language of a legal verdict, contrasting the verdict of life with its opposite (death); in the time of Christ, almost every “kolasis” was capital punishment.
The NT has, for the most part, two kinds of language about the last judgment: one that seems to portend the destruction of the wicked in the Age to Come and another that seems to promise universal salvation. The question is: which can explain the other better? The former reduces the latter to vacuous hyperbole and false hope. The latter can explain the former in terms of a harsh penalty that destroys the sinful self before the resurrection of the redeemed creature. And surely 1 Corinthians 15 is the master key for deciding which is which (in tandem with a great many other passages).
Whatever the case, if the doctrine of eternal torment is not there in Christ’s teachings or in Paul’s, then its authority is nil. Stop laboring to rescue a lie from its own internal contradictions.
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The only thing I take from some commentators here is simply that if a particular tradition does indeed end up demanding submission on belief to the indefensible, against reason, moral sense and consciousness, to that a system is inherently contributory and incoherent such as God being all loving, all good, the Good, all-powerful, etc and so on, bring all creation, into being from nothing, freely under no compulsion to anything other than His own nature, yet that reality that is brought into being is one in which one way or another (from the eternal creation standpoint, allowing rational persons to end up in eternal torment or loss, or predetermining them is a meaningless distinction, from that standpoint it is the same thing) rational beings are given and sacrificed to eternal torture and suffering to fuel and bring about His creation’s ultimate purpose are as DBH as pointed out, utterly contradictory, and therefore it is false.
To go against and suppress your own reason and moral conciseness and logic shows is no act of faith, it is to deny faith and act against the light given you, to embrace in that aspect of your life darkness. It is to deny truth, and if you deny truth your denying in that point Christ, who says He is the Truth, of God who is truth and can never if He is God be not in and with Truth. It is faithlessness to truth and instead to embrace a system for convenience and out of fear, and abandoning reason for irrationality and madness, and yields the fruits of such in diverse ways (as can be seen in call Christian confessions and history, and within other religious/ideological systems that have similarly devolved into using fear and terror as their tools to control and compel their followers as opposed to love and justice).
And while it’s easy to see this madness in the more terrible expressions of say the favourite whippiing boy that is Calvinism, at least when at it’s bluntness and starkness is honest when saying God is not ultimately love in Himself, by placing their (very twisted) concept of sovereignty, and making eternal torment the centre of all their thinking. But this is true of all infernalist thinking, where for all it is eternal torment that is the centre of all their thinking, the dark heart of their thought to which Christ Himself must bend and knell too.
And the river of fire concept is not a kinder view when you think it through (though any concept of eternal torment is morally reprehensible and thoroughly evil concept that is the greatest blasphemy Christians continue to say to God). It means God gives people up to be raised in bodies to be tortured forever by His glory, it been kept in His Presence burning them alive in mind, body and soul, like people with skin so sensitive to the sun it burns and thrown out into the burning summer sun on a beach to burn and bake away while others enjoy the sunshine, while their eyes are stapled open to the sunlight as it burns them out in it’s brightness. Then they keep being healed so it never stops, while the others enjoying the beach callously ignoring them, then maximize that picture by a billion and your not even close. It’s a horrific picture out of out a horror film, not a vision of paradise, love and mercy.
To here people keep justifying eternal torment, makes me realize just how people can in many areas find ways to justify and have found ways to justify the most horrific practices and believes possible. And driven by fear and peer pressure and fear of losing the security perhaps provided by such structures of belief, and perhaps fear from those structures to, their desperately do Spider-man level mental gymnastics to make it seem palatable. But in the end, it is just abhorrent and evil as it’s first exposition. In that sense, I would rather take a hard-line Calvinist or Augustinian, such as a Jonathan Edwards type, at least they are upfront and clear in the sadistic viciousness of the belief system and view of God they proclaim.
Which to return to my original point, I don’t think they are, but in the end if some commenters are correct, and a tradition, such as Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism demands belief in eternal torment they will then have simply show that such belief systems are false and do not reflect the truth, and therefore do not reflect Christ, and so would in faithfulness to Christ, have to be abandoned.
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Zach, do take a look at my latest piece, “Apokatastasis and the Radical Vision of Unconditional Divine Love.” Even though you wish to hold onto the unconditionality of divine love, your position does not allow the preacher to declare the gospel in the mode of unconditional promise. See especially this paragraph:
If I understand your position correctly, you still want to leave open the possibility of conversion even after the last judgment. If this is a real possibility, then I suggest that the last judgment has not in fact the last judgment as envisioned by the parousia. It remains a penultimate judgment.
I read your latest post and enjoyed it very much.
I’m not committed to the view that conversions are possible after the Day of Judgment; in fact I’m very doubtful of it. The divine presence model is flexible in certain respects, and one of these is that it can accommodate either an acceptance or a denial of this possibility. (I discuss this in SPLG, 294-97.) For my part, I’ve laid out a number of reasons for thinking that repentance may well be impossible beyond the Day of Judgment (SPLG, 331-36, bulleted points i – viii). All these have to do with possible psycho-spiritual conditions of the damned once Christ is revealed in glory. I don’t think we can know that any of these conditions obtain, but nor do I think we can rule out any of these possibilities.
Zach, for some reason I can’t respond to the post by you I have in mind, but I have also wondered regarding one of the passages you quote from TASBS how what he is describing ISN’T molinism. There’s no modal language but the concept certainly seems unmistakably similar. Not that I would mind if it was. I’ve never been able to shake it off from my evangelical days, so it stubbornly remains with me as an Orthodox. I hope Fr Aidan will still let me write for him now that he knows this! 😉
Speaking of Molinism, I don’t know if everyone on here knows, but Plantinga could probably be classified as a confident (though not certain) universalist. See the video starting at 50:22. http://vimeo.com/8899005
“I’m inclined to think that what God desires [universal salvation, he’s referencing 1 Tim. 2:4] has a really good chance of coming to be.”
“It could be that God only creates people he knows that in the very long run will turn to him.”
Plantinga’s students Robin Collins and Joshua Rasmussen also follow his lead and I get the sense that Collins is probably more in Talbott’s strong camp than the “hopeful analytic” camp. http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/uploads/7/4/5/6/7456646/connection_building_theodicy.pdf
So it seems that the two philosophers most often cited as the “greatest living Christian philosopher” today (Hart and Plantinga) could both be considered universalists of different stripes.
Molinism is a special doctrine about God’s infinite knowledge of counterfactuals and his choice–contingent on that knowledge–of one possible world among others. Thus he is the passive recipient of epistemic deliverances from a realm of logical possibilities somehow independent of his primordial creative will. That is a far larger claim than the simple doctrine of Providence, which says that God knows how to order the eventualities of the creation he brings into being–even those produced by secondary causality–in a way that conduces to the ultimate good he intends without stealing away the autonomy of secondary causes.
That passage, incidentally, is unrelated to the argument of freedom in the chapter except tangentially. It is a reply to Stump and Plantinga who claim that, even if God wishes for all persons to choose the good (to employ the anthropomorphism that anglophone philosophy seems incapable of avoiding), he could not guarantee that they do so. My point is simply that this is self-evidently false. At a crucial juncture, for instance, in elaborate harmony with all the events of nature and history, God might foreclose a certain very destructive course of action and leave open only one rational path, presented to a sane agent as a desirable end. If I should go left rather than right, God might providentially arrange that on that day the righthand path is blocked by a raging fire, while also arranging for me not to be under the influence of a hallucinogen. Thus he would be guiding me infallibly by his infinite foresight toward the end he plans for me, but would not in doing so be robbing me of rational freedom. And this is not Molinism either: I am not saying that God has a perfect inventory of counterfactuals in a file, but only that he is omniscient and knows me as the creature that I am. If here you say that he cannot know for sure what choice I will make, you are talking nonsense. Pure spontaneity is impossible for a truly free agent. All free movements of the will are purposive and dependent upon the rational competency of the agent, all of which God can know without any harm to freedom.
But, of course, again, the actual argument of the chapter does not pretend to prove universalism by way of the doctrine of providence–it proves only the logical cogency of saying that what God wishes for us ultimately to choose, in keeping with our own aboriginal nature and deepest desires, he can arrange for us to choose without violating our power of rational deliberation and judgment. Concentrate on the actual argument, not on the obiter dicta.
I confess that I find it very very hard to take seriously talk of God not knowing the future, or in any way inhabiting time as a subject of received knowledge. If God were like us, whose knowledge is acquired by a modification or qualification (a pathos) of our substances, he would be a finite and contingent being. He would inhabit a landscape of possibility larger than the actuality of his nature, and that actuality would therefore be itself finite. He would have to be dependent upon some higher source of actuality for the continued development of both his essence and his existence. He would be a daemon or a theos, but not Ho Theos–a deva but not Brahman. If that were the creator of this world–the demiurge, that is–it would be a fascinating fact, but only of a “scientific” kind. Such a super-being would still be a being among beings, a contingent part of the universe, and so all our spiritual longings would have to be directed properly not toward him, but toward that transcendent One that created and sustains him.
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Oh, and the greatest living Christian philosopher is Lorenz Puntel. Probably.
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Regarding providence, there seems to be a gross inconsistency on the part of some Catholic and Orthodox proponents of an eternal hell. Some of them (see above) affirm that somehow free will does not in any way prevent God from preserving the Church from even erring in the “minutes” of an ecumenical council, and yet somehow, this same free will of creatures completely prevents God from ever realizing his will for all to be saved. If God can providentially order the free actions of creatures so that his Church is kept from ever dogmatically erring at an ecumenical council, why is it impossible for God to providentially order the world to achieve universal salvation? For any Catholic or Orthodox anti-universalist who believes their Church is “infallible” (however we define this), they would need to explain how God could easily keep the Church from error while he can’t keep people from ending up in hell eternally. Same providence, same people.
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Mark, I think that’s the most compelling point made for the universalist case on this entire thread.
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Excellent–and obvious–point, Mark! So obvious it didn’t occur to me, yet as soon I read your comment I slapped my forehead. “Of course. That’s so obvious. How did I not think see it before.” 💡💡💡
D’accord. Si le bon Dieu est en fait bon, et si sa providence soutient les faibles et châtie les puissants, alors ce serait un mystère impénétrable s’il permettait à n’importe quelle âme de périr.
Quand je suis de bonne humeur, je reviens à la langue du paradis.
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nee hoor, ze spreken nederlands in paradijs, niet dat vervelende franze taaltje 🙂
تعال يا دكتور إلى لغة الجنة – العربية. الفرنسية هي لغة الـكرواسون والنبيذ
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أعتقد أن الجنة الموصوفة في كتب المسلمين هي جاذبية للغاية. لكن ما زلت أعتقد أن فرنسا هي المكان الذي وصلت فيه الحضارة إلى أوجها. إنها الجنة الأرضية.
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I don’t think that’s nearly so obvious a contradiction as you—and apparently lots of others, judging by the comments—take it to be. On the one hand, it seems to me there are lots of ways that God could get the outcome He wanted at the councils without violating anyone’s freedom, even on an open theist account of freedom. (For the record, I’m not an open theist. But if the argument works for open theists, a fortiori it works for less extreme libertarian accounts of free will.) The key figures at the councils were believers, presumably, and some even saints: people who are especially attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit and especially willing to submit to God’s will as it’s revealed to them. Given such “materials” to work with, it doesn’t seem it would be that difficult for God to get the outcome He wants. And anyway, in the event that any errors crept in, for whatever reason, there are lots of ways an omnipotent God could ensure those errors didn’t survive for posterity.
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that all of the above is wrong; suppose there’s some compelling reason to conclude that it’s impossible, on the account of free will that I and lots of other philosophers accept, for God to have kept the Church from error without overriding the free will of certain members of the councils. So what? Most actions are such that God could *make* a person do them. God could make a person drive a car, eat a meal, preach a sermon, etc. And God could make a person (or a group of persons) write a document in a very exact way. The reason God could make someone perform these actions (and many, many others) is that none of these are actions that, *of their very nature*, must be performed freely.
But repentance is different. Repentance *is* an action that, of its very nature, must be performed freely. Any action that God makes a person perform is not a genuine act of repentance. And repentance, I’m sure we’d all agree, is essential to salvation. That’s why God cannot save people against their wills.
I don’t know how most Catholics and Orthodox think about the role of providence and human freedom in drafting the materials of the ecumenical councils—specifically, I don’t know whether most would say that the relevant human actions were free or not. Either way, it seems to me, the resulting view can be made consistent with the view that there are some people whom God cannot save.
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That last sentence is heretical, of course. It’s also illogical.
I have to confess that this is all slightly agonizing, Zach. The way you think about freedom and the way you think about “God,” that is. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. David Burrell told me that people trained in analytical philosophy would not get this point because of how simplistic and mythological the reasoning on this matter has become in such circles. But it’s still odd to see unfold.
Just to clear up a question you raised earlier, then, and then to exit from the conversation (because I see no profit in discussing what I take to be a mythic god):
In both Doors of the Sea and TASBS, I affirm as strongly as is logically possible the real autonomy and inviolable freedom of secondary causes. That is precisely why my conclusions are universalist. The ONLY way of asserting the real possibility of deliberative liberty at the level of empirical agency is to insist that there is a real final cause that forever draws it to itself at the level of transcendental appetite. Otherwise, we would have no capacity for genuine purposive activity, no original natural desire by which to deliberate, judge, choose, and act. Then the physicalists would be right: what we think of as free will would actually be nothing but a misunderstanding, a delusion generated by what is, in reality, a sequence of inobviable physical consequences following from purely physical antecedents.
Again, the simple binary of libertarian causal agency vs. compatibilism is crude and produces only a false dilemma. Because rational freedom is real, those who are truly set free can seek only union with God. That is what true freedom is. Indeed, if you think that the power to reject God while actually knowing God as God is a real expression of something called freedom, then I submit that what you’re saying is logically vacuous. It would make sanity and insanity matters of equal indifference, emotional and mental pain no different from perfectly unimpaired spiritual health, and so on. It would also make God some finite and negotiable terminus of rational desire, rather like an appetizing carrot or glass of wine, but on a somewhat larger scale. It certainly would not make him the transcendent fountainhead and ultimate end of all rational volition.
Hence the claim that there are those God cannot save is like claiming that that there are circles that are squares, bachelors who are married, and a God who is a supreme being.
See if this helps:
Moreover, remember that, even if your argument regarding freedom were coherent—and to me it could not be less so—it would do nothing to weaken the other arguments of the book: the “moral modal collapse” of will and permission in eschatology, the game-theory argument regarding the positive intentionality of evil, the interpersonal constitution of spiritual identity, the danger of a contagion of equivocity, and so on.
Of course, it hardly matters. I don’t believe that the “God” your reasoning depicts could possibly exist to begin with, and I certainly do not grant that he or she or it bears any resemblance to the God of Christian tradition. Do you really believe in this absurd mythological deity you’re talking about? This fellow whose creative will—through a mixture of ignorance, incompetence, and evident indifference—visits indeterminately protracted torment upon his creatures? This obviously contingent psychological personality who receives his future from beyond himself? Why? Why bother? What religion is this?
Anyway, thanks. Thanks for the offer to send me your book, which I await—not eagerly, but at least with curiosity. But, honestly, the God you describe here is not one I would condescend to worship, and you shouldn’t as well. (Happily, the real God—the transcendent God of classical theism—offers a much better deal.)
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So long as there is no agreement about the nature of freedom this exchange, although interesting and encouraging if only on account of the civil tone, it is otherwise fruitless. I suppose the redeeming factor is that it shows the categorical differences. What is meant by freedom is not remotely the same for Manis as it is for Hart. For Manis God’s eternal intentions for his creatures are thwarted by the intentions by some of his creatures for, “there are some people whom God cannot save.” This does not comport with Hart’s account of freedom, as no intention without grounding and fulfillment in God can be both free and rational. But we know that the different accounts of freedom are not had in a vacuum – both come to the position by way of wildly divergent views on divine agency and modality. So we have to pull back the layers and look at the assumptions made. TASBS presents its assumptions quite clearly, and provides a clear and coherent account of both divine and creaturely freedom.
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But my question is in earnest also. I don’t believe in a super-entity who bears all the marks of ontological contingency but who also has the power magically to create out of nothingness. I don’t believe in some very large successively eternal sorcerer in the great beyond. I also don’t believe in the superheroes from Marvel films. I am fine with gods and fairies so long as we recognize them as creatures. I believe in God because the logic of classical theism convinces me. I don’t believe in some guy called God who may or may not have the nature of the God of classical theism. I genuinely want to know what appeal there is in this preposterous mythological deity who engineered the reality Manis describes? Seriously, is this more credible than Scientology? Why believe the Christian story at all in so bizarre a form?
Oh, well. Maybe the Mormons are right about God after all.
I know I said I was bowing out, but then I failed to close the page.
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DBH: The ONLY way of asserting the real possibility of deliberative liberty at the level of empirical agency is to insist that there is a real final cause that forever draws it to itself at the level of transcendental appetite.
See, even you revert to French when moved to glad assent. That’s why the ancient Israelites spoke French, after all: it’s the language of Eden. (I think I’ve got that right.)
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Once my book arrives, all your doubts will be dispelled. 🙂
In all seriousness, though I’m under no illusions that you’ll be convinced by anything in my book that you don’t already believe, I do think you’ll enjoy the critique of Calvinism in the Addendum to Part I. Especially the section on “the problem of faith.”
Also, I would very much like to hear your thoughts on the first part of chapter 6 (especially pp. 195-213), on the nature of self-deception. I’m still not convinced that your view takes that problem seriously enough.
Until then. It’s been a fun diversion these past couple days.
I look forward to it. Now if I can convince you to adopt a more classical metaphysics….
Oh, by the way, though you’re right that one of the implications of my book is that classical theism does indeed point toward universalism, you might want to go over meditation one again. It’s absolutely made for someone who does not presume anything at all about what God directly knows of the “future” (not that I think God has a “future”).
I love how the go-to person for defending the existence of God and classical theism in modern thought has made the irrefutable case that (crudely summarised) God does not exist if ETC is true in a way that follows inescapably from what’s laid out in TEoG. I think it’s done more than make universalism ‘in vogue’ again as a personal belief but, in what will play out, make any other idea just laughable. Of course the trads will continue to have a hissy fit, but those who aren’t ‘the help’ and are rationally engaging with these questions of faith will be moving that way.
Knowing how much you love Bulgakov, David, I don’t suppose you agree with him here though — 😛
Gavrilyuk actually badly oversimplifies Bulgakov’s argument here. SB is quite clear that God is not ignorant of a “future” or learns of events temporally. He uses an intentionally paradoxical language to speak of an “eternal kenosis,” and how God acts toward creatures in his historical presence as the God who is always becoming incarnate. He was not an open theist and he explicitly denies that God’s eternal knowledge is anything but omniscient.
Gavrilyuk is a problematic scholar where SB is concerned. He often misses the argument for the rhetoric.
Dies not learn…
I have to stop dictating into my phone.
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Zach: Also, I would very much like to hear your [David’s] thoughts on the first part of chapter 6 (especially pp. 195-213), on the nature of self-deception. I’m still not convinced that your view takes that problem seriously enough.
Tom: Is this also where you appropriate Kierkegaard in proposing a model of the Self’s slow but steady (and finally irrevocable) solidification in evil? Manoussakis attempts this as well.
I do not understand, Zach, why Kierkegaard’s construal of self-deception poses a fundamental problem for DBH’s presentation. If human beings have been granted a innate desire for God, a desire that cannot be eradicated because it belongs to the constitution of the human being, then why would human self-deception and egotism, no matter how entrenched, pose an insuperable problem for the omnipotent Deity? How can we even think it that it might?
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Forgive me for jumping in ahead of Zach, but I’ll hazard a guess. I suspect Zach’s reading of SK is similar to Manousaakis’s. That is, Hell’s eternity is implied in the nature of the claim laid upon the Self by God. SK: “Eternity is obliged to do this, because to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession, an infinite concession given to man, but it is also eternity’s claim upon him.” As being comes to us as an ‘infinite gift’, it comes as ‘infinite claim’. This (so the argument goes) just is the weight of so wonderful and awful a gift/claim. The Self that is fitted for eternity and tasked with defining itself in (or better yet ‘as’) the choice has (logically speaking) to face equally consequential futures.
And how does Dr Belt respond to Kierkegaard?
I’m sure there’s a medical doctor somewhere my ancestry.
I don’t read SK as Manoussakis, Zach, and Jack Mulder Jr. do. Yes – SK recognizes the enslaving (habituating) power of choice. Who doesn’t? SK’s insights into the structure at work are powerful. But he nowhere draws the conclusion that this God-given disposition for defining oneself by/as one’s choices can finally foreclose upon itself absolutely. SK knew the Self was asymmetrically related to God as its ground, and teleologically inclined by virtue of the Creator/Creature relation, and he’s not a voluntarist. So it’s highly doubtful that were we to ask SK to speculate on the eschatological trajectory of his thought he’d confirm the infernalist reading.
The problem with trying to appropriate SK’s phenomenology of becoming in defense of an irrevocable solidification of the Self in evil is that the final/irrevocable solidification is never chosen as such, as an end. One makes other lesser choices (addictions, pleasures, fears, etc.) which habituate the Self. So for Manoussakis, e.g., irrevocable damnation creeps up on one slowly, without being chosen as such. But it’s morally problematic (in my view) to suppose an irrevocable/eternal and unforeseen ‘infinite’ suffering can be the just ‘natural’ consequence of a finite process of habituation consisting in choices whose explicit object of desire was never infinite suffering as such.
Even if Manoussakis and Zach are right that SK’s thought entails irrevocable solidification of the Self in Hell, at best the infernalists have another Lutheran on their side. But we’d be morally obliged to reject SK’s conclusions at this point. Luckily, SK doesn’t make the connection himself. And there’s that pesky and provocative (explicit) confession of his in his Journals that he believed all shall in the end be saved. However one qualifies that confession, it’s not the sort of thing a committed infernalist would say.
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Again, all the arguments have to be held together. The idea of the self solidifying itself in evil would not dispel the argument of meditations one, three, or four in TASBS. God, in so creating, would ultimately will evil. God, in so abandoning some to perdition, would in the end save not persons, but only vestiges of persons. And those souls so condemning themselves to eternal dereliction would never—could never—have enjoyed so much as a single instant of genuine rational liberty; and so the God who leaves them enslaved to their egoism would be an omnipotent monster of malevolence.
The talk of infinite gift and infinite claim are, of course, vacuous. That is not a reality any of us inhabits. The infinite never lies within the scope of our experience, our deliberative liberty, or our powers of discernment. None of us receives that gift in a way we can possibly grasp in the darkness of this life, and none of us is subject to that claim in a way that we have any power to answer. It’s a ridiculous picture of reality. It is a tiresome nonsense language, one that corresponds to no actual situation of any finite soul.
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Tom; “But it’s morally problematic (in my view) to suppose an irrevocable/eternal and unforeseen ‘infinite’ suffering can be the just ‘natural’ consequence of a finite process of habituation consisting in choices whose explicit object of desire was never infinite suffering as such.”
It’s more than problematic. Manoussakis’s God is clearly evil. The sort of continuous and progressively irreversible descent into egoistic sin he describes could never have involved so much as a single genuinely free determination of the will. It’s as if a man born in slavery were to be said to have freely chosen to be a slave because, over the course of his life, he has been progressively habituated to servility.
It’s banal, but it’s also morally repellent.
I’m somewhat confused over DBH’s view of freedom though not necessarily in a way that opens the door that undermines his argument for universalism.
My reading has mostly come from the thomists so I see some overlap.
When David speaks of the transcendental good being the final cause for all action, that is something I can get behind. Aquinas says the same thing. In fact it is this foundation which makes available alternative possibilities to choose. Every particular good we come into contact with and deliberate over choosing is necessarily finite and so the will is not necessarily moved by that object to choose it. Only the universal good would move the will to choose it necessarily over a finite good. Which is why, once the will has ‘seen’ and chosen the universal good it is unchangeable stable. No other good can move it as all goods are pre contained in it. ‘Move’ here is obviously meant in terms of final causation. The good doesnt ‘push’ the will to choose like an efficient cause.
So far so good. This fits with universalism.
I have two questions for David.
1). Does this not in fact entail that we have alternative possibilities at least in this life (depending on how the beatific vision is or ever expanding theosis of the cappadocians is in the next life, perhaps alternative possibilities only amongst the good on the next as well?). As a sober and rational agent who necessarily desires to exist you may well necessarily refrain from turning right into a fire and turning left instead (freedom doesnt entail *all* choices having alternative possibilities) but I’d imagine we do in fact have options over what to have for breakfast, what career to have and who to choose as a spouse say. I wonder if you agree and how this affects providence.
Second. I dont think this account of free will actually entails universalism (though it fits like a glove nonetheless). I think this must be combined with a rejection of the nature/grace distinction. This won’t be news to David. He does in fact reject it and argues against it. But it seems to be often forgotten by supporters of David’s position as though his account of free will entails by itself universalism. It doesnt. It’s in conjunction with the above.
I’m not an ECT torment advocate. In fact if I’m honest I’d say the new testament is largely annihilationist. I think this fits equally as well with the thomist account of freedom when combined with the nature/grace distinction.
Whether we accept or reject that distinction makes all the difference in my view.
No. And don’t confuse the word “distinction” with the word “separation.”
The free will argument I make entails only that the free-will defense of hell fails. So, in that sense, it requires no particular view regarding nature and grace. It is a fully complete QED before one reaches that point.
That said, however, any good phenomenology or logical account of free will proves beyond doubt that no rational nature could rest content in a purely natural end. It could have no intentionality toward natural ends apart from its prior natural longing for its supernatural end. The two-tier system is a contradiction. Therefore, yes, the classical model of freedom already makes the manualist distinction between nature and supernature unsustainable, and so does in fact entail universalism.
This is not a debatable issue, really. The notion of a purely natural terminus of rational freedom is a plain logical contradiction.
Once again, none of the book’s arguments rests on any prior speculative commitment. You are not going to find seams in the argument by looking for unexamined assumptions.
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Thanks for the response Dr. Hart (I’m a little embarrassed actually by addressing you so informally – apologies! – also would regret not saying how much of a fan of your work I actually am).
You are in fact right. I’m currently swirling around issues of God’s obligation to us (given He is the answer to the euthyphro dilemma) given a view of God’s causal act which specifies every single event that happens. Even given the difference between primary and secondary causality I dont that confers moral responsibility on us secondary causes. If death was in fact a natural end for us and the beatific vision/theosis a supernatural end that surpasses our nature, I think those promises allow for the coherence of God not in fact saving everyone (only on annihilationism though). This seems more to do with Gods obligation to creatures given their nature however rather than a free will defence.
I’m actually in the UK, its 11:30pm and I need some sleep. I will get back in touch tomorrow here to offer perhaps the one objection I fo have concerning your objections to the free will defence. Its actually the only objection I consider on the table.
I’ll allude to now though in case you’ve heard something similar. It’s based on work by people like Steven Jensen or tobias hoffmann whove done work on how Aquinas explains we can sin given that we choose under the guise of the good.
But at the moment I’m knackered. I’ll come back tomorrow
Of course we can sin. We cannot reject the good absolutely, however, or turn from God in true freedom and sanity of mind, fully knowing God. And that is the issueof Meditation Four.
What do you think of the idea that our capability to choose the good (and what this I’m fact looks like) is different among different creatures based on their nature.
So all choosing is done under the guise of the good and every nature has an end which it cannot reject (as it’s not an end that is volitional but an end by nature. Its is thus both neccessary and free).
But that leaves open the space for the degree to which a given creature necessarily must choose the good. Given our nature, what if the type of good needed for salvation is an end beyond our nature and so something not necessarily chosen?
Here’s the quote from Aquinas;
When a secondary end is not included under the order of the principal end, there results a sin of the will, whose object is the good and the end. Now, every will naturally wishes what is a proper good for the volitional agent, namely, perfect being itself, and it cannot will the contrary of this. So, in the case of a volitional agent whose proper good is the ultimate end, no sin of the will can occur, for the ultimate end is not included under the order of another end; instead, all other ends are contained under its order. Now, this kind of volitional agent is God, Whose being is the highest goodness, which is the ultimate end. Hence, in God there can be no sin of the will. But in any other kind of volitional agent, whose proper good must be included under the order of another good, it is possible for sin of the will to occur, if it be considered in its own nature. Indeed, although natural inclination of the will is present in every volitional agent to will and to love its own perfection so that it cannot will the contrary of this, yet it is not so naturally implanted in the agent to so order its perfection to another end, that it cannot fail in regard to it, for the higher end is not proper to its nature, but to a higher nature. It is left, then, to the agent’s choice, to order his own proper perfection to a higher end. (Summa contra gentiles III, 109)
That is irrelevant for three reasons, Aristolesjefi:
1) Thomas here is merely speaking of the conditions of sin, with which I have no disagreement. That said, the Thomistic two-tier distinction between natural ends of the rational will and the graciously superadded supernatural ends of that will is unsustainable, for reasons obvious in the simplest phenomenology of the will: even an orientation toward a natural rational end is entirely dependent upon a prior and limitless transcendental preoccupation of intellect and will with the perfections of being. So no rational will could ever rest content in a purely natural end, and the gracious call to union with God is already implicit in and fundamental to all natural rational desire; the longing for union with God is not superadded, but is in fact the foundation of all rational existence as such, more original than any (nonsensical) pure nature. Rational agents are naturally always oriented to a supernatural end, and could not have natural ends as “rational” ends if they were not. (See my forthcoming book on supernature and nature.)
2) It would not matter to my argument in any event, because it would still mean that the creature cannot rationally, with full cognizance and compos mentis, reject God in the way required for the “free-will defense” of hell. The soul that has never received that “lumen gloriae” never really had the ability to accept of reject God, but remains entirely ignorant of the true nature of both the divine and itself. This is not a problem for Thomas, because he did not advance a free-will defense of hell, and was in fact a pure predestinarian as regards the ultimate fate of souls. Which leads to:
3) The God who, under those conditions, would allow the creature to damn itself would be an evil God. See Meditation One (after carefully reading chapter two).
Please stop making the strange mistake of thinking that I deny that creatures can willfully sin. That is not the issue of the book’s fourth meditation. This seems to be the trap that Thomist critics of the book keep falling into, because they don’t seem to be able to grasp that the “intellectualist” account of freedom actually subverts the claim that souls can damn themselves. My claim is not that creatures cannot sin. It is my claim that–as Jesus says–sinners are slaves to sin, not perfectly free rational agents, and that therefore the truth will set you free when you are confronted by it. Meditation Four argues only that (again) no one could rationally, with full cognizance and compos mentis, reject God in the way required for the “free-will defense” of hell. That’s the point. And it’s not really subject to debate for Thomists, unless they want to ditch the intellectualist model of freedom altogether and, with it, Thomism.
This is an argument the Thomists should sit out. Here, they’re their own worst enemies.
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That’s something that always puzzled me. My way back to Christianity was through Ed Feser’s book The Last Superstition. I remember when I first read about the intellecualist account of freedom, I felt an immense weight fall off of my shoulders, but I’d always been perplexed how right after he seemed to say that lack of knowledge mitigated certain sinful behavior, nevertheless you could be so sinful you could merit eternal hell. I actually asked him and his followers on his blog about this several times. One was on the post “A Hartless God.” I asked how the Catholic Church’s teaching on mortal sin in CCC 1857 could possibly true i.e. for a sin to be mortal it must be a grave matter, with full knowledge, and deliberate consent. It seemed to me that for a Thomist, the ability to commit a mortal sin should be impossible and thus they would be in direct violation of Church doctrine, but they seem to assent to it anyway. Curiously, I got no responses,so I am still mystified. After reading your book Professor Hart, I am convinced they just are hoping we don’t look behind the curtain.Intellectualism necessarily leads to universalism.
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Read my quote from Aquinas on how we can in fact sin.
Again, I didn’t mean to suggest Hart denies we sin, but I found your comment a helpful sidenote to a question I asked him after – can anyone in fact be guilty of sin on this intellectualist account?
Also, it may be something of a false dichotomy to divide accounts of free will into voluntarist and intellectualist. Especially if we see it as binary options. It’s more like a spectrum.
The thomists like steven Jensen and medieval free will scholars like tobias hoffmann. Hoffmann has written a paper on how Aquinas’ theory of action is not a type of intellectual determinism.
If the intellect is not determined by reason to one choice over another, jensen argues, it must be the will that settles the judgement (see his book Sin for a detailed account). Its not the intellect by itself or the will by itself that produces a choice (one is unable to choose whilst the other chooses blindly). Rather, it’s in the interplay of the two powers that we can free judgement (liberum arbitrium). A choice that is done for a reason and yet a choice that was not necessitated by reason.
Intellectualism entails universalism on your account because we aren’t guilty of sin. It’s not something we are culpable or responsible for but a disease that must be healed. That seems to the type of idea Origen and Clement of Alexandria had.
I didn’t say we couldn’t sin. I said I think it would be impossible to be in a state of MORTAL sin as defined by the CCC catechism due to one of the preconditions (with full knowledge) being unable to be met. Of course we can sin, no one denies that and of course the will and intellect interact, no one denies that. The road from intellectualism to voluntarism is a spectrum, yes but one or the other must have priority and it must be intellectualism, otherwise logic and reason can be thrown out the window and nothing has to make sense,all things are just part of senseless nightmare created by a cosmic Satan.
Yes, it does. So, to correct the problem, the traditional Thomist account denies that God ever gives us the choice. It is a predestinarian system of necessity, But modern Thomists–with a few simultaneously honorable and deplorable exceptions–try to keep that a secret. Manualist Thomism moreover, in a bizarre and vastly self-subverting move, claims that even as spiritual beings we have only a natural rational end unless we receive the efficacious grace of the superelevating lumen gloriae, and thus we have no “right” to beatitude in God; hence, supposedly, God is not unjust in his “irresistible permissive decree” that most of us will burn forever in hell (even though, as inheritors of Adam’s curse, we had no power not to sin). The philosophical nonsense therein entailed is fathomless, and the result is still an evil God.
To both TJF and AristotlesJedi:
We are all often, like Buridan’s perfectly rational jackass, poised between two—or, really, poised amid innumerably many—seemingly equally desirable ends. Even if those ends are not really perfectly equivalent to one another, still they may have an equivalent power to attract our wills. And, of course, Scotus is right to a degree in recognizing the frequent conflict produced by apprehending the good at once under the distinct aspects of the affectio iustitiae and the affectio commodi. Some options are more “just,” some more “commodious,” and so on; and we—being less perfectly rational than the jackass—perceive them as equally compelling competing goods. But choose we will and choose we must. Not only is the act of choosing in itself a rational good, as Spinoza pointed out (for no truly rational ass would allow himself to starve through indecision), it is a compulsion of our natures and a necessity of circumstance. So we will choose, and at times the rationale for the choice we make will be so nebulous, imprecise, incidental, and contingent—propelled, as it were, by ten-thousand contending currents of happenstance—that, for all intents and purposes, our choice is nothing more than a willing surrender to a moment of “fate.” There may be latent and discreet causalities within our personal psychologies determining more than we realize, and so prompting us to ends we may think we have chosen wholly spontaneously; but in their very complexity and subtlety these fall below the threshold of reason and cannot be accounted aspects of personal agency; they belong wholly to the stream of consequence to which one has made that aforementioned surrender. So here, as I say, the combination of ignorance and willful self-regard, and then of course of indurated perversity, makes real culpability possible; but even then culpability proves to be a condition of the soul partly induced by a chronic disease of our nature. For the child who, through some irresistible compulsion, repeatedly plays with fire, the experience of being burned can be both a condign punishment and also a harsh remedy for the deeper malady. It remains the case, however, that there is no entry into this circle of self-reinforcing inculpation from a position of pure will and unclouded intellect. We are all always already thrown into it, as much its prisoners as its wardens. And so, unless someone liberates us from it and grants us the knowledge and understanding we have hitherto lacked, we are never free to choose for or against God. Once we have been so liberated, however, precisely because we are now truly free, we can choose nothing other than God.
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Thanks for that Dr. Hart. I certainly think that account is plausible and you raise *the* central issues. Nor am I necessarily disagreeing with you at the end of the day.
But, I still think something like the thomist (about which I’ll make a quick note in another comment) position has something to say for it.
‘Unclouded intellect’ is a great phrase that gets to the heart of it. Aquinas certainly thinks all sin stems from ignorance of a kind. The question is whether it’s from sufficient control and a type of natural voluntarist action that it can be deemed cupable.
Aristotle explained the incontinence of the will as being fettered by a passion which distracts the will (and therefore the persons practical reasoning) the distraction accounts for cognitive dysfunction. The fact the practical reasoning does not entail that person will act on this passion suffices for control.
The Angels are a great case here. For the thomist, they do not make false judgements. It is impossible. Being immaterial, passion can not fetter their intellects, but given Aquinas’ theory of undivided thinking (we cannot simultaneously know everything that we know. When we think if a math problem, we aren’t thinking of our address) allows for a kind of ‘fettering’ of the intellect. If the angel is thinking of something other than God as his final end, he could choose it. Because he is not per se rejecting God as his final end, rather he is simply choosing something else, under the guise of the good. (This obviously is under described and leaves out Aquinas’ theory of how a good will and cause evil per accidens which is necessary for a full account).
So aquinas, in the case of Angels, start with someone in an ideal situation given the intellect, but at least at me gives a coherent account how it could still nonetheless sin. Central to that account (undivided thinking for humans and Angels) is the idea that the freedom we have given our nature entails that it is possible to freely choose something other than God (as opposed to directly reject God).
A quick confession, I think the universalists who reasonably respond ‘well why doesnt God give Angels and the separated souls the knowledge of him as their true happiness in the forefront of their mind?’ As it were. Using the concept of undivided thinking, the separated soul would be thinking else and given that it would be to ‘see’ universal goodness itself it would seem to follow from the thomists own position that the person would necessarily but still freely choose God. I think that’s a good counter point. I can only imagine that he would respond that God is only obliged to give a creature what it is due by their nature and that such a gift would not be something obliged. I share the scepticism of this blog at that.
A quite side note on the thomist tradition. I dont see myself as someone who tows the line on everything Aquinas says and I’m happy to argue against when I think hes wrong.
I like some of the current thomists who argue against current consensus. Mark Spencer is an example who has done much to take some of Palamas’ ideas and use them within the thomistic system, as he does with Scotus too.
Francis Feingold argues against many thomists that God causes and specifies each and every choice we make yet at the same time argues this is compatible with simplicity.
I find myself more comfortable amongst those thinkers than some of the more traditional ones, though you can imagine i still agree with much of them!
So when it comes to hell, I’m not actually keen on defending Aquinas’ predestination theory (I’m up in the air still). I’m curious as to whether there is resources in the thomist tradition to give a type of free will defence.
Also (this is as much to the fact I’m a much more sceptical catholic – looking at converting orthodox actually! ) I’m not someone who defends ECT at all. If I’m giving some sort of defence for the coherence of hell please remember it’s for an annihilationist view
One more question Dr. Hart, what do you think of the relevance of the debate of survivalism v corruptionism debate to hell? Certainly i feel like if its the latter, then annihilationism seems a pretty natural option even for the predestination God of classical Thomism. In the sense that, goodness itself would only he obliged to act towards a creature given its nature.
Thanks for the replies so far. I’ve really enjoyed this. Also, for the others below who have suggested books on Orthodoxy – thank you!
Those questions are answered in the book.
Again, as I have to keep saying, the point of Meditation Four is that the free will defense of hell does not work. The possibility of sin for finite intellects is never denied, and in fact is not relevant.
The Thomistis account of the angelic fall is very different from what early Christians believed, both about the “physical” constitution of angels and about the nature of their fall. In any event, the angelic fall as described by Thomist tradition is clearly something that couldn’t and didn’t happen.
Oh, and the knowledge of divine goodness in its true nature is necessitated by the possession of a rational nature. Moreover, what God “owes” any creature is the maximum of love and justice that his own goodness demands. The two-tier nonsense that says God can be good while withholding any grace whatsoever is simply the sort of twisted reasoning that the incoherence of the idea of eternal torment produces in the piously brainwashed.
But what part of this thomistic account of angelic fall is wrong?
It seems to be a direct response to the idea that a sinful choice can occur in a will that was hitherto without sin and an intellect that was also not ignorant prior to the choice.
Regardless of whether it in fact did happen, why think it in principle cant happen?
You have just explained why it could not happen. There could have been no object presented to an angelic intellect that would have allowed a sinful choice absent a real ignorance of the nature of the act itself. Either the angel would know that he or she or it was presented with something that, as an end itself, could be the object only of a sinful choice–in which case an unfallen intellect free from delusion would not then make that choice–or he or she or it really would have had to be truly ignorant of what it was doing in order to do it at all. Sure, we can’t know all we know at once; but a disembodied superintellect, unburdened by sin, could certainly remember that God in his own goodness is the end of all rational desire, and could not be distracted toward some other suppositious end without knowing that that end was not the good as such, and could only be an object of perverse longing. Hence the Greek fathers always ascribed the human fall to the ignorance of infantile minds, still damp from the womb of nonbeing.
Not that it matters. I really have no objection to Thomists thinking of angels anyway they like, so long as they realize that the beings they are imagining are not the angels that, say, Paul believed in. Still, none of this changes the logic of Meditation Four. And none of the Thomistic nonsense about what God “owes” his creatures (a squalid form of reasoning, to say the least) gets past the reasoning of Meditation One. And, as for annihilationism, I explain why that isn’t a cogent option in Meditation Three and in the closing pages of Meditation Four.
Have you read the book?
“truly ignorant of what it was doing in order to do it at all”any way they like…”
“any way they like”
Really must stop using dictate.
“truly ignorant of what it was he or she or it was doing in order to do it at all”
My take – yes, we have ‘options’ (can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’) but we cannot define the end which alone can bring such negotiating to a final end; that is, our ‘no’ can never be a ‘final’ no. We can misrelate ‘within’ the transcendental possibilities of being which are given by God (that’s why we’re the mess we’re in), but we’re not free to define those possibilities as such. God is, you might say, necessarily always an option, always within the scope of possibilities for creaturely becoming/choice, and the only option in which the will can finally cease from having to negotiate at all. Annihilationism is thus as impossible as ECT, for the same terms that rule out our foreclosing upon ourselves all possibility of Godward becoming also make our annihilation impossible.
DBH, when can one reasonably expect the book on nature and supernature and (I seem to recall) the separate book on tradition likely to be available?
Oh, given publication scheduling, probably not for a year.
Alright, I always hope for sooner. Could you possibly nag John Milbank to finish the article he has planned related to the new Trinitarian ontologies conference? Reading you fellas always sparks the little grey cells.
That seems to be a false dichotomy to me; that either an angelic intellect is directly aware of then disordered sin or it was truly ignorant.
Consider how Aquinas uses Aristotle’s distinction between habitual knowledge (or simply possessing knowledge) and the use of that knowledge. A crucial premise also includes the inherent capacity for rational creatures who’s end isnt identical to their nature (like God) to inherently be able to choose with the non-use of the divine rule. That seems to open up options where a rational creature could use his knowledge in a way that results in sin yet, though he was ignorant, it stemmed from his use of knowledge rather than the lack of it.
But I should buy your book! I did get in audible, but I was disappointed when another actor voiced the script and the audio couldn’t keep my attention. I’m really going off a paper you presented a few years back and a few interviews you’ve done since the publication of the book. So I will read it!
Also, perhaps rude to ask an author to recommend books on the same topic he is covering, but do you have any books to recommend concerning Orthdooxy, what is dogma and what isnt, how to interpret tradition. I’m in particular interested to get me hands on whether the synodikon rules out universalism (from what I’ve heard it’s not dogmatic for the church?) I dont think the fifth ecumenical council rules it out. Also, how Orthodoxy sees scripture would be great (inerrant. Infallible? Neither?).
McGuckin and Ware have been suggested already. I’ll be keeping my eye out for your book on tradition
No, it’s not a false dichotomy. And I think you are not following the simple point. I’m not objecting to the account of sin; I’m objecting to it as a credible explanation of the fall of angels if angels are what Thomistic tradition says they are.
If an angel has fallen from a state unburdened by prior sin, “he” may have used his knowledge in sinning, but still he must have been ignorant of it as a misuse of his will. He must have been mistaken about something. He must have made a false judgment based on some measurable degree of ignorance. So he was “using” his ignorance as much as his knowledge, erroneously believing that the choice he was making would conduce to the satisfaction–the happiness–of his nature.
I can see a child wanting a good thing in a defective way without recognizing the defect. I have a hard time making sense of the Thomistic understanding of the angelic intellect allowing for an angel failing to recognize that the sinful act itself is intrinsically disordered and could not satisfy his natural inclination toward the good in itself. And, if he did recognize it, by what rationale would he then commit the sin?
Anyway, whoever this sinning angel is, he may have made a correct judgment about the intrinsic desirability of some object the choosing of which was not consonant with his natural longing for God. Judgment, however, must appertain not simply to the object but to one’s action toward that object; a correct judgment would be one that recognizes which action would or would not truly make one happy in the end. One must be able to say “this is good in itself but not good *for me* as something I have stolen.” That’s the whole point of having a prudential faculty.
But this is only vaguely interesting; it’s not germane to the issues in the book.
The only books on Orthodoxy that occur to me are Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology, Evdokimov’s Orthodoxy, and Bulgakov’s The Orthodox Church.
Thanks for the replies. I’m not completely sold on the thomist account of the fall for angels and perhaps reading your book will cement any scepticism.
Can I alert you to a forthcoming book you may enjoy? It’s by Tobias Hoffmann and I think it’s called “Free Will and the Rebel Angel’s in Medieval Philosophy”. You can probably guess from the title what it’s about, but I think youd enjoy it. Not least to consider the ingenuity the medievals showed even if its false.
I appreciate the substantive replies. I mentioned before I’m somewhat of a fan so I’ve enjoyed the discussion. Heres to hoping I can move from the hope of Balthazar to a more confident faith.
I’m replying here because there doesnt seem to be the option to reply directly above.
I’m looking forward to reading your book when its published. Both on tradition and the issue of nature/supernature (if you are right about the latter then I agree you are fundamentally right. Thomism also entails universalism).
I’m not claiming you think humans cant sin (though I’d imagine you’d say we aren’t culpable for sin if it stems from ignorance?).
In reply to your first comment, thomists would in fact agree with the core. An immaterial intellect is by nature directed towards universal truth itself. Similarly, the immaterial will is directed toward universal goodness itself. But the contention rests on whether these final causes are constrained by nature. Hence Aquinas and Aristotle thought the attainment of our final end (qua intellect) was contemplation of the truth itself. So the natural end of the intellect was to contemplate truth not grasp it will the intuitive immediacy God was of his being. Each is final cause is constrained by nature.
This then sets the boundaries for different types of freedom. Freedom bounded by nature, which is what I take the quote of Aquinas to be getting at. Rejecting the ‘higher end’ is possibly precisely because it is something that transcends our nature.
Another way of putting it is that we are less free than Angel’s. But that’s not something to remedy that’s just a comparison of our natures. That’s how I see the relevance of the nature/grace difference to the issue of a free will defence anyway.
BTW, I’ve recently found out about a certain fr. Behr, who seems to hold similar views. Does anyone know if he has written any books on the nature of tradition in Orthodoxy, how the bible is read (ignorant, infallible or neither?)
I’m leaning towards joining the orthodox church so would appreciate any book recommendations in the meantime before Dr. Harts books come out
I’m pondering changing my name to PlatosJedi, but I imagine it would be a nightmare of legal documents, etc. . . . I think you would find Fr. Behr’s fairly lengthy introduction to his translation of Origen’s On First Principles of interest with regards to tradition, reading of the scriptures, etc.
Oh, and Sergius Bulgakov’s The Orthodox Church and anything by Paul Evdokimov is worth reading. I also like Philip Sherrard a great deal — though technically I am Catholic, so consider the source.
“The Orthodox Church” thanks I’ll look out for that. Any other particular books?
Again, you’re missing the point, Aristotlesjefi (can you come up with a less cumbersome cognomen, pretty please?). The free-will defense of hell–the defense, that is, that says it is justifiable for God to abandon us to eternal torment because we freely reject him compos mentis, truly knowing what we are doing, who he is, and what we are in our inmost nature–is rendered incoherent by the intellectualist model of freedom (which is the only model that makes sense). Yes, we can “freely” make many bad choices and “freely” do many things we ought not, through a combination of ignorance and indurated perversity. But that is not what the free-will defense requires. It requires of us a power antecedent to and immeasurably more comprehensive than any finite and qualified choices of that sort. It demands an act of rational will that is literally impossible. So, if God were truly to abandon us to hell, he would do so despite the reality that we never had any real ability to elect him instead; he would be evil (as, of course, the predestining God of the late Augustine, of Thomas, of Calvin, etc, is, and as we all know him to be when we are not forcing ourselves to swallow an absurdity we believe demanded of us by faith). So, even if the Thomistic view were correct, it would still prove that the currently most popular defense of hell (the last ditch effort to make it seem intelligible, I would say) is simple nonsense.
As it happens, the “higher end” of direct knowledge of God as God does *not* transcend our nature; it merely exceeds our autonomous power. It is our nature’s only possible final cause. Our nature cannot be intrinsically constrained to a “natural end,” precisely because it is a spiritual nature and therefore has no “purely natural” terminus for its proper rational agency. Even its rational natural ends in this life appear to it as such only because of its prior preoccupation with the supernatural end that alone gives it form. It is constrained to a final end that is “more eminent” or “nobler” (in Thomas’s language) because it is attainable only through “a friend” (God). But it is impossible for a spiritual nature to have any existence except as a movement of free rational intentionality toward the whole infinity of the divine nature in itself (as, say, Nicholas of Cusa and Maurice Blondel both brilliantly demonstrated). A mere natural contemplation of truth could never satisfy a nature that–in order to exist at all–must be *nothing other than* an insatiable desire for God in himself.
If you are capable of truly freely choosing one necktie rather than another, then your entire “natural” end is deification in direct union with God. There is no other way that you could possess such a power. If that supernatural terminus is not your “natural” end, then all rational freedom is an illusion, just as the physicalists maintain.
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As an introduction to the Orthodox Church I recommend John McGuckin’s The Orthodox Church. Here is the whole book online
I would always go with Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church,” 2nd or 3rd edition.
Then his The Orthodox Way, is a great intro to Orthodox spirituality.
And although nobody ever recommends this book, I think 30 Steps to Heaven https://www.amazon.com/Thirty-Steps-Heaven-Vassilios-Papavassiliou/dp/1936270897 is a beautiful little book applying the famous text “The Ladder” to everyday life for laypeople.