When Only Bad Arguments Are Possible: A Response to Diem (among others)

by David Bentley Hart

In my last posting here, I confessed my bafflement at Edward Feser’s strange assertion that, when discussing the structure of rational freedom in That All Shall Be Saved, I do so in order to deny that human beings are truly culpable for their sins. I could not imagine where he had come up with such a notion. I think, however, I have discovered the source of his error. As I mentioned before, he does not seem actually to have read the book (as he reveals in several places in the review), but he probably did search online for quickly digestible negative critiques of the text, so that he would have something to say. And I think he must have come upon a review by William Matthew Diem called “The Psycholog­ical Possibility of Mortal Sin,” which is predicated upon precisely the mistake that Feser repeats. Now, to his credit, Diem’s is a genuine effort to offer a serious criticism of my work; his misunderstand­ing is not the result, as far as I can tell, of the indolence evident in Feser’s article. That said, I am not certain that Diem read the book either. He does not claim to have done so, and his entire argument seems to be based on a misreading of the first part (of four) of an “interim report” about the book that I published on the Public Orthodoxy site. That would explain, at least, some of his misconstruals of my position.

Whatever the case, his review falls into the familiar pattern: he is yet another critic who is arguing not with the case I (very precisely) make in the book, but with some other, more easily refuted case he has substituted for it. The result is curious. For one thing, he makes several statements that are intended to express some kind of disagreement with my views, but that are in fact entirely consonant with my claims in the book. For instance, he places a great deal of emphasis on the selflessness of the love required of us by God to be the creatures we are called to be, but seems unaware that this is precisely the essence of my book’s Third Meditation, and one of the more crucial steps in the six-part argument that the book advances.

If, however, Diem did read the book, then somehow he has conflated two different issues that are quite distinct in the text, and in the process has completely reversed my claims regarding one of them. He has also failed to grasp that the book is a unified totality and that, even if he were right to some limited degree about the questions he addresses, his own argument would still lead him into traps laid elsewhere in the text (Meditation Three specifically, but also Meditation One and the treatment of predicative equivocity raised in the first two chapters and elsewhere). And then, of course, there are assertions of his own—or at least assumptions—that are clearly false.

But let me be more precise.

As I say, Diem is under the impression that my long account of the structure of rational freedom in the book is an attempt to deny human culpability for sin, and even to deny that anyone possesses the “psychological” capacity for “mortal” sin. But, of course, that is not the issue. Meditation Four is a throughgoing assault—almost wholly negative in form—on the now very popular “free will defense” of eternal perdition, which requires that we think of human beings as possessing an eternally persistent capacity to reject God, attached to a fully rational cognizance both of God as he truly is and of their own natures as they truly are, as well as full rational discretion over their own wills and a freedom to choose that is never, ever abridged. The “free will” defense, after all, is an attempt to exculpate God entirely of any imputation of injustice or spite while yet affirming his (intrinsically unjust and spiteful) willingness to damn some of his creatures to eternal torment.

Of course, I do in fact, in an entirely different portion of the book, address the matter of human culpability. Even then, however, the issue is raised only in the course of asking whether the analogical range of the concept “justice” dissolves into equivocity when we try to make sense of an eternal hell, and whether such equivocity—with regard to this or any other concept—does not quickly become a contagion that corrupts all theological discourse by association. (But that is a matter for another time.) But I clearly affirm the reality of human guilt and grant the justice of certain punishments attendant upon it. True, I do also insist that such culpability is finite, qualified by inescapable conditions within the fallen world, and justly subject only to a penalty proportional to the sinner’s intrinsic powers of intention and discernment. That is a matter of simple, self-evident logic. Justice is a matter of proportion or it is nothing at all.

But, in a larger sense, the issue of culpability is of no deep concern to me, and certainly occupies no central position in my book’s reasoning, because I draw my understanding of Christ’s salvific work from the New Testament. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. So what? Like Paul and the author of John’s Gospel (among others), I assume that the Christian claim is that Christ came to save us from slavery to precisely those conditions that make such culpability inevitable. On fact, I don’t know how my perspective could be any more impeccably Pauline. We do what we would not do, and do not do that which we would. And so we ever shall so long as we are bound to this body of death. In the end, guilt is a sickness unto death in which we all languish, one that none of us can avoid, and so we all need to be saved as the culpable and helpless creatures that we are. Such, at least, seems to be Christ’s characterization of his mission: He came to save the cosmos, not to condemn it (John 3:17; 12:47); for “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34), while only “the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32)—free, that is, as only God can make one.

Even in its own terms, I might add, Diem’s argument hardly dispels the question of culpabil­ity’s limits. He complains that, when I speak of either freedom or culpability, I seem to assume that the sinner must have a direct knowledge of God in se in order to be fully free with regard to God (which is false, but that is neither here nor there). He argues, by supposed contrast, that it is possible, with sufficient clarity of mind and purity of will, for any of us to reject God by rejecting justice in our dealings with others, even if it is not God as such upon whom our minds are fixed. This is a confusion of issues. First of all—unless he is some sort of pure voluntarist—Diem must acknowledge that, to whatever degree we can freely know and love “justice” or “goodness,” to that degree we must know them for what they are: which is to say, know them as ends that fulfill our own nature and as intrinsic truths that can lead us out of the bondage of selfish desire into the joy of the divine life.

Of course—and who has denied it?—we are culpable for our offenses against goodness, against justice, against love; but that culpability remains, as ever, as much the result of ignorance and malformation as of personal perversity. It remains as much a condition of sickness and ignorance as a feat of desire and will. So, if culpability is the issue, eternal torment is still more than any finite nature, through any transgression, could merit on its own. In fact, it is precisely because persons are not thinking of God when they transgress against justice that we can say with absolute certainty that their minds and wills are in bondage, and that “they know not what they do.” They simply cannot see and love justice with the freedom of a will set free from bondage to death and delusion. I am fairly sure that Christ’s prayer for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying him was not contingent upon any presumed blamelessness on their parts for their actions; but it certainly includes a plea of extenuation based on the limits of their knowledge and intentions.

Mind you, another of Diem’s errors is his curious suggestion that my understanding of the soul’s desire for the Good has something to do with purely personal emotional satisfaction or, as he puts it, “selfishness.” (Again, I doubt he has read the book.) It is precisely the opposite that I argue: that mistaking selfish desire for the true happiness of a rational nature, which can find its true rest only in God, is precisely what imprisons us in a hell of our own making. No less than Thomas Aquinas, when I speak of the natural desire for God’s goodness I am speaking not merely of what momentarily satisfies us as appetent individual egos, but of what truly liberates our nature into its true end in love of God and neighbor, where for the first time we truly find ourselves, precisely by finding that we do not belong to ourselves (again, Diem should have read Meditation Three). And, of course, in saving us for our true end, Christ must often “drag” us to himself (John 12:32), and many of us will ultimately have to be “saved as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).

But here, of course, much depends on the narrative of salvation with which one is working (and I am unapologetically Eastern on this matter, as I believe the Eastern view to be the biblical one as well). What kind of savior does Diem imagine Christ to be, and what does Christ save us from? Diem seems to think that our personal culpability can in itself disqual­ify us from a salvation that consists (it would seem) in a kind of forensic pardon. I, by contrast, assume that personal culpability, as well as everything else that separates us from God, is all part and parcel of that inescapable condition of spiritual estrangement and “disease” from which Christ came to deliver all of us. Certainly, this is the way Paul speaks. We are all complicit; we are all also fated by inescapable circumstances; and the former reality is never separable from the latter. It is all one state of bondage to sin and death, from which no law can set us free. We have all fallen in “Adam,” and so we shall all be raised up again in Christ (Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

Really, Diem makes much of this argument for me, precisely in denominating our capacity for “mortal” sin a “psychological possibility.” Yes, precisely. Very good. It is not a purely rational capacity (and so perfectly free), but only a psychological capacity (and so free always in a conditioned and qualified way). The moment one enters the realm of psychology, one enters as well into an infrangible web of causalities, always as much extrinsic to us as intrinsic, from which it is impossible to extricate ourselves. Hence, we have no hope unless God save us from ourselves. I have always thought this the most fascinating aspect of C.S. Lewis’s sole genuine theological masterpiece, The Great Divorce: it so brilliantly and penetratingly depicts the psychological conditions of those who condemn themselves to hell that it inadvertently shows this self-condemnation to be as much a condition of unwilling slavery as of willing perversity—as much adventitiously imposed as internally cultivated. Indeed, the impersonal and personal here are one thoroughly interwoven fabric, a single hell already there before we were born, and from which a God of love alone can set us free.

Diem is correct about one thing, however (albeit in a confused way): I do most definitely think that these causal entanglements in which our personal psychologies subsist qualify, extenuate, and limit out guilt, even if they do not erase it. And I definitely believe that eternal perdition for the qualified spiritual misdeeds of a finite will and reason, however wicked those misdeeds may be, is of its nature self-evidently unjust, and that to deny this requires us to entertain an equivocal disjunction in our understanding of “justice.” The analogical interval between human and divine “justice” thus imagined is too great to be spanned by any word or notion with a continuous range of proper applications. And I consider any claim to the contrary to be only an empty and obviously absurd assertion, prompted by the perceived need to defend the indefensible notion that eternal punish­ment, without any purpose but retribution, could ever be the work of a good and just God with respect to his own finite creatures. It is a case of bad dogma defeating sound reason. Even this, however, is a subordinate issue within the structure of the book’s argument. The story of salvation found in the New Testament is a tale not about God seeking out the worthy, but rather about God shattering the prison of sin in which all of us languish together, and from which we can be truly set free—”selflessly” set free, that is—only as one (for the last time, I wish Diem had read Meditation Three).

Anyway, I thank Diem for being, so far, one of only two readers who have attempted a serious negative critical engagement with my position. But his critique fails even so, both because it misrepresents my position and because it presumes a narrative of salvation that is clearly inadequate. If it is any comfort, however, I do not expect anyone to do any better. Sometimes, only bad arguments are possible.

Which is, after long delay, the real point I want to make.

I know some find it preposterous and annoying when I say that the argument in That All Shall Be Saved is irrefutable; in my defense, as yet no one has asked me what I really mean when I make the assertion. So let me just say that it is not my claim that my book is a unique work of genius. I do, it is true, think it a very well-wrought text, and I take a certain pride in the subtlety of its design and in the way the different parts of the argument are interlinked, and I cast a cold eye on those who can’t take the time to follow the argument closely. It turns out, of course, that sometimes I can be too subtle for my own good, and I imagine that I will continue to have to elucidate points I had foolishly thought radiantly obvious. But all of that has to do only with technique. Whether I should or not, I take pride in my craftsmanship.

The irrefutability I ascribe to my argument, however, has nothing to do with that. In fact, I don’t think it an especially rare accomplishment to be irrefutable on this point. I think Thomas Talbott’s book on the topic is basically irrefutable. I think the same of the Reitan and Kronen volume on the matter. But I also think the same is true whenever any clever child, hearing of the traditional doctrine of hell, dismisses it as ridiculous or unfair or horrible. The truth is that the very notion is so obviously, resplendently warped and nonsensical that every argument ever made for its truthfulness, throughout the whole of recorded history, has been a bad one. We deceive ourselves that we know of some good arguments in its favor only because we have already made the existential decision to believe in hell’s eternity no matter what—or because, really, that decision was made for us before we were old enough to think for ourselves. If, however, one can find a way to retract that initial surrender to the abysmally ludicrous, one will also discover that all apologetics for the infernalist orthodoxy consist in claims that no truly rational person should take seriously. It is all self-delusion, self-hypnosis, pacification of the conscience, stupefaction of the moral intelligence.

At about the time that Diem’s article appeared, the estimable Thomas Weinandy published a defense of hell’s eternity. He announced upfront that he had not read my book, which was unfortunate, because the arguments he then went on to make were for the most part the most banal possible, and I had dealt with many of them (to my mind, more than adequately) in the book. Tom, though, is not a stupid man. On no other topic would he have been willing to abide arguments as bad as the ones that he himself was making; nor, in any other context, could he have deceived himself that arguments so poor were in fact sound and solvent. By the same token, my old friend Jerry Walls has exerted himself for decades in service to the gospel of eternal perdition, and yet not a single one of his arguments would be taken seriously by a Jerry Walls who had not been brainwashed into believing that the idea of eternal hell is a firm tenet of scriptural orthodoxy, incumbent on him as a believer (as an Evangelical, he acknowledges no other authority). For he too is not a stupid man. And, just as there has never been a truly good argument for the infernalist position, so there can never be a good argument against the case I make in my book, because that argument consists mostly in truths that are perfectly evident when we allow ourselves to think about them without prejudice. I simply draw them together into a kind of harmony. The attacks will continue to come. They will continue to be inept. (The forthcoming issue of Nova et Vetera, for instance, will feature two, one by Taylor O’Neill, the other by Joshua Brotherton; both are sincere, both are confused, and both fail.)

Frankly, all of us are aware of the absurdity of the idea of an eternal hell, and most of us have realized as much at various times in our lives, in moments when, perhaps involuntar­ily, we have inadvertently allowed our moral imaginations to slip free from their tethers of pious dread. In those instants, the doubts come flowing in like a tidal wave. But then we gain control of our consciences again, drive those doubts away, and try to forget as quickly as possible what our consciences are trying to tell us, lest God overhear them and damn us forever. Still, it’s obvious. There is an argument against the coherence of the doctrine of eternal perdition that is simpler than any other and that is incontrovertibly true and that I think all of us know without realizing we know it. Most infernalists would dismiss it as trivial or impressionistic or sentimental, and yet its logic is devastatingly irresistible to anyone who will set his or her heart to contemplate it. It is this: The irresoluble contradic­tion at the very core of the now dominant understanding of Christian confession is that the faith commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves while also enjoining us to believe in the reality of an eternal hell; we cannot possibly do both of these things at once. I say this not just because I think it emotionally impossible fully to love a God capable of consigning any creature to everlasting suffering (though in fact I do think this). I say it, rather, because absolute love of neighbor and a perfectly convinced belief in hell are antithetical to one another in principle.

Really, all our language of Christian love is rendered vacuous to the precise degree that we truly believe in eternal perdition. Love my neighbor all I may, if I believe hell is real I cannot love him as myself. My conviction that there is a hell to which one of us might go while the other enters into the Kingdom of God means that I must be willing to abandon him—indeed, abandon everyone—to a fate of total misery while yet continuing to assume that, having done so, I shall be able to enjoy perfect eternal bliss. Indeed, I must proleptic­ally already have abandoned him to endless pain without hesitation or regret. I must—must—preserve a place in my heart, and that the deepest and most enduring part, where I have already turned away from him with a callous self-interest so vast as to be indistinguishable from perfect malevolence.

The very thought tempts one to suppose that Nietzsche was right, and that all of Christian­ity’s talk of charity and selfless love and compassion is a particularly squalid and pusillani­mous charade, dissembling a deep and abiding ressentiment and vengefulness. As I say, the committed infernalist will wave the argument off impatiently. But I think an honest interro­gation of our consciences, if we allow ourselves to risk it, tells us that this is a contradiction that cannot be conjured away with yet another exercise in specious reasoning and bad dialectics. Think. Can we truly love any person (let alone love that person as ourselves) if we are obliged, as the price and proof of our faith, to contemplate that person consigned to eternal suffering while we ourselves possess imperturbable, unclouded, unconditional, and everlasting happiness? Only a fool would believe it. But the dominant picture of Christian faith demands that we believe it, and so demands that we become fools. It demands that we ignore the contradiction altogether. It also demands that we become—at some deep and enduring level—resolutely and complacently cruel.

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329 Responses to When Only Bad Arguments Are Possible: A Response to Diem (among others)

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Your blog tyrant speaking:

    I will be watching the comments closely this time. I ask everyone to please stay on target. The only comments allowed will be those which directly address the substantive arguments advanced by David in this article and TASBS. Everything else will be deleted. No comments about the DBH-Feser fracas. No comments about David’s rhetorical style. No questions about David’s opinions on alien abductions, Sasquatch, or favorite movies. And rest assured that any comment that I interpret as an ad hominem attack on David will be immediately deleted and the author put on the moderation list.

    Also, no complaints about the above restrictions or my dictatorial style. It is as it is.

    Capiche?

    Have a great day and enjoy the discussion. 😎

    Liked by 4 people

  2. rephinia says:

    The final argument you put here was precisely the insight that led me to embrace universalism years ago. It’s so childlike and obvious and this is something of a recurrent theme in your writings that the childlike and obvious (or immediate) is the path to God (who after all as God the Son is Eternal Child, and enters the world as a baby, and says the Kingdom will belong to the children).

    I learnt from The Doors of the Sea that Christians do not need to compromise their consciences and believe things about God that we wouldn’t want to believe about any human. The Experience of God taught me to find God in returning to an innocent vision of reality that sees being as pure givenness, as a child naturally does.

    And you strike again here. Origen also made similar comments in saying:

    > One of the most supreme virtues according to the divine Word is the love of neighbour. And we must suppose that it is far more present in the saints toward those struggling in life than in those who are still in human weakness and struggle alongside their brothers and sisters.

    If the saved will be saints (and I pray they must be), surely their love for their neighbours and enemies will reach a perfect pitch in perfect harmony with the being of Christ and the Father, then how on earth could that love possibly sit with the eternal suffering of these brothers and sisters they love so perfectly as Christ love them? There can be no answer in my opinion and it’s just so obvious!

    Especially since in Christ, the person who is the perfect face of God and the perfect face of humanity, love of God and neighbour and one and the same act. If you love God you love all humanity and everyone will be saved – the saved will be sure of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. rephinia says:

    Could I also have some clarification on what this means exactly:

    > Christ came to save us from slavery *to precisely those conditions that make such culpability inevitable*

    I’m straining myself but haven’t completely grasped it. Decided to give up and just ask.

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  4. David Armstrong says:

    Hi, DBH,

    First, thanks for this. Second, two tangential questions for you, one on your argument in TASBS and one on your article here:

    1.) You make a brief observation in TASBS about the possible advantage of a chiliastic reading of the Apocalypse for the universalist position, on the grounds that the chiliast acknowledges numerous eschatological horizons that precede the absolute novissimum of all things. I attempted to write a longer reflection on that point and submit it to Al in the hopes of seeing what you thought, but as he (for understandable reasons) optioned against it, I figured I would ask you here: is it not the case that universalism actually demands some form of chiliasm? Even Origen, who takes issue with the more Judaic shape of the patristic chiliasm that preceded him, seems to acknowledge that the unfolding of the Kingdom in the cosmos will be a gradual thing. Contemporary exegetes, I think, have more reason than Origen did to take “Judaic” hope seriously, but the point I’m making is, more simply, that for Origen the resolution of creation seems to be a process spanning many aeons, and in which the saints undergo a kind of perpetual questing or education in the divine life by first travelling the cosmos (to paraphrase his interesting comments at the end of De Principiis 2.11). Would you agree? Or qualify? Or object?

    2.) I fully agree with you that The Great Divorce is a theological masterpiece; I mourn, as I’m sure you probably do too, that Lewis did not fully imbibe his intellectual master George MacDonald’s universalism; but I might quibble with you somewhat on whether it is Lewis’ only such masterpiece. My question here is more banal: have you read Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia? If not, I think you’d really like it: https://www.amazon.com/Planet-Narnia-Seven-Heavens-Imagination/dp/019973870X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=planet+narnia&qid=1595778841&sr=8-1

    Thanks again,
    David

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  5. Please keep writing these. I can report that certain people I know who otherwise wouldn’t care to pay any attention to such things are starting to take notice. DBH’s tone is stirring up lots of controversy, but I suspect this is a case of “any publicity is good publicity”. As long as the words DBH writes are being read by people, they will essentially be forced on some level to confront what he’s saying, and what he’s saying is positively kerygmatic. DBH here speaks the Gospel, and to argue against what he’s preaching is to reject the Gospel. To refuse to understand the argument here is to be already experiencing damnation right now in this moment, dwelling deep within that very same Hell which you so strongly affirm.

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  6. If our culpability is only finite, then what is it exactly that Christ saved us from? He obviously didn’t save us from eternal torment. If it is from the slavery of sin, then in what sense? This could mean he saved all of us in this life from the slavery of sin, but I think it rather obvious that many die still in slavery to sin so this can’t be it. It could mean that he saved some of us from slavery to sin in this life, but then how are we to understand the holy men of the old testament (like Melchizadech, Moses, and Elijah)? And if this is the sense then in what sense did he really save all of us? And if it means that we are all ultimately saved from slavery to sin, then how is this different than before? If Universalism is true, and our culpability was always only finite, then we would all eventually be free from sin anyways.

    If it is the case that it is only by Christ’s sacrifice that we are all saved from eternal torment, and that without it we really would be threatened with eternal torment, then that means our sins really were infinitely culpable until Christ’s sacrifice, in which case sins committed before then were infinitely culpable and then made finitely culpable later, and now all our sins are only finitely culpable. This also doesn’t square with the idea that all sins are only finitely culpable.

    Does it mean that Christ’s sacrifice was to take away just some of the temporary punishment we were going to endure? If so, this doesn’t at all seem to justify putting an entirely innocent Person of the Trinity to death by torture and the accompanying unequaled suffering of the most perfect human being to ever live, His mother.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      What, according to scripture, does Christ save us from?

      Death. Eternal death. The body of death. Total estrangement from God. The death that pervades the cosmos and makes union with God possible. The powers, principalities, thrones, and dominions that have separated all of creation from their divine source and end. The disease of mortality and sin that prevents creatures achieving the deification for which they were created. You know, all the things Paul actually talks about. And not all the things he doesn’t talk about (like eternal hell, everlasting punishment, forensic guilt…).

      Your entire understanding of salvation and of the sacrifice of Christ seems to be saturated in a language of penal substitutionary atonement for culpability, followed by an entry ticket into heaven. That is indeed a later and deeply degenerate form of soteriology, alien to scripture and not found in the Church Fathers–East or West–at all. Christ’s death is not an appeasement for guilt offered to God’s justice, at least not in the New Testament, though it is the “manumission fee” (lytron, often translated as “ransom”) paid by God, at his own cost, to set his creation free from slavery to death.

      Your question, that is to say, is based on very, very, very bad theology. To correct your understanding of these things, go and read 1 Corinthians 20 times.

      Liked by 4 people

      • DBH says:

        Oh, and as for punishment, whatever there is of it, if God is good, must be for correction, not retribution. Hence the only “fiery penalty” found in Paul’s theology: 1 Corinthians 3:15.

        Isn’t this old news, though? I thought most students of theology today were better aware of the early church’s actual teachings on these things. It’s usually only fundamentalist Calvinists who are still stuck in the later narrative.

        Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Oh, and one more thing: Who said anything about Christi saving us from eternal torment? Not Paul. Not me. The very idea of eternal torment is a logical nonsense.

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      • How is total estrangement from God or eternal death not an infinite punishment or consequence of sin and therefore not proportional to our finite clupability?

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        • DBH says:

          Estrangement from God is not something God imposes. It is not a sentence pronounced on us.

          Slavery to sin and death is not a punishment, son. Like all slavery, it is captivity in the house of an unjust master; and it is from this that God liberates us.

          The disease of sin and death is not a punishment. Like all disease, it is a condition of suffering brought on by conditions we could never master; and it is from this that God heals us.

          You keep thinking in terms of guilt and penalty. Try thinking in the terms provided by Paul. Because all your assumptions are confused.

          Liked by 1 person

          • jsobertsylvest says:

            I still fall into the guilt & punishment paradigm, especially when dragged into conversations with those whose very premises — I must be implicitly accepting, at some level, although, in other ways — happen to be totally inapposite to my way of living, much less thinking.

            The standard (facile) retort I get to _TASBS_ is “an infinite punishment is proportional to the infinite God whom we offend.”

            But, due to widely held moral sensibilities & time-honored juridical precepts, the world’s justice systems have generally take into account an offender’s degree of culpability & level of maturity? They thereby implicitly affirm restorative punishment & explicitly apply it in a manner proportional – not to gravity of an offense, alone, & certainly not based on the relative worthiness of the offended, but  – to the developmental level of the offender?

            Not curiously, those fundamentalistic cohorts in our society, who most reflexively recoil from universalism, tend to be those who’ve also tried to overturn such longheld proportionality principles. Thankfully, in the last 15 years, 3 SCOTUS cases limited the harshest juvenile sentencing policies, deciding that the 8th Amendment protection against Cruel & Unusual Punishment requires that juveniles be treated differently than adults.

            If we take into account the finite difference between a juvenile & adult, how much more would an infinitely merciful, Infinite God take into account our radical finitude? How much more CRUEL & unusual could one get than ECT? Why do folks, pretty much ad hoc, jettison such sensibilities & principles, as made explicit in the world’s justice system, when reflecting on hell?

            Even that consideration is simply the least inadequate way to appeal to a mindset preoccupied with justice, when, instead, unfathomably deeper relational sensibilities should be in play? Such innate sensibilities as would transcend all matters of culpability & proportionality? Such as can be found in the unqualified, unconditional, unsurpassable love of a parent? To start the conversation elsewhere requires an a priori character assasination of God? At least, a case of mistaken identity?

            To wit: I raised 4 children Roman Catholic, but always amended & addended the catechism lessons they brought home.

            For starters, we discussed the relative parvity & gravity of matter regarding the 4 M’s: missing mass, meet on Friday, masturbation & murder. Good bleeping grief!

            Most pertinently, I told them that, for all practical purposes, forget about an eternal hell.

            I explained that most parents, and especially our Heavenly Father, would – not only not banish a child from all future Thanksgiving dinners for missing a given year’s celebration, but – not consign them to a labor concentration camp for eternity for the other M’s, either, including murder.

            I haven’t completely grasped and could not fully articulate your precise argument in _TASBS_, but there’s a certain self-evidence to parts of your argument with which I resonate and inchoately understand in my bones. They say one would have to proceed halfway thru the Principia to follow the proofs of the axioms grounding 2+2=4, but I’m good, no need for that. I’m not likely going to break my brain trying to follow your arguments precisely, either, but I can taste & see the truth of their conclusions, even though unable to prove them, myself.

            And, I’m very, very grateful. You’ve made it a lot easier for me to catechize my grandchildren, provided resources I couldn’t even imagine 40 years ago. Thanks, for that.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Accepting (as I do) the irrefutable truth of what you and at the same time rejecting both the modern fundamentalist view of the creation accounts in the book of Genesis as well as the notion of original sin with inherited guilt and accepting modern biology as regards the origin of the human race, I wonder what account one might give of the source or origin or cause of the disease of and enslavement to sin and death.

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          • turmarion says:

            jsobertsylvest, what you point out is exactly true, but I’d add the following:

            You say, “an infinite punishment is proportional to the infinite God whom we offend”, according to infernalists. As you note, that doesn’t allow for degrees of understanding on the part of the person; but it’s also not logical with respect to God. I mean, if I steal fifty dollars from a regular guy, there’s no difference in the law between that and stealing the same amount from the mayor, or the governor, or the president. The power or authority of the person against whom the offense is committed is irrelevant to the gravity of the crime. Now, in reality, a powerful person might use his influence to get a stiffer punishment for someone that does something to him; but we would rightly consider that corruption.

            Thus, the “infinite punishment is just because all sins are ultimately against God, and God is infinite” doesn’t even make sense on it’s own terms.

            Like

          • Conceiving of it as a condition doesn’t really seem to resolve anything. If it’s the case that any sin is itself a sign that we are already enslaved to sin and death to some degree, then we would have to admit that God created us in a state of slavery to sin and death, otherwise the first sin would never be committed.

            In addition, if Christ’s sacrifice saved us in the sense of healing us, then either his sacrifice has accomplished this with no need to respond on our parts (which seems obviously false) or it requires a response on our part. If it requires a response on our part, then it’s possible that we could fail to make that response. If it’s possible that we could fail to make that response, then it’s possible we will never be healed.

            I don’t see why, under these conditions of ignorance and sin and death, it should be impossible to perpetually refuse to be healed, seeing it not for the good it is but as something evil.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            TimFinnegan,

            There are so many bad assumptions crowded into your short message that it’s too much trouble to deal with them. Since my book already answers some of your objections, quite thoroughly, I won’t bother to repeat myself. I will, however, recommend that you pick up a few good books on the history of theology, to get you past your confusions regarding what the language of sin, finitude, healing, and deliverance means, in scripture and the Church Fathers. The early volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan’s five part magnum opus, maybe Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology, as well as some standard texts like JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrine. Pay attention especially to the Greek and Syrian Fathers’ understanding of the fall and of “original sin.” I suppose I would also recommend Lossky here.

            Like

      • Lamb says:

        I don’t see how penal substitution is theologically false. Law, transgression, guilt, blood, sacrifice, debt, restitution. This is the bread and butter of the Bible, in both Testaments. Christ is the sacrificial lamb whose innocent blood (through faith and penitence) covers over and cancels our guilt. The only part of penal substitution I’m not fully on board with is the idea of God pouring out His wrath upon the crucified victim; although even that is true in an indirect and permissive sense, in that God allows Christ to suffer the wrath of His enemies: “he was bruised for our transgressions.” Granted that other theories of atonement are more sublime or exalted, I don’t think they compete with penal substitution, but complement it. Indeed I think theories of atonement have a lot to do with the cultural milieu Christians find themselves in. For antiquity, Christians were the servants of pagan lords, hence the ransom theory. In the middle ages, Christians were punished under the laws of Christian kings, hence penal substitution. The modern world has a more liberal and interpersonal view of law and social relations, and so we’re now getting more personalistic theories of atonement, like yours, where the soul overcomes its personal estrangement from God and neighbour. Again, I think these views complement one another; they’re all basically good.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          You have misunderstood the language of Qurban in both testaments. Purification and reconciliation are not the same thing as an offering for appeasement. This is a very old issue, though.

          Like

    • rephinia says:

      Christ overthrew death and saved us from mortality. With the resurrection taking place in historical time instead of after the end of time as one might expect, he revealed the true nature of death. Death is an interruption to God’s intentions for his creation. He took on the worst that sin and death could do to him and rose in a body that will no longer taste death. Now the Kingdom has been dragged from the future to the present day and we live in the overlap of two ages. The age of this world and the Age of the Kingdom, embodied in the Church. In baptism you change your ‘citizenship’ from this world to the Kingdom and be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth who is Lord within history as a stranger and pilgrim. You live according to a counter-cultural ethos of gift and life, instead of living according to the relationships of destruction that operate according to the logic of death.

      This is partly what Christ does in his life, death, and resurrection, inaugurate the Kingdom within history and show death and sin and suffering to be something that binds us. He frees his creatures as if they are prisoners of war in the house of death. Hence the Christian experience (everything from the sacraments, scripture, prayer, liturgy, charity etc.) is a foretaste of the fullness of the Kingdom that is to come, but has already begun within history.

      Also remember that Christ would have been incarnate even without the fall. So the incarnation would have united creation and divinity anyhow even if there was no sin and death.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Brad says:

    A small point about the possibility of “mortal” sin . . .

    Section 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting JPII’s encyclical Reconciliatio et Paenitentia) states: “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.'”

    According to Dr. Hart’s (obviously correct) view of freedom, it is impossible for these conditions to be satisfied simultaneously.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. allistairg says:

    Heinrich Himmler stands before God – the God who loves him – and utterly refuses to repent of his evil, his arrogance and his contempt for compassion. Now what is God supposed to do? Force him to be saved? Annihilate him? What if hell is actually the reality of the love of God as experienced by the one who is arrogant? Perhaps hell is an act of sadism TOWARDS God: man damning God and not vice versa.

    There is thus no contradiction between the love of God and the reality of hell. In fact, there would be a contradiction between the love of God and the absence of consequences for those who hate that love.

    Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      It is not the reality of hell but its eternity that universalists deny. In the scenario you describe a universalist would certainly assent to the notion that Heinrich Himmler would be consigned to hell in his arrogance: but only until its fires had burnt the last of his arrogance away, and he had repented of all his sins and could stand cleansed and renewed before God. Universalism, in fact, demands greater justice than many an infernalist position that would allow egregious sinners into heaven still in their sin because they had “accepted Jesus as their personal saviour” or ascribed to the correct theological views.

      Liked by 2 people

    • rephinia says:

      You’re late to the party and the conversation on hell has moved on so much that this isn’t considered a contribution anymore and it doesn’t sound like you’ve read the book. At least DBH’s first interim article on free will to see why Himmler could not *freely* reject God for eternity.

      Like

    • DBH says:

      I see you haven’t read the book. It’s very reasonably priced.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Michael Nelson says:

    Are you or any other universalist planning to review Bart Ehrman’s new book where he claims that Jesus is promoting annihilationism in the Gospels?

    Like

    • DBH says:

      He is correct. This is old news. Even the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are better scriptural scholars on this point than is the Roman magisterium or of the self-appointed papacy of those American fundamentalists who have colonized much of American Orthodoxy. That is what the language of the Gehenna and of ovens is about: destruction. But Christ also uses the language of exclusion from a party, and the language of temporary imprisonment and chastisement. What he never uses is the language of eternal torment.

      But Ehrman isn’t a theologian, of course. The issue for theologians like Origen and Macrina and Gregory and Isaac (and others who presume that all these differing metaphors point toward a single coherent spiritual truth) would be: What is annihilated? What we are or only what we have become? What is burned away? Which of course takes us back to 1 Corinthians 3:15…

      Liked by 6 people

  10. oliver elkington says:

    I had a discussion a few weeks back on a Catholic forum, the Catholic Answers forum if you wish to know the name and brought up the arguments mentioned on here regarding universalism, the conclusion from many on the forum was that if one is certain of salvation then that causes one to become presumptuous(which is a sin according to Thomas Aquinas) and it leads to a potentially dangerous attitude whereby one feels they can sin forever and always be forgiven. Now i am sure most on here agree that there has to be a cut off point somewhere, that there has to come a day where we are called to answer to Christ or Satan where we are called to choose between sin and repentance, now i suppose you could say that God could give us infinite chances to repent but what if someone was given endless chances and never repented, never felt like repenting, would that not make a mockery of Gods justice?

    Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      “Now I am sure most on here agree that there has to be a cut off point somewhere, that there has to come a day where we are called to answer to Christ or Satan where we are called to choose between sin and repentance”
      No. Not at all. That is precisely what universalism rejects.
      Or rather, universalism, and indeed most of historic Christianity, if my understanding is correct, believes that we are called to choose between sin and repentance *all the time*. The wages of sin are corruption, decay and eventually death: each time we sin we die a little more until we die altogether, and after death deeper and deeper into the hell our sins have constructed for us; repentance is ceasing to sin and a reversal of that downward spiral so as to progress back up again towards God and eternal life. Universalists believe that Christ has and will reverse that spiral and bring to repentance all of us, if not in this world then hereafter, but that eventually it will be so. It is infernalists who believe God will eventually be powerless to save us, or will abandon the attempt.

      Like

      • oliver elkington says:

        Thank you, i appreciate what you are saying, it does make a lot of sense and i am sure a lot of Catholics would agree with you on your points. What a lot of church authorities have taught though is that a lifetime is sufficient time for repentance, if someone fails to repent after 1000 falls there is apparently no reason why they would suddenly repent and see the light after 10,000,000 falls, what do you think? As the Catholic encyclopedia says: “We admit that God might have extended the time of trial beyond death; however, had He done so, He would have permitted man to know about it, and would have made corresponding provision for the maintenance of moral order in this life. We may further admit that it is not intrinsically impossible for God to annihilate the sinner after some definite amount of punishment; but this would be less in conformity with the nature of man’s immortal soul; and, secondly, we know of no fact that might give us any right to suppose God will act in such a manner.” So if it was the case that we can have repentance after death then why has the church never taught it and made it clear? How are we to be sure that we can have endless repentance when the church teaches otherwise? There are many mysteries in the faith, the most obvious one being why God saves one person after a life of sin but gives efficacious grace to the other person who has lived a life of sin enabling them to have perfect contrition before the moment of death, it is a very puzzling mystery, that is as far as i can agree with you.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          It is not a mystery. It is a lie. The distinction between sufficient and efficacious grace is a logical monstrosity and a moral abomination. It is an attempt to explain away the New Testament’s clear proclamation of God’s universal will to save.

          Read the book.

          Liked by 3 people

          • oliver elkington says:

            Nice to hear from you DBH i think saying it is a lie is going a bit far, i believe in doctrinal development and i hope to see the Catholic and Orthodox Churches changing their doctrine regarding the final impenitence of sinners and the inevitability of Hell but one cannot call it a lie until the church has actually changed it’s teaching! We will have to work very hard on getting the churches to change their teaching on this subject, there is no guarantee it will work though.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Doctrine is one thing. The (predominantly Thomist) theology of sufficient vs. efficacious grace is something else. It’s just another name for double predestination ante praevisa merita—than which no more wicked religious idea has ever been formed.

            Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Said differently: if the church teaches something intrinsically irrational and morally depraved, simply calling it a mystery does nothing but silence reason and conscience. How about considering the opposite but more sensible conclusion: that the teaching of the church is not infallible after all.

          Liked by 2 people

          • oliver elkington says:

            I get your point, you have to ask yourself why someone as reasonable as St Thomas Aquinas never managed to find an answer as to why God does not give everyone saving grace, i want to know you opinion on why Aquinas instead rested on believing that the judgement of God on these subjects cannot be discovered yet.

            Like

          • Brad says:

            Dr. Hart,

            Curiosity question about your view of Scripture: If you replace the word “church” in your comment with the word “Bible,” is it still something you would say?

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Yes, of course.

            But surely you know that the question of scripture is the question of how you read and interpret it. It’s also a matter of how you understand inspiration. It’s also a matter of philological, historical, and textual scholarships. So the cases are not equivalent. If you read the Bible the way a fundamentalist literalist does, for instance, it’s a collection of myths, contradictions, poetry, errors, moral truth, moral falsehood, barbarism, beauty… At the literal level, it’s neither true nor false; it’s not even a unity.

            Scripture is never a matter as simple as a defined dogma. Even its seemingly clear pronouncements are usually balanced out by others that qualify them in any number of ways.

            Anyway, I don’t believe in scriptural inerrancy. Inspiration is not dictation, and it is not infallibility.

            Neither do I believe in scripture’s internal consistency at the literal level. Neither do I believe that interpretation ever ceases.

            Liked by 4 people

          • M. Robbins says:

            Just to note, Brad, though David has already answered yr question, that it is also answered in his concluding postscript to his NT. Inerrancy of scripture is a relatively recent idea, & rather difficult to square with the obvious inconsistencies of the texts themselves.

            Like

  11. RK says:

    Serious question prompted by DBH’s final two paragraphs: Is it possible for a committed infernalist (think pastors like John Piper) to truly love anyone? If a group of committed infernalists travels to Haiti on a mission trip, helps build houses in the most derelict locales, and ends each day with prayer and a gentle call for the locals “to develop a saving relationship with Jesus Christ,” was the building of those houses an act of love, or an act of confusion that happened to produce pleasant results?

    Like

    • rephinia says:

      The most perfect way a genuine infernalist can love someone is to be in hell for all eternity with the damned and refuse salvation at their expense. In this life, sure they can be very charitable, I have no desire to dispute that.

      Like

      • RK says:

        Is it accurate to even describe them as “charitable”?

        One of the hardest aspects of becoming a universalist has been recalibrating how I view the innumerable committed “Christians” in our society whose actions are a direct outflow of their beliefs, prayer lives, and spiritual habits more generally, and whom I had previously thought were very loving. Now, I consider infernalist “Christianity” to not be Christianity at all — it’s worse than diabolism — and if that is the basis on which such people are forming their spiritual habits, shouldn’t every act that appears to be an act of love be treated with the deepest suspicion?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      I believe I am right in saying Calvin expressly said that “God is love” actually means “God behaves in an apparently loving fashion towards the Elect”.
      Infernalists can display a certain fond and contingent pity for those who may yet be saved, but have to abandon it once they are convinced they are hardened reprobates. I think you can as a committed infernalist love those you believe saved, albeit with a contingent fondness as companions etc to be abandoned if it turns out you were mistaken in their Elect status, rather than loving them as yourself.

      Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        In essence, the RC understanding also boils down to saying that God only loves the elect–or so it seems to me. I’ve been reading Abbot Vonier’s book The Human Soul. In the chapter on reprobation, he writes:

        For every Catholic, there is another point of doctrine, which cannot be doubted. The lost spirits are no longer the objects of Divine Grace. Actual graces are not given them ; the lost spirits are left to themselves. Now, without actual graces … it is intrinsically impossible for the spirit to be restored to moral rectitude.

        If the reprobate are no longer objects of divine grace, how can they be objects of divine love (i.e., willing the good of the other)? Does that mean that they were never objects of divine love/grace to begin with?

        Liked by 3 people

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          From the article on hell in the online Catholic Encyclopedia: “The proximate cause of impenitence in hell is God’s refusal of every grace and every impulse for good. It would not be intrinsically impossible for God to move the damned to repentance; yet such a course would be out of keeping with the state of final reprobation.”

          Like

          • oliver elkington says:

            Now that is an interesting point, it is essentially admitting that having a sinner confined to Hell after death is not necessary, whenever i hear homilies on Hell in the church they always present God as essentially helpless when it comes to the sinners “final” choice but from hear we can believe and hope that it does not have to be that way at all.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Yes. It makes satanism look like a noble protest against a sadistic tyranny.

            Why again are we supposed to be nice about these beliefs?

            Liked by 3 people

          • Indeed. I think many atheists are closer to God than Christians who are absolutely committed to painting God as if He were Satan and then trying to make sure others believe in/worship Him (as if true worship of such a horrible being were possible).

            Liked by 2 people

          • That is… unbelievable.

            Then again, I don’t believe in the authority of the RCC, so I don’t care.

            Like

          • seeking99 says:

            > It would not be intrinsically impossible for God to move the damned to repentance; yet such a course would be out of keeping with the state of final reprobation.

            So apparently, maintaining this “state of final reprobation” is more important to God than regaining a lost sheep. You know, that thing for which “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over” than “ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” That’s some fascination prioritizing – I had no idea God loved eternal damnation that much. /s

            I left Catholicism a year ago yet I continue to be surprised by many of the things Catholics will claim when attempting to defend their doctrines.

            Like

    • DBH says:

      Who knows what Piper’s motives are? But, assuming the best, our acts often belie the things we claim to believe, and even the things we believe we believe. The god of Piper’s theology is satan’s moral inferior, but perhaps the God who speaks in the secret counsels of Piper’s heart is truly infinite love, goodness, and justice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

        Wow. Just wow.
        But thanks y’all!
        I be sure to include these tidbits in Catechumen classes whenever we get to the part of the heterodox teachings of universalism.

        I’ll remember to include that Universalists think Satanists are better than us sadistic “infernalists” and that Atheists are more informed and more correct in their Love than us terrible “infernalists”.

        Also, universalists believe we “infernalists” aren’t capable of real charity either.

        SMH

        Like

        • TJF says:

          I don’t think you are correctly reading these statements.

          Like

        • Grant says:

          I’ll both second TJF and suggest you at least engage in less hyperbole when teaching catechumens, and perhaps instruct them to listen to what people actually say and write, for example this by DBH:

          ‘Who knows what Piper’s motives are? But, assuming the best, our acts often belie the things we claim to believe, and even the things we believe we believe. The god of Piper’s theology is satan’s moral inferior, but perhaps the God who speaks in the secret counsels of Piper’s heart is truly infinite love, goodness, and justice.’

          Together with this:

          ‘No. Sometimes our deepest convictions appear only in our actions, because our discursive intellects have been conquered and colonized by evil ideas.’ It’s just above this thread, in which DBH clearly articulates that actions speak louder then words or apparent beliefs (I say apparent because I agree with him, almost all Christians who affirm infernalism believe in the belief in infernalism rather than infernalism itself, to be able to live with that cognitive dissonance with what they claim of God and His nature, and yet say He will do and wills for some of His creatures).

          What is being criticized is the very idea of infernalism and what it asserts of God (no mater how it tries to then incoherently hand-wave it away, so that no believer looks behind the curtain and sees both it’s emptiness and what it is saying of God.

          I always said the one thing I will respect about hard-line Calvinism is it faces this fact of what follows from infernalism about the nature of God clearly (though of course that means abandoning other core Christian claims, such as God is love). But yes as reaction to this horrific picture of God, intellectually at least, secularism or materialism, heck yes even satanism (if that can even be considered a serious belief rather than just a confused Christian splinter and reaction to majority Christian understanding on the whole, and most likely just self-indulgent posting for the most part) is a morally superior position and one moving closer to Christ in that area. But again, that is intellectually, their actions will reveal which person is currently truly closer to Christ and the Kingdom (by your fruits you know them, Matthew 25 and all that jazz). What I will say as before is infernalism has and sometimes still does lead to those taking it seriously to evil acts and behaviour, the long history in both East and West Churches who held sway over temporal powers to persecute, torture and kill those they deemed heretics and descentors (even those later recognised to be in the right, St Maximus, St John Chrysostom for example) will full permission from their conscience. Because from infernalism, such talk could imperial the very eternal fates of people to condemn them to a fate worse than death, a living death of torturous pain, so any action to prevent that becomes justified. This fear is still used to sway and control parishes, confessions and in some cases truly errible cults arise for which this is whip and fear that keeps people in line, brainwashes them and keeps them in horrible situations and abuses, and can happen in more personal relationships too. Why need physical threats or to much of them, when you you can wield the threat of God ready to drag them to torture chamber forever, and how to get them to do similar evil acts?

          And while such cults and actions keep arising and get condemned by wider Christians of all confessions as insane and warped expressions of the faith, few are able to ask why they are able to do what they or address the main tool that has always been reached for, threat of eternal damnation and if that idea itself is the driver and source of this evil (again by your fruits you are known, same for ideas and doctrines). Because most Christian confessions have put such questioning out bounds, at risk of excommunication (or equivalent) and in the past again with the power of state and society to attack such questioning (which brings us to the problem of violence and dehumanization the belief has and does generate). Here most Christians become as the battered spouse, defending their partner (in this case their given image of God) pretending not to see the harm and evil done and seeing only the good sides they can grasp and magnifying that, living in that cognitive dissonance. That to me is a deception for many, though these days thankfully many Christians just don’t think that deeply about it, practically ignoring that bit (defending at most due to culture war reasons), but as with the spouse it is not a healthy situation to be.

          Clearly you disagree (as we are to you heterodox) but I would say at least read what DBH and others actually say in context rather than jumping the gun, and see the difference in an attack on an idea to an attack on persons.

          Like

          • Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

            Actually, what is being asserted it that no one has to follow the teaching or believe the teaching of the Church “if the church teaches something intrinsically irrational and morally depraved” and that “simply calling it a mystery does nothing but silence reason and conscience.” Rather, “How about considering the opposite but more sensible conclusion: that the teaching of the church is not infallible after all.”

            And the Church’s teaching and interpretation of the Bible is likewise to be questioned, even rejected because “the question of scripture is the question of how you read and interpret it. It’s also a matter of how you understand inspiration. It’s also a matter of philological, historical, and textual scholarships. So the cases are not equivalent. If you read the Bible the way a fundamentalist literalist does, for instance, it’s a collection of myths, contradictions, poetry, errors, moral truth, moral falsehood, barbarism, beauty… At the literal level, it’s neither true nor false; it’s not even a unity.

            Scripture is never a matter as simple as a defined dogma. Even its seemingly clear pronouncements are usually balanced out by others that qualify them in any number of ways.

            Anyway, I don’t believe in scriptural inerrancy. Inspiration is not dictation, and it is not infallibility.

            Neither do I believe in scripture’s internal consistency at the literal level. Neither do I believe that interpretation ever ceases.”

            In short, we the fanclub and the master want us to abandon our “immoral” and “sadistic” “infernalism” and instead reform the Church to teach what Dr. Hart has conclude is the only acceptable Theology of Salvation and Hell.

            Here are my thoughts on all that:
            Not today Satan!

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Okay, Fr Alexis. Your trolling days are over. I’ve cut you some slack, hoping you might actually enter into a constructive conversation, but I see now that’s not going to happen. Godspeed.

            Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Gosh, apparently you’re a bit of an illiterate, Baldy. Piper is a notorious double predestinarian Calvinist who believes that God infallibly decreed, from before the beginning of the world, that the vast majority of his rational creatures would suffer eternal torment as a testament to his infinite sovereignty. He is of the breed that actually denies that God is love in an ultimate sense; like Clavin, his god is love only to the elect he has predestined to bliss. Is that the god of your theology?

          Learn to read. It might also help you learn to think.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Is Alexis Baldwin a real person, or is he some cartoon character someone had invented to make the rest of us look much better? If the latter, there is no need. The lampoon is too broad and absurd to be credible.

            Liked by 1 person

          • M. Robbins says:

            I always have to chuckle when someone gets all het up at the suggestion that the Church—an institution (or institutions) responsible for some of the most barbarous acts in history—might not be infallible. The infallible burning of heretics at the stake & all that. But as I am neither Protestant nor Catholic nor Orthodox, I suppose I just don’t get it.

            Like

          • Arthur Ja says:

            Dr Hart’s question *above*, I meant.

            Like

          • Arthur Ja says:

            Ah, it looks like one of my comments was not published successfully…

            Anyways, I just wanted to confirm the fact that Fr Alexis Baldwin is actually an Orthodox priest of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America).

            See the following link : https://www.oca.org/clergy/Alexis-Baldwin/

            It’s probably him.
            I just don’t see why anyone would randomly pick an Orthodox priest’s name to troll on an Orthodox blog.

            Like

  12. Justin says:

    Fr Aidan and Dr Hart,

    You [DBH] wrote:
    But I also think the same is true whenever any clever child, hearing of the traditional doctrine of hell, dismisses it as ridiculous or unfair or horrible.

    I don’t consider myself particularly clever, neither as a child nor now, however I thank you for affirming my thoughts so long ago as reasonable, and not the babble of a unregenerately wicked sinner. My faith continues to hang in the balance of my dismissal of that dogma. If I am wrong, I am not so sure I want to be right.

    Thank you again for articulating the fundamental principle in a way I could not.

    –Justin

    Like

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    David, could you please list for us the six parts or steps of the argument of TASBS.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Well, six is one way of numbering it. But it leaves out many subordinate arguments. Still:

      1) The possibility of intelligible analogical language about God in theological usage and the danger of a “contagion of equivocity”;

      2) The total analogical disjunction that the idea of an eternal hell necessarily introduces into certain indispensable theological predicates and the destruction this necessarily wreaks on doctrinal coherence;

      3) The relation between the classical metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo and eschatology, the necessary “moral modal collapse” of the distinction between divine will and divine permission (or between the divine antecedent and consequent wills) at the eschatological horizon that this entails, and the consequent implications regarding the relative goodness of God’s action in creation and, by inevitable logical extension, of God in himself (this part of the book contains an especially important “game-theory” argument);

      4) The relation between time and eternity, or between history and the Kingdom, or between this age and the next in biblical eschatology, and whether any synthesis other than a universalist one (and especially one that, like Gregory of Nyssa’s, uses 1 Corinthians 15 as a master key) can hold all of the scriptural evidence together in a way that is not self-defeating;

      5) The ontological and moral structure of personhood, and the dependency of personal identity—again, both ontological and moral—on an indissoluble coinherence of souls (this includes a reflection on the ancient theological issue of the totus Christus); and

      6) The necessary logical structure of rational freedom in relation to divine transcendence, especially as inflected by orthodox Christology, and the implications this has for the “free will defense” of eternal perdition.

      Liked by 2 people

      • jsobertsylvest says:

        re: the contagion of equivocity, I felt like I was reading a “not guilty” verdict for poor Duns Scotus vis a vis the charges leveled in the Scotus Narrative of RO! It was the most cogent application of how semantical univocity remains indispensable to our ontological analogies, if we’re to avoid virtual &/or total equivocation in our God-talk.

        re: game theory argument, immediately, I thought of the library scene in A Beautiful Mind in which all the mathematics professors ritualistically presented pens to John Nash. You showed us how beautiful both your mind & heart were, David.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Analogy, not univocity.

          Like

          • jsobertsylvest says:

            semantic not ontological univocity

            Like

          • jsobertsylvest says:

            Please forgive my erroneous (perhaps eisegetic) projection. What grounds my resonance with your conclusion, then, may be that we both employ participatory metaphysics. (I’ll desist from being a Scotist skunk at a picnic of Thomists & Neoplatonists).

            Like

  14. dianelos says:

    DBH writes:

    “I clearly affirm the reality of human guilt and grant the justice of certain punishments attendant upon it.”

    I have a problem with this statement. I think that theology is ultimately about revealing the character of God, since if we understand God’ character then given God’s omnipotence we will understand everything there is to know. In this context I disagree that it is in God’s character to punish us for our sins according to the corresponding culpability. Rather it is us who, when we realise what we have done, painfully repent. It’s very good advice to repent in this life, because in the next life in which the presence of God will be evident the pain of that recognition will be much greater.

    Sinfulness is a spiritual disease and the pain entailed in repentance (in this life or the next) is the pain of our spiritual recovery. But it is not a pain imposed by God, but part and parcel of our own choice to overcome sinfulness. To put it plainly, if we were offered some kind of painless repentance we ourselves would reject the offer as absurd – the way a rock climber would reject the offer to be flown to the mountain’s peak by helicopter. I’d like to add though that the pain of repentance is or will be allayed by the joy of making amends to those whom we have hurt. And by the loving care of the saints.

    In conclusion God is goodness itself, so there is no such thing as God causing pain or God punishing his creatures. As for divine justice it’s part of the fabric of creation and permeates each step of the way to universal atonement, from the fall to theosis when God is all in all. The pain of repentance is a part of justice, which is one more reason why we will freely and thankfully suffer it.

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    • DBH says:

      Who said the punishment in question was directly imposed by God?

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      • DBH,

        I’m glad you think we are culpable for our actions, but I’m still struggling to see how it is possible to be culpable for any wrongdoing under a purely intellectualist understanding of the will. I’m not questioning universalism, but just a way of understanding the human will.

        Correct me where I go wrong here but if we ONLY do wrong because we don’t have sufficient knowledge, how can being ignorant ever result in any culpability whatsoever? Under an intellectualist account, one can sin only to the extent that one is ignorant. If one can only sin to the extent that one is ignorant, then any sin committed is due completely to ignorance. If any sin is due completely to ignorance, then one cannot assume ANY responsibility for it. This implies that there is no sin that anyone can take ANY responsibility for.

        Certainly, someone who pleads insanity could be legally restrained because of being a danger to others, but it seems to me that to the extent that someone is insane, they are not responsible for their actions.

        The common refrain of pre-communion prayers is asking forgiveness for sins done both “in knowledge and in ignorance.” If the intellectualist understanding of freedom is correct, shouldn’t the first part of that phrase be done away with because a sin done in knowledge is metaphysically impossible?

        I’m objecting to an understanding the will in EXCLUSIVELY intellectualist terms without other supplemental models. The intellectualist model does have biblical and patristic precedent, but it seems like you need other models to supplement it if we are to be responsible for anything at all.

        Can you please show me where I go wrong here?

        Thank you.

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        • I understand you might say that is metaphysically impossible to sin in FULL knowledge, but I don’t see how this helps the problem, since it still seems that to whatever extent we are knowledgeable, to the same extent it is only metaphysically possible to do good. So then, we can ONLY sin because we are ignorant, and to the extent that we are ignorant, we can’t be held responsible.

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        • TJF says:

          I also have trouble with this. I’m not sure how to reconcile it to both experience and logic. I think this is why so many people think DBH doesn’t believe in culpability, since even to sympathetic readers like you and I, it seems like the intellectualist account negates all culpability. I would love to see how I am wrong, so I can better understand.

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        • DBH says:

          Guys,

          It’s not a simple either/or. Don’t be so Kantian about it. Think like Paul. Culpability is a condition in which we are situated inescapably, but it’s also something we contract by the use of the will. You’re quibbling over terms.

          Have you ever done something you knew was wrong, when you did not need to? Well, then, clearly you often know enough to know whether you are pursuing the Good under the aspect of moral goodness or under that of convenient or “commodious” goodness. And, when you sin, it is a combined effect: deliberative liberty exercised within the confines of existential bondage.

          Could you sin, however, if all the veils of sin, death, delusion, and corruption were pulled away and you were confronted with God’s Goodness in all its infinite beauty? No, because, for you to be free enough to do so, you would also have to be too free to be able to do so. Perfectly unqualified guilt is impossible, but qualified guilt is not.

          Another way of saying this is that you can have enough intellectual propositional knowledge (episteme) to know that you are doing something wrong. This is not the same as the direct knowledge (gnosis) that would give you perfect freedom.

          Or think of yourself as Buridan’s ass, confronted with a choice between following the affectio iustitiae or following the affectio commodi, each of which exercises as much appeal for you as the other, though in the former case the appeal is moral and in the latter sensual. If you choose the latter, then—like Paul—you are doing what you would not, while knowing you should not, and you are the agent of that choice. At the same time, were you not bound to the body of death, there would be no conflict between the morally and the commodiously good for you, and you would not be forced to choose. Hence the dilemma that, for Paul, has only one resolution: a God who looks not on our faults but who instead frees us from slavery to sin and death.

          So stop thinking about culpability in this arid forensic sense, as if any of us could step back from our actions and perfectly separate the determined from the undetermined. In fact, perfect culpability is a contradiction in terms, as only sinlessness is perfectly free. Culpability is both free and unfree at once. It’s real. It’s always qualified. It’s always finite. It has been conquered.

          All right. Enough insomniac scribbling.

          Liked by 8 people

          • “Another way of saying this is that you can have enough intellectual propositional knowledge (episteme) to know that you are doing something wrong. This is not the same as the direct knowledge (gnosis) that would give you perfect freedom.”

            Okay! I think that’s beginning to make sense. If the distinction between propositional knowledge and experiential knowledge is made, I can see how all this might fit together. St Paul wants to do what he knows, propositionally, is wrong, but because he has not yet fully known God in the experiential sense, he can still go astray.

            Maximus’ theology of movement and rest seems to be asserting the same thing using different terms:

            “The end of the natural motion of whatever has been originated is rest, which, after the passage beyond finite things, is produced completely by infinity, for in the absence of any spatial or temporal interval, every motion of whatever is naturally moved ceases, henceforth having nowhere, and no means whereby, and nothing to which it could be moved, since it has attained its goal and cause, which is God, who is Himself the limit of the infinite horizon that limits all motion.” Amb. 15 (1217c- 1220d)

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          • oh hot damn, what a fantastic epistemological distinction. Never noticed the difference between episteme and gnosis. so cool! wish everyone understood greek nuances like DBH ❤

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          • DBH says:

            Remember, Mark, if we restrict our understanding of “culpability” to cases where there are absolutely no extrinsic conditions or causes, in fact no extenuating circumstances whatsoever–psychological, social, mental, physical, material–then it is something that just about no one believes in. Not even Kant would really tell you (rational self-legislator that you are) that you enjoy some magical exemption from the conditions of finitude that make everything you do conditioned to some extent by things beyond your control. There is no such thing as absolute or pure culpability. Hence Plato is correct that retributive justice is not really justice, but simply a pointless multiplication of pains in situation where pains are already numerous.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            In which dialogue does Plato mention this?

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          • “In which dialogue does Plato mention this?” +1

            I’m starting to get intuitions for why the west went down the Hell rabbit hole deeper than the east. If Plato himself understood the nuances of culpability, perhaps Aristotle disagreed and this fused with Augustine via Aquinas to produce the soteriological mess we Catholics are in now

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          • (On another note father, all my comments are ending up in the moderation queue but i honestly don’t know what i’ve done to merit it. I mean, it’s no biggie because I know I’m not a troll and nothing i say will be blocked, but it’s just odd and causes me cognitive dissonance. Did I say something wrong here in the past? Keep blogging with DBH, as I mentioned, certain infernalist friends of mine who usually wouldn’t give two hoots are taking notice and being forced to think things through more deeply!)

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          • Cycneus says:

            TJF:

            The Republic, more specifially around p. 335 (Stephanus pagination). If I recall correctly, similar discussions are also found in the Gorgias, Laws, Protagoras et al.

            Liked by 1 person

      • dianelos says:

        “Who said the punishment in question was directly imposed by God?”

        The dictionary. I have just checked both Cambridge and Marriam-Webster, and both describe punishment as something imposed or inflicted (usually by some authority such as a judge or a parent). When one speaks of “remedial punishment in hell” people will understand that God is doing the punishing (and indeed the punishment of creatures can only be imposed by the uncreated).

        My point was that the well-known pain we feel in repentance is not imposed by some external entity but part and parcel of what repentance is: our overcoming our sinful nature. The one who wishes to repent does *not* wish the pain away.

        Incidentally, I’ve belatedly found out that we basically agree. The kindle edition allows one to quickly search in your book, and the very first passage that mentions “punishment” (and one which 400 of your readers have highlighted) is this: “A hardened heart is already its own punishment; the refusal to love or be loved makes the love of others — or even just their presence — a source of suffering and a goad to wrath.” Immediately followed by “At the very least, this is a psychological fact that just about any of us can confirm from experience.” Which is the point I was making. The pain is *not* punishment but part of our experience of realising the truth. (Only one point of disagreement: At least in my own experience the love of others does not goad me to wrath, even though it does at first increase the pain, since realising that one has hurt those who love one *is* more painful.)

        In any case my argument is that for pedagogic reasons universalists should not use the concept of “punishment” lest we mislead people about the character of God. There will be burning remorse and bitter weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell – but these will come from something good that is inside of us, indeed from the image of God showing us the truth. The cleansing fires of repentance come from the goodness inside of us.

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        • Cristina Herrera says:

          “A hardened heart is already its own punishment”. This reminds me of the definition of hell given by starets Zosima (not sure what his name is rendered as in English translations) in Brothers Karamazov: hell is the suffering that comes from being unable to love. Imagine squandering your one chance to love deeply and truly as a living, breathing, embodied creature! Imagine coming to a full knowledge of how deeply Christ called you to love, and how the meaning of all things -of creation itself!- is tied up in that act, and how God IS love, only to realize the exact measure to which you squandered that gift pursuing vanities! That alone is punishment enough, in my opinion. It’s an idea that quite frankly terrifies me.

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  15. “absolute love of neighbor and a perfectly convinced belief in hell are antithetical to one another in principle.”

    Indeed. If I love my neighbor absolutely, will I not pray for his salvation, and if I pray for his salvation, can I be convinced that he will suffer in hell in forever? No!

    “Love never fails.”

    How then can Love fail to rescue some from hell? This is to me the pith of the argument for universalism. There is however one argument for universalism which I hate: the argument that perfect joy in the Beatific Vision is impossible if one loves and knows others to be eternally lost. Perhaps the Beatific Vision will reveal to us that eternal loss is impossible: perhaps, if it was not the revelation which confirms the ultimate triumph of live, it could not be the Beatific Vision. But I feel like that way of framing the concept – that perfect in joy in God is impossible if some are lost – is deeply wrong and makes little of God Himself.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      “There is however one argument for universalism which I hate: the argument that perfect joy in the Beatific Vision is impossible if one loves and knows others to be eternally lost.”
      What is the Beatific Vision but a full understanding of the depths of God’s love, and responding with all the love a finite being is capable of? The point is that this is logically incompatible with also being blase about others’ eternal suffering in hell – such a person would simply be incapable of such love, and gazing on a God blase about eternal suffering would be anything but “beatific”.

      Liked by 3 people

      • If it is said that way, I don’t mind it, but it is often said in a way that diminishes the joy of Heaven.

        God is certainly anything but blasé about eternal suffering – or any of the suffering of the creatures He loves. How can Love be careless of suffering? But the way it is often said diminishes the power of joy, the joy that God is in Himself independent of whether or not His creatures choose Him or joy. The Lamb is slain from the foundations of the world: the Cross stands anchored in eternity for all: and the eternity of the Passion and the Crucifixion in no way diminishes the joy of eternity, the joy of Heaven. This is so hard to say: the perfect joy of Heaven is such that those filled with its bliss, out of that bliss, love all and would give anything and everything for the salvation of all: yet the perfection of that bliss is not dimmed by the sorrows of others, though it rushes to succor those sorrows. If I have put this in a way which makes sense?

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  16. Michael Nelson says:

    What is the universalist position on evangelism? If universalism is true (and I think it is), do we need to respond to the great commission, given that whether we convince people to come to church or not, or to become eastern orthodox, roman catholic, lutheran etc., God will save them all. And why should we be upset at Feser, or William Lane Craig, or N.T. Wright or any other Christian scholars who disagree–we’re all going to be saved eventually, we’re all going to be sanctified (hence removing these hostilities), and so why are we fighting/insulting one another?

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    • TJF says:

      My personal view is that far more important than trying to convert people to a specific Church or religion is the need to love and care for them. This is all throughout the OT and the NT, particularly seen in Mt 25 where we will be judged on how much we loved and helped others regardless of any human distinctions like gender, race, religious affiliation, etc., not on subscribing to a particular theology.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      As for the final question, maybe it’s intrinsically worthwhile to try to get people to stop traumatizing children with the twisted idea of hell’s eternity, cultivating moral imbecility and hardness of heart in ourselves and others, encouraging a picture of God that pollutes our very concept of love with cruelty, and preaching a faith that almost necessitates (given the stakes) hatred and persecution of unbelievers or “heretics.” Basically, one argues against such ideas for the same reason opposes any teachings that torture, abuse, disfigure, and coarsen human souls. Every child who has had the notion of hell’s eternity seared into his or her moral imagination has been the victim of a form of psychological abuse. Many get over it. But no one, I submit, is better for it. To be taught that your “loving” Father in heaven presides (either directly, indirectly, or by dereliction) over an eternal torture chamber, and might send you there if you don’t behave like an impeccably submissive Catholic/Orthodox/Reformed/Evangelical Christian, is to be tormented psychologically, spiritually, and morally. It is testament to the resiliency of the human soul that most of us can force this horrid picture into the basements of our minds, and teach ourselves not to think about it in any depth. But it is still a grave evil that ee should strive against. .

      Liked by 5 people

    • Grant says:

      Well first depend on what is evangelism, the announcing of the Good News in word yes, but also in action, to reveal and bring into the life, into the nations the life of the Kingdom and the truth that the rule death and it’s powers and dominions have been overthrown, of their forgiveness and release from all that holds and imprisons them. This is can in part be words, but it is also very much action and life, to bring that light and life into their lives and ours, to help them engage more and more in the life of Christ in the means by which they are able (and of us too to engage that reality better) to be ambassadors of the Kingdom to all people. All things being equal would it better the see it now and be Christians and partake role as knowing kings and priests sure, but Christ to them, in those around them, and how they apprehend it, what universalism removes is the neurosis to have people have particular theological ducks in a row before all else, and allows a focus on orthopraxy rather than orthodox as it were. To as TJF says, to make Matthew 25 a focus point of evangelism, and to allow and engage people to grasp the truth of the Kingdom as they currently receive and understand it (not to mention the same is true for us, many a secularist or Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and certainly Jew or Muslim is much closer engaging the in the life of Christ then many a Christian, the one duty we perhaps enjoy is the bringing of them with us to the Eucharist by baptism as priests).

      As for why now, simply because if someone is hurting, you don’t leave them like the priest and Levite did with the Samaritan beside the road as we walk on by, but we go to help. Even if we knew that someone would ultimately make it out okay, because we had some surety that there was a rescue service further down that would catch them, but we could help now and prevent much distress and suffering, we would callous to such suffering not to help them. Or say someone is suffering under some sickness that isn’t fatal but debilitating and painful, they will eventually recover or we could give medicine now to help sped the recovery and prevent the experience of deepening pain.

      There are people suffering now who would receive with gladness the message of unconditional love and rescue of the Father who loves them and is with them and will and is there to held deliver heal and aid and has forgive them completely, and will never abandon them nor forsake them. That life has conquered death and all that as dehumanized and damaged them, of being entrapped in a life and world where joy and goodness can so often seem fleeting and frustrated, where evil can seem to triumph, to know or begin to see and hear that life, love and joy will and is their future, which overcomes all that death takes form them, that indeed Christ comes that they will have life, and have it more abundantly and will deliver them from that which comes to steal and destroy, and God isn’t out to get them can be a message that change their current situation. Particularly when it is lived and not just preached, brought into their life, people can cling to that sight, to the extent they can receive it and bring them hope, and help them being to enter joy now, to receive love now rather then falling more into disappear and pain, to be deliver from hell now rather then allow it to get worse and even let them fall under the shadow of death so much that coming into Christ’s light will be much more difficult than otherwise (again basically Matthew 25 expanded).

      It does though take the neurosis off our shoulders either to feel we need to get someone to have a correct set of theological doctrines agreed to or to make that paramount over loving them as a person first, and putting the life of the Kingdom and it’s ways first, and of thinking it all depends on us. Instead we are one part of all the ways God is with them and reaching to them and tending to them, as the Great Physician does with us all in the hospital we are currently in. And perhaps to see it as a hospital not just within the borders of our churches but without is a good of seeing it and evangelism, which starts now and continues into the life and age to come (of which we shall continue to play a part).

      As for disagreements with Feser, Craig etc, it is precisely because infernalism drives people from the delivering message of the Gospel and traps them and Christians in fear and creates great dissonance in their thoughts and actions, and it can and has lead to various callous attitudes and actions (as you believe God or ultimate reality to be, so often shall you be to a degree), from the burning of heretics because the mere words they spoke could lead to eternal damnation, to use of this fear to control people into harmful and destructive ways, to how it can poison, hurt and damage a spiritual (and other aspects of life), to endorsing other destructive views that support practices that take life (such as Feser’s support for capital punishment, there is a clear line leading from his views of God in support of one to the other, upon which support people’s lives are at stake). And it drives people who need this message and life and support of the Church now, of it’s sacraments and welcoming love and Christ’s healing and are being driven away or leave. Yes, thank God despite us God will save all, but these teachings can and do directly impede that work, it cannot prevent it, but for a time (and perhaps for some a long time that might have otherwise) it can cause great distress and suffering. And it paints God as evil and cruel, see Stardusty Pysche’s reaction to that view in one of the last current comments to DBH’s response to Feser’s review. These views hurt people, and blaspheme God, painting Him a evil tyrant, they should be challenged in my view.

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    • Tim says:

      I’m not a Christian, but I have always seen the idea of universalism preventing evangelicalism as strange. At best the effect would seem to be minor, as Buddhism and other faiths have managed to evangelise without belief in infernalism. It’s like the related idea of hell stopping people from sinning. In some instances, yes, but isn’t it correct that salvation is but the beginning: in truth sanctification is the goal. I’m not convinced of the truth of Christianity, but if I was, I would want to get as close to my creator as possible through his unique revelation. It seems to reduce Christianity to moralism at best.

      Liked by 1 person

      • AJ says:

        Hi Tim,

        On the Feser Post you commented about evidence for crisis apparitions. Could you give me some reading material for that?

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    • danaames says:

      Michael,
      I’m not sure if I’ve heard anybody articulate a “universalist position on evangelism”. In addition, the state of Christianity is that of rupture and division, and is not “normal” in that we so often are trying to convert people to particular dogma rather than to help them convert to Jesus Christ. With that in mind I tend to go back to the meaning of the word, which is “good news”. What was the good news Jesus was announcing, and how does the rest of the NT support that?

      The Gospels say that Jesus was announcing the good news about the Kingdom of God. Wright, for example, has explained a lot of what 1st century Jewish thought was regarding the KoG, including the understanding of the word “evangelion” as the proclamation of a new ruler. In that context, Jesus is focusing God’s rule/reign on himself. His preaching, his miracles, his way of life demonstrate what God’s rule is like, what it means – both for being human now, and as pertains to the telos for which we were made, union/communion with God. Supremely, it is the reign of love demonstrated by Christ on the cross, 1) bearing all the consequences of sin (and we don’t really know what that means – again, it’s analogous to some aspects of Jewish history and worship, but this particular analogy falls short) and 2) and in the Resurrection, Christ having entered death in order to defeat its power. See DBH’s comments above from 26 July at 3:04 and 6:10 – very important, especially with regard to the way being clear for us humans to become the humans we were created to be.

      So if I were to discuss this with someone, I would talk about those things, about the kind of god God has revealed himself to be in Christ, and invite the person to be part of the community that worships this God. We talk so much about doctrine, but the point is not believing doctrine (although we should line up with good doctrine to the extent of our intellectual capacity) but rather Whom we worship. In delusion and ignorance, people offer their lives (worship) to lots of other entities. Reality is, we become like that which we worship. Why not be on the road to becoming like the God revealed to us in Christ – who besides being God is also the first Truly Human Being – in the company of imperfect people whose heart vision nonetheless is the same telos, with time-honored tools (prayer, ways of living ascetically so that we can truly see and care for others) that will help us get there?

      Full disclosure: I would try to help such a person toward the Orthodox Church. This whole matter of God’s character and the ultimate outcome of everything, along with reticence in defining doctrine with regard to the post-judgment state of humans, are some of the reasons why I became Orthodox. There’s no other place like it, in this and other important aspects of Christianity. In my experience, it’s the only place where, at the uttermost depths of the faith, the news really is good, and where that goodness meets absolutely everything.

      Dana

      Liked by 1 person

      • From my perspective, true evangelism is fundamentally impossible from any perspective other than universalism. If you’re not a universalist, you’re always trying to “convert” people to a certain tribe (catholicism, evangelicalism, orthodoxy, islam, etc) or soteriological understanding (you need to accept christ, you need to get baptised, you need to go to confession, you need to say the shahada etc) in order to “save” them. Whereas if you are a universalist, you approach everyone with joy, knowing that whoever it is you are speaking to will definitely be saved, and so with full certainty and confidence you simply explain to them how God unconditionally loves them and that he is infallibly going to save them. In doing so you successfully preach the liberating word of the kerygmatic Gospel. Your very words are an incarnation of Christ the divine logos, transmitted via sound waves into their ears and delivered deep down into their heart, where it synergistically transforms their stone into flesh.

        In short, unless you are a universalist, it’s impossible to truly proclaim the saving word of the gospel, and therefore it is impossible to evangelise

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Michael, with 25 years of parochial ministry (plus 3 years of college ministry) under my belt, as well as many years of involvement in the Cursillo movement, I can tell that the doctrine of eternal hell is absolutely irrelevant to effective evangelism. All that is necessary is to declare to the unbelieving hearer–with love, compassion, sincerity, and urgency–the good news of God in Jesus Christ. All that is necessary is to share the love of God and to invite him or her into our parish community in which they can experience and grow in that love. Our hearers are already well acquainted with hell. They live it every day. What they desire is life!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Marc says:

    David I agree with you….., I think Univeraslism is simply the only acceptable Christian position of salvation. It’s the only logical and morally coherent view there is

    P.S Baseball talk, how do you think,overall, the Orioles will do this year?

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    • DBH says:

      In a 60-game season anything is possible.

      Don’t tell Al we went off topic, though.

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      • DBH, quick semi-OT question copied over from the last comment thread: what do you reckon about translating “kosmos” as “samsara” in the New Testament? If you were going to translate the NT into Sanskrit, i’m curious what words you would pick for certain key terms (eg “logos” and “kosmos”, and even “christ” [i’m wondering if there’s any messianic theology in Dharmic religions. afaik there isn’t but i’d love to be informed otherwise])

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        • DBH says:

          Nice question, but hard to answer. For cosmos I’d go with something obvious, like bhava of jagat or caracara. Not samsara, as that would be literally wrong and metaphysically dubious. (I might use samsara for the tohu wa bohu of Genesis, however, or the deep over which the breath of God blew in the beginning.) For oikumene I’d use samganika. For logos, very hard to say. Vac seems the obvious choice, along with enough critical notation to explain its full range of meanings. But maybe Om. As for Christ–well, some word with alip for its root, I guess. But, as it happens, I’m not planning to translate the Bible into Sanskrit.

          Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            I read somewhere that it is preferable for a translator to only translate works FROM a language learned later in life INTO the translator’s native language. Any truth to that? I guess with dead languages like Latin and Sanskrit, there is no other option.

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          • DBH says:

            Neither Latin nor Sanskrit is dead. The former is the official language of Vatican City, the latter is still spoken by the devas.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Cycneus says:

            In the 2011 census of India, some 25,000 people reported Sanskrit to be their mother tongue. As for Latin, well… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1xfevDzxkE

            Liked by 1 person

          • Om for logos! Haha so cool. Jesus says that if you keep pestering his father in heaven to give good gifts eventually he will, so expect more nudges from me to do a sanskrit version :p

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          • Cycneus says:

            Something to hold you over in the meantime: http://www.sanskritbible.in/

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          • DBH says:

            That’s the version in which God is always translated as Isvara, if I recall. That’s probably inevitable, though I’d be more prone to reserve that for LORD (in the sense of Adonai or Kyrios, the pious circumlocution for the tetragrammaton). For God I might very well go all in and use Brahman.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cycneus says:

            Brahman, you say? I can already hear the shrieks: Pantheism! Oriental, impersonal drop-in-the-ocean-of-Divinity religion! God is a person—person person person!

            Anyway… This exchange unfortunately reminds me of one of the biggest regrets of my intellectual life, that is, not learning Sanskrit. And since I am now entrenched in academia, there is of course no time for important things. Ah, well. There is always old age, θεοῦ θέλοντος.

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          • DBH says:

            Yes, as certain gormless Thomists have recently demonstrated, it’s precisely those who have never studied Indian (or any other foreign) systems of thought who are most prepared to pronounce upon them.

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          • Cycneus says:

            The same applies, unfortunately, to many a triumphalist theologian who like to tell stories about antiquity and pronounce on what they call “Neoplatonism”—the cold, heartless, and impersonal One of Plotinus, much like the Brahman of Shankara, always seems to be opposed to the “living God” of a modern theistic personalism projected back into the past. And this just never seems to go out of style.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Grant says:

          You can always look to the Church of the East long engagement in those areas, particularly it’s engagement in China during the Tang dynasty, for example the Jingjiao documents (sometimes called the ‘Jesus Sutras’) found in the Mogao caves (though that is a interaction with Buddhist and Taoist thought).

          There are these for starters which I’m if you haven’t already you can chase down more comprehensive studies upon them.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jingjiao_Documents

          https://thejesusquestion.org/2011/08/22/the-jesus-sutras-part-1/

          https://thejesusquestion.org/2011/08/26/the-jesus-sutras-part-2-the-religion-of-light/

          https://earlychurchhistory.org/beliefs-2/the-ancient-chinese-jesus-sutras/

          I quite like the following:

          “Through the holy wonders of the Messiah all can escape becoming ghosts. All of us are saved by his works. You don’t need strength to receive him, but he will not leave you weak and vulnerable, without qi (chi).” (Sutra 4:22-24) Qi pronounced “Chi” is from Chinese qì meaning “air, breath.”

          “You may have been taught that people cannot save themselves. This is why the Heavenly Honored One sends the spirit force to all places to save everyone. It goes to all that live and teaches the truth. This is different from what the various deities and spirits do.” (Sutra 7:36-39)

          But anyway these have Christian through re-thought and expressed through their interaction with Buddist and Taoist thought for example (in the link I sent, as the first):

          The Lord of Heaven sent the Cool Wind to a girl named Mo Yen. It entered her womb and at the moment she conceived. The Lord of Heaven did this to show that conception could take place without a husband. He knew there was no man near her and that people who saw it would say, ‘How great is the power of the Lord of Heaven’… Mo Yen became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Jesus, whose father is the Cool Wind.” (Sutra of Jesus Christ 5:1-4)

          “… When Jesus Messiah was born, the world saw clear signs in heaven and earth. A new star that could be seen everywhere appeared in heaven above. The star was as big as a cart wheel and shown brightly. At about that time, the One was born in the country of Ephrath in the city of Jerusalem. He was born the Messiah and after five years he began to preach the dharma.” Matthew 2:1,2 is Star in the East; Ephrath is “Ephratah (Bethlehem) in Micah 5:2; Dharma means “firm” like a law.

          “… From the time the Messiah was 12 until he was 32 years old, he sought out people with bad karma and directed them to turn around and create good karma by following a wholesome path. After the Messiah had gathered 12 disciples, he concerned himself with the suffering of others…

          Those who had died were made to live. The blind were made to see. The deformed were healed and the sick were cured.”

          “… For the sake of all living beings and to show us that a human life is as frail as a candle flame, the Messiah gave his body to these people of unwholesome karma. For the sake of the living in this world, he gave up his life.”

          “He died, but after three days he escaped from the hold of death, through the action of the World-Honored One’s qi (chi).” (Sutra 6:21)

          Of course you should follow up study yourself to see how well those blog post present the information (for example I’m not confident Martin Palmer’s work is the most reliable), but I find this example of Christian flourishing fascinating.

          Like

  18. Ragondin Dépressif says:

    Hello, Dr Hart

    I haven’t read TASBS yet so please forgive me if my three questions below are actually answered within its pages. If that’s the case, just answer “it’s all in the book” or something, I’ll understand.

    My questions are related to St Paul and Emperor Justinian.

    1) If such a primordial figure as St Paul was so clearly a universalist, then how come Christianity, being so deeply rooted in his theology, overwhelmingly rejected universalism ultimately? How could it reject (or ignore) the allegedly clear universalism of one of its primary founders, one of its apostles?

    2) In your assessment, do most contemporary theologians agree with you that Paul was a universalist, and if not, why do you think that’s not the case?

    3) You have expressed the idea that Emperor Justinian suppressed universalism to gain social control but I have not read *why* you think that is the case.
    Could you please elaborate on that theory?

    There’s only so many other questions I would like to ask you but I want to stay on target… I just *know* Fr Kimel will send me to hell if I don’t.

    Thank you so much for your reply / merci beaucoup d’avance

    Un Ragondin Dépressif qui apprécie votre travail

    Like

    • DBH says:

      I never said Paul was clearly a universalist. He seems to waver between ecstatic statements of universal redemption and suggestions that the wicked may pass away with the old age. It’s the neglect of the former aspect of his language throughout much of Christian history that is so astonishing.

      Still, his greatest exegetes—Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac of Nineveh—seemed to find the universalism obvious.

      Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      I do believe that the author of the Pastoral Epistles was a universalist. At least, he developed only that side of Paul’s teaching (sadly, he lacked Paul’s more egalitarian view of the sexes, however). I mean, if the only Christian scripture we had from the early church were those three letters, we’d assume that universalism was the clear teaching of the early church.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Arthur Ja says:

        Hello again, Dr Hart

        Interesting… I’m definitely going to re-read the Pastoral Epistles tonight.

        Now, could you please elaborate on why you think Justinian suppressed universalism in order to gain social control?

        In some of your articles, you have previously expressed the following opinions :
        – That Justinian “liked to play the theologian”.
        – That he was tyrannical.
        – And that being tyrannical, he has been therefore unworthy of being considered a Saint (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition).

        Those may not be the *exact* words you used, but I do believe they represent the gist of what you said you think about Justinian.

        If it happens to be the case that you have *already* answered that question before, please just tell me where. No one expects you to repeat yourself endlessly.

        Also, I’ve been wondering whether your brothers share your view on Universal Reconciliation (UR).
        It doesn’t impact the alleged truth of UR, of course, but still… I would believe many of us here are quite curious about that.

        Fr Robert has described himself as “among the most theologically conservative and traditional Anglicans” in his “I’ve Seen Miracles. And Ghosts” article, on The Stream.
        I guess that means he believes in traditional everlasting hell, but then, since he’s your brother, maybe you’ve influenced him into rejecting that repulsive notion?

        As for Fr Addison, he’s said before that he thinks your translation of the NT is amazingly accurate, so I would naturally presume (since said translation is linked to TASBS) that he’s at least sympathetic to UR.
        But then, there’s the fact that he’s a former RC priest and that Roman Catholicism is still not *that* open to Universal Reconciliation (though times are changing, or so it seems).

        These would be the two last questions I’d have for you.
        One on Justinian, one on your brothers.

        Again, thank you so much in advance.
        Take care.

        Like

        • I hope Dr. Hart doesn’t mind too much the .02 from an uneducated (compared to him) buffoon, but here goes.

          Justinian’s take on Apokatastasis was highly motivated by the problems he was having within the empire. The Council of Chalcedon, far from settling the issues it covered, had split the empire into warring factions between those who accepted the council and those who rejected its canons. The tension was bad enough that physical altercations broke out in the streets of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Justinian’s stated aim for the empire was the restoration of its world-wide glory and the recovery of lands lost to the pagans. In order to do this, he could not have warring factions and splinter groups fighting among themselves. His motivation for everything, including Constantinople II, was highly political.

          As for playing theologian, we have this statement from him regarding Apokatastasis:

          “It will render men slothful, and discourage them from keeping the commandments of God. It will encourage them to depart from the narrow way, leading them by deception into ways that are wide and easy. Moreover, such a doctrine completely contradicts the words of our Great God and Savior. For in the Holy Gospel he himself teaches that the impious will be sent away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will receive life eternal.”

          In other words, just plain old love for the Lord Jesus Christ, along with the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the sermons and work of the Church would not be enough to make men obey Justinian (which was the real issue here).

          Finally, I don’t take warrior-thugs as my saints. When 5,000 Saxon prisoners, taken in battle, refused baptism in to the Christian faith (this great theologian somehow missed that baptism must come from heartfelt conversion and not the point of the sword) he had them all murdered in cold blood.

          In short, he intruded his will into Constantinople, using threats and violence to get his way and forcefully insert his own 15 canons against Apokatastasis in to an already finished and done council. He was not a bishop, had absolutely ZERO business doing anything other than giving permission for the council, and then bullied the council to get his own way, without having either apostolic succession nor authority.

          I think calling him a thug is being rather generous.

          https://http4281.wordpress.com/2019/06/26/hitler-in-constantinople/

          Liked by 1 person

          • Arthur Ja says:

            Hi there!

            Thanks a lot for your answer and for that article of yours, which I’ve just finished reading with interest. They were both illuminating to me.
            I’m most definitely going to wander around your blog as well as this one, from now on.

            All the best,

            AJ

            Liked by 1 person

      • Dave says:

        Dr. Hart or anyone. If Paul was not clearly a universalist, then why do today’s universalists take so much stock in 1 Cor. 15, Phil. 2 or Romans 9 – 11? It’s seems that we are pointing excitedly to these passages for scriptural support of a soteriology that the author wavered about?

        Like

  19. Marc says:

    Did the doctrine of hell mostly develop from the Medieval shift from Platonism/Neoplatonism to an Aristotelian ethnic/conception of the world?

    Like

  20. Ragondin Dépressif says:

    Hello again, Dr Hart

    First of all, thank you so much for taking some of your time to answer our questions here, on this lovely blog. It’s not everyday people like me can converse with people who hold PHDs.

    You answered my first question about Paul and I thank you for that.

    Since you do not think Paul was so clearly a universalist (a misunderstanding of mine, sorry about that), let me perhaps rephrase my second question.

    Thus, my second question would be : According to you, do most contemporary theologians agree with you that Paul was a *hopeful universalist* (I believe that’s the right term), and if most theologians do *not* agree with you on that matter, why do you think that’s not the case?

    And what about Justinian?
    What evidence makes you think he suppressed universalism in order to gain social control?

    Again, thank you so much in advance for your precious time.
    I wish your health improves some day (as soon as possible).

    Also, sorry to end this comment of mine on something that has nothing to do with TASBS, but…

    My name is Arthur Aymeric Jacomelli.
    Please pray for both Dr Hart and for me, guys.
    I’ve been suffering intensely *both* physically and psychologically for a long time.
    Also, if God really does exist and if He’s really *that* good to His creatures (and if He interferes sometimes), then it is His guidance that I’m going to need more than anything else right now, at this extremely low point in my life.
    Please *do* include me tonight in your prayers.
    Please pray God so that He may guide me and restore my poor health.
    I’d do the same for any suffering commenter and contributor here if only I had your faith.

    Thank you so much in advance.

    Like

    • Curdie says:

      Arthur

      I’m sorry to hear about the Hell you’re currently experiencing. I will certainly pray for you today.

      I hope I don’t come across as assigning you homework or anything, but I recently picked up George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons, and I cannot recommend the book enough (https://www.amazon.com/Unspoken-Sermons-COMPLETE-UNABRIDGED-Classics/dp/1539182886/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=unspoken+sermons&qid=1595876811&s=books&sr=1-1 , if you use a kindle, you can also get his complete works including Unspoken Sermons for $0.99 here https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Works-George-MacDonald-Illustrated-ebook/dp/B073Q5KD5N/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=geroge+macdonald&qid=1595876847&s=books&sr=1-5-spell ). DBH helped free my brain up to consider the idea that God really is an all loving father, but George Macdonald has utterly convinced my heart. I have never felt so “in love with God” like so many talk about until reading his descriptions of the all consuming love of the Father.

      Again, I hope I don’t come across as trying to provide a magical antidote to your circumstances in the form of a 150 year old collection of sermons, but I really do believe that MacDonald’s vision of the Goodness of God is enough to bring at least a morsel of healing to any soul. God bless.

      Like

      • Arthur Ja says:

        Curdie

        Whether or not your prayers are answered, thank you so much for praying for me.

        I’ve been interested in George MacDonald (especially his Unspoken Sermons) for a pretty long time now.
        I’ll make sure I have a go at that work of his.

        If God exists, then God bless.

        Like

        • Curdie says:

          Absolutely.

          Praying that God might reveal some of his perfect fatherhood in your heart during this time. I was struck by this passage in Unspoken Sermons this week, from the sermon “Abba, Father”:

          “There may be among my readers–alas for such!–to whom the word Father brings no cheer, no dawn, in whose heart it rouses no tremble of even a vanished emotion. It is hardly likely to be their fault… …Therefore I say to son or daughter who has no pleasure in the name Father, ‘You must interpret the word by all that you have missed in life. Every time a man might have been to you a refuge from the wind, a covert from the tempest, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, that was a time when a father might have been a father indeed. Happy you are yet, if you have found man or woman such a refuge; so far have you known a shadow of the perfect, seen the back of the only man, the perfect Son of the perfect Father. All that human tenderness can give or desire in the nearness and readiness of love, all and infinitely more must be true of the perfect Father–of the maker of fatherhood, the Father of all the fathers of the earth, specially the Father of those who have specially shown a father-heart.'”

          Liked by 1 person

  21. John Westfield says:

    Hi, has my comments been accepted yet ?

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Sorry, John. Your previous comments were extraneous to the article and the conversations. But to the question you posed: I do not know the answer.

      Like

      • arthurjaco says:

        Hello Fr Kimel,

        Has my response to Curdie (where I thanked him/her for praying for me) also been deleted for the same reason?
        I’m pretty sure I posted an answer, but maybe I’m mistaken.
        I know it was foreign to TASBS, but of course, I *had* to thank Curdie for praying for me.

        Like

        • arthurjaco says:

          I see my response to Curdie is now visible.
          Do not hesitate therefore to suppress my comment above as well as that very comment, Fr Kimel.

          Thank you in advance.

          Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            No problem. WordPress always puts a person’s first comment into the moderation queue. Once the initial comment is approved by the blogmaster, then subsequent comments should appear automatically, without need of further approval. At least that is how it’s supposed to work. For some people (and I do not know why) all their comments are pushed into moderation. And sometimes a person’s comment is caught by the spam filter, even if the author has been previously approved. Again, I don’t know why that happens. Anyway, Arthur, your future comments should now appear without delay–at least theoretically. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  22. Dane Parker says:

    My, my! How I hate I’ve missed out in this bout. As a fan of both Feser’s books on (or contra a-)theism and almost everything DBH (except where he’s wrong on golf and a couple other matters I’m willing to file under minutiae), I always felt there might be some possibility that they might make for a good duo as contributing editors for a compendium pertaining to an area of thinking where they overlap — namely, classical theism (between the two, I’ve witnessed more comments on how their respective treatments have disabused former atheists of their mistaken ideas than I have with treatments by several your more prominently underscored, typically Protestant mainstream apologists combined; and that’s a laudable accomplishment). A shame that however improbable such a notion already was, it now seems pure fantasy. Concerning the particular issue at hand, I rather feel for DBH; not only because he’s right, but because I’m just about at the point of concluding that the confusion of so many of his interlocutors is not even a product of truth and falsehood; but the lost art of discerning between the more rhetorical and the more straightforwardly propositional form of engaging in argumentation. Alas, perhaps after we’ve all journeyed far beyond the stars, we can all meet up for a good laugh about how we misunderstood each other in these hoary times.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. DBH,

    Thanks for the compressed summary of the structure of your argument in TASBS. I do have a question if you are inclined to answer. Here you write:

    3) The relation between the classical metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo and eschatology, the necessary “moral modal collapse” of the distinction between divine will and divine permission (or between the divine antecedent and consequent wills) at the eschatological horizon that this entails, and the consequent implications regarding the relative goodness of God’s action in creation and, by inevitable logical extension, of God in himself (this part of the book contains an especially important “game-theory” argument)

    When considering the final cause in the Divine Act of creation would it be in keeping with your argument that God has perhaps determined indeterminism for a determined end? I am sure the subtleties of the argumentation you employ in TASBS defy simple sloganeering, but I am hoping to better understand the manner in which you also frame the transcendent orientation of the permissive will of God and how this might serve as a basis for the transcendent orientation of creaturely freedom.

    Like

  24. John H says:

    Dear DBH and Father Al:

    That last paragraph was a gem. You really hit it out of the park, succinctly stating why universalism must be true in language that a child can understand. Still it does give rise to the following unpleasant conclusions:

    1. All married men must love their in-laws, particularly their mother-in-law, unconditionally.

    2. All Democrats and liberals must love Donald Trump and his followers unconditionally; and perhaps most outrageously of all;

    3. All of you Oriole and RedSox fans must love us NY Yankee Fans unconditionally 😎

    All of which proves incontrovertibly that God must have a sense of humor, or, more precisely, that He is Humor as such per the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity.

    Not to mention that He created yours truly and continues to sustain me and all the the other assholes living on the planet!

    Hope you don’t mind Father Al. Just thought that it was time for some comic relief!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Ed says:

    I have a couple of questions: one for the universalists and another for the non-universalists. For the universalists: if universal salvation is the gospel of Christ, why were none of even its most avid proponents willing to preach it openly to all people? This would seem to run contrary to the direct command of Christ to proclaim his gospel to all creatures.
    For the non-universalists: If there are some or many who will be consigned to eternal damnation and, as must be the case, God knew this to be so when He freely created the world, then it would seem that He was and is more than willing to allow this kind of suffering in His universe. The implication is quite clearly that the damnation of some or many is not a major concern for Him. And if it is not a major concern for God, neither should it be a major concern for us. But is not a lack of concern for the eternal well-being of all men a sign of a huge deficit in the love we should have for all? And is this not contrary to Christ’s teaching that we are to love all men as we love ourselves?

    Like

    • Curdie says:

      Speaking from the Universalist perspective here, and I know these answers are probably far from adequate, but my initial thoughts are:

      Many of Christianity’s earliest proponents were willing to share Universalism openly. First and foremost, I think Paul was a pretty unashamed universalist, and an honest reading of his epistles makes that fairly clear. It’s a little less obvious, but I think John the Apostle pushes the belief also in his gospel and epistles.

      Secondly, the Catechetical School of Alexandria, which was one of the first centers of Biblical study in late antiquity, was known for teachers such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, renowned universalists. You can also find plenty of other openly universalist early church fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac of Nineveh, etc. That they are not more widely read is a testament to our lack of fair historical knowledge, not the teaching itself.

      Thirdly, and I know this part of the answer isn’t very satisfying, but I just don’t think we know enough about the infancy of the Christian church to know whether or not they espoused universalism openly in a broad sense or not. Christianity is at its heart a very underground, grassroots movement, so it’s earliest days and teachings are pretty fragmented and incomplete from a historical point of view. Some believe that Universalism was in fact the majority view of the infant church, but it’s pretty difficult if not impossible to say one way or the other.

      I also wish I had a better answer for why many early Christian universalists were willing to censor that part of their belief in all but their most inner circles. Even some of the most well-known universalists like Origen were apparently willing to censor themselves in this way. Unfortunately I think both Church and governmental politics had a hand in excusing that sort of behavior. The idea that the church should censor the teaching of universal salvation in heaven so that the citizenry wouldn’t engage in moral nihilism on earth was apparently common, but I think is pretty explicitly renounced by Paul in Romans, in the midst of some of his most universalist passages (Romans 6:1-3: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”). That combined with the fact that Universalism is in many ways truly scandalous to our human and pagan sensibilities resulted in an overall half-assed proclamation of the teaching in my opinion.

      Like

    • Arthur Ja says:

      Hello, Ed

      I’m not a universalist nor am I an infernalist (given that I’m an agnostic), but I think I can answer your questions since I’ve been interested in soteriology for a pretty long time.
      Plus, since I obviously have no dog in the fight, I like to think that makes me especially reliable (but anyways…)

      Regarding your first question, I think that one of the main reasons why early proponents of Universal Reconciliation generally did not teach the theory openly… is perhaps because although they were more or less certain of its truth, the original language of the NT (which is Koine Greek) can actually be so ambiguous that many of them *still* allowed that they might be wrong on that particular matter.
      I mean, just do a quick Internet research on the many possible translations of “aionios”.
      I bet you’ll be surprised.
      That’s the reason why there have *always* been infernalist, annihilationist, and universalist christian theologians : when you read the New Testament in its original language, its soteriology just *isn’t* as clear as modern translations would have you believe, according to universalist theologians like Dr. Hart and sympathisers like Dr. Ramelli… Hell, most non-universalist theologians *also* seem to agree with that, so I guess it *has* to be true.
      For that reason (Koine Greek’s many ambiguities), early perhaps-not-as-outspoken-as-they-should’ve-been defenders of apocatastasis, might have concluded “Let’s not be too preachy about our belief in UR so as to not incite spiritually immature people to behave badly, just in case we’re wrong…”
      That’s what catholic historian and patristic expert Dr. Ilaria Ramelli thinks, at least, and her opinion on that matter is highly significant since she wrote “A larger Hope?”, which has been repeatedly hailed as one of the best books on apocatastasis.
      *Do* listen to her interview with evangelical universalist theologian Robin Parry (aka Gregory MacDonald) on “A larger Hope”, if you’re interested.
      It’s available on Youtube.

      Your second point is of course unanswerable (I think) for those who are either stupid enough, wicked enough, or indoctrinated enough to be actual infernalists (people who seem rather comfortable with the idea that those they do not know might suffer forever… but who never seem to consider seriously the possibility that their *own* family might suffer the same fate, curiously enough).
      It’s just airtight logic and the fact that so many christians have unfortunately never come up with that reasoning on their own is rather tragic… And especially so when you know that even smart *children* can actually come up with it.

      I hope this helps.

      Like

    • Grant says:

      Well for many classical Christian univeralists, at least the theologians and educated among Christians shared many of the prejudices against the less educated as being those who lacked control and discipline. This was certainly the view of St Origen and to my knowledge St Gregory of Nyssa, is that they needed the fear of eternal fire to keep them on the spiritual straight and narrow, at least until they had matured enough in love for God and spiritual understanding to receive the stronger ‘meat’ of the truth of Christ’s universal rescue of all. The belief would be otherwise they would become just lax in spiritual discipline and continue in destructive behaviours. This was as I said a common prejudice shared among educated Christians (which ironically a number of infernalists in the comments to this blog have brought up more than a few times almost endorsing their prejudice), which sadly has left a destructive impact on Christian history, keeping univeralism as a more reified mature understanding held as a partial secret assisted in those moments of history to succeed in asserting infernalism as the dominant view in the future from their time.

      And this was the one area I really critique their view arising from an old prejudice of the classical world, while I understand that it was common place at that time (as our prejudices we don’t realize now are common to our age), because they allowed the terrorizing of their brothers and sisters of the time (however we understand their ultimate intended good intent) by this prejudice. And we certainly see both over time past and absolutely now forever torture does not keep people usually faithful to the Christian life nor even in Church but now drives them away with the picture it paints of God. And even in those places where it does, it isn’t keeping them faithful, it’s keeping them in fear and terror, and does not develop love of God nor neighbour nor fellow brothers and sisters, just terrified compliance and neurosis, and so hurts and impedes true faithful and loving growth. And often causing mental and emotional abuse and has and does keep them in unhealthy and destructive places, even abusive situations justified with this fear (take abuses through history to even how some priests or pastors or monks or nuns have predated on their congregation and fellow religious). So the fruit of their reticence with the wider Christian community has been destructive and gave infernalism a free hand (since their proponents showed no such reticence and indeed many of the great lights of universalism essentially aided them at this point).

      So that is a universalist response.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The implication is quite clearly that the damnation of some or many is not a major concern for Him.

      If it was not a major concern for Him, then why would He go to the trouble of Himself becoming man and suffering unfathomable torment unto death in order to save people from such a fate?

      Likewise, since it is such a major concern for God, it becomes a major concern for those following in Christ’s footsteps. There are many martyrs who also died horrendous, torturous deaths at the hands of the very people they were trying to save from eternal torment; from St. Peter to St. Francis Xavier to St. Maria Goretti. And there are orders of magnitude more of others who have, like St. Monica, wept bitter tears night after night for the conversion of others so that they might not die eternally, but have eternal life: the army of silent and unknown monks and nuns who suffer and pray day in and day out on behalf of all of humanity.

      This kind of behavior does not make sense from the perspective of one who is not much concerned with the eternal fate of others.

      Like

      • Ed says:

        TimFinnegan,
        Please don’t misunderstand. I do believe that we ought to be concerned about the salvation of all people. But how do you justify such concern from the point of view of one who believes that some or many will be eternally damned? If some or many will be eternally damned then this must have been in accord with the purposes of God from the beginning. If some are not saved in the end, it could only be because God never truly intended that all be saved. He was willing to allow a large number to be lost for the sake, perhaps, of some other end. This means that their being lost is not of any ultimate concern to Him. But, of course, this can’t be so. It is of tremendous concern to Him. This is why I think that all talk of souls in hell is not intended as a statement of fact but rather as an impetus to us who are alive to pray and sacrifice for all persons living and dead and, in this manner, to cooperate in God’s purpose of saving all.

        Like

        • I would just point out that “allow to be damned” and “intended to be damned” are two different things. You may argue that for God that is not the case, but it can’t be taken for granted, and Aquinas (among others) gives an account of how the two are not the same for God.

          On a human level we can see that this is so. When commanders sent troops forward to storm the beach at Normandy, they knew full well that some (even many) would die; that doesn’t mean that they intended for them to die nor does it mean that they don’t ultimately care about their troops living or not.

          Like

  26. Ed says:

    Thank you all for your responses. I am quite aware of the fact that many of the early fathers were loathe to preach their universalism openly to the “less educated”, if you will. My point, however, is that, if they believed this universalistic doctrine to be essential to the gospel itself and, if they believed that they were bound to preach the gospel at the command of Christ (which I think they did), then they ought to have preached it openly to all. This leads me to the (tentative) conclusion that they believed universalism to be, at best, a logical consequence of the gospel itself, but not essential to its proclamation.

    Like

    • Arthur Ja says:

      Or again, it might just have been the case that they knew perfectly well how ambiguous Koine Greek is and so they were not themselves 100% sure of their soteriology.
      One can believe strongly in something and still leave room for doubt… And on that particular matter, perhaps the early universalist Church Fathers thought (to repeat myself) “Well… better safe than sorry”.
      It’s all speculation on my part, of course. I’d be more than happy to be corrected if it turns out that I’m actually wrong and they were 100% sure of their universalist soteriology – meaning that they chose not to be too preachy about it for other reasons.
      However, given that many of their contemporaries did not agree with their universalist construal and given Koine Greek’s ambiguity, I guess it’s only fair to assume that early universalist Fathers themselves had some doubts, which would explain why you can find, in some of their works, rather *contradictory* statements on soteriology.

      Regards,

      AJ

      Like

  27. Tom says:

    Dr. Hart – if you happen upon this and are inclined to comment…

    There’s a conclusion I seem to be led to if I extend your moral argument (which I agree with) to other choices – in particular, the choice to freely have children by a couple who are believers in an eternal hell. If our moral sense of goodness is sufficient (analogous) grounds to conclude that God could not be truly good if it’s also true that God creates ex nihilo and hell is eternal conscious torment, then wouldn’t it be the case that a choice by parents who believe in an eternal hell to freely/unnecessarily have children could not be a truly good and loving choice?

    Not that believers in an eternal hell think through procreation on this level, though parenting children I love certainly shaped my eschatology.

    But a qualified antinatalism would seem to follow. Of course, anybody who realized such a thing would (if rational) abandon this view of hell in favor for the infinite goodness of God. The psychology is interesting; we had our four kids as staunch believers in an eternal hell. The eschatology has changed, and the change has left me utterly incapable of understanding how I could have agreed to have kids when knew I was needlessly risking their eternity.

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      …that is, I may not have perceived the moral logic, but I did know the kids I was freely having might/might not make it to heaven/hell, and even that didn’t bother me, though it seems it should have.
      Tom

      Like

      • M. Robbins says:

        David makes this point somewhere. Infernalists must not really believe in hell—or why would they risk creating those they love most, knowing they might be damned? But Feser’s ilk is always a step ahead—just read a comment on his blog to the effect that “even the damned are better off than the nonexistent.” Uh huh. What a tawdry religion that would force its adherents into such contortions.

        Like

        • Dave says:

          I’ll ask this again in a more recent comment section. Dr. Hart or anyone. If Paul was not clearly a universalist, then why do today’s universalists take so much stock in 1 Cor. 15, Phil. 2 or Romans 9 – 11? It’s seems that we are pointing excitedly to these passages for scriptural support of a soteriology that the author wavered about?

          Like

          • Tom says:

            Dave,

            I’ll swing – for the ‘hell’ of it.

            Paul does believe every knee will bow and every tongue freely confess Christ is Lord. He believes that the ‘all things’ created by Christ and having their being in him are ultimately reconciled in Christ. He believes God will be ‘all in all’. He believes that just as all are made sinners in Adam so all shall be made righteous in Christ. And he nowhere explicitly espouses the traditional view of an eternal hell.

            What’s driving your doubts, Dave? What would be the evidences that Paul believed in an eternal hell?

            That said – it’s one thing for a generation of people not to comprehend every implicit belief logically entailed in explicit beliefs they do hold. It’s another thing for them to explicitly and intentionally confess beliefs that are self-contradictory. And what a people can explicitly affirm, with understanding, is conditioned by time and culture, surely. If Paul didn’t explicitly announce universalism in terms that satisfy today’s debates, isn’t that a bit like Paul and other contemporaries expressing their belief in God or their Christology in terms that anticipate later developed Trinitarianism without spelling things out in 4th century terms? I don’t see the problem. If Paul has convictions about the consummation of all things in Christ but expresses these in terms not driven by concerns that animate the debate today, fine. That’s different than his explicitly affirming the eternal conscious torment of people.

            Tom

            Like

        • oliver elkington says:

          why would they risk creating those they love most, knowing they might be damned? Why not? the chances are they will make it to Heaven so i would say if i had 10 children and 9 of them made it to Heaven would i not be proud? according to Catholic theology there has never even been a teaching saying the majority of people must be saved, for all we know 90% could be damned and it would be just simply because God is just whether he reprobates 2 or 20 billion people.

          Like

          • Tom says:

            I don’t see how you don’t see the problem, Oliver. But if you don’t see it, more words from me isn’t going to help.

            Liked by 1 person

          • M. Robbins says:

            Thank you for providing such a stark proof of the absolute moral vacuity of the position. Yes, who cares about one child when nine are saved? Tough luck. No, such a god would not be just. He would be a monster. You can keep him.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Arthur Ja says:

            I’m not sure Satan would be much worse than the God you seem to believe in, Mr. Elkington.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Arthur Ja says:

            That was quite psychopathic, to be honest.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Curdie says:

            Yes, because if the New Testament has taught us anything, it’s that Christ remains undisturbed by one lost sheep and is simply proud to have maintained his 99.

            Liked by 3 people

          • M. Robbins says:

            Curdie: very nicely played

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Oliver,

            If only for the sake of clarifying things for myself, let me add a comment or two.

            Generally speaking, we celebrate any portion or percentage of final success when we take risks – yes. But this begs the question, for there are kinds of risk (namely, unnecessary risks) which even when they yield the desired outcome can call into question our character. Hart’s argument is not against the general rule that people who make good and necessary risks are right to rejoice over only the partial success of their investment. Hart’s argument asks us to define the risk here properly and then situate it within light of the Xan belief in creation ex nihilo. The risk in question is the ‘final end’ of creatures. So we’re not talking about risking some temporary loss ‘en route’ to some final end. We’re talking about ultimate/infinite loss. Bring this into conversation then with the belief that God creates freely, unnecessarily. He creates without any internal need or lack or sense of compulsion. Creation isn’t needed to address or meet some divine imbalance or existential lack.

            When we consider God’s risking the final/ultimate good of creatures he need not create at all, the moral character of the decision to create is revealed. For given the ‘freedom’ with which God creates and the enduring/abiding permanent nature of the risk, God’s creative ‘venture’ is ‘infinite’ (not for God but for Creation). And if the investment is infinitely free, then the ‘end’ to which creation tends (what’s risked) reveals the “whole moral truth” of God’s determination to create. Logically speaking – the moral character of infinitely free acts must be revealed in their ‘end’. Nothing else, logically speaking, can reveal it. And there is no way a free and unnecessary choice to risk the irreversible/infinite loss of other can be construed as ‘good’ – not by any standard of goodness we employ.

            Like

  28. jamestheodoreherman says:

    Dr. Hart, Christ is in our midst! You say in “That All Shall Be Saved” that it was inevitable for the infernalist idea to develop. Why would it have been inevitable? If it was not inevitable for St. Gregory of Nyssa or Berdyaev, then why was it inevitable for others?

    Your argument makes sense to me, but for the sake of obedience to the Church I can’t say that I agree. I say that I very much hope that you’re right, but St. John Climacus, to name just one, wrote in regard to universal salvation that “we should be especially careful not to be afflicted with the disease of the godless Origen. This foul malady misuses God’s love for man as a pretext, and is most welcome to the hedonists.” So I’m conflicted over your book.

    However, it resonates with the one question I’ve always had, to which I’ve never heard a good answer from the Church: if in eternity I become perfect love, as God is (self-emptying, self-abandoning, self-forgetting, living only for my beloved and not for myself) and if someone I loved in this life were not there in heaven, wouldn’t my knowledge of his eternal suffering make heaven itself into hell for me? You say the same thing in so many words, and I’m encouraged by that.

    But every serious Christian must have wrestled with this question. So I don’t understand why the infernalist position was inevitable. Isn’t your position just as inevitable?

    Like

    • Curdie says:

      Not DBH, but I have heard him talk about the inevitability of infernalism briefly. I believe his position is not so much that infernalism is inevitable theologically, but politically. Of course it would make sense that the picture of Hell and judgment which afforded those in power the most control and ability to oppress the populace in service of their own pursuit of power and wealth would, at least for a time, prevail (referring here both to the official government and the Chritianized government of the middle ages). If history has taught us anything, it is that any tool, be it religious or otherwise, that allows those in power to keep and consolidate and hoard more power, will inevitably be used at some point.

      Liked by 2 people

  29. Marc says:

    What if Calvinists, like the Elves of Tolkien, go to the Hall of Mandos to be re-incarnted, while the rest of true Christianity is given the “gift of men”?…..

    *hoping that DBH is a big Tolkien fan and understands that reference and chuckles, or the alternative
    1. he’s not a big Tolkien fan and understands that reference
    2. He’s a big Tolkien fan, but doesn’t understand the reference
    3. He understands that reference and realizes it wasn’t that funny…..or good

    in all seriousness though. I just don’t see how there is any debate about this. the logic of a omnipresent being “picking and choosing” who he brings to unity just doesn’t really make any sense.

    Like

  30. DBH, it’s a long shot that you’ll be able to give a substantial answer to this, but you mentioned in a youtube interview (with a guy wearing a black turtleneck and glasses and a grey suit jacket, you were wearing a big grey suit too) that you are able to reconcile Trinitarian theology with Islamic Tawhid, and implied that Ibn Arabi is a relevant figure. I was wondering if you’ve ever elaborated on this anywhere in your published work?

    I ask because I’m studying a Masters of Theology right now at Notre Dame Sydney, and studying the “Trinity” subject this semester. I want to attempt to construct a Trinitarian theology which would be acceptable to Muslims for my major assignment (very ambitious but I’ve got some ideas of how to approach it). If you have any substantial pointers that could help me it would mean the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JGF says:

      While I too would be fascinated by Dr. Hart’s answer, I have read Ibn Arabi in translation, and honestly I’ve benefited from him a lot in my own spiritual life. At least in my reading of him, he posits something awfully close to a Ruh-Logos in God (not unlike early Christian proponents of a Spirit Christology), and even Incarnation, of sorts, of the Logos in Jesus, albeit through the mediation of that divine Power through the quite physical means, to be put it delicately, of the archangel Gabriel. For Ibn Arabi, in a beautiful and majestic image, the Ruh acts as the ground of the forms, that intellective breath held within God, God depicted as heavily pregnant with them and consequently the universe. Upon exhalation and “birth,” the Ruh forms the imaginal and theophanic Cloud in which creation takes place. Human beings as the full receivers of that Ruh in their capacity of cognition and speech contain the total sum of divine potential and thus represent the ultimate articulation of the divine mystery in creation, God’s mirror of God’s own self, based on an exegesis of Adam’s creation and God’s teaching of Adam the names of creatures, and the famous “hidden treasure” hadith. For Ibn Arabi even, Jesus’ reception of the Ruh through Gabriel represents an articulation of this self-revelatory process, a kind of Islamic version of Paul’s “Last Adam.”

      Check out Ibn Arabi’s “The Bezels of Wisdom,” The Classics of Western Spirituality, translated by R.W.J. Austin and introduced by Titus Burckhardt (New York: Paulist Press, 1980).

      At least from my perspective, I’m not sure how one would delineate a Logos and the Ruh, the “Breath of the Merciful,” functions as we Christians tend to do with the Logos and the Spirit, but I’m looking forward to seeing Dr. Hart’s take. Maybe what we term Logos and Spirit could be labeled the two stages of the Ruh’s self-expression, the interior and pregnant ground of ideas versus their exhalation? Honestly though that seems closer to Bulgakov’s distinction between Wisdom and Logos than our idea of Trinitarian relations? Just some thoughts.

      Thank you, Fr. Kimel, for this excellent series and conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

    • rephinia says:

      Most Muslims I’ve spoken too are taken aback when I tell them the Trinity refers to God’s self-knowledge and self-love and not to the idea that there are three centers of consciousness. So I guess accurately presenting the doctrine in terms of God’s self-reflection/consciousness/perception/awareness (which is wholly adequate to God’s own being), and a third moment of God’s joy/delight/bliss/ecstasy in the image of his own infinite beauty and goodness would be a place to build a bridge because Islam has similar formulations.

      Like

    • rephinia says:

      There’s a surprising parallel I’ve found between a Hadith and a trinitarian passage by Gregory of Nyssa:

      “God is beautiful and he loves beauty” – Hadith

      “For the life of God is love, seeing that the Beautiful is necessarily lovable to those who recognize it, and God does recognize it, and so this recognition becomes love, that which He recognizes being essentially beautiful” – On the Soul and the Resurrection

      If you check out Nasr’s Visions of Truth, he write how self-negation is a potential of God that is accomplished in creation because being good he is by nature self-diffusive. A Christian could contribute to this idea that God is already self-diffusive by nature as Trinity and this potential isn’t actualized by the act of creation but is rather manifested in it. I believe many Islamic philosophers also have a kind of Logos metaphysics but is ‘subordinationist’ rather than Trinitarian of course, so perhaps that would be another area to explore.

      And of course DBH himself draws a parallel between Father-Son-Spirit and wujud-wijdan-wajd.

      Like

    • Marcus says:

      interesting project

      Like

  31. Tony says:

    DBH in this thread: “At the literal level, it’s neither true nor false; it’s not even a unity…Anyway, I don’t believe in scriptural inerrancy. Inspiration is not dictation, and it is not infallibility….Neither do I believe in scripture’s internal consistency at the literal level.”

    If scripture is not internally consistent, then anything can be read into it, which is the same thing as saying that nothing can be read from it and no interpretation, genuine interpretation, is possible.

    Furthermore, one wonders how DBH manages to accept and/or understand the Fathers of the Church on what Christianity is, since they invariably ground Christianity in the Scriptures, taking first the primary meanings of the individual human writers, and then the allegorical and anagogical meanings thereafter. Or, perhaps, one might say that we don’t have to wonder, since he apparently doesn’t accept them as a body.

    Like

    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      I think the phrase “at the literal level” is key here. That there are conflicting voices within scripture isn’t the most controversial of claims. I don’t see the logic of your second paragraph. Replace the word scripture with Wikipedia or the Constitution (or whatever) and you’ll see why. Christianity is grounded in God. We don’t need to imagine that scripture, the Fathers, clergy, etc. provide us with perfect access to the truth in order to accept that they point us truthfully towards the truth.

      Like

    • M. Robbins says:

      Scripture is self-evidently internally inconsistent; it’s not in dispute. Matthew & Luke contradict each other all over the place.

      Like

      • M. Robbins says:

        (To choose only one obvious example.)

        Like

      • If Scripture really is internally inconsistent, then it contains something which is false. If it contains something false, then it wasn’t authored by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth. If it wasn’t authored by the Holy Ghost, then it’s no better than any other history or theology book, it’s just another book with arguments and historical facts that may or may not be true. If something in Scripture is false, then it isn’t Divine Revelation, and we have no more reason to believe it than we have to believe in what Thucydides or DBH says.

        This way of thinking about Scripture is a gateway right out of Christianity. St Augustine obviously disagreed with your contention of self-evidence: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1602.htm

        Like

        • arthur ja says:

          “If Scripture really is internally inconsistent (…)”
          I don’t really see why you would need to write “if” : it simply *is* the case that Scripture contains inconsistencies.
          Apart from the fundamentalist ones, very few scholars of the NT deny that.

          “St Augustine obviously disagreed with your contention of self-evidence”
          St Augustine also thought that a “good God” would let gazillions of unbaptised babies burn in Hell forever, so I’m not sure Christians have to dogmatically follow him on everything he had to say, do they?

          Like

          • If you say that there are inconsistencies, you have to accept that God authored falsehood or that the Scripture’s are not Divinely Inspired, that the Holy Ghost did not protect the authors from error. Either of these options lead away from Christianity.

            The point was not to dogmatize St. Augustine, the point was to show that there is a holy and wise man gave significant argument in favor of the Gospels being internally consistent, so the charge of it being “self-evident” is untrue. Even if you think Augustine is wrong on this point, it clearly is not self-evident.

            Like

          • arthur ja says:

            Tim

            The fact that there are inconsistencies in the Bible doesn’t necessarily lead away from Christianity but rather from *your* particular flavour of it.

            Now, if you take *your* Christianity to be the *only* acceptable form of the religion, you’re going to have to argue in favour of that idea, obviously.

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            Augustine is perhaps not the authority to appeal to on an Orthodox site.

            Liked by 1 person

          • arthur ja says:

            It’s true that even though he’s venerated in both the RCC and the EOC (and in all Churches which venerate saints), Augustine was much more influential in the Western Church than in the Eastern one.
            His severely depraved notion of inherited guilt did not make it into the official doctrine of the EOC, as a (rather very pleasant) result.
            What a shame the Western Church actually bought it… one cannot help but thinking that the vast majority of Christians across History must have conceived of the cosmos as a ruthless dystopia. That’s probably not what Jesus would have wanted (but I digress, as usual).

            Like

          • arthur ja says:

            One cannot help but *think*.

            Like

          • The fact that there are inconsistencies in the Bible doesn’t necessarily lead away from Christianity but rather from *your* particular flavour of it.

            I gave an argument that accepting inconsistencies either means: 1) God authored falsehood or 2) Scripture is not Divinely Inspired (meaning it is not a source of Divine Revelation but more or less just a history and theology book written by Saints). Neither of these ideas are Christian ideas in any meaningful sense.

            Or, posed another way, if everything in the Bible is not true, historical facts and all, then why bother?

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            Because ultimate truth is not a matter of material facts, and because, accordingly, it would be supremely irrational to expect scripture to provide some kind of literal and exhaustive one-for-one mapping of spiritual realities at the level of human language; this is, in fact, a contradiction in terms.

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            You might want to read Augustine more closely, who clearly allowed that at times it was necessary to interpret scripture allegorically.

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            By the way, it’s just ignorant to say that it is “not Christian in any meaningful sense” to hold that the Bible contains inconsistencies. Were neither Origen nor John Chrysostom Christians, then? The latter is a saint, as of course you know. Check out what he has to say about this question. In general, yr view of Christianity that in fact describes only certain strains of Protestantism.

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            *is one that in fact describes …

            Like

          • Because ultimate truth is not a matter of material facts

            If getting material facts wrong doesn’t matter, then how do we know that St. John correctly recalled the vision he had in the Apocalypse? If we accept that the Scripture writers got some material facts wrong when they intended to convey material facts, however minute they may be, then belief in Scripture crumbles from that of Divine Revelation to that of a mere history book or theology book. If we can’t trust the material veracity of, for instance, both genealogies, then why bother much with the Scriptures at all?

            Check out what [St. John Chrysostom] has to say about this question.

            You mean like this (emphasis mine):

            “Don’t worry, dearly beloved, don’t think sacred Scripture ever contradicts itself, learn instead the truth of what it says, hold fast what it teaches in truth, and close your ears to those who speak against it” (Homily 4:8 on Genesis, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 56).

            Or this (emphasis mine):

            “He desires hence to establish by many proofs the unerring truth of Scripture, and that what Isaiah foretold fell not out otherwise…” (Homily 68 on the Gospel of John).

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Lord, deliver us from the indignantly pious.

            Mr Finnegan,

            You clearly know nothing about the history of Christian exegesis of scripture. I doubt you have any knowledge of even how the term “literal” functioned in pre-modern exegesis. All of patristic and mediaeval (and intelligent) modern Biblical interpretation has always acknowledged, presumed, and even learned from scriptural contradictions. The inconsistency of the text when read ad litteram (which is not what literal reading means today) is one dimension of what Origen called the skandalon of the text, which prompts the mind to seek out spiritual truth where literality leads to nonsense. Gregory of Nyssa said that those who look to the literal level of the text alone will find mostly absurd and contradictory myths and barbarisms. Any clever village atheist can collect a list of plain contradictions in scripture. Even John’s gospel places the crucifixion a day earlier than the synoptics do. Inspiration is not “verbal dictation”; it is spiritual vision and is as much a matter of the reader as the writer. Or was Paul wrong in Galatians when he spoke of the faulty origin of the Mosaic code? Or do you think God really commanded executing those who wove garments from mixed fabrics?

            This is absurd

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            Read Chrysostom’s Homily on Matthew, where he says it would be amazing if the gospel writers DIDN’T contradict one another, since they were, you know, human. Furthermore, it would give “our enemies” ammunition if they agreed on every little thing, for that would be evidence that they had “met together” and “formed a human compact.” “Even that discordance which seems to exist in little matters delivers them from all suspicion, and speaks clearly in behalf of the character of the writers.”

            David beat me to “this is absurd,” though I was going to say “this is silly.”

            Like

          • Grant says:

            This is indeed a foolish position, with easy contradictions to point out off the fly if you insist that everything must be historically true, for example the contradictions between the two creation accounts, does God create the whole world full and bursting with life (as in the first creation account, with suggested more than one man and woman) or does He create a world mostly barren apart from where He sets the Garden of Eden and forms Adam (then Eve), and causes trees to spring forth and animals and so on after Adam is formed to name them all.

            Or for example the contradictions between the how Deuteronomy depicts the entrance and conquest of Israel into Canaan, to to complete conquest and genocide of Joshua to Judges where people, cities and areas apparently conquered and destroyed in Joshua’s time remain and how it’s depicts Israel’s coming into Canaan and a current situation where many of those places and people remain. Just as an example of this confusion there are internal contradictions in Joshua over whether the Jebusites are all delivered into Joshua’s hand and killed and their cities taken (including Jerusalem) as in parts they are so told and are listed the people killed and cities plundered, and elsewhere where it is failed to be taken and Israel lived among them. Or then to Judges where they assault and capture the city and put it into the flame (Judges 1:8), or again just later Benjamites fail to attack and drive them out (Judges 1:21). Or in 1 Samuel David takes Goliath’s head back to Jerusalem, yet later as an older man in 2 Samuel arrives to conquer Jerusalem again from the present Jebusites (who are alive enough to jeer and mock him) as it once again (for maybe the fourth or fifth time?) needed to be conquered and the Jebusites conquered, defeated or slaughtered.

            And that doesn’t get into issues of what archaeology tells us (for example Jericho being uninhabited at the time, and few walled cities existed, and some listed as taken clearly continue without destruction nor disruption as non-Israelite cites well beyond this point).

            And this is just a quick sample, this is a foolish way to approach Scripture as Scripture, and it is what will lead you either into tortured forms of mental gymnastics to try and make it fit (will having to indulge in various levels of necessary cognitive dissonance when this fails completely in places), needing to justify horrific actions related to God and the impossible square circle that gives with who He is revealed to be in Christ, or it will help people walk away from Christianity as they can no longer keep up the self-deception and denial of what’s before their eyes and being honest with the truth of things leave, as they have been lead to believe that this is how Scripture should be read, and what Christianity demands (either the packing of the brain, or leaving Christianity).

            But this ignores how the NT alone indicates how OT should be approached and was approached, who Christ reveals it to be about Him, all of it and be read about Him (which is how St Paul, the Gospel writers, the writer of the letter of the Hebrews uses it, who tells us Scripture was written for us, when prior to this only shadows were perceived or the ‘veil was over their eyes’ as St Paul puts it. Scripture is Scripture when read in the life of the Church, in the Spirit and about Christ which then gives a literal interpretation (though not the only one, the Spirit with the inspired reader is infinity creative.

            To read it without this is just to read old, many edited ancient documents and not to read Scripture at all.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Read Chrysostom’s Homily on Matthew…

            In that same homily he states(emphasis mine):

            But now even that discordance which seems to exist in little matters delivers them from all suspicion, and speaks clearly in behalf of the character of the writers. But if there be anything touching times or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said…But that they are not opposed to each other, this we will endeavor to prove, throughout the whole work. And thou, in accusing them of disagreement, art doing just the same as if you were to insist upon their using the same words and forms of speech.

            He’s saying that the seeming contradictions give credit because they don’t, on a cursory reading, look to agree but that they actually do agree and they have just related the same facts in different words and forms of speech.

            Or do you think God really commanded executing those who wove garments from mixed fabrics?

            If when we read (Lev 19:36-37) “I am the Lord your God, that brought you out of the land of Egypt. Keep all my precepts, and all my judgments, and do them. I am the Lord” we aren’t supposed to take that as God, our God, giving commands to the Israelites then exegesis is impossible. If “I am the Lord” doesn’t mean “I am the Lord,” if this isn’t the same God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt and the same God who brings the Church out of sin, then words don’t have enough definite meaning and Scripture doesn’t have enough consistency to be a basis for this conversation, let alone be a basis for doctrine.

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            Sigh. First of all, what Chrysostom is plainly saying in that passage (which I quoted myself) is that the truth of the gospel is not affected by such trivial discrepancies, which he entirely admits exist, because he could read. Have you, Tim, read the gospels? There just isn’t any dispute here. Matthew & Luke give completely different genealogies for Joseph. Have a look for yrself. How do you resolve that?

            (For what it’s worth, both genealogies are almost certainly fictional. The writers are concerned to establish Jesus’s lineage from David, although how Joseph’s genealogy is relevant, if Mary was a virgin, is anyone’s guess.)

            I really begin to wonder if you’re not a Dawkins-fanboy troll, trying to rile up the faithful, though I’m not sure how pretending to be a caricature of a fundamentalist believer would score any points against Christians whose reading of scripture is nuanced.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            No, TimmyFinn is right. Jesus was crucified and died (as in John) on the Passover and also (as in the synoptics) on the following day. It was one of his most extraordinary miracles.

            In fact, all the seemingly contradictory details of scripture, which number in the hundreds and hundreds, are all in fact true at once. What greater proof could we have if God’s omnipotence?

            Liked by 2 people

        • Cycneus says:

          Finnegan,

          Do you believe that Christ is, literally, a lamb (Joh 1:29), a vine (Joh 15:5), or perhaps a door (Joh 10:9)? If you don’t—or if perhaps you’re having a hard time deciding between the three—aren’t you then presuming that “God” has “authored falsehood”, at least according to your rather jejune conception of scriptural truth? Do you even see the problem? I almost feel sorry for resorting to these analogies, but they do really fit the level of your objections.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Arthur Ja says:

          Tim,

          I) A third possibility (among perhaps other ones that have yet to cross my mind) could be that *some passages* of Scripture are divinely inspired while *some other passages* are not.

          I don’t really see why you think there can only be two possibilities here.

          II) Even if it turned out that *absolutely nothing at all* is actually inspired in Scripture, it would not be a big deal for Christianity anyways.

          Indeed, as far as I can see, what actually makes Christianity true or false, ultimately, is the question of whether the Gospels are accurate/reliable/right on only *few* specific things :
          1) On who Jesus actually was (personality, objectives, true nature).
          2) On what He actually taught.
          3) On what He did and on what He came to accomplish (and why).
          4) On whether He was raised from the dead or not.

          At the end of the day, the truth or falsehood of Christianity seems to rest pretty much on that, and *just* that.

          Notice that Biblical Inerrancy has *nothing whatsoever* to do with any of this.

          If Scripture is right on what it tells us about Jesus, then it does not matter at all whether it contains any number of inconsistencies/contradictions/false pieces of information on any number of *secondary* issues… and whether it is inspired or not.

          Thus, it is not the truth of *Christianity* that rests on Biblical Inerrancy : just the truth of the *one particular flavour of Christianity* that you happen to embrace.

          III) Now, you said “If everything in the Bible is not true (…) then why bother?”

          No one is saying (no one has *ever* said, actually) that “everything in the Bible is not true”.

          Thus, I can only assume that what you actually meant was “If *anything* in the Bible is not true (…) then why bother?”… am I right?

          Regards,

          AJ

          Like

          • Arthur Ja says:

            Ah, I see now that my third point was a bit misguided.

            Just forget about it, mmkay?

            Like

          • If some are and some aren’t, then how do we tell the difference? The Church already spoke on which Scriptures were to be included. If they included ones that weren’t divinely inspired, then what was the point of nailing down the Canon anyways?

            And if we throw out Biblical Inerrancy then our confidence in the reliability of the Scriptures plummets from the confidence we can have in the Word of God to the confidence we can have in the word of men. Many of the small details bear significance on the reliability of the prophets, which in turn bear significance on the reliability of our beliefs about the nature of Christ.

            And yes, your second way of phrasing it captures better my meaning. Thank you for that.

            Like

        • M. Robbins says:

          Sigh. First of all, what Chrysostom is plainly saying in that passage (which I quoted myself) is that the truth of the gospel is not affected by such trivial discrepancies, which he entirely admits exist, because he could read. Have you, Tim, read the gospels? There just isn’t any dispute here. Matthew & Luke give completely different genealogies for Joseph. Have a look for yrself. How do you resolve that?

          (For what it’s worth, both genealogies are almost certainly fictional. The writers are concerned to establish Jesus’s lineage from David, although how Joseph’s genealogy is relevant, if Mary was a virgin, is anyone’s guess.)

          I really begin to wonder if you’re not a Dawkins-fanboy troll, trying to rile up the faithful, though I’m not sure how pretending to be a caricature of a fundamentalist believer would score any points against Christians whose reading of scripture is nuanced.

          Like

          • arthurjaco says:

            Tim makes the same “point” over and over again, never answering (or even considering) most of the points *we* make… there’s no use debating him (sorry Tim if I come across as arrogant but it’s kinda true and you’ve proved it several times).

            The damage religious fundamentalism can do, my God… I’m sorry you guys (in America) have to put up with such nasty forms of Christianity.
            Must be especially hard for those of you who live in the South…

            Like

  32. NicholasofKentucky says:

    Dr. Hart,

    I’ve seen you use 1 Corinthians 3:15 and its context as something of a key to Paul’s view on God’s punishments. I’m hoping to have you elaborate a little bit more on that, as my cursory reading of modern commentaries has the pericope interpreted as either a reference to some form of purgatory for believers within the church, or as a passage with little soteriological import (Gordon D. Fee), which functions as Paul simultaneously warning and consoling preachers to take care with their jobs, and not despair overly much if someone they brought to Christ is lost. Both of these forms of interpretation seem to understand the foundation of Christ as something that is only imparted *after* the Gospel has been heard and accepted, rather than (as I take it you understand it to mean) a reference to the inherent image of God in each created person. Is this accurate? If so, are there any good modern scholars who also understand Paul to be taking this latter position?

    In hope for you good health,
    Nicholas

    Like

    • DBH says:

      And yet Paul’s formulation is of a general rule; he gives no indication of limiting its applicability to a particular group, just as he elsewhere gives no indication that Christ’s headship of the whole cosmos (1 Corinthians 15, inter alia) and over “all of Israel” and “all persons” (Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11) is anything other than absolute and total.

      Ignore commentators who feel it’s their job to make the earliest Christian texts conform to later doctrinal or theological conventions. Who cares what commentators say? What makes you think that they’re anything for the most part other than spin doctors?

      Paul, when speaking for himself, is nowhere near so arid: If *anyone* (tis)…

      Like

      • NicholasofKentucky says:

        I understand and accept that Paul speaks of Christ as having authority over the whole Cosmos and of every person in it. I am not an Augistinian. I am, in fact, a convinced universalist. My question was more centered around how Paul understands and uses the idea of Christ as the foundation upon which one builds, and how that foundation is laid down by Paul, with the help of God, “like a wise master builder”. I suppose my confusion is over how it is that Paul speaks of himself as being the one who lays the foundation with the help of God, while also seaming to speak of it as something that is already inherently there; the “anyone”, etc.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Why? He speaks of a special situation and then goes on to clarify his language by reference to a general principle. That is common practice, and is also how the passage reads.

          Liked by 1 person

          • NicholasofKentucky says:

            My confusion, I think, was a result of absolutizing the method of how the foundation is laid down. And after much re-reading, I now see that Paul explicitly warns against such a reading just a few verses earlier.

            Chalk it up to years of exposure to extensively polemical preaching. Thanks for your time on this.

            Like

          • Curdie says:

            Im a little behind, but I also had a question about this passage for Dr. Hart. Forgive me if this is essentially the same question as before, but I was reading 1 Corinthians this morning and was struck by how different the “saved through fire” passage felt contextually this time around. I remembered you had addressed it a little bit here, so I wanted to run my question by you.

            Earlier in chapters 2 and 3, Paul seems to be writing to the Corinthians about sort of petty arguments within the Corinthian community about who was saved by who, with members of the community dividing into the Paul camp and the Apollos camp. Paul iterates how unimportant that argument is, using a metaphor about how Christ is the one who has made them all grow, and Paul and Apollos have just been the planter and the waterer. Your translation says “Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward, in keeping with their labor.” This seems to me to be referring very specifically to works of evangelism by believers, the “each” in that sentence apparently referring to the metaphorical planters and waterers. He then goes on to the famous passage about Christ as the foundation, on whom we each erect our offerings, which will be tested by fire, and those whose work is burned away will be saved through fire.

            To me this looks like a clear reference to Christ as the one who has made the Corinthian Christians “grow,” with Paul and Apollo building on that foundation through planting and watering. I guess I’m having a hard time now making the leap from the particular point Paul is making to a universal, soteriological statement about every person’s final judgment. Isn’t it more contextually likely that Paul was referring specifically to the work of evangelism and discipleship within Christian community than it is about every single person’s individual works?

            Again, sorry if this is essentially the same question Nicholas asked earlier. I was just surprised at how different the context felt in 1 Cor. 3 this time around.

            Like

  33. Marc says:

    when I hear Calvinists talk about the “elect” or with the Black Hebrew Israelites with their, i guess you can say, ethnic form of Calvinism “only the descendants of Israelites will be saved” or any formulation of an elect or special group that “wins” over others, I must confess have to have some form of psychopathic tendencies.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Geoffrey A McKinney says:

    DBH wrote: “Temperamentally, I’m more drawn to Asian religions anyway, and metaphysically I’m already a Vedantist (which is to say a neoplatonist)…”

    Which is your “favorite” (if I may put it that way) Asian religion?

    Like

  35. erikhokanson says:

    What are the primary variables that lead to the continuation of infernalism from within the evangelical church? Is it pastors falling ill to the cycle of indoctrination, coupled with a general theological ineptitude? Or perhaps it’s a more cynical matter of not disrupting the financial prospects of the church?

    In any case, I’ve found that evangelicals can’t be reasoned with on any contested matter. So even if a pastor were to stumble onto the truth, they’d almost certainly be castrated by the layman churchgoers. They, of course, don’t pretend to be experts on physics or competent practitioners of medicine when they’re not. Given this, It’s a strange scenario when the undereducated win. In the current state of affairs I question if it’s even worth the time.

    Like

    • Arthur Ja says:

      Hi, Erik

      Many evangelical pastors’ absolute lack of interest in what the Church Fathers actually taught (in favour of Sola Scriptura), their inability to read and understand Koine Greek, the comfort many derive from being on the side of the vast majority of christian pastors and teachers, the belief that universalism is a “dangerous heresy” that is “clearly antithetical to Scripture”, the fear of losing their job after losing their flock… From what I have observed so far, there appears to be so many variables.

      I mean, just look at what happened to pastor Rob Bell when his book Love Wins was published or to Bishop Carlton Pearson when he spoke in favour of universalism for the first time in front of his flock…
      Rob Bell was already condemned by some as a heretic *before* his book was even out.
      Conservative calvinist pastor John Piper twitted “Farewell, Rob Bell” even though Love Wins isn’t even pro-universalist per se : it just argues that it is Christian to hope for the salvation of all and that universalism is not a heresy but one legitimate soteriological belief for Christians to hold.
      That’s pretty much all, but for guys like Piper, that was already too much to bear, apparently (imagine now what Piper would think of fellow evangelical christian Tom Talbott if he were to stumble upon his The Inescapable Love of God…)
      As for Pearson, he doesn’t preach in front of evangelical audiences anymore – nor does Mr. Bell, I believe.
      Both pastors are good men worthy of being called men of God.
      Both went from being superstar pastors to being the targets of unrelenting and fanatical harassment from within their own respective communities (quite literally) overnight…

      I don’t know if I’m right but it seems to me that evangelical christians *tend* to be the most unreasonable christians.
      That’s the way most of us europeans (that is to say, people from countries where evangelicals are few) feel about evangelicals, I think.

      Like

  36. Arthur Ja says:

    Hello, Dr Hart

    I was just wondering whether your brothers, Fr Robert and Fr Addison, are also universalists.

    Not that this impacts the matter of whether universalism is true, of course – that’s just out of curiosity.

    Regards,

    AJ

    Like

    • TJF says:

      I have read most of what DBH and Addison have written. I believe Addison is also a convinced universalist, but the only way to know for sure is to ask people themselves. I highly recommend his writings which are generally more pastoral in nature than David’s. They’ve helped me a lot — I recommend the Yoke of Jesus, The Ox Herder and the Good Shepherd, and Taking Jesus at His Word (in the appendix, the universalism stance seems clear).

      Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  37. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Questions for DBH:

    David, I have noticed that a growing number of biblical scholars (how big a number I do not know) are now advancing the thesis that the Apostle Paul (and perhaps even Jesus) believed that the wicked will be annihilated at the moment of death, i.e., will cease to exist, never to be heard from again. Douglas Campbell, e.g., thinks this is the best way to understand Paul’s strong universalist-sounding passages.

    (1) What do you think of this thesis?

    (2) If true, how does it affect the universalist proposal?

    Like

    • DBH says:

      Well, it’s good that they recognize the absence of eternal hell in his vision. But the evidence of annihilationism is only suggestive, while the universalism passages are remarkably explicit. And annihilationism would still make a nonsense of those passages. Either 1 Corinthians 15 is universalist or it is a lie. So I would advise ignoring such commentators. They’re still fighting against the plain meaning of too many texts, and doing so because they just can’t believe that someone won’t get left out. It’s all about winners and losers, right?

      The best and most scientific readers of Paul remain Origen, Macrina, Gregory, Theodore, etc.

      And revisit pp. 193-195 of TASBS.

      Liked by 3 people

      • TIK (away from home) says:

        DBH, I seem to be responding on the weong thread, but I’m curious about your understanding of scriptural inspiration and canonicity, particular how it relates to the scriptures of other faiths and the fact that the christian world has always had multiple canons?

        For example, there’s a wiki page out there somewhere which lists like ten different old teatament canons that are still in use today around the christian world. Even the ethiopians have a massive expanded new testament canon too.

        As a point of comparison, my understanding is that “the liturgy is inspired before the scriptures are inspired”. In other words, scriptures are only inspired because and when we read them during mass. For this reason, God spoke to the latins thru the vulgate, he spoke to the copts thru the coptic scriptures, he speaks to the ethiopians thru the geez scriptures, he speaks to the chinese thru the chinese scriptural franslation etc. for this reason, the canon of scripture is fluid, just as the liturgical expressions of the faith are fluid around the world.

        First question: what do you think about this understanding I’ve just outlined? For one thing, this is why i have pushed back on your rejection of the language of “everlasting damnation” in the past. It’s simply a fact that many liturgically authorised translations of scripture employ auch language, so i find it troubling when ypu reject it. Lex orandi lex credendi. If the western church has matthew 25 in latin in its lectionary, then matthew 25 in latin is inspired, eternal damnation and all.

        Which brings me to my second question: what does it mean for a scripture to be inspired in ypur understanding? I’m aware of a spectrum here from “the literal ink on the page is inspired” (fundamentalism) all the way to “the exact words don’t matter, and the scripture is only inspired to the extent that the gospel promise of universal salvation can be pulled out of it clearly” (more my view, as well as i suspect you, fr kimel and robert jenson)

        Which directly leads to my third question: if inspiration is as fluid as the patristic era would have us believe, and scripture is only scripture to the extent that we are able to find christ in it, then what is the point of having a canon at all? I am able to find christ and his gospel of salvation in things as disparate as the daodejing, the quran, the vedas, the book of mormon: why not include them in the canon too?

        On that last question, i would like to propose that when paul says “all scripture is god breathed”, the greek is more like “every writing is inspired”. If you take that at face value, it would imply that any world scripture is as good as any other for finding christ, as long as ypu know what ypu are doing. I have a hunch that this is why the earliest fathers were able to find the gospel in all sorts of scriptures that didn’t end up in the canon, and i suspect that if paul had traveled to india rather than greece, he would have been able to find christ in the vedas, ramayana, mahabharata, just as he was able to find christ in the greek poets. I think that when paul says “ALL writings are inspired”, we should understand that as literally as possible: even my maths textbook points to christ, and the trick is for me to prayerfully demonstrate how.

        Anyway DBH. If you’re still deigning to hang around and discuss, it would mean the world to me if you could engage with my questions here.

        (Ps, i think you mentioned that you are writing a book about fundamental/dogmatic theology, that is, how you approach authority and tradition. Just wondering how progress is on that and when you expect it will be on bookshelves? Your theological reflections warm my heart and so id love to know how you navigate the world of tradition and authority)

        Like

    • Ed says:

      Father,
      In Chapter 18 of his book, “Pauline Dogmatics”, Douglas Campbell actually speaks favourably of the universalist interpretation of St. Paul. The chapter is entitled “The Triumph of Love.” You can find the book on Scribd.
      Campbell does not settle on universalism, but seems to think that it is a very plausible interpretation.

      Liked by 2 people

  38. AT says:

    I just want to say thank you Dr. Hart, for helping restore my faith. All creation, indeed all of our individual lives are redeemed, because Christ accomplished the good work of reconciling us to the Father.

    Your words uncovered for me the original agape Love that had been drowning under the brutal weight of the doctrine of eternal Hell. When I read your last two paragraphs, the utter obviousness of that truth simply overwhelms me. God bless you!

    In the end it’s really not about us at all, or our works, and what a freeing thought! He stands in our place of shame, and so we too will stand in His place of glory.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      Hilarious, isn’t it? Of course, the poor guy doesn’t actually know the scholarship for either the scriptural or the patristic texts, doesn’t know what universalists actually claim, doesn’t know the languages, and clearly doesn’t know the difference between scholarship and collecting arguments from web sites. This is the work of a man with sub-Sunday-scool education making arguments that have been dealt with a million times.

      Let Feser be Feser. In the world of textual and theological scholarship, he is the equivalent of Richard Dawkins making philosophical arguments. And, like Dawkins, he’s protected from knowledge of what a fool he makes of himself by the sheer immensity of his ignorance and mental laziness. Send him all the links, bibliographies, well worn arguments you like, he’ll never look into it. As I say, he’s Dawkins.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      See, also: I wasn’t making it up. He’s quoting Isaiah and Judith as proof texts for eternal perdition.

      Ah, precious innocence.

      Like

      • TJF says:

        I am not well versed in the OT. Can you explain DBH why using it to “prove” infernalism is illicit? Is it just due to the fact that there was no clear ECT concept at the time? If so, could it not be argued that it is not entirely relevant what the beliefs of the author and time period were? That it could be seen through a different hermeneutic, an infernalist one, or be interpreted spiritually? If you or anyone can explain this and or point me to good resources to learn more I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Feser is quoting misleading translations of verses that, in Hebrew, refer to the disposal of mortal remains and the destruction of physical objects. When, for instance, he goes again to the fires and the worms of the Ge-ben-Hinnom, he is mistaking language threatening the shameful disposal of one’s body in a charnel ground (rather than proper ritual burial) for language threatening a final damnation in some postmortem state.

          There was neither salvation nor damnation in the conceptual world of Isaiah or of the Book of Judith or in the scriptures of pre-Second Temple Judaism. There was no eschatology at all, let alone one having to do with judgment and punishment. There was no concept of a Messianic age or of the Age to Come. Death was the end for everyone, and the most that remained of any soul–king or beggar, prophet or prostitute, the holy or the wicked–was a shadowy residual echo of the self in Sheol, the subterranean realm–just as in almost every other mythology of the ancient world.

          A rare hero like Elijah might be taken up to the third heaven–just as certain Greek heroes were spared the fate of most mortals by the extraordinary partiality of this or that god–but otherwise the prophet Samuel, David, the king of Babylon, the king of Tyre who once walked like one of the gods (elohim) among the stones of fire–all of them fade away into the shadows beneath the earth, or into the House of Dust (to use the general Mesopotamian designation). As Achilles told Odysseus…

          The entire notion of eschatology enters Judaism only in the inter-testamental period, doubtless with considerable influence from Persia, where the idea originated in the period of the Zend-Avesta; and the idea of an eternal soul, as found in other Second Temple sources, is as much a product of Hellenization as anything else. In the Second Temple period, Sheol becomes for many a place of waiting for the final judgment–as in the Book of Enoch or as in the parable of Dives and Lazarus.

          None of this is news. This is basic scriptural and religious history. And a “spiritual” interpretation has to be one grounded in what the texts say ad litteram first. What we have here is Ed clumsily accepting a later misreading of the language of Jesus and importing it back into the prophets rather than, as he should, recognizing that Jesus was quoting the prophets and concluding from that that Jesus was using an entirely different imagery than that of the later Christian mythology of hell. He should also recognize the degree to which Isaiah (and Jeremiah) and Jesus are talking about intra-historical events that will occur within the lifetimes of those listening to them.

          But who cares? Since Ed apparently thinks the Bible was written in English, and that all the words he finds in the versions he knows (like “Hell”) mean precisely what he imagines they mean, and since he can’t read Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic or Syriac, and since he has no knowledge of even the most elementary scholarship on the texts and histories and philology at issue here, I say, Let him keep going! There are times when it’s best simply to step back and let water find its own level. The most effective counterarguments are the ones there is no need to make.

          Liked by 4 people

          • TJF says:

            Thanks for the response, makes sense! Any good books for further study you would recommend Dr. Hart?

            Like

          • Edward Feser says:

            That’s all very impressive, David. And completely misses the point.

            Whatever else one says about those passages from Isaiah and Judith, they are teaching a final separation between the righteous and the wicked. That’s all I claimed, and it would remain true even if both the righteous and the wicked never rise again, so that the reward of the righteous is perpetual honor in memory and the punishment of the wicked is perpetual ill repute. The point is that we have the beginnings of the “Great Divorce” theme that is consistently developed through the intertestamental period, the NT, and the first two centuries of the patristic era. I explicitly said that the point has nothing to do with attributing to those passages the whole “infernalist” theology of later centuries.

            But if you’d prefer to keep attacking straw men and piling up insults, knock yourself out.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Ah, very convincing. Verses that have no eschatological content are relevant to his eschatological claims because they must be. But they aren’t. They concern only a temporary historical fate.

            The same scripture makes it clear that these divisions are not eternal or meaningful. In the end, all end up together in Sheol, with no distinction between righteous and wicked.

            And then also, of course, the NT verses—again—are nit talking about hell. But, hey, I’m breaking my own rule. Ride on, Ed.

            Liked by 2 people

          • M. Robbins says:

            But, David, according to our old friend Tim F., in response to me at Feser’s, “The Gospel shows that the Jews were wrong in their understanding of much of their own Scripture.”

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Them and apparently the whole biblical scholarly world, and the whole of the historical guild, and of course Paul (who seemed to believe in all that Hades/Sheol business with regard to all the dead). Of course, what’s most amusing about that is that most Christians genuinely ARE wrong about what the NT says.

            By the way, as you no doubt know, Feser is pretending here that he knew that the prophets had no concept of differentiated postmortem destinies, and that’s what he meant when he said the Jewish scriptures are “obscure” about the afterlife. Is he trying to make himself an object of derision? His last posting at the Ed Feser Self-Adoration site is making the rounds in theological circles as an object of mirth. He’s like Trump. Every time he opens his mouth, he loses ground.

            Like

    • arthur ja says:

      Dr Feser says it is *obvious* that the NT speaks of eternal torments for the damned and he says that it is equally obvious that it *never* speaks of Universal Reconciliation.

      Dr Hart says it is not clear at all (to say the least) that Jesus speaks of eternal torments for the damned in the NT and he says there’s plenty of fairly explicit passages within its pages that *do* affirm Universal Reconciliation.

      Dr Feser is a philosopher who does not know Koine Greek at all and who does not seem to have read much (to say the least) of what universalist thinkers have had to say to defend their position.

      Dr Hart is a philosopher, scholar of religion, Orthodox theologian and patristics expert (but most importantly a professional baseball fan) who reads the NT in its original language and who has read many books and articles on apocatastasis.

      I don’t want to bootlick Mr. Hart but I think it is fairly obvious who it is we should take more seriously on that issue.

      Like

      • Edward Feser says:

        I don’t want to bootlick Mr. Hart but I think it is fairly obvious who it is we should take more seriously on that issue.

        What I’d recommend, Arthur, is that you not look at it in the first place as a matter of deciding whose boots to lick or whose expertise to praise, but instead just focus on the actual arguments. I would also suggest that when someone constantly goes on about his credentials and about what a dummy the other guy is — instead of actually addressing the other guy’s arguments, which are all that matters — that should raise a red flag.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Yes, by all means, pay attention to Ed’s arguments. Read them through. Pay attention to the knowledge of scripture and history they demonstrate. Pay attention to their relevance to the claims universalists have actually made over the centuries. Pay excruciatingly close attention to the patristic scholarship underpinning them. Follow their logic with fanatical care. Note how deep an acquaintance with universalist thought they make evident.

          Ed, Pointing out your very basic and very numerous scholarly and logical errors, as well as your misstatements of universalist arguments, is not ad hominem abuse. It is in fact inevitable so long as you continue bumbling into areas where you lack either specialized or general knowledge, while advancing “arguments” that have been dealt with innumerable times by persons who do possess such knowledge. No one is being unfair to you—except you yourself. No one is lifting a finger to make you look foolish—except you yourself. If you really wanted a serious debate, you’d make an effort at least to get the basic claims and arguments of your “opponents” right and would make at least a minimal survey of serious scholarship in the matter. That you choose to do neither is your fault, and no one else’s. And you keep making yourself look sillier. And complaining when people notice that is undignified.

          Like

    • Michael says:

      I’ll copy my response here:
      You would think, after eight posts on hell, that a dedicated theologian like Feser would have moved beyond the “copy and paste lots of Bible verses and people who agreed with me” tactic by now, and tried to actually construct a vision of the afterlife that satisfies all the difficult questions that are asked of his views.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        You would think that, but only if you have not had previous experience with Ed. If, as Eliot said, Henry James had a mind so pure that no idea could violate it, Ed has a mind so barricaded that no complicated question can cross it.

        Aphoristically inferior, I know, but it’s early.

        Like

      • DBH says:

        By the way, to call Feser a theologian–when he’s never studied any dimension of theology, and is so ignorant of the Bible that he thinks Isaiah and Judith have verses talking about the last judgment and damnation–is a little bit overly generous.

        Then again, I’m not sure what to call him. A philosopher? Ummm….

        Like

        • arthurjaco says:

          Ah, come on Dr Hart, don’t be too harsh on Dr Feser…
          It is true that he is no theologian but he *is* a philosopher! (Now of course, you’re free to make up your mind on whether he’s a good one or not… personally, i know not).

          On another (much lighter) note, I recall you said that you’re a francophile and an admirer of Proust… and yet, you’ve also called French “hideous” before (like Dutch, you said).

          Now, I too have heard Dutch people speak their language before and I think they need to repent but isn’t it a bit paradoxical to be a francophile who hates French?

          Best regards from the Alps, good sir

          Like

      • Edward Feser says:

        When the “people who agree with me” are two centuries worth of Church Fathers, I think that’s relevant when the specific topic at issue is what the early Church actually taught, no?

        Like

        • George Domazetis says:

          One portion of the argument that puzzles me is the assumption that loved ones may be condemned to eternal torment while I and others would be saved. Does this argument assume that loved ones are bound to commit horrific evils? From my experience, my loved ones would bound into heaven while I repent my sins before God.

          My position is that God is the perfect judge and all of us should seek the good and pray for His mercy. Our salvation was obtained by the shedding of His Son’s blood and this brings some Godly fear to us.

          Like

          • TJF says:

            The Thomist position, from what I gather, seems to be that we are confirmed in evil upon death and continue either in a state of sin or actively sinning for all eternity. I may be wrong, so if Dr. Feser would like to correct me, I’d welcome it. Your position, George, seems to be in accord with St. Anthony the Great.

            Like

        • TJF says:

          That doesn’t seem to be at all clear. At the very least it is disputed. You seem to really downplay Origen’s importance and ignore the fact that he is being “rehabilitated” of late. This isn’t just some odd quirk of Dr. Hart’s. Other scholars are showing that he wasn’t condemned and he never said the things many people attribute to him. I suggest Fr. John Behr’s introduction to On First Principles. It’s only 50 pages and a new abbreviated version that is much cheaper just came out. Origen is sometimes known as the 13th apostle, truly the entire Church owes him an enormous debt, he taught us how to read scripture, in the light of Christ and to discern what is “worthy of God.” A lesson infernalists need to revisit.

          Liked by 1 person

        • arthur ja says:

          Hello, Dr Feser

          1) You seem to be rather confident in your claim that “two centuries worth of Church Fathers” agree with you on soteriology.
          However, according to at least *some* of the most eminent contemporary patristics experts, it is NOT clear at all what many of the earliest Church Fathers (Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Theophilus, Irenaeus, etc) actually believed when it comes to soteriology.
          For example, Dr Ilaria Ramelli affirms that there are “explicit references” to apokatastasis in Theophilus and that there are “scattered likely references” to it in Ignatius and Justin Martyr.
          Notice the adjective “likely”, which obviously implies that even she, as a patristics expert who’s been working on apokatastasis in the Church Fathers for about two decades, isn’t actually sure what they truly believed… and she’s not alone.
          If even SOME of the most eminent experts on that issue aren’t actually sure what to think when it comes to early Church Fathers’ soteriology, what then makes you think that *you*, as a non-expert, can actually be so sure about what they truly believed?
          I may be wrong, but it seems to me that your confidence here is clearly unwarranted.
          Furthermore, we DO know that at least one of the earliest Church Fathers (Clement of Alexandria) either believed in apokatastasis or was very open to that theory, which his fanboy Origen went on to develop extensively, followed by Gregory.
          And we DO also know that Paul had universalist tendencies.

          2) You do not believe the “fires” of Hell to be *literal* fire, do you?
          Since you believe God is good, please tell me you do not simultaneously believe that he’ll *literally* BURN most of us forever in a literal lake of fire.
          Also, I understand you do not believe in a *literal* (exclusivist) understanding of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”.
          Yet, that’s exactly what many Church Fathers believed : that whoever dies without having been baptised in the One True Catholic Church shall *literally* BURN forever in the fires of Hell, no matter how holy they tried to be in this ruthless and fallen world, no matter whether they even *heard* of the Gospels in their lifetime, etc.
          That’s also been the official and thus dominant stance of the Roman Catholic Church for most of its history (until fairly recently), affirmed and re-affirmed by many Popes and councils, by many Saints, and by virtually all catholic missionaries until the 20th century.
          My point is this : if you do not follow infernalist Church Fathers and Roman Catholic tradition on any of these serious soteriological matters, why then do you invoke their authority here (on another soteriological issue)?

          This is no personal attack, I’m just trying to understand.

          You’re a good Christian and (obviously) a loyal Son of the Church but what good is loyalty if it becomes blind (or at least one-eyed)?

          I liked Aquinas and Five Proofs very much.
          You’ve helped me answer the one question I had had in mind for many years : how can *rational* people believe in a good, omnipotent, and omniscient God in the face of such tremendous amounts of evil and suffering?
          I thank you for that.

          However, it seems to me that Dr Hart is right, here.
          It seems to many of us, including people like me, who usually like your work, that you have been venturing out of your dominion for some time and that you are now lost in a territory that you cannot call home.

          Best regards, I hope your lovely family is okay.

          AJ

          Like

  39. arthurjaco says:

    Very early on in his post, Dr Feser writes “Origen and the VERY FEW orthodox writers who sympathised with him (…)”
    The VERY FEW.
    I cringed a little bit.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      Ignorance is both its own reward and its own punishment. Just let him go on the record. Like Joe Biden keeping mostly to himself, this is a contest one wins by letting the other guy continue to make a spectacle of himself.

      Liked by 3 people

  40. TJF says:

    I read some of the comments over there at Ed’s blog and it seems like there is such an impasse between us that only God can break it. Here’s what I mean: one comment said that the mistake universalists make is that we arrogantly assume we know what is the ultimate good. That seems extremely obtuse on multiple levels. It seems obvious that union with God is our natural end, although I guess this distinction of natura pura that I’m only recently becoming aware of seems to point to the idea that humans natural end is death and that sounds silly. Second, it seems obvious that the ultimate good for people could not possibly be roasting in eternal torment forever, in fact, that seems like the whole point of the endeavor, that it is NOT the best thing for you. I may be going too far, but I think it’s about as blasphemous as Manicheanism.

    Like

  41. TJF says:

    BTW, in studying this topic I’m struggling to understand the relation between the beatific vision in the West and theosis in the East. Are these basically articulating the same soteriology or not? Any good books or articles on this? Thanks

    Like

  42. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    TJF, check out Seeing God by Hans Boersma.

    Like

    • TJF says:

      Thank you Fr. Aidan! I’ve met the man several times at the Eighth Day Symposium and spoke to him. If I ever do again I’ll have to get him to sign my book. Very charming fellow! Thanks for the recommendation.

      Like

  43. John H says:

    Dr. Feser:

    In one of his earliest writings Herbert McCabe makes the following pertinent statement:

    Now the object of the will, ie of human being’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that nothing can lull a human being’s will save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone.

    Herbert McCabe, God and Evil in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 83.

    McCabe then goes on to cite the following from
    Aquinas in support of the aforementioned proposition:

    Now the will can be moved by good as its object, but by God alone sufficiently and efficaciously. For nothing can move a movable thing sufficiently unless the active power of the mover surpasses or at least equals the potentiality of the thing movable. Now the potentiality of the will extends to the universal good; for its object is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal being. But every created good is some particular good; God alone is the universal good. Whereas He alone fills the capacity of the will, and moves it sufficiently as its object.

    Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 2,8.

    In view of the foregoing, how is it coherent to maintain that the human will can freely and definitively choose to reject God, where the capacity to freely reject necessarily presupposes that the actor does so with full knowledge that God is indeed the ultimate good?

    Like

    • DBH says:

      You should direct that query to Feser on his page probably.

      For Aquinas, the answer is simple. He did not promote a “free will defense” of eternal torment. He was very much a strict predestinarian. For him, God withholds efficacious grace from those whom he has not elected ante praevisa merita, and so those persons have no real chance of escaping the conditions of their fallen nature and truly seeking God. Lacking that supernatural supplement of grace, they may know formally that God is the good, but they cannot effectively will the Good or know it in its own “species” (the divine essence). They are damned “by permission,” supposedly, because God does not “morally” coerce them to commit evil; but that damnation is absolute and irresistible because, without God’s extra helping of grace, a soul is so entirely bound to sin and death that it cannot do otherwise than fall short of the glory of God.

      Whether Feser is as predestinarian as Aquinas I can’t say. For myself, it puts Aquinas the theologian (as opposed to Aquinas the metaphysician) in a very low category.

      Like

  44. Marcus says:

    Isn’t the Church of the Latter Day Saints universalists? I mean, don’t quote me on this since I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case, but if freaking Mormons are univerasalists than that makes the rest of non-universalist Christians look pretty sad

    maybe “hopeful universalists” at the very least

    Liked by 1 person

    • You could say the LDS church official position is extremely hopeful universalism. The official position when I ask the missionaries is that it is technically possible for someone to experience everlasting damnation in the outer darkness, but that the conditions required for this to occur are so ludicrous and fanciful that we don’t seriously need to worry about it, and therefore it’s most likely that everyone will be saved.

      With that said, it’s official doctrine that at least Satan and “the sons of perdition” will be damned. tbh it’s a mess

      Like

      • arthurjaco says:

        It is also true that the Mormons think of their Church as the one true Church and that something terrible (though what it is exactly I do not know) awaits their apostates, so I’m not sure how universalist they are supposed to be, really… on top of that, they often sound much more exclusive than inclusive, which is proper to cults, of course.

        Like

  45. Grant says:

    Dr Feser suggests in his post that he views that the fate of the bodies to a shameful disposal rather than proper burial as a beginning of a ‘Great Divorce’ seems to very much pushing it beyond any reasonable understanding, and involves reading his belief in such a final separation into the text. By this measure, any such moments in the stories and books of the OT could represent this, the Flood myth in Genesis, Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah, Egyptian firstborn, Israelites killed during the wandering under Moses, and so and so on. Any act of judgement or death becomes this, which seems to push it.

    Particularly when in the mindset of the people from which these works arose and in which they were written, all the dead are then united together in singular fate, that of returning to dust from which they came, and into the all that remains being the shadowy almost non-existent shade in Sheol or Hades. Here all dwelt in that conception, death reigned supreme, prophet and and those after false gods, righteous kings alongside the tyrants and so on. The greater horizon was one unified destiny, the reflection on which we see eloquently in Ecclesiastes, where the pointless of existence under such a view is given expression, all nothing vanity.

    If this be the case, it could be just as easily and much more likely be made the case as a development for universalism, as shows the revelation of God’s justice is finite, temporary and is brings the revelation of truth, and fits within the larger horizon of the unified destiny and calling of humanity and creation (in this case the belief in resurrection, for Christians confirmed in Christ in which death the prior tyrant defeated and to be destroyed illuminating the true dazzling horizon ahead). And this then brings the first judgment which as now does divide for a time into two (beginning with Christ alone) but draws all out of the darkness through the revelation and illumination of His judgement, a saving judgement, where whatever finite exposure or punishment is to correct, heal and free.

    This then would unify this with the other judgment trajectory within the OT of restorative judgement (since it would show both of the same purpose with death’s defeat), such as Israel in the texts given over to the empires whose way and idols they followed, to see in the consequences of their desires the truth of matters and bring repentance. Or Jonah preaching to Nineveh in that story, or of Esau and Jacob, the division eventually working through all things to bring reconciliation and restoration to both.

    We could go on, but if anything it could be far more read in this light it seems to me, but of course either way (when considering the texts alone) would be pushing a meaning onto them not arising from the texts at all. You can argue they should be read theologically that way now (one way or another with them as Scripture we do) but you can’t to me argue the text insists this, or even suggests it or that it marks the beginning of a ‘Great Divorce’, because I just don’t think the texts on their own (in the context and worldview they were given) sustain that view at all.

    Like

    • Lamb says:

      One example is how the promoters of the idea that an extremely small number of souls are saved, and that the rest are eternally damned, have pointed to images like Noah & family and Lot & family as the only survivors of God’s wrath and destruction. In other words, only a tiny remnant, a vanishingly small number of elect souls will receive any lasting benefit from Christ’s death and resurrection. That shows how dangerous it is to equate physical destruction with spiritual condemnation and eternal punishment; since if that were true, even the present world would be abominable and unlivable.

      Like

      • Lamb says:

        Btw a while ago I found an early 20th century Jesuit’s pamphlet arguing for a more lax and inclusive view on the number of the saved than was popular at the time among Catholic theologians. It’s still in the ‘infernalist’ tradition, but it’s interesting reading for showing how squarely orthodox theologians were beginning to wrestle with their conscience over it.

        https://archive.org/details/comparativesaved00walsuoft/page/n5

        Like

        • Lamb says:

          Looking again at the contents page, you can see that this book is similar in structure to Hart’s. It’d be interesting to compare them.

          Like

          • Grant says:

            Pretty interesting, you can see people knew it was wrong and unworthy of God yet felt trapped in having to confess it. So many did (and still do) try their best to make sense of it (but you can’t make sense of what is insane). It think it shows they saw exactly what DBH shows but felt compelled to somehow make it work. In their hearts they already saw infernalism couldn’t fit with Christianity.

            And I certainly agree with how people have used those stories to warn of infernalism, but again that is an example of reading infernalism onto them, of assuming it is so. If so, then many would and have read it theologically that way (though of course it’s finite nature of such punishments might be an issue, but they would no doubt posit the revelation of infernalism later as justification to read it this way). I clearly disagree, since it isn’t found in the NT, and believe it is better read interpreted often about Christ and His victory, and through univeraslist lens (for example Christ as the ark drawing all humanity and creation out of the destruction of death and the flood of violence, overcoming it, and pointing to the water of baptism where the old self and person passes way, and ends with creation renewed, pointing to the full rescue and delvering of the present world of death into the freedom of life, immortality and love of the age to come, I think 1 or 2 Peter even makes this point), even it’s punishments if to be read that way, would be revelations and moments of restoration. But again, here is where interpretation and prior commitments and views of God come in, and why we must come instead first to both NT but also the arguments DBH and others give, which show that infernalism contradicts key Christian claims about who God is, and makes it incoherent and therefore a false vision.

            From that first point we can move on and reject infernalism as a lens when giving eschatological interpretations and readings of them.

            Like

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        All the examples given are expressly of a remnant saved to carry on the story and ultimately in their descendants achieve the Kingdom in one way or another. The idea that the story stops with the last remnant and things never recover is a complete disregarding of the text.

        Like

  46. Marcus says:

    Feser and David, you guys should do a straight up debate..Hitchens style, a public debate

    would be interesting?

    Liked by 1 person

  47. John H says:

    Dr. Hart;

    I am pretty sure that Feser would echo Aquinas’ predestinarianism as justification for his belief in infernalism, especially since he considers himself to be a traditional Catholic.

    A more interesting question is whether McCabe was a universalist, given that he was convinced that the love of God was truly unconditional. Eliminate the notion of God’s love and grace being limited and universalism must follow if one is a Thomist.

    Like

    • arthurjaco says:

      A thomist universalist?
      Wouldn’t that be a first?
      Let’s see what Mr Hart has to say…

      Like

    • DBH says:

      Actually a good number of “Thomists” today are not predestinarian. In the old days, when Thomism was a very particular school dominated by the manuals and the commentary tradition and Bañezianism, that was not so. But Thomas scholarship now comes in countless varieties.

      I always assumed McCabe was temperamentally universalist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • arthurjaco says:

        Well, what do you know!

        Like

        • Jimmy says:

          What’s the best answer to the idea that there are some acts demand, of justice, eternal damnation?

          Like

          • TJF says:

            There aren’t any. What could a limited, finite creature do to deserve eternal, infinite punishment? The only two arguments I’ve encountered on this are:

            1) The offense you commit should be punished according to the dignity of the person offended. God is infinite and therefore the punishment should be infinite. This is the justice of tyrants and DBH covers this in TASBS.

            2) I believe many Thomists believe that your will gets locked onto evil for all eternity and God hardens your heart so that you continue to desire and commit sin for all eternity and so you actually can merit infinite punishment that way because it isn’t just one infinite punishment for one finite crime. You just keep offending God forever and never stop.

            The second sounds silly on several levels. First, it seems to require that God hardens your heart or at the very least withholds the grace you would need to break the cycle, which would seem to render him complicit. They try to invoke double effect, but that only makes sense in aberrant situations based on our limited faculties, shouldn’t apply to the limitless God. Also,evil is finite.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            Also, not to mention that that is a weird way to deal with the fact that God hates sin. So He hates sin so much, he causes it to occur for all eternity? Universalism is the only eschatology that completely destroys sin while saving the goodness of creation.

            Liked by 1 person

          • arthurjaco says:

            I could not have put it better than you, TJF.

            The idea that justice (justice, mind you!) demands that anyone be condemned to ENDLESS suffering is one of the most OBVIOUSLY nonsensical, ridiculous, and wicked ideas ever affirmed by mankind.
            It isn’t very hard to see why some people eventually came up with it, though.
            It’s all about terrifying gullible people into being better, obviously.
            It’s a tool.
            Nothing more.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jimmy says:

            Thanks. But what about the idea that certain acts, like those of a serial torturer and murderer, are so horrendously evil that justice requires the culprits be damned forever, and denying this makes a mockery of earthly justice and life? In that sense, wouldn’t God be bound to respect such justice?

            Like

          • TJF says:

            Read TASBS i would suggest. He covers it.

            Like

          • Grant says:

            In what way would eternal damnation meet this demand of justice (if this is indeed justice, more on that below) but even on like for like, eye for eye idea of justice again, how would serial killer, torturer and the like earn eternal torment for finite evils. The furthest you could push that idea is they should suffer what they victims did, well as terrible as what such as person might do, it was a finite time of suffering, pain, terror and death, which at most would merit the same. What it would not merit would be them suffering forever, for a million years, a billion years, a trillion years, at which the suffering hasn’t even began, or for a moment suspended into eternity with no end of suffering encompassing forever. However you posit such everlasting suffering, how can that in any sense by any kind of fair or ‘just’ repayment for what they did. Finite deeds and evils can only be responded to with finite punishments, to torture a person forever without end, of evils that are only finite and have an end is not just balance, it isn’t a eye for an eye even not that scale, and any OT depiction of judgement was a finite punishment for a finite evil (even in such a plain reading, there is a specific punishment and then it is done). Sure in our fallen sense we may say such a person deserves to burn forever (as if we could ever have comprehension of what even means), but that is our fallen sense talking, showing we aren’t so far away for the one we condemn.

            Now does God even deal in justice in this sense, I don’t think so, as St Issac said don’t call God just, meaning He doesn’t deal in justice as we do, twisted as we are in our views on such things. When the sons of Zebedee wishes to call down fire on a town Christ rebukes them and shows this isn’t how God is, when a execution of a woman in adultery is held, He says ‘he who is without sin cast the first stone’, and then He who is without sin forgives and releases her, He tells us to be like the Father, to bless those that harm us, to do good to those that use us, to repair evil with good, as the Father sends rain and sunshine on the good and the wicked, He heals those who came to crucify Him, forgives the thief, and tells us in John that it was in the Cross the judgement came, ‘Now is the time of judgement, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out. And I being raised up, will drag all me to me.’ Or as St Paul says, He is reconciling all the world to Him by and in Christ by the Cross. Simply put, God doesn’t deal in our sense of justice, He seeks heal and restore all that is lost, there won’t be justice until the serial killer repents and is restored, until he (or she) seeks heartfelt forgiveness from all they hurt, until those wounds and broken relationships have been healed and all taken away and damaged in everyone, victim and perpetrator alike, both victims of the ravages of death, are restored and made whole. His judgement saves and restores what was lost, and brings and gives life and life abundantly.

            I know other universalist here would see things a little differently and see direct punishment as necessary, but no matter what, finite deeds cannot earn infinite punishment, if that happens that is just sadism more evil than anything committed and losing any sense of justice (as any common sense would tell us, we could never suggest a human sentence like this a remotely ‘just’), And no contingent being can ever be fully culpable to commit a crime earning infinite and eternal punishment (nor could any finite being doing finite things ever ‘justly’ earn such an act, if justice of any kind is to having any meaning at all).

            Like

  48. Dear Dr. Hart —

    I have one proposition, one question, and one investigation:

    My proposition is a counter to your above statement, “Love my neighbor all I may, if I believe hell is real I cannot love him as myself” — I believe I love *myself* by vigilantly reminding myself of the risk of hell. The exercise in Ignatius’ Manresa left an indelible mark. I sometimes get up in the middle of the night to pray Lancelot Andrewes’ midnight meditation on the Day of Judgment (https://t.ly/b39r). Like Von Balthasar suggests in Dare We Hope — we must not conceive of a hell without our selves potentially in it, in order for our conception to be just. Apart from your disdain for infernalism on other grounds, is this sub-sub-argument sufficiently ameliorated by my admission?

    My question is — (and, I am sure you have written about this somewhere, but I have not yet come across it) — do you believe the demons will be in an eternal hell? If not, ok. No problem here. But if so, how are they not a specimen of a free-will, designed to adore God, that lives in eternal punishment, which according to your understanding, would be as much a smear on God’s Name as if a human were thus miserable?

    My investigation is — I have tried to compose a positive statement as to what the catholic view of hell is and is not. Apart from the general moral repugnance you have for all infernalisms, which point in this statement do you find to be the *strongest*, e.g. if someone (like myself) MUST be an infernalist (by conviction), what do you take to be the most solid ground, when they present their case publicly?

    thanks for your time,

    Ben

    Like

      • DBH says:

        No, I don’t believe in the eternal suffering of anyone or anything. And, no, your reversed argument remains reversible and leaves the problem uncorrected. Since it’s incorrigible, that’s not surprising. And there is no strong ground for any version of the infernalist position. As the book demonstrates, the infernalist position is a logical nonsense to the core. No good argument for it is possible. If you feel you must be an infernalist by conviction, shed your convictions. They are erroneous. And evil.

        Like

        • Dear Dr. Hart — honored that you took the time to reply. Thank you.
          As an infernalist, I actually am happy to concede the verity of your statement “is logical nonsense to the core. Credo quia absurdum…
          One further question if I may — at any point in your pro-universalist writings (books or online, I found no mention in TASBS) do you address the data of Targummim Jonathan and Onkelos that specifically make the connection between their 1st century BCE idea of “gehenna” and the Isaianic passages on “hell”, and likewise indicate that olam = eternal not just an “age” (against the later CE rabbinic writings of course)? Because that is some strong data to me, and I’d be curious to hear how it fits into your read of the history-of-the-idea of hell.

          Like

          • I suppose it would be better to quote actual Tertullian: certum est, quia impossibile

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Actually, the issue of ha olam is not that clear in either Onkelos or Jonathan. But there were definitely conflicting theories of the Gehenna in the second temple period and after, as I note in the book. Did you read it?

            The dating issues are also far more complex than you seem to think. With Jonathan especially.

            I’m not sure what you think either strong data for.

            Targum Jonathan speaks at one juncture of the termination of torment in the Gehenna once sufficient punishment has been exacted. There is another passage about intercession by the Tzaddikim. There is a reference to the very wicked being burned la olam, or alam, without making clear how olam functions. If it means “eternal’, it’s almost certainly an annihilationist image, as many rabbinic schools thought the ultimately irredeemable would be destroyed. But the text is as ambiguous as most of the Targummim.

            As for Targum Onkelos, it does not clearly use Gehenna as a future punishment at all as far as I recall. Which passages are you referring to.

            Anyway, I am sure that Babylonian Targummim can tell us about the welter of eschatological imagery in rabbinic circles before and after Christ. I don’t know what it tells us about a synagogical Jew of Galilee in the first century who seems to use the language of the prophets unmixed with the imagery of the Gan-Eden and the Gehenna of later rabbinic usage.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Excuse the typos. I’m dictating into a phone.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            By the way, Tertullian the lawyer was referring to the forensic principle that testimony offered on something inherently incredible (like the resurrection) can seem more persuasive precisely because the person testifying seems to be making no effort to produce a believable lie. It was not a formula for literally believing illogical things on the grounds that they are illogical. If he had meant that, however, it would not be to your credit to repeat it. It would just tell you that Tertullian had said something stupid.

            Liked by 4 people

  49. arthur ja says:

    Dr Hart (or anybody else who knows better than me, which is no big achievement),

    In several of Dr Hart’s interviews on apokatastasis, he says that *both* Olivier Clément and Pavel Evdokimov were universalists.

    Though I do trust in his expertise on that matter because I take it for granted that he’s read much of what they wrote and that he does not speak of things he does not know, I must admit that whenever I type “Olivier Clément universalism/apokatastasis” or “Paul Evdokimov universalism/apokatastasis” on Google, I do not find much about their universalism.

    Thus, prima facie, it *seems* to people like me – people who have never read them, that is – that if they were indeed universalists, perhaps their universalism was not as outspoken as, say, Bulgakov’s or Berdyaev’s.

    Since I am writing something on the history of universalism at the moment, I absolutely need to know for sure whether Clément and Evdokimov were *actual* universalists or merely “hopeful” universalists – the difference being, I think, quite important indeed.

    Though I suspect they were, I would also need to know whether Soloviev and Fr Florensky were either universalists or hopeful universalists as well – if anybody knows for sure.
    Fr Florensky seems to me to have been agnostic on that issue (a bit like Metropolitan Ware) but I’m not sure at all…

    Thank you very much in advance for your superior knowledge,

    AJ

    Like

    • TJF says:

      Read In the World, of the Church by Evdokimov and Roots of Christian Mysticism by Clement. The answers you seek are there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • arthurjaco says:

        Thanks a lot for your references, TJF!

        I would gladly read both books (their reviews suggest they’re extremely interesting) if reading was not so difficult for me, believe me.
        However, focusing on anything (and thus reading as well) is difficult for me because of my health issues – which is one of the many reasons why I have asked people on this blog to pray for me recently, and I am grateful to those who did even though it did not “work”.
        I already have a pretty hard time reading mere articles…

        Obviously, I am *not* asking you to provide me with a summary of Clément’s and Evdokimov’s books – of course not.
        However, if you could please tell me whether they were merely “hopeful” or “confident” universalists, that would be great.
        And if you do remember a couple quotes as well, that would be more than enough for me.

        The document I am currently writing on the history of universalism is not an academic one so I do not need to read entire books on that subject (which is great because I would hardly be able to do it).
        I really do not need more than this.

        Thanks a lot in advance, you’ve been very helpful several times already.
        Please pray for me.

        AJ

        Like

    • Arthur,

      Clément took a “hopeful” stance and explicitly denied certainty on universalism. He addressed this in On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology (New City, 2000).

      “It is true, as we have said, that the Church condemned Origenism, the certainty that all people, even the fallen angels, will ultimately be reconciled in a ‘universal restitution’, an apocatastasis of both nature and persons. Such a conviction actually conflicts with the stern warnings uttered by Christ in the first three Gospels, and belittles the irreducible mystery of our freedom” (150).

      “Apocatastasis cannot be a certainty, it must be the end to which our spiritual combat is directed” (152).

      “Thus it was that the undivided Church rejected universal salvation as a doctrine, but adopted it as something to hope and pray for” (ibid).

      “God does not promise us universal salvation because he can only offer it to us and wait for our response, our love, to let it happen” (153).

      Liked by 1 person

      • arthurjaco says:

        Thank you very much for your answer, Maximus!

        It is always quite disappointing to me whenever I learn that a theologian whom I suspected to have been a “strong” universalist… actually turns out to have only been a “hopeful” one.

        Something about what Clément said strikes me as a little odd, though.
        Given Orthodox priests’ mostly negative (even FEROCIOUSLY negative) reactions to TASBS (at least on Ancient Faith and on the website of the Orthodox Church in America), I am rather surprised to learn from such an eminent theologian that the Church actually “adopted universalism as something to hope and pray for”.
        I might be wrong but it seems to me that quite on the contrary, FEW Orthodox priests actually take apocatastasis seriously even as a mere “hope”, assuming instead that most of us will be damned forever.
        Hence, is it really fair to say that the Church “adopted universalism as something to hope and pray for”, according to you?
        Because that’s definitely not the impression I have gotten so far.

        Sorry for asking so many questions.
        I am quite new to Eastern Orthodoxy, you see.

        Like

        • Cycneus says:

          Since you mention Ancient Faith Radio, I think the situation in America might be similar to where I live, that is, many Orthodox opponents to universalism and similar views are Evangelical converts who, very unfortunately in my opinion, will often bring with them a narrow expectation of how theology and the general tradition are supposed to work into their understanding of Orthodoxy. That’s not to suggest that cradle Orthodox would necessarily be sympathetic to universalism, but there is a distinct brand of rigidity and narrow-mindedness that I find to be more common among certain groups of converts.

          Liked by 1 person

          • arthurjaco says:

            @Cycneus

            What you said is true *in general*, but can we seriously accuse converts who became Orthodox *priests* of the same narrow-mindedness (which is to say, of the same ignorance) about Orthodox theology as that which is clearly showed by *lay* converts?

            I mean, contributors at Ancient Faith Radio are probably converts (it is safe to assume that because they all have Western surnames) but they’re Orthodox *priests* after all!
            Surely they must have learnt how wide and diverse (theologically speaking) Orthodoxy is, am I right?
            And yet, they still reject universalism vehemently, judging from the articles they wrote on TASBS.

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            arthurjaco,

            It’s difficult to generalize, obviously, but I have met more than a few Orthodox priests (and know of more still) who would fit that description, yes. Just look at how many people, clergy included, who still resort to the tiresome claim that “universalism” was “condemned” by “the Church” at the “Fifth Ecumenical Council”, even though they are somewhat aware, presumably, of the breadth and diversity of the Orthodox tradition, never mind the actual scholarship on this particular issue.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cycneus says:

            Just to supply a pointless anecdote, I once had an exchange with one of these Ancient Faith priests who had seen fit to make some preposterous and deeply ignorant claims about the Koine Greek of the New Testament in order to prove that the DBH translation made the crucial mistake of sometimes translating the anarthrous πνεῦμα by “spirit” or “a spirit” as opposed to the “correct” rendering: “The [Holy] Spirit”.

            (For one thing, he imagined the definite article of the Koine had the full force of the demonstrative, which might have been true if we were speaking of Homer, but in this case misses the mark by about half a millenium or so.)

            Now, this man simply would not listen to any argument to the contrary, the overwhelming evidence of grammars, scholarship, and source texts be damned. This is only an anecdote, of course, but the absolute resistance to all reason was quite curious, and, in my experience at least, quite characteristic of a certain mentality set in its ways in regard to the “tradition” of “the Church”, etc.

            Like

          • TJF says:

            I’m somewhat “anticlerical” in that regard. well, not really; I just think people tend to put authority figures on too high a pedestal in a way that really becomes antiChristian in its extremes. As Evdokimov eloquently notes along with St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and countless others that we are all part of the priesthood of believers and are all called to be monks of interior monasticism, etc. There is one spirituality for all. Just because someone is a priest or monk doesnt necessarily mean they are closer to God. Perhaps, but you can’t tell; as many desert fathers found that God revealed to them that simple doctors and shepherd laymen were holier than they.

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        • I do not share Clément’s view. I think you’re right to question whether the Church actually “adopted universalism as something to hope and pray for.” It hasn’t. The hopeful stance is more acceptable, of course, than a certain assertion of universalism, for the latter has been condemned, as Clément makes clear. However, it is a caricature of the traditional, normative view to say most Orthodox priests think most people will be damned forever.

          Like

          • TJF says:

            IDK, everyday I feel more and more like ECT is a caricature of the character of God. I align more with St. Isaac who pulls no punches and calls such a belief blasphemous, a veritable character assassination of the Infinite One.

            Liked by 1 person

          • arthurjaco says:

            “I think you’re right to question whether the Church actually adopted universalism as ‘something to hope and pray for.’ It hasn’t.”

            Thank you for confirming what I suspected (and feared, I must say!)

            However, given what we now strongly suspect about Emperor Justinian (his tight grip on the Fifth Ecumenical Council’s conclusions), Clément was possibly *wrong* when he affirmed that the Church has condemned universalism, right?

            Also, what do you mean when you say that “it is a caricature to say that most Orthodox priests think most people will be damned forever”?
            Do they not believe that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to (etc)”?

            Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            ” However, it is a caricature of the traditional, normative view to say most Orthodox priests think most people will be damned forever.”

            That appears odd then. How would you describe the normative view that most Orthodox priests hold to in regards to the eternal destination of most people?

            Like

          • The standard view is that many will be saved, a great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb…

            Narrowly conceived in terms of Israel, however, few will find it (see Luke 13:22-30).

            Like

    • DBH says:

      Over the years, Clément became more and more universalist, but I am not aware of him ever espousing more than a hopeful universalism publicly. His personal convictions, as it happens, were as near to confirmed universalism as one can go while still allowing the qualification regarding our “freedom”–which, of course, is a fallacious argument. The Roots of Christian Mysticism comes pretty close to describing his final explicit views on the matter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think he actually wrote Questions sur l’homme later.

        Like

      • arthurjaco says:

        As always, thanks a lot for your answer, Dr Hart.

        You have spoken a great deal about universalism in the Eastern Orthodox Church (especially in the Russian Orthodox Church) as well as in the Assyrian Church of the East.

        However, what strikes me as odd is that you have never spoken (at least as far as I know) about universalism in the *Oriental* Orthodox Communion.

        In your assessment, has universalism been *somewhat* “popular” (both historically-speaking and today) among Oriental Orthodox believers and Churches?

        I must also ask : was my question on whether you personally witnessed any phenomena you think were miracles a bit too personal for your taste?

        It’s just that the article your brother Robert wrote on that issue got me fascinated, so I figured… “why not ask Dr Hart while you’re at it and he has some time to kill?”

        Good day to you, Dr Hart!

        Like

      • DBH. I’ve been reading your corpus and find it so wonderful. I have been praying and reflecting and have a suspicion which it would be a dream come true for you to confirm.

        You sum up the entire story of existence, being and our lives as “ex nihilo in Deum” – God drags us out of nothingness and into God. Would you consider me correct if I rephrased this as

        1. Kṛṣṇa (कृष्ण) synergistically drags us out of Saṃsāra (संसार) into Goloka Vṛndāvana (गोलोक वृन्दावन) ?

        or

        2. Yahweh gracefully pulls us out of Hell and into Heaven (aka the eschaton, the resurrection, the apokatastasis)?

        In other words, would you consider “Nihilo” to be synonymous with “Hell” and “Saṃsāra”? And would you consider “Deum” to be synonymous with “Heaven”, “Eschaton”, “Resurrection”, “Apokatastasis”, “Yahweh” and “Kṛṣṇa”?

        Would any of this accurately reflect your theological understanding of what’s going on?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I sure hope not 😉

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        • and, to be blunt: do you believe in reincarnation? I have the guts to ask you such a career-crippling question because you’ve already demonstrated your detachment from public accolades by coming out publicly so strongly in favour of Universalism, and clearly trust in God and telling the truth rather than trusting in a reputation for “orthodoxy”.

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  50. Dear Dr. Hart —
    Re the Targummim, contrary to most conventional datings, there seems to be ample evidence that T.Onk. and T.Jon. contain pre-70CE interpretations, when they double down on “Christian” interpretations of prophesies that fit with Jesus, and which all later rabbinic writing would seek to make distance from. E.g. the Judah connection: T.Onk. on Gen 49.10 reading “Messiah” for “Shiloh”, or the Bethlehem connection (when Bethlehem didn’t exist as a city post-70): T.Jon. on Micah 4:8 reading “Messiah of Israel” for “Tower of Edar/Flock, Ophel/Hill of the daughter of Zion” etc. If we grant a roughly-contemporaneous-with-the-writing-of-the Gospels time-frame, then that suggests that Jesus of Nazareth was using “gehenna” within a fairly standardized and recognizable semantic-footprint, such as is laid out in T.Jon:
    E.g. Jon. on Isa 33:14, “Who of us shall remain in Jerusalem, where the wicked shall be judged, to be delivered to Gehenna, the everlasting burnings” teaching mirrored in T.Jon’s use of “second death” (e.g. added on to Isa 22:14) which is surely best understood by Revelation’s use (2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8) which is the NT’s strongest infernalist imagery (as you grant in TASBS, 93) and which T. Jon pairs with his conception of Gehenna at Isa 45:5, “Their wrath is as smoke before me, their vengeance is in Gehenna, wherein the fire burns every day…I will repay them vengeance for their guilt, and will give their bodies to the second death” (the emphasis on *bodies* suggesting otherwise than annihilationism). The T.Onk reference I was thinking of was on Deut. 33:6 where “the second death” is juxtaposed with “eternal life” for Reuben. You are right, it was not a Gehenna reference, but via T.Jon, “second death” is cross-reference-able, I believe. FWIW

    Dove-tailing on this, While I know it was not the focal point of TASBS, I don’t think you described R. Akiva’s view with fairness (p. 115). Compared to R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, R. Eliezer Hyrcanos, etc. R. Akiva’s teaching is quite novel, and his teaching of the 12-month-max gehenna quite arbitrary and whimsical (basically “all of God’s judgment’s last 12 months”), and even then, R. Akiva seems to have in view that the 12 month “purgation” is only for Jews and not for Gentiles, who have no share in the world to come.

    Re Tertullian — pace the truths I readily admit: the analogia entis, grace’s perfecting of nature, our restored participation in the logos of God, etc, — it remains the case that “his ways are higher than our ways”, and that there is something eminently “reasonable” in recognizing the computational limits of my mind, and its failure to comprehend the “logic” of God. The fact that infernalism makes no “sense” is not a positive proof, but if it is granted as possibly the case, then it could follow that it is beyond comprehension and therefore what we call “logic”, “argument”, or “reasonableness”.

    Again, Thank you for the exchange.

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    • DBH says:

      I’m confused. How does any of that in any way qualify my arguments? Have you read the book?

      First of all, you’re repeating standard translations (“everlasting burnings”) that simply hide the ambiguity and vagueness of the original text; but that adds nothing to the issue of what, say, le olam means. Second of all, you are repeating language (“second death”) that no one doubts (in Revelation for instance), and probably refers to annihilation; so what? Third of all, you’re simply affirming precisely what I say in the book: that the rabbinic traditions of Christ’s time included a large range of understandingsof the Gehenna. Fourth of all, and most problematically, you seem to think that the imagery from Isaiah of constantly burning fire is an image of eternal torment rather than of a power of total destruction.

      And so on.

      Moreover, what makes you think that I suggested that Akiva was some kind of universalist? The issue is the assumption that the Gehenna is a place of eternal torment, and we know that such an assumption is unwarranted.

      I won’t get into the dating issue, as the problems are too numerous. I believe that Jonathan is later than you think, but it’s not relevant one way or the other.

      Anyway, I still don’t know what point you think you’re making. You’re simply reinforcing my arguments. Among Christ’s eschatological metaphors were many images of destruction (like those referring to ovens, fires, the Gehenna), others referring to exclusion from a festive meal (wedding feasts principally), others of a limited chastisement (many blows or few blows), others of temporary imprisonment for debt or unjust dealings (from which one is not released till the price is paid). Taken literally and taken together, the metaphors would contradict one another. Clearly there is no clear and definitive theology of damnation enunciated in them. What one does not find among them is imagery of eternal torture.

      So you’re simply not making an interesting point. And I don’t see how any of this would help you answer the arguments in my book.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        Oh, and talk of a pan-Judaic language of eschatology, seamlessly spanning the emerging rabbinic world of the Babylonian schools and the synagogical Judaism of the Galilee, in an age when every possible eschatological speculation was current, is bad scholarship. But since, in this case, you’ve provided nothing that affects my arguments, I think we can overlook it.

        Like

    • DBH says:

      Ih, and, regarding Tertullian and so forth—Rubbish. Nonsense. Balderdash.

      If human reason is that debile—if what “justice”and “love” and “mercy” (etc.) means in regard to God’s acts so far exceeds the analogical range of our customary usages—then we have no basis for believing anything at all, or even for imagining we have any concept of what we believe. Hence the book’s argument regarding the “contagion of equivocity “—which I recommend you revisit. The sort of apophatic surrender you describe isn’t real apophaticism at all. It is epistemological (and, by necessary extension, moral) nihilism. That is not faith. And it is quite literally devoid of rational content. When you reason in that manner, you are saying literally nothing.

      But I have dealt with this already. In all charity, I have to say that you still have not grasped the book’s arguments.

      Liked by 2 people

      • DBH says:

        Excuse the typos. Phone. No glasses.

        Like

      • TJF says:

        Can you elaborate on how epistemological nihilism leads to moral nihilism? I can see the link, but my understanding is a little fuzzy here.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          If the word “justice” can mean both what we take it to mean and also its absolute opposite (when God does something)–as also the words “love,” “goodness,” “mercy,” “etc.–then there is not even an analogically stable “essence” behind them. They are empty signifiers. That is nominalism of the purest water. When we use the language of apophatic reserve or of God’s inscrutable counsels in this lazy way, we more or less posit a God beyond both good and evil, and thereby strip good and evil of any ontological status and reduce them to mere conventions of divine legislation and governance. Under the cloak of piety, arguments such as that advanced by Ben Jefferies above in fact turn all piety into a nihilistic surrender to epistemic and moral meaninglessness.

          Liked by 5 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            preach it

            Like

          • TJF says:

            Thank you all for clarifying. It seems so obvious now that I can’t believe others don’t see it. Fear is the mindkiller indeed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            TJF – it is not so obvious as it may at first appear. The underlying, unstated assumption of most Christians (it is hoped, 😉 ) is the goodness of God – this allows one to dismiss all kinds of things under the rubric “unknown and mysterious, but never mind, God is good”. So it is figured that whatever we don’t know really doesn’t matter as it will be (for the) good. And this is a legit move in many cases (it is faith after all, not ideology). But very definitely not a legit move in the instance such as we find here – the very question as to what good and the Good itself may mean. We cannot forestall defining this “good”, leaving it up to “well we don’t know, it may mean anything.” No, it may not mean anything, as we cannot let meaning slip, as we will descend into meaningless drivel when the good may just as well denote the not good.

            I suppose this all to say that for Christians it is a bit more tricky as mystery is not an altogether and absolute Verboten.

            Like

        • rephinia says:

          Epistemological nihilism turns apophaticism into an absolute paradox. Our words, like ‘good’, ‘beautiful’, ‘evil’, etc. are emptied of their meaning because the way we use them no longer has any – not even a faint – correspondence to how they truly are as they exist in the infinite plenitude of God’s perfections. Genuinely analogical language would mean that infinite love and infinite goodness are infinitely greater than the love and goodness we now, not that in God love and goodness actually mean the opposite of what we mean by those terms here.

          So according to epistemological nihilism, we can’t know what love and goodness actually are and thus we are also moral nihilists.

          Liked by 1 person

          • rephinia says:

            I didn’t mean to say evil exists in God of course, just referring to whatever evil actually is (privation) and whether our language corresponds to that.

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