Thomas Aquinas on Evil and Human Freedom, with Critique of Universal Salvation

Dr Taylor O’Neill, author of Grace, Predestination, and the Permission of Sin, is an up-and-coming Thomist philosopher. In this podcast he discusses the place of evil within the providential order from the perspective of St Thomas Aquinas. God permits evil and this is a good. In the course of the lecture, O’Neill advances a critique of the universalist thesis. Even the everlastingly damned contribute to the beauty and goodness of the Kingdom, and this is better and more perfect than a Kingdom in which all are saved.

Well worth listening to, even though David Bentley Hart will probably not be persuaded. 😉

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147 Responses to Thomas Aquinas on Evil and Human Freedom, with Critique of Universal Salvation

  1. DBH says:

    Al,

    I never would have suspected you of hosting pornography on your site.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Haha! Well since Taylor quotes you approvingly near the beginning of the talk, I thought it was worth the risk. But you might wish to avert your eyes (and ears), David. 🙂

      Like

      • Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

        I wouldn’t mind discussing in person. That seems to me the best way to engage this conversation. Otherwise, dangling the video as bait to condemn tersely the entire Thomistic tradition seems at least equally pornographic.

        At any rate, one 40 minute, Youtube talk (especially given by me) is not really engaging the full position (true or false) in a way that admits of sweeping conclusions.

        I have tried to laud the book, David, even if there is much in it which I disagree with. There’s also much in it which I think is quite insightful, as I have argued here and elsewhere.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    You can add me to the list of those who were not persuaded. 😉 He seems to be saying that the removal of evil would be itself an evil, and that so long as an evil which befalls an individual benefits someone or something else in creation it is justified. I am sympathetic to a lot of what he says in terms of the here and now, but I’m off the wagon entirely when eternity is concerned. Not sure how that final note of the symphony can render the whole thing beautiful if it has dissonant chords.

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    • DBH says:

      That’s the danger of extending the logic of theodicy–which is dangerous to begin with–into eschatology. It does not survive the transition from time to eternity. Everything alters, and permission becomes positive intention, and all goodness is reduced to a relative property. Again, Meditation One in my book–which seems, for some reason, especially impenetrable to Thomists. (Though, come to think of it, Manoussakis was confused on just this same theodicy issue, and it’s rumored he’s Orthodox.)

      Liked by 4 people

      • DBH, do you vibe with Bulgakov in “The Bride of the Lamb?” He’s quite explicit about the difference between divine eternity (which is atemporal, “eternal being”) and creaturely eternity (which is temporal, “eternal becoming”). It doesn’t count as a point against your arguments or anything but I just picked up on your phrase “the transition from time to eternity” and was curious if you see things differently to the Russian master?

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        • DBH says:

          That’s pretty standard metaphysics. The creaturely aeon is not the same as the divine eternity beyond the ages.

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          • I just finished Bulgakovs eschatology a few hours ago so it’s fresh in my mind. My understanding is that, as you just said, all of the aeons, from this one, thru the resurrection and into the aeons of the aeons of the unending epektasis; all of them are “creaturely aeons,” in that all of them are temporal and allow for lively, dynamic, creaturely growth and becoming.

            It would edify me greatly if you could therefore clarify some theological language. When you say “the divine eternity beyond the ages”, I’m wondering if by this you might mean “the divine eternity ‘above’ the ages,” where by “above” i mean something like “transcending.” Bulgakov seems pretty adament that at no point do creatures ‘arrive’ in the “immutable” divine eternity. Rather there is a sort of dyophysis of the whole creation, with the “temporal eternity” being an “incarnation” or “materialisation” of the “atemporal” divine eternity, (bulgakov even quotes that greek fella, plato i think, who says “time is the moving image of eternity”)

            To probe you on this point: when you say “the divine eternity beyond the ages”, does this imply that the epektasis “moves towards” the divine eternity through the countless creaturely aeons, and that the divine eternity is therefore something of a “final destination” which we simply never reach? Or, would you instead say that the divine eternity is completely transcendent of all ages, and that no matter how deeply we grow into the ages of the ages in epektasis, we never get any “closer” to it?

            Forgive my loose language and copious cop out quotes and scare quotes. I’m in the afterglow of a nicotine, caffeine and ritalin theology allnighter so might not be quite coherent XD

            While im here, I’ll just note that I’m jealous i never officially studied under you in a course. Being able to question and clarify you in person after a class would be such a privilege. Please come to sydney one day and do a lecture tour ❤️

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    • DBH says:

      One musicological notandum, however, Matthew: you mean discord, not dissonance. “DIssonance” is still within the realm of modulated chords, and can itself be quite beautiful, even if not immediately removed. Tensions can be delightful. Discords, however, like the dreaded diabolus in musica, are another thing altogether.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cycneus says:

        Hey now, don’t be too harsh on the tritone. It forms an essential part of seventh chords and the Lydian mode, among other things. Of course, the seventh chord will typically resolve into the tonic major, and the Lydian mode is the happy-dreamy sounding one, so we are still in the clear.

        Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          True true true. It really isn’t fair that the tritone is called a devil. I for one have never met an augmented fourth I didn’t like. Or a diminished fifth, come to think of it.

          I didn’t literally mean the mediaeval diabolus in musica—only its characterization.

          The truth is that we’re well past the point of making fastidious distinctions between chords.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            That is, I’m a chordal universalist. All dissonances already contain their own resolutions, and the final symphonia will encompass them all.

            Liked by 5 people

          • In your lovely musical ontology, Where does discord actually fit in? As you say, dissonance has its own quirky beauty and drives the music along naturally, but discord is just ugly. Would you say that the symphony currently includes discord (evil, aka sounds which aren’t even notes), but that all this discord will be somehow transformed into consonance (goodness as cadence/destination/climax) or dissonance(goodness as aesthetic tension, or dramatic velocity towards consonance/resolution) in the symphony of the eschaton?

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  3. I don’t think TP O’Neil’s response to the problem of why God should permit the evil of eternal damnation is compelling, even though I agree with him on many aspects of his presentation. However, I think that the universalist HAS to agree with O’Neil’s strategy in the video in one respect: the universalist needs to give a reason for the existence of evil, because it was not instrumentally necessary in any absolute sense for the ultimate eternal salvation of all that they envision. So I think the universalist, as the compatibilist Thomist, will need to argue that the existence of evil was intrinsically good in some respect, as (for example) being of aesthetic value to the story of the universe. This is because, for both species of compatibilist, God need not have permitted ANY evil, all moral evil is unnecessary, and so the end in virtue of which He permits evil needs to make evil intrinsically valuable (or something like it).

    By contrast, if free will is incompatibilist (as I think it is), then the permission of eternal damnation makes sense as part of what God tolerates in light of the good of incompatibilist freedom. God being limited by His choosing to create free creatures then makes moral evil ‘instrumentally’ necessary for achieving His purposes, but not something desired for its own sake. On these views, God only permits damnation in virtue of permission of something that is not intrinsically good. This is the virtue of the free will defense.

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    • TJF says:

      How does one reconcile absolute incompatibilism with the doctrine of providence? Specifically, with regard to the inspiration and authority of scripture, the dogmatic content of councils, ex cathedra pronouncements from the Petrine office, etc.?

      Like

  4. johnjlamb says:

    One man is equal to the universe. The reasoning which says that it’s OK for one man to burn forever if it serves the common good, is the exact same reasoning as the high priest saying it would be better to sacrifice Jesus in order to spare Israel. This “common good” is an idol. The middle ages were the times of heretic burnings. The Church was bending down to worship the worldly common good.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. johnjlamb says:

    The one sense I think infernalism may certainly be true is the Romantic sense, as in Milton’s Lucifer and Shelley’s Prometheus. Just as someone who falls in love swears they’ll love their beloved forever, so there is a kind of hatred which swears to infinity. Such is the infintude of the spirit. So there are souls determined to hate God forever ever and ever, world without end. I have no doubt about it. I think Milton and Shelley captured a certain key aspect of the demonic very well: if they were offered salvation, they’d angrily and spitefully refuse it. But that does not mean their mad passion is correct. Unlike the good, evil is bound to exhaust itself. Indeed, the only way evil can function at all is by borrowing the power of the good and perversely abusing it. The hatred with which Satan hates God is a power which he himself must constantly borrow from God, even while he corrupts it. I don’t think that can go on forever. I like the idea of mystics such as Mary if Agreda who suggest that Satan and his angels rebelled because they were disgusted with the Virgin Mary, with God stooping down to humanity, and with the idea that their angelic natures would be put at the service of our relatively gross and carnal ones. If that’s the case, then Satan’s protest must end once God has definitively proven him wrong in the end of all things. Meanwhile, as things are the way they are, Satan sort of has a “point” about how ridiculous this whole thing is.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. DBH says:

    Sometimes, it’s best to grasp the nettle. If one must defend a morally repellant position, the trick is not to attempt to mitigate the scandal until it practically vanishes or to dilute it with craven qualifications and mealy-mouthed evasions; rather, embrace the sheer evil of the position you’re defending and do your best to present it as something good, even delightful. Of course, it helps if you’re slightly sociopathic (but that’s something one presumes of all traditional Thomists).

    I’m not sure what “up and coming” means here, though the reasoning found here does in fact make something “come up” in me. Really, this is just rote Thomism, not even particularly subtly presented: a fairly conventional version of the very ancient and very callous “aesthetic plenitude” and “instructive contrast” argument, which has always been favored by the soulless among us (again, traditionalist Thomists, and all that). To me, it simply provokes certain inevitable reactions:

    1. If you’re a universalist, manualist Thomists have a wonderful way of making your argument for you sub contrario, though they themselves are oblivious to the ironic readings their arguments naturally inspire.

    2. As I have said in the past, if you feel obliged by faith to defend a morally and logically unintelligible position, you can make yourself believe that any argument—no matter how loathsome and self-refuting—is in fact quite a dandy one. Because, as I have also said, no good argument is possible. Would anyone not brainwashed to believe he must believe the unbelievable actually think that any of this constitutes a plausible argument?

    3. The god of traditionalist Thomism—like the god of Calvinism—is quite literally morally inferior to satan. I don’t know if this makes me think better of satan, but it does mollify my view of satanists.

    4. Everything I argued in Meditation One in TASBS still holds against this position: there must be a “moral modal collapse” of the difference between divine will and permission at the eschatological horizon; the “beauty” of the Kingdom as described here comes at a cost—whether predetermined or stochastically permitted—that renders that beauty an abominable compromise with evil; the god of this theology must be accounted as positively willing evil; the character of the god revealed by the Kingdom, if this vision of things were true, would be a thoroughly wicked one; the damned, as the price paid for the felicity of the Kingdom, whether by will or permission (between which, again, there is no final difference), are in fact the redeemers of the blessed, the Christs of all creation, the lambs slain before the foundation of the world, the eternal oblations made by an evil and arbitrary god to his own cruelty.

    5. Differently stated, one cannot extend the logic of theodicy into discussions of eschatology; the transition from time to eternity destroys any real distinction between merely permitted evils and positively intended goods, between the relative and the ultimate, between relative and absolute evil, between divine will and permission, between the revelation of God in his operations and the revelation of God as he is (morally) in himself, and so on. Again, Meditation One.

    6. The distinction between private goods and universal or objective goods is unsustainable, self-evidently, when private suffering becomes part of the absolute and final pattern of the whole in its eternal state. Meditation Three comes to mind here. But, more to the point, the suffering of another person, throughout the everlasting ages, is not merely his private lack of the good; it is a universal objective reality about the total pattern of reality, a feature of the whole that produces an eternal objective moral imperfection, an inexpungible qualification that reduces whatever supposed “good” it sustains to a merely relative good: a partial good, and therefore also a partial evil.

    7. A partial good that is also a partial evil, if willed as such and in itself (by, say, an omnipotent creator ex nihilo), is beyond good and evil, which is to say: evil.

    8. There is a reason why modern atheism, secularism, and nihilism were incubated in the specifically Western Christian world, and only thereafter spread abroad. Between belief in the god of this theology and belief in no god at all, the latter is the more Christian and the more morally rational path.

    9. The person who imagines that beauty can actually be increased by the eternal suffering of rational natures, based on some crude chiaroscuro aesthetics, is not only morally confused, but—worse still—a philistine.

    10. Is there, moreover, a more insufferably unctuous argument than “Until we see the whole reality that God intends, we cannot judge…” one? What utter nonsense. What a contemptible strategy for trying to chase the moral enormity of the thing away toward an endlessly receding horizon of nebulous “hope.” We know exactly what it would mean for a rational nature—just one, let alone billions—to be subjected to eternal suffering. It is an absolute evil in itself, one that would corrupt, mar, and compromise any good end, no matter how marvelous when contemplated from the safe distance of the present, and through a haze of sugary piety. If the price of eternal felicity in the Kingdom or of the eternal glory and beauty of the Kingdom is the eternal misery of a single soul, then that felicity is purchased by infinite cruelty, and that glory and that beauty is constituted by irredeemable evil and so are, in themselves, evil.

    11. This is all a powerful argument against traditional Thomism, and against most Western and much Eastern tradition, but at a deeper level it might also legitimately make one question whether Christianity itself is too polluted with this sort of thinking to be credited. Perhaps the contradictions and affronts against moral rationality go too deep to be extirpated.

    12. Even though one cannot extend the logic of theodicy to eschatology, one can—paradoxically, perhaps—do so to the logic of the rejection of theodicy. Ivan Karamazov may be a fictional character, but he should be canonized. After all, many saints of the past were mere figures of legend.

    13. Those Who Walk Away from Omelas…

    Liked by 4 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      On point 8 – yes absolutely yes – I am convinced of it. There’s no question as to who the fool is here, and it ain’t them…. Point 9 : go ahead pile it on.

      On 10 – no there is not (a more insufferably unctuous argument). Who can believe this crock? Do we really think this makes sense?

      On 11 – yes I ruminate on this frequently. The quiet witnesses however give me hope.
      Perhaps it was like this 100BC. Heavens know we don’t deserve it, and perhaps that is the essence of the euangelion.

      Liked by 3 people

    • TJF says:

      One common misunderstanding that I see is the extension of theodicy into eternity, but (and please forgive me) I am still at a loss as to how to understand or explain this. Many critics point out that if it is bad for God to allow evil in an eternal hell, then why is it also not revelatory of his character that he allows the temporary evil in this life? I know the gulf between temporary and eternal is infinite, but wouldn’t an omnipotent God not even allow the suffering we do experience here? I just reread Doors of the Sea and TASBS for the second time and I understand that the NT claims that principalities and powers have usurped creation and corrupted it, but why must there be a distinction between divine will and permission in time, but not in eternity? I do not agree with the infernalists who point to suffering here and say that it is indicative of eternal suffering in the next age, but I still do not grasp this material well enough to defend universalism at this point. Would you be able to help me understand this in order to defend my faith in universalism Dr. Hart? My family is going through some problems right now and my wife asks me if God hates evil then why doesn’t he do something about this situation? I’m at a loss to explain. The best I’ve got is that this place sucks and hopefully we’ll see that it was worth it. The words ring hollow in my throat. Can anyone help me come up with a better answer than that? Also proclaiming that Christ is risen trampling death by death…. seems too distant to be of any comfort, but I still believe it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        I don’t see any connection. It seems logically possible for a temporary evil to lead to an enduring good—so long as it really is temporary, and therefore not a permanent aspect of the “good.” Emergency surgery to save a life is not the same thing as perpetual torture.

        So, you know: freedom etc. The standard theodicy may not convince you. But the problem is not the same in both cases.

        Liked by 1 person

        • TJF says:

          How is it not a compromise with evil, albeit a temporary one? It still seems to me like God can’t create his creatures without paying a price. This is exactly what Thomas Talbott says in his book and it seems correct (although weak) to me — that even God must pay a cost in order to create; it isn’t logically possible for him to do otherwise. But you seem to argue that God makes absolutely no compromises with evil whatsoever. How is the current suffering not a compromise with evil that seems to limit God’s power? If it was in God’s power to create without all this seemingly unnecessary suffering, well then why didn’t he? Or was it not in his power? Should I believe the analytic philosopher?

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            I have answered this about fifty times now. Please stop asking it.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            TJF – we uphold the integrity of secondary causation – this is why universalist do believe in a hell (i.e. personal responsibility) and why the existence of transitory, permitted evil does not constitute a divine compromise. God gave Pilate the authority to crucify Jesus, but it was Pilate who misused it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            One more time: Free creatures drawn from nothingness must be free, created, and drawn from nothingness. In creating them, God does not compromise with evil; he conquers it.
            From one of my previous answers:

            Spirit can exist only under the conditions of those rational conditions that logically define it. To ask why God did not create spiritual beings already wholly divinized without any prior history in the ambiguities of sin—or of sin’s possibility—is to pose a question no more interesting or solvent than one of those village atheist’s dilemmas: can God create a square circle, or a rock he is unable to lift? A finite created spirit must have the structure of, precisely, the finite, the created, and spirit. It must have an actual absolute past in nonbeing and an absolute future in the divine infinity, and the continuous successive ordering of its existence out of the former and into the latter is what it is to be a spiritual creature. Every spiritual creature as spirit is a pure act of rational and free intentionality away from the utter poverty of nonbeing and toward infinite union with God. This “temporal” or “diastematic” structure is no less intrinsic to it than is its dynamic synthesis of essence and existence, or of stability and change.

            Liked by 3 people

      • Im still wrestling with this one myself, but the answer is slowly becoming clearer for me.

        God created us so that we could love him, with the same love by which father and son love each other. Now, the divine love is not coerced or forced or constrained by any metaphysical necessity. Likewise, in order for us to participate in that love, we can likewise not be constrained by any necessity.

        This necessitates that it be possible to refuse/reject love. Which carries us to the beginning of the story: adam and eve in the garden. Now, this next bit I’m still researching (maximus the confessor is the father to consult): when adam and eve commit the original sin, on the one hand maximus seems to claim that they had full knowledge of what they were doing and gave full consent (they did not suffer from the limitations of a fallen human nature, which clouds our intellects, causes us to deliberate between options in ignorance and very often choose the wrong one. It makes sin inevitable), but on the other hand maximus strongly implies that they were deceived and subsequently enslaved by satan and the demons. So for me I’m still trying to work out whether they were culpable or not. If they were truly deceived, then how can they be blamed? DBH might grace us by chiming in here, as maximus is his second favourite father according to some youtube vid. DBH would know. DBH knows all :p the technical term often used to describe mankind before the fall is posse non peccare and posse non mori: we were able to avoid death and able to avoid sin

        In any case, the permission to love necessarily goes hand in hand with the possibility to reject, and so we find ourselves stuck in this hell-hole of a world. Now our situation changes to non posse non peccare et non posse non mori: sin and death are now unavoidable and inevitable, because we now labor under ignorance and deception, and despite our best efforts, we make mistaken judgements.

        The next stage of the story I’m also a little fuzzy on, but it seems to be that God sends us grace and illumination, which restores us back to posse non peccare, and we synergistically cooperate with the grace, and it cleanses us and restores us.

        My understanding of what follows is that, on account of christ, all die, and all resurrect. Now, for some reason, my reading seems to indicate that the universal resurrection renders all humans – sinners in hell and saints in heaven both – posse non peccare, aka “completely unable to sin”. This seems to be on account of christ having divine nature, and divine nature is always non posse peccare. So when christ assumes humanity into divinity, humanity receives the divine impeccability. Bulgakov emphasises that not everyone will be prepared for this, and for those who receive this gift while rejecting God, hell flares up in their hearts, as they fully realise how they have sinned against love.

        My understanding is that after the universal resurrection, sin is no longer possible, and all that remains is for sinners to synergistically repent until the pains and torments of hell run their course, and all evil annihilates itself. The end is apokatastasis, which is itself a new beginning of an infinite journey of unending growth.

        So to attempt a summary, the whole way through, humans are free and uncoerced. However man was created (necessarily) peccable, and the resulting fall was a tragic misuse of freedom which required a rescue operation. Christ comes and recapitulates humanity in his human nature, by means of the impeccability in his divine nature. In doing so, he assumes all of humanity into divinity, which means that all of humanity will, at some point, receive the divine impeccability. However, when the resurrection comes, most if not all humans will receive this gift of impeccability without being prepared for it, and there were be a violent ontological tension set aflame in their very being, soul and essence, as their divine sinlessness encounters their creaturely sinfulness – this is hell: they will, in the fullness of the parousia, experience the depth of their warpedness, as their newly acquired divine impeccability ignites divine love in their heart. Because they are not prepared to love God with such intensity, it is experienced as divine torment. But now that they have the divine impeccability, the only possible way forward out of this torment is to repent in free contrition and free penance, experiencing the effects of evil to the end.

        Once all is said and done, all the evil has been eliminated, and humanity has been assumed into divinity, which means that humanity has acquired the divine impeccability, which means that sin and evil are no longer possible.

        Sorry for taking so long to explain it, but i was attempting to answer the question “if god isn’t going to permit evil in the eschaton, then why does he permit it now?” My short answer would be “God permits evil both now and in the eschaton, because free love necessitates such permission. however the divine love is fully actualised and thus impeccable, therefore on account of the incarnation of christ, and the assumption of humanity into divinity, humanity takes on divine impeccability as a gift and therefore while the divine permission to reject God is always and forever given (as a necessary corollary to freely given love), the possibility of actualising that rejection is abolished by the resurrection of humanity. In christ, all eventually come to freely accept love as fully as possible, in exactly the way as the son of god fully loves the father, and therefore while evil is still permitted, it is no longer possible and will therefore never happen again.

        Forgive my rambles. Hopefully you can extract something helpful out of that

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        TJF – the distinction is between the permitted evil which is transitory in nature limited to this age and intentional evil which spans (many claim) into the eternal permanence of God’s moral character. It is according to this scheme that God’s eternal intentions, who and what God is, mark our age beset by evil, death, disease, sorrow, and so forth. Evil then are part of the grand and eternal designs of it all. We however protest that this is hideous – the bad events and maliciousness one encounters here are not part of God’s eternal designs, they are wholly lacking God, as being wholly contrary to his character and will as such come to an end.

        This of course does not offer a satisfactory answer as to the why – why is transitory evil permitted? Interestingly enough we see this is not addressed in Jesus according to how we would expect or want it to be. Instead, we find the summons to “pick up our cross,” (which I read to mean, in part, to endure evil, suffering, shame, injustice, pain, death!) to share our neighbor’s burden, to identify with the poor and the weak the receivers of injustice, and so forth. This is the path, we are told, we are shown. But it will come to an end and we have an advocate.

        Liked by 5 people

        • TJF says:

          Thank you DBH, TIK, and Robert. I am not being intentionally obtuse. These are difficult matters to comprehend and I need time and repetition to let them sink in. I also notice in reviews and talking to other people that this is a very common sticking point and it still isn’t clear enough in my mind for me to articulate it properly to others so I can “give a reason for the hope that is in me.” Thank you for your patience with me as I navigate these treacherous waters. I will try not to pester too much.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            You’re not pestering. I just have only so many answers to offer. I don’t think the problem of evil is one that ever goes away, and I don’t know if I myself buy what seems the only possible answer. But it’s all I have.

            That said, my one plea is that one recognize that the argument in my book regarding eschatology is not about the problem of evil. It is about divine intention regarding evil as an intrinsic, eternal, and necessary aspect of his free creation, and about the impossibility of maintaining the distinction between will and permission at that point. It is a different issue and the two questions must be kept distinct. Otherwise one will end up like Manoussakis, simply failing to get the basic point of the argument. (Of course, he was too busy trying to sound world-weary and superior and condescending to notice what a fool he was making of himself. I don’t for a moment mean to associate your serious question with his clownishness.)

            Liked by 2 people

          • TJF says:

            Thank you very much Dr. Hart. You answer is comforting to me. I will try to keep the two issues distinct in my mind, though as of now they seem to be so close to each other in my mind that I almost quantum tunnel from one to the other without thinking.

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    • Geoffrey McKinney says:

      “11. This is all a powerful argument against traditional Thomism, and against most Western and much Eastern tradition, but at a deeper level it might also legitimately make one question whether Christianity itself is too polluted with this sort of thinking to be credited. Perhaps the contradictions and affronts against moral rationality go too deep to be extirpated.”

      Fortunately, the idea of eternal torments is a mere artificial accretion on Christianity. The foul idea is entirely absent from both the Bible and the Apostolic Fathers. Who was the first of the Christian Apologists to make this blunder? Tertullian? Athenagoras? Someone else?

      Like

    • Vaska says:

      Thank God that we have a Christian theologian who loves truth so much, he’s willing to say what you’ve just said here.

      Like

    • bgoodness says:

      DBH,

      As you are obviously the more astute thinker, might you help me to see if this holds true?

      If it really is true (as Thomas is quoted as saying in the video), that every evil that God does is directed towards some good, then would not the Bible tell a strange story indeed? This tale would be one where in the end, God does not finally eradicate the existence of all evil, but merely retires one of his greatest cosmic actors (evil) from the stage of human existence and knowledge (perhaps, at least, from our immediate awareness).

      And upon witnessing this great subjection of evil, and its denial from hampering us more (us, the happy, heavenly elect), we might be actually sad to see it go, this evil. For, if everything in the above video is indeed true, then it would be evil, and not God, that would feel (at least to us, even for a moment) to be our oldest friend and companion, our oldest teacher and mentor, our oldest adversary and yet also our greatest servant.

      It seems we would be almost obliged, morally, to bid evil a fond farewell. But, then again, perhaps we shouldn’t be too sad, for our old pal evil would merely be changing forms, exchanging one dramatic costume for another, and readying itself for another grand curtain call, this time as his true self: the very heart of God. Would we be not obliged to embrace evil as one might embrace God, for they would be one and the same?

      And what would the point be of calling anything evil at all? It is only evil (and relatively so, since it is aligned with The Good, as you have explained before), for such a vanishingly small period of time; and is exemplified as the means by which God accomplishes his eternal good. So, I suppose, it would be meaningless to bother to arrive at linguistic distinctions of ‘good’ or ‘evil’, and I suppose I might as well start referring to my bowl of grapes as my bowl of wine, since the former form (the relative evil) is so inconsequential to its eternal nature (as transformed into some quasi-relative good?).

      Doesn’t this mean all hospital chaplains are useless, engaging in a charade of piety, hoping to acquire a future heavenly capital from God that is meant to stack against (but really, is stacked by) evil itself?

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      • DBH says:

        No. The conceptual confusions here are so numerous that it would be best just to presume the opposite of every single sentence.

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      • DBH says:

        Sorry, that’s unclear.

        More precisely, Thomas does not say God does anything evil.

        As much as I dislike Thomas’s theology on these matters, I can’t accuse him of mistakes quite that mad.

        Where you are right is in seeing (as per Meditation One) that Thomas’s theology does not succeed in exculpating God.

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  7. jsobertsylvest says:

    I’m with Ivan Karamazov. That account describes – not the work of an artist in terms of fittingness, but – the consequentialism of a vulgar pragmatist.

    No doubt, all of our eschatological tautologies must make some type of mysterian retreat. It’s just that I’d rather not surrender God’s moral intelligibility & aesthetic apprehensibility, theologically.

    Instead, I’d prefer to grapple, anthropologically, with just how free & just how determined we really are per the universalist vision (radically enough, I’d say) and, exegetically, struggle to grasp the nuances of the aiōnios & eternal.

    While we’re free enough to love greatly and even to sin gravely, only the absolutely free could ever absolutely & eternally reject He, Who’s absolutely True, Beautiful, Good, Unitive & Free?

    We need be only sufficiently free & adequately determined to participate in divine love (logoi) i.e. as consistent with the tropoi of human persons (not those of divine persons, Who are absolutely free)?

    So, b/c his (CS Lewis’) juxtaposition of free will vs automata is absolutist, why imagine it applies to humans?

    So, too, the classical incompatabilist (libertarian) vs compatabilist accounts are too either-or and all or nothing, inconsistent with any defensible anthropology?

    Our divine-creaturely agential accounts would remain sufficiently noncompetitive (e.g. as in our Neo-Chalcedonian Christology), just asymmetric vis a vis acts that are absolutely pure vs relatively limited (by potencies).

    As for evil in service of a higher good, while, temporally & ephemerally, privations of goodness can obtain ontologically via a “parasitic existence,”  eternally, no coherent accounts of oikonomic condescension or kenotic tzimtzum could abide same and remain logically consistent and existentially congruent with the integrally related  & inherently consonant divine logics as are revealed in our Scriptures, celebrated in our Liturgies & Devotions and realized in our Theoses.

    Evil is something God can do something about?

    WELL then –

    All may, can, will & shall be well. And you will know that all manner of things will be well, if you follow your Hart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I wholeHartedly agree.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jsobertsylvest says:

        Robert, the last time we visited the topic of proper notions of freedom, as I alluded to above, was in the Eucatastrophe article. You had well explicated how analogy ontologically grounds participation. Thanks, again. You may be interested in this twitter thread from this morning, where I expand on the role of the Logoi in those participatory dynamics:

        Be well!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Raphael Dragoun says:

    “Even the everlastingly damned contribute to the beauty and goodness of the Kingdom, and this is better and more perfect than a Kingdom in which all are saved.”

    Sick and twisted. It’s pretty to create people (without their consent) into a world with child rape and then get tortured for randomly selecting B rather than A (free will: same cause, different effects)?

    What great poetic justice it would be if defenders of eternal hell had to spend the longest time in hell, just to realize how ugly their minds were.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Marcus says:

    when it comes down to it…how much of the blame of our modern depictions of Hell by evangelicals and other so-called Christians can be blamed on Dante?

    Like

  10. [I don’t know if my comment is in a moderation queue, but I’m posting the same message again.]

    I am in disagreement with Taylor’s view that Thomas Aquinas was a compatibilist, as a Thomist. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the universalist, of the sort found here, SHOULD agree with Taylor on some important points. Specifically: the universalist will need to give a similar explanation of the place of moral evil in God’s providence as having non-instrumental value. Taylor seems to argue that, because humans do not have freedom incompatible with casual determination, then God allows moral evil and eternal damnation for non-instrumental purposes, such as the aesthetic value of creation including such evil. The universalist similarly is a compatibilist and should hold that, because God does not intrinsically value creaturely freedom, God positively wills moral evil in light of a non-instrumental end, such as (again) the aesthetic value of a world where there was both Fall and universal redemption. Otherwise, it is hard to see why God would permit moral evil, even as having a merely provisional or temporary role in the cosmos.

    Nevertheless, despite being a Thomist, I think that compatibilism is false (and don’t think Aquinas himself held such a position) as well as universalism. On such a view, then, God positively values human freedom and might be ‘bound’ in some sense by creating human beings, such that He has good reasons to permit them to be morally evil in light of their freedom. This is the value of the ‘free will defense’: it allows you to claim that God only values moral evil as instrumentally valuable in light of that freedom. This seems to me one clear advantage of the incompatibilist over theological compatibilists of either stripe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cycneus says:

      I don’t understand how the so-called free will defense could possibly be an attractive option, dialectical “advantages” or no.

      If my toddler is about to run onto the freeway because he is happily chasing a butterfly, I would have to be quite the monstrous father to respect his libertarian “freedom” and let him have his way simply because the butterfly seems to him an all-consuming end to pursue. And as below, so above: if the analogy between human and divine fatherhood doesn’t hold, then what are we even talking about?

      Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      I have repeatedly rejected the simple dichotomy between compatibilist and libertarian models of freedom as an analytic barbarism, applicable to almost nothing in ancient or mediaeval thought. Thomas held to neither (though manualist Thomists, being modern thinkers, are in fact compatibilist).

      Fr, I perceive you have not read my book or any of the many previous discussions on this site. The free-will defense of hell is neither a new nor a credible position here. You’re late to the party, and your argument doesn’t work.

      Blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will admit to not having read your book, but it is untrue that I have not followed the discussions on this site (albeit I do not pore over the discussions here either). I don’t really see, however, that either of these facts is important. I didn’t take myself to be arguing about your book at all, and instead was proposing a claim about the logical consequences of universalism, generally speaking.

        [It would take me too long to justify my interpretations of medieval philosophy, and I do take Aquinas to be rightly described as a libertarian (e.g., Scott MacDonald), but that’s really beside the point.]

        On one hand, my point was not to defend the ‘free will defense’, but merely to point out that there are two distinct approaches to moral evil, where the universalist shares a strategy or approach in common with other theological compatibilists (but not with the incompatibilist). My point is that it seems to be the case that any universalist is going to be committed to the non-instrumental value of moral evil in the history of the universe. And to that extent, Taylor’s explanation will be similar to the universalist’s. If I’m wrong on that, I’d love to hear why.

        And, on the other hand, I simply do not see how one can be a universalist and not adopt compatibilism, and nothing I have read on this site explaining universalism makes me think that people here are adopting some view that is not compatibilism. Instead, what I have seen argued here often is that ‘incompatibilist’ accounts of freedom are not valuable. [As per an example given above that it would not be valuable for fathers to give their children ‘freedom’ to play in the street.] It is naturally another question whether incompatibilist freedom is valuable, let alone whether we actually have that kind of freedom. But if one really is to reject incompatibilism as invaluable, then it seems that people are committed to compatibilism, not to holding to an alternative third account. I see that you claim to reject the meaningfulness of the distinction being drawn between compatibilism versus incompatibilism, and perhaps it is a failure of imagination, but I do not see any good reasons why these mutually-exclusive options are not logically exhaustive of the domain in question. I would be interested why you think you account is neither incompatibilist nor compatibilist, if that is the case.

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        • TJF says:

          Doesn’t Thomas say we can never freely will the evil as evil in De Malo (I think)?

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Please read more carefully. It might help you avoid taking umbrage.

          I did not say there is no meaningful distinction between compatibilism and incompatibilism. I said that the modern way of framing a dichotomy between compatibilism and LIBERTARIANISM is a crude one. Specifically, it does not do justice to the way that, in classical understandings of freedom, a transcendental determinism is actually the basis of deliberative liberty at the empirical level. In modern analytic thought, “compatibilism” invariably means a compatibility between different descriptions of a single level of agency. I was not objecting to what you said, but to O’Neill’s initial crude distinction, and to his misuse of the quotation drawn from my book.

          As for your argument, I don’t care whether you endorse any particular position or not. But, when you say–

          “On such a view, then, God positively values human freedom and might be ‘bound’ in some sense by creating human beings, such that He has good reasons to permit them to be morally evil in light of their freedom. This is the value of the ‘free will defense’: it allows you to claim that God only values moral evil as instrumentally valuable in light of that freedom.”

          –you are saying something that is, strictly speaking, logically false (as I demonstrate in the book you have not read.)

          Liked by 4 people

      • Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

        Asking folks if they have done the reading of your book before rejecting what you have to say via a limited media sound or text-byte seems a perfectly acceptable request. But I’d request the same of my own work.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          I have read your work, Taylor. My opinion is not based merely on this video; but my comments here do in fact concern the video. But, since honesty is best, let me state things with absolute and unceremonious candor.

          I do, as it happens, worry about the damage that your beliefs have done to your moral discernment. I believe that your conviction that you must believe the infernalist picture has rendered you incapable of seeing the manifest absurdity of your own reasoning. I believe it is clear that in your book on grace and predestination (which I did not think particularly good) you embrace a theological tradition that is, without remainder, depraved and a diseased fruit of an ancient dogmatic error that has led countless good souls like yourself astray, despite lacking even real scriptural warrant. I believe that you are quite literally teaching evil and are possibly damaging souls and minds by so doing. I have not even a shred of intellectual or moral respect for the position you advance, and can only hope that grace will one day liberate you from your bondage to this diabolical picture of the divine. The theological tradition you defend was always simply nihilism in its pupal form, waiting to emerge in its full demonic grandeur. It is the deep wellspring of everything dark and cruel and brutal in modernity. It is worship of a god of the death-camps–a god who favors only his own elect and who visits infinite cruelty on those who do not enjoy his (arbitrary) predilective love.

          So what is there to debate? We do not even believe in the same God. In fact, your god is my devil (to quote Wesley). Your faith is my faith’s enemy.

          Just to be clear, as I say…

          But, while we’re at it, do you have children? And, if you do, and if one of them should end up in hell, would his or her suffering be only a private evil, and yet otherwise an objective good in the pattern of the whole, which conduces to the a still greater beauty than would be the case if he or she had been spared his or her eternal torment? If you would say yes, then of course you have not only revealed a gaping absence in your soul; have said the same about all of our children, which I would regard as more than sufficient cause to detest you personally.

          (But I’m going to guess you won’t grasp the point there.)

          Like

          • DBH says:

            By the way, Taylor, if that all seems overstated, it is not. For too long we have allowed the terms of debate to be dictated by the side that holds to what, by any sane calculus of moral intelligibility, are claims almost perfectly offensive to reason and charity. This is a pernicious etiquette to observe. It is a mistake for us on the correct side of this issue to make nice. It grants credibility to views that have never yet earned the right to such respect.

            What is perhaps more curious still, whenever debating those who hold to the classical schools of predestination and grace—pure late Augustinianism, Thomism, original Lutheranism, Calvinism, Jansenism, and so on—we are arguing with a tradition that is based on objective exegetical errors from the late fourth century West. Your book, for instance, is a defense of understandings of grace, election, and predestination that are literally entirely absent from the actual text of scripture. At what point does the sheer absurdity of arguing with persons who insist on clinging to a logic that is demonstrably an accident of dogmatic and linguistic history become a self-defeating waste of energy? Yes, sic Thomas dixit, because Thomas did not know any better. Modern theologians do not have that excuse.

            And at what point does it not become a very real cowardice to refuse to call evil ideas evil, especially when those ideas (in simplified and so even more dangerous form) are ceaselessly poured into the ears of defenseless children? In any sphere other than religion, would we tolerate such emotional and mental abuse of the young?

            You may be able to tell that I’m in a bad mood. Watching Trump scheming to steal an election and destroy a republic, with the support of conservative Christians in all the churches, has made me irascible this week.

            Liked by 3 people

          • TJF says:

            Dr. Hart, can you elaborate on the exegetical errors? The only one that comes to my mind immediately is the incorrect translation of Rom 5:12 by Jerome.

            Like

          • Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

            For whatever it is worth, David, I do not detest you personally but love you in Christ, and I am saddened to hear that you feel that way about me, based merely off of a theological position which I hold, without even having met or spoken to each other in person.

            If you believe that I am so incredibly wrong I hope, at least, that you shall pray for me rather than to detest me.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            TJF

            No, I don’t have that many free hours and days. Feel free to consult my NT translation and it’s critical apparatus, as well as, you know, my treatment of Romans in TASBS. (Have you not read it?)

            Like

          • TJF says:

            I have both, and while I look at your translation quite frequently, it has been some time since I’ve read the critical apparatus. It’s also been some time since I’ve read TASBS. I wish I could read faster and understand more clearly and with greater speed than I do. The books and my wishlist pile up faster than I can read them and my great fault is that, in my zeal, I often read too fast to comprehend everything. I will go over those again soon though. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Oh, just joking. I know you’ve read it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            Dr. O’Neill — Imagine if you will a racist who believes certain people are inherently inferior and/or even subhuman and thus not deserving of the same liberties and protections as the rest of us. In fact, imagine there are two of these racists and one believes it is ultimately tragic that this is the case; he wishes it were not so. Imagine the other racist believes this is in no way tragic– in fact the enslavement of idiots and subhuman beasts is cause for the greatest rejoicing, we would all be worse off if these conscious puppets weren’t fittingly created for slavery and suffering. They are rightfully enslaved because God created them as such and it is beautiful; racism makes all of creation more glorious. We can go back to Aristotle to see that only the slavish allow themselves to be enslaved, so they deserve it.

            How absurd is this? Perhaps you’d be offended by being compared to racists. I tell you that your doctrine is worse. At least the racist doesn’t exult in the perpetual and infinite suffering of people. It’s very hard to have sympathy with these types of people. Thank God for cognitive dissonance. I have a friend who is like St. Francis of Assisi in regard to animals. He tirelessly works to help and save defenseless pets and their suffering causes him to suffer; it brings to mind St. Isaac’s 81st homily in the first part. However, he also believes in the wanton murder of innocent children by abortion which brings up feelings of disgust in me. Such is life, we are all mixtures of good and evil right now. I try to separate the sinner from the sin. I will note that Hart personally detesting you over doctrine doesn’t mean he can’t also love you. As Thomas said, to love is to will the good of the other, no matter your personal feelings.

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        • DBH says:

          Taylor, I said I would have cause to detest you personally *if* you were willing to consign my child to eternal suffering as part of the aesthetic perfection of God’s creation (on the ridiculous grounds, of course, that God loves vivid chromatic contrasts more than he does the souls of his creatures, and that the good is so deficient in itself that it requires the piquant contrast pf evil to fructify into its fullest possible manifestation). From that you conclude that I do in fact detest you personally, which means, I suppose, you concede the point that you would indeed gladly see my child suffer eternally if it made things prettier from some removed vantage. Very well, I concede the point as well. You are an apostle of evil, and I can pray for your liberation from that evil, and even love you in an impersonal way; but what you believe and teach is detestable, and I can detest you “in the mode” of what you make yourself by your present behavior. Just as I would detest a white supremacist for teaching racism, while trying to be charitable enough to pray for his spiritual regeneration. Like the white supremacist, you will take ffense at being told how evil your ideas are, but that is only because you have been so soaked in them that the obvious scandal is not even visible to you. But there is no contradiction between charity and detestation. The former expresses my will for you, the latter my recognition of the profound evil that you do, and in which you have trapped your own mind.

          The idea that a good God would create a reality in which eternal torment is even a possibility has always been a twisted and depraved notion, one that makes otherwise sane persons embrace morally insane arguments to justify the monstrosity to themselves; I pity you in that you have managed to fasten upon perhaps the cruelest and most morally foolish argument of all, and this testifies to a deep disfigurement of your soul. May God heal you of it.

          Like

    • “On such a view, then, God positively values human freedom and might be ‘bound’ in some sense by creating human beings, such that He has good reasons to permit them to be morally evil in light of their freedom. ”

      Cf. St. George on what God is “bound” to do:

      “Primarily, God is not bound to punish sin; he is bound to destroy sin. If he were not the Maker, he might not be bound to destroy sin—I do not know; but seeing he has created creatures who have sinned, and therefore sin has, by the creating act of God, come into the world, God is, in his own righteousness, bound to destroy sin…

      “God is bound by his love to punish sin in order to deliver his creature; he is bound by his justice to destroy sin in his creation. Love is justice—is the fulfilling of the law, for God as well as for his children…For Justice, that is God, is bound in himself to see justice done by his children—not in the mere outward act, but in their very being. He is bound in himself to make up for wrong done by his children, and he can do nothing to make up for wrong done but by bringing about the repentance of the wrong-doer. When the man says, ‘I did wrong; I hate myself and my deed; I cannot endure to think that I did it!’ then, I say, is atonement begun. Without that, all that the Lord did would be lost. He would have made no atonement. Repentance, restitution, confession, prayer for forgiveness, righteous dealing thereafter, is the sole possible, the only true make-up for sin. For nothing less than this did Christ die. When a man acknowledges the right he denied before; when he says to the wrong, ‘I abjure, I loathe you; I see now what you are; I could not see it before because I would not; God forgive me; make me clean, or let me die!’ then justice, that is God, has conquered—and not till then.”

      Like

    • jsobertsylvest says:

      I would agree, but only somewhat, in that absolutist readings of classical theologians often amount to facile caricatures. For one thing, Thomism’s not monolithic. Plus, nuanced readings will, generally, better distinguish theologians merely in terms of notable emphases, e.g. soft determinism,
      weak compatibilism,
      moderate libertarianism,
      moderate voluntarism,
      moderate intellectualism, etc.

      For example, we might better characterize Isaac of Nineveh, Gregory of Nyssa & Aquinas as weak compatabilists, Maximus & Scotus as moderate libertarians, but all in terms of noncompetitive agential interactivity.

      Further explicated here:
      https://sylvestjohn.org/2020/06/30/an-open-invitation-to-universalism-no-matter-how-you-square-divine-human-agential-interaction/

      Certain logical defenses regarding the problem of evil work for me (and for many atheists, too). But, in my case, they only work if human freedom & evil as privation are properly conceived, which is to say, as relative (not absolute) and ephemeral (not eternal).

      Professor O’Neill does make a helpful distinction between artistic fittingness & moral consequentialism.

      In the apocatastatic account, there are no residues of a parasitic existence to account for, no wounds substantially unhealed, no realities unredeemed and so no-thing to suggest to one’s imagination that this eschaton was not the play (re-creational) of an Artisan rather than the work of some quasi-Manichean collaborator. And, per DBH’s elegant game theory analysis, any qualifying of an unredeemed evil as a only a conditional necessity fails miserably.

      Any absolutizing of human freedom & eternalizing of evil’s parasitic existence relativizes God’s freedom & goodness. How does this not devolve into a competitive divine-creaturely agential account, which is heretical?

      While logical defenses to the problem of evil work for many of us, evidential solutions (theodicies) should work for none of us. They are as morally repugnant & theologically incoherent as infernalism, even if used to explain evil as ‘only’ an ephemeral, parasitic existence. Our approaches to evidential problems must, instead, be existential, i.e. pastoral & merciful, corporally & spiritually.

      It is here (and not at the loci of God’s moral intelligibility & aesthetic apprehensibility) that we must beat a hasty retreat into a positive theological mysterianism, where we know in our hearts that – based on Who God is & how God operates – He bears no moral responsibility for this or that evil, however horrendous or venial, also, that He neither causes nor (much less) necessitates evil as an end or instrument, only ever permitting its contingent & ephemeral privations of lesser goods, while eternally reordering them as occasions of graces that will gift us His highest goods.

      Even then, as to why He permits any given evil, we can’t formulate any specific persuasive entreaties in our heads that should even satisfy every Grand Inquisitor or Jobian Interlocutor, or, in other words, ourselves.

      This makes perfect sense given that no eye has seen, ear heard or heart of wo/man conceived (1 Corinthians 2:9) the weight of the Eternal Glory (Romans 8:18). It is here our aesthetic apprehension of God comes up short, for our proleptic realizations (2 Corinthians 1:22) of the Higher Goods remain ineluctably confronted by the utter immeasurability of the eschatological beatitudes, which they promise.

      Without such knowledge, we can’t even determine whether those persuasive entreaties (presumptuous theodicies) would need to take the form of an exculpatory argument or an aesthetic appeal. The universalist takes on faith that they’ll involve the latter.

      The infernalist stance devolves into moral exculpation, as it’s essentially an adjuducatory apologetic for an eternal evil that begs agential questions, which, in the end, won’t even present to universalists.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tim says:

      I wonder, apart from what DBH has said, if a free will defence of infernalism is not in tension with aspects of traditional Christianity. After all, the latter strongly linked salvation to acceptance of Christianity, or a particular denomination of Christianity. But surely even those who use the defence recognize that a free choice implies at least very good knowledge of the matter in hand, the alternative, and the consequences involved. But this isn’t really what we have. It hardly seems to me that the case for Christianity as the one true faith is so strong only someone who was intellectually dishonest could not assent, much less any particular denomination. Unless someone wants to argue the evidence for Christianity is so overwhelming it can hardly be rationally rejected, or unless the free will defence is supplemented somehow, I think it is problematic for traditional Christian ideas of salvation.

      Like

  11. Graham Budd says:

    On point 11 above though (DBH at 23 September 2020 at 5:01 pm): perhaps we can extend the same courtesy of metaphor to the Church as we do to the Dominical sayings on the subject in the gospels. After all, Jesus did warn in the strongest language about the urgency of making the right choices in this life – perhaps the church has been right to do so too.

    Like

  12. arthurjaco says:

    Apart from the weight of tradition (the overwhelming majority of christian theologians could not have been so dead wrong on such an important matter for so long, most believers would argue), it seems to me that one of the *other* reasons why modern catholics hold strong to the notion of an eternal hell has to do with the content of some of the visions that were allegedly granted to a few modern Saints like St Faustina Kowalska and with some of the messages that were allegedly delivered by a couple marian apparitions that were officially approved by the Church, such as Fatima.

    I know that visions are just that and that they should be interpreted but it seems to me that whenever Jesus or Mary *allegedly* grants someone a vision of hell, they never suggest that it shall end at any point.
    Furthermore, they seem to systematically emphasise the absolute horror of it, a horror that would make anyone doubt the goodness of God and of His very act of creation.

    I suppose one would attack that argument by either denying the authenticity of these visions and apparitions, attributing them to either insanity, hallucinations, or lies and plots created by corrupt clergymen intent on making people behave and go back to the sacraments.
    I also know that, again, visions are only symbolic and should not be understood literally.

    Yet, given the weight that that argument has in the mind of so many modern catholics, I think that it ought to be addressed in depth.
    After all, it seems that Fatima’s authenticity can be defended quite well by anyone who objects to naturalism : the psychologists who assessed the shepherds’ mental health did not conclude that any of them suffered from any mental illness and why would Lucia dos Santos become a nun and remain one for the rest of her life, therefore renouncing worldliness permanently, for something she always knew was a lie?

    Therefore I ask : how would you guys answer that argument?
    Have I already laid down everything that could be said against it or do you see any other objections to it that I might have forgotten?

    Like

    • arthurjaco says:

      I should add that I do *not* wish to debate the authenticity of these alleged visions and apparitions here – not because they are not interesting but because that would be off-topic.

      I would just like to know whether anyone has come up with any further objection against that often-neglected argument against universalism.

      Like

      • Tim says:

        But upon what grounds would be differentiate these visions from those of the practitioners of other faiths or no faith? For example, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) are overwhelmingly positive and, therefore, although they don’t perhaps refute infernalism directly, they seem contrary to the traditional attitude behind it. It’s hard to see why we should pay attention to one kind of evidence and not the other. Appeal to demons – the convenient explanation for any miracles or visions that don’t get 100% with ‘orthodox’ Christianity – seems both ad hoc and might even be theologically problematic, given the feelings of joy, peace, and transcendent love so often a part of NDEs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Grant says:

        As Tim points out there are many experiences of visions from people of other faiths and religions throughout time and in many different cultures which have a strong claim as any other to being no mere hallucination, which have also had profound and life-changing effects upon those who experienced them, not to mention experiences outside any set religious tradition. And within Christianity there are many contrasting mystical experiences and visions, we can never accept the contents of any vision uncritically, and is always even if a true vision subject to the understanding, sensibilities, assumptions, context and frame of reference in which the person receiving them makes sense of what they are experiencing. So if infernalism is accepted by them and the cultural and philosophical context they live in as the only live option in Christian belief and universalism would be false they would interpret what they apprehended accordingly. As St Paul said we now see through a glass darkly, this applies very much to visions even if they are true.

        And visions don’t and can’t compel assent to that which is evil no matter who the vision claims to come from, as Christians we are commanded to not call good evil, and evil good, after all even the devil can appear as an angel of light as St Paul would say, and evil ideas can be (and always are) cloaked in the robes of light and righteousness. If infernalism is shown to be an evil and irrational belief then it should be rejected as clearly not from God.

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      • TJF says:

        Well, even Catholics make the distinction that “private revelations” are separate and have close to no authority compared to the the public revelation that resides in the deposit of faith. Catholics are free to believe or disbelieve any private revelations they wish. Many eastern catholics I know detest the fatima apparition. But even if you don’t, remember the fatima prayer that FSSP catholics add to the rosary — “O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.” sounds at least like a balthasarian hope there.

        Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      You can’t, as a matter of logic, have a vision that something is infinitely-enduring: all visions, in the nature of visions, last for a period of time and then end. The issue is not whether Gehenna (to use Jesus’s term) exists or is bad, but whether it is never-ending. Visions really add nothing to what Jesus says about Gehenna, and that in a vision may not show Gehenna ending is no more conclusive than that he did not talk directly of Gehanna’s end as recorded in the Bible.
      If we are talking visions, there are visions of apokatastasis and ultimate healing of all, in Revelation in the Bible, and to St Julian of Norwich, for example. They saw the end where “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well” and “there are no more tears or crying any more”. If the end includes ongoing suffering forever for the bulk of, or indeed any of mankind, are those visions then lies?

      Like

    • DBH says:

      I do not take psychotic episodes as evidence of anything, or a bad trip. And there is no reason to believe that Faustina Kowalska did not suffer a classic dissociative psychotic episode–maybe she was exposed to some psychotomimetic mold, maybe her tuberculosis induced hypoxia and hallucinations, or maybe something else. To me, such evidence is no more compelling than the visions seen by someone who has just taken LSD. That’s why private revelation has no authority. That said, even if she did really glimpse hell–through the lens of her own imagination, of course, since the imagery was so sadistic that it could only have been shaped by the limitations of a human psychology–she cannot have glimpsed its “duration.”

      I would simply take the Vajrayana Buddhist view of such things as “thought formations” produced by a reducible psychological causal sequence, and therefore as things to be transcended as the false images they are.

      As for Fatima, please don’t be fooled. It was a silly fraud perpetrated by some shepherd children who were playing around. Then they became inextricably tangled in the story. As for Lucia dos Santos, there are plenty of good reasons why an unschooled peasant girl from rural Portugal, with no prospects except a hard life bearing children and keeping house and dying in her fifties, would feel quite happy to live in a convent and to be regarded as a near-saint by her contemporaries. That’s not in the least mysterious. But the actual details of the Fatima story and the silly vague prophecies associated with it mark it out as just another instance of religious hysteria among country folk whose lives were otherwise intensely boring.

      Real spiritual experience isn’t vulgarly absurd, and visionary experience is not shared by three children at once. Any story that involves claims of that kind can be rejected as infantine fabulation (which, as we know, can become indurated, and the supposed visionaries can become devoted to the fiction almost as if they believed it to be real).

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      • DBH says:

        Fatima, La Salette, Salem MA… How often the stories of country children get out of hand, with consequences they can’t control. And how often those children have spent too much of their youth herding livestock.

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        • TJF says:

          I will try my best to not let my comments devolve into catholic bashing, especially since Orthodox have many of our own problems– but this is precisely one of the reasons I left the RCC for Orthodoxy. I was far more attracted to the desert father and Evagrian spirituality which emphasizes doubt about apparitions and is overall more circumspect about such things. If anyone tells me they’ve been having prolonged conversations with Jesus and the holy virgin, I immediately tune them out. Don’t get me wrong, we also have our own problems with gullibility; I don’t how many people I’ve heard tell me about the magical holy fire in the church of the holy sepulcher.

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          • DBH says:

            I have nothing against miracles and the miraculous in general. It’s stupid miracles that I find objectionable, and claims to special knowledge based on private communications. I assume 1) God has good taste, and 2) God isn’t given to gossip.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            May I ask what your thoughts are on Our Lady of Lourdes? There are many stories of illnesses, including cancer (I think), being healed there.

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          • Tim says:

            It might be worth pointing out that there are many examples of psychophysical healing and other forms of causation that have been documented, ranging from the placebo/nocebo to much more exotic varieties, like skin-writing, curses, and stigmata. These are problematic for normal scientific naturalist understanding of the mind and body, but they aren’t necessarily miraculous per se. Take stigmata. These are hard to explain naturalistically, but they do seem to have a strong tendency to match the wounds of Christ in images that the sufferer had frequent or in some other way intense exposure to; for example, the crucifix in the church they frequent. It is scientifically inexplicable how such images can lead to wounds and marks on the body, with a precision that modern physiology says can’t happen. But the fact the subjects mind is a clear intermediate does seem to take away from the pure miraculous nature of the cases.

            I think there are clear cases of inexplicable healing at Lourdes, but this kind of faith healing is more common than many realise, and therefore isn’t necessarily proof of the miraculous, though it is problematic for naturalism. Check out the book Irreducible Mind.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            I have no opinion on Bernadette, though she seems to have been a truly good soul. The Lourdes vision is not cartoonish in the way La Salette was, or Fatima. Of course, the grotto shrine was designed by idiots, and the cheap trinkets (like the flail-sized rosaries) are vulgar to the point of obscenity. But, apart from the tourist kitsch, it’s a place dedicated to thn ill and many of the healings there are undoubtedly authentic. There are such places around the world, of course, Christian and non-Christian. I think it fair to say that God can work wherever he chooses.

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          • arthurjaco says:

            Well I mean, the RCC *also* tends to entertain a healthy dose of skepticism, when it comes to alleged apparitions and other forms of private revelations, as you no doubt know.
            When Fatima allegedly took place, lay people were fascinated and ready to believe, but the clergy… Well, not so much – until the 1930s, that is.
            When La Salette allegedly took place, the French clergy was extremely divided and many of the most virulent critics of the event were abbots and priests.
            Garabandal was never approved in spite of a well-attested case of levitation of one of the seers (while she was in an ecstatic state)… I could go on.
            But then you did not say that the RCC was particularly gullible, you said that the desert fathers and Evagrian spirituality are “more circumspect” than the RCC about these things, which is pretty different.

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          • TJF says:

            Thank you artuhur, I did not know all of that history associated with these apparitions, but this thread has caused me to buy a book on the matter to enlighten myself further. Thank you.

            Like

  13. Karl says:

    Curious as to Hart’s comments about children here and the risk of them going to Hell. Given that all humans are subject to pain and immiseration of some degree and amount, then how justify having them at all? I suppose the answer might be God’s glory, participation in the divine etc, but this strikes me as the badly disguised kind of utilitarian calculation I believe Hart and many others find repellent: “All suffer, but it will be worth it in the end” and so on.

    And if the answer to that is that ultimate participation in the Divine will wipe out all suffering, then the question is why was such suffering allowed to happen in the first place?

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    • DBH says:

      Hasn’t that been answered repeatedly in these discussions? In this very thread, in fact?

      Creation is not the magical conjuration into existence of something that possesses all the attributes of the past without actually possessing a past. Surely that must be true, right? If it were, then there would be no such thing as free rational creatures, but only fictional characters summoned into existence in a preordained state of character.

      So, the issue of evil isn’t a utilitarian calculus, it’s a matter of the process whereby nothingness and every possibility of evil inherent in the conditions of finite freedom is conquered while actually bringing free spiritual natures into existence. But spirit can exist only under the conditions of those rational conditions that logically define it. To ask why God did not create spiritual beings already wholly divinized without any prior history in the ambiguities of sin—or of sin’s possibility—is to pose a question no more interesting or solvent than one of those village atheist’s dilemmas: can God create a square circle, or a rock he is unable to lift? A finite created spirit must have the structure of, precisely, the finite, the created, and spirit. It must have an actual absolute past in nonbeing and an absolute future in the divine infinity, and the continuous successive ordering of its existence out of the former and into the latter is what it is to be a spiritual creature. Every spiritual creature as spirit is a pure act of rational and free intentionality away from the utter poverty of nonbeing and toward infinite union with God. This “temporal” or “diastematic” structure is no less intrinsic to it than is its dynamic synthesis of essence and existence, or of stability and change. And that means that even the first stirring of a created spiritual nature’s existence must be a kind of free assent to existence on the part of the creature.

      Come to think of this, I have a book coming out that covers much of this. It’s called “You Are Gods.” Next year some time.

      Liked by 4 people

      • TJF says:

        I eagerly await this new book. As I said earlier, this is an extremely common misunderstanding even shared by universalists like myself. It will be good to understand this in greater depth.

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      • Marcus says:

        sounds interesting, David…the title to me sounds like Neoplatonic theurgy which sounds interesting, but I don’t know if that is the topic in your book?

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      • KJ says:

        DBH, sounds to me like you’re trying to have it every which way. You’ve said plenty of times elsewhere that sin and evil is utterly gratuitous and contributes nothing to anything; now it’s somehow a necessary and rational part of the journey for any created spirit.

        Nor does it answer why it is allowed to take place at all. Your comment sounds like evil and suffering is a necessary part of some training course, but of course it’s hard to see what the sufferings of a two year old child with a chronic disease contribute to its brief existence or afterlife.

        It’s all very well to contemptuously call these ‘village atheist’ questions, but they’re perennial.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          ‘sounds like’ – only if you are not really listening carefully.

          Evil is neither rational nor necessary as an irrational privation of the good.
          Neither is universalism a theodicy. Which, if you listen carefully, has been made very clear in no uncertain terms.

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          This is an endlessly repeating loop, I see.

          Yet again, to say that evil is not necessary in itself does not mean that the possibility of evil–possibility, not necessity–is not present in the “venture” of creation. To say that a negative possibility is entailed in something is not to say that there is any intrinsic necessity for or positive value in the actualization of that possibility. When surgery is performed to remove a tumor, it is possible that there will be nerve damage. That does not mean that nerve damage is an intrinsically good or necessary aspect of surgery. The possibility of a falling back toward evil and nothingness is entailed in the creation of a free finite spiritual being, almost by definition. That does not mean that the actual falling back toward evil and nothingness is in itself a necessary or good “part of the journey.” But, in the course of God overcoming evil and nothingness in finite free spiritual creatures, it may happen. Happily, one would like to believe, God does not cease to conquer that evil, in this age or the age to come.

          Honestly I am not sure why this is an elusive point.

          I did not call it a village atheist query. I compared the solvency of the oft-repeated question I cited to that of such queries, which was neither a contemptuous nor a dismissive observation, but merely a clarification. Those questions are commonly called “Village Atheist” cavils in philosophy of religion not as an insult, but as indicating that they are popular arguments that all lack logical consistency on the same point. That is, they are based on an unnoticed contradiction in modal logic: specifically, a misunderstanding of what the words “possible” and “necessary” logically mean. As your own remark here indicates, the term is obviously justified.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Atno says:

        Hey Hart, if you’re reading this, I’d like to ask you a question about “Meditation Three” in your book, a sort of potential objection. You develop the argument that if anyone is to be saved, all persons must be saved, that the blessed could not truly enjoy perfect happiness while being indifferent to the sufferings of others (especially those they love). This is a known argument, but you add the additional unique contribution that, if we were to just forget about our loved ones or become indifferent to their plight, we would lose a crucial part of our personal identity, and so “persons” would not be saved, only “impersonal souls or selves”, not the people we really are.

        The question I have is this: couldn’t someone argue that, just like how our personal identities are importantly constituted by our loves and connections with other people, the identity of a truly horrible person is also constituted by their sins, evil, hatred for neighbor, etc.? A person who is extremely, absurdly evil (there certainly exist a few of them) is so deeply connected to their evil and monstrosity that it is hard to imagine how they could even be “restored” without some kind of destruction of their identity. In other words, they cannot be saved as persons, only as some “impersonal souls” or selves, which is a problem. We want persons to be saved, and not be annihilated; yet your argument for good persons can be flipped for evil ones here: all we can ever get with those people is the salvation of some impersonal self, which is tragic, and there will be no personal identity with their history and life (which were constituted by extreme sin).

        What would you say in response? I can think of at least two possible ideas. The first is that while the destruction of a good “person” (such as a loving and kind one) is horrible, the destruction of a bad “person” could be good or acceptable. The second is that while love etc. can properly constitute persons, perhaps sinfulness and evil are purely negative and privative, and so there is an asymmetry here; somehow no one’s personhood can really be constituted by those heavy imperfections. I find it a little strange, but maybe it has something to it.

        I’d be really interested in seeing what you could say in reply, and if you could develop the idea further. I really like the argument from persons. Other people are welcome to contribute as well

        Liked by 1 person

        • jsobertsylvest says:

          Our identites being mutually constituted are not only multilateral but asymmetric, so, we alone can’t annihilate them, although we can diminish them. I think it’s not all or nothing or either-or for various reasons.

          Atno, your second response especially resonates with my own approach. I distinguish between our essential natures, as images of God who are constituted by I-Thou-ness-es, and our secondary natures, which we co-creatively fashion synergistically, when we cooperate with the Spirit to realize our telic purposes as likenesses of God.

          Of course, we do refer to both virtuous & vicious secondary natures and we don’t want to suggest that both elements aren’t somehow constitutive.

          Our virtuous & vicious natures are habits that are situated halfway between acts & potencies, variously enhancing or hindering our cooperation with the Spirit, fostering or frustrating our theotic realizations, realizing or thwarting our human authenticity, so facilitating or forfeiting our constitutive communion, but in no way ever potent enough to extinguish our eternal, telic potentials.

          There is indeed an ontological asymmetry in that our virtuous nature refers to an authentic existence, an eternal goodness, as every cooperation with divine logoi is, by definition, an eternalized work.

          Our vicious nature refers to a parasitic existence, as you said, privative. Still, it must be purged. Views vary regarding how & when this purgation obtains.

          In my view, no one can be wholly vicious and all can be virtuous to varying degrees.

          I believe that every virtuous act, by definition – a free synergistic act, gets simultaneously eternalized. Every vicious act freely forfeits authentic existence & constitutive communion and freely foregoes eternalization, hence is partially self-annihilative (diminishing one’s secondary nature, forfeiting degrees of virtue).

          It’s our intrinsically good essential nature, in my view, that guarantees our eternal subjective beatitude, (and argues against annihilation) and the degree of virtue of our secondary nature that will correspond to our objective beatitude. This is to suggest that we’ll all populate the firmament, only some will commence the afterlife as tiny votive candles, while others will be, well, bright shining as the sun. After 10,000 years, of course, who knows?

          I guess that I’m suggesting that the host for evil’s parasitic existence is our secondary nature, not our essential nature, since the potency of each essence as an imago Dei has already been reduced by the act of existence.

          Finally, I follow Scotus & Eleonore Stump re where I locate the will & intellect vis a vis efficient & formal acts, so it will be between those & various material & final potencies that the vicious parasite will find its host. But it can neither kill the host nor transist into eternity.

          I develop all this herein:

          https://www.academia.edu/43938792/PanSEMIOentheism_A_Neo_Chalcedonian_Cosmotheandric_Universalism

          Like

        • DBH says:

          First, you apparently didn’t follow Meditation Three carefully enough. I made no argument about whether we can be “happy” in the absence of others. God could arrange for that, no doubt. It is *solely* about whether we would still be who we are. Anyway….

          No, yours is not even an interesting potential objection. It starts from the false assumption that the argument has something to do with our emotional attachment to past experiences, memories within us, and not with our present dependency upon other living souls at once beyond and within us. That was the vulgar error that Manoussakis made in thinking the issue had something to do with our fond memories of past encounters. That would be a purely subjectivist and selfish argument. The argument of Meditation Three is just the opposite: that there is no isolated subject whose identity subsists merely on memories and personal interior experiences.

          No one’s identity can be established by a privation, which is what evil and sin are. The true self becomes more concrete and real the more it realizes the image of God. If you find your own penultimate paragraph “strange,” then you are not thinking carefully enough; it is obviously correct.

          Moreover, there is no equivalence between evil deeds and persons. Sins are not substances that can be subtracted from my identity. Other souls are precisely that. You can be attached–must, in fact, be attached–to other living souls in a way that constitutes you as a person. You cannot be attached to the anti-substance of evil in any way except as a negation of personhood, from which in one way or another you can be rescued. An argument like the one you propose would be on the order of saying that, if I am healed of cancer, I am not the person I was because cancer (though purely accidental and purely privative of my true nature) is part of my past and so part of who I am.

          That is not even analogous to the claim that a person is constituted by all the other souls with which he must be in communion in order to be a person at all–which is more or less self-evident. A person is an act of communion and communication and community; who you are is your family, friends, chance acquaintances, and the whole community of living souls.

          So, no, that would not be an interesting objection, or even logically germane to the argument of Meditation Three. Anyone proposing it would have missed the point.

          Liked by 2 people

    • TJF says:

      Hello Karl,

      Something I’ve only just come to realize in this thread came to mind. While I think Hart’s book is very profound in many ways in another way it has a very modest objective. While Hart doesn’t solve the problem of evil, he does point out that we surely won’t solve it by making it infinitely worse (what these Thomists are trying to do). The answer to the problem of evil is opaque as ever.

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  14. The above interpretation of St. Thomas boils down to this: permanent evil (the greatest evil of endless impenitence) is necessary for the common good to obtain. I am unable to see how this does not collapse into certain form of manichaean dualism or process theology. But given my own convictions, I cannot think of a more potent argument for atheism.

    Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      Precisement

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    • TJF says:

      I understand the descent into manicheanism, but how would it also descend as far as process theology?

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      • TJF, I think the former is inseparable from the latter. If eternal impenitence entails manichean dualism, as I think it does, then being and goodness do not always coincide and goodness is not a transcendental. But if being and goodness do not always coincide then evil is a substance. And if evil is a substance then god is either evil or, if good, he finds himself in competition with being and, hence, reacting and developing to it as a tragic figure reacts to his foil.

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        • TJF says:

          That makes perfect sense, thanks Nick. That seems to be my impression. Either God is the good and all things will be well or he is evil or weak and things will end badly for some or many.

          Like

  15. Karl says:

    I’m also curious as to the following.

    If Hart condemns the ‘hypothetical’ God of Infernalists as a moral monster, then why should the God he assumes is real not be called the same for allowing evils such as the Holocaust, child abuse, murderous poverty etc run their course without intervening?

    Again, if the answer is “All will be redeemed”, then it seems to fall prey to what Hart said above in this very comment thread:

    ‘Is there, moreover, a more insufferably unctuous argument than “Until we see the whole reality that God intends, we cannot judge…” one? What utter nonsense. What a contemptible strategy for trying to chase the moral enormity of the thing away toward an endlessly receding horizon of nebulous “hope.”’

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    • Curdie says:

      Not DBH, but he and many others have addressed this ad nauseam at this point. Terrible, excruciating suffering which is finite is a problem for any theology which proposes that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, but it is a drastically different problem than eternal suffering. Not that you have to agree with DBH or anyone else’s solutions to these problems, but we can all agree that temporary suffering and infinite suffering are going to require different solutions. Similar to your question above, having children and risking them experiencing the pains of earthly life, while being assured that their Creator will do right by them in the end, is very different than having children and risking them experiencing earthly suffering AND eternal suffering (especially when the eternal dice seem a little loaded).

      Liked by 1 person

    • This is stupid.

      God allows moral evil to stand in contrast to the ultimately greater restoration all things find in Christ.

      It seems as though the wolf should not devour the lamb, but sin has brought it to pass. Nevertheless the wolf and the lamb shall be reconciled, and the little child will play near the hole of the Cobra.

      We learn several things by the wolf devouring the lamb- the horror and viciousness of sin for one. We learn what innocence is, and we see the depth of evil.

      Moreover, you must lay down the utilitarian mentality- what will the child obtain in the Apokatastasis from suffering in this life?

      The sheer pleasure of being able to forgive.

      And what will the predator gain? The sheer joy of being forgiven.

      They will neither kill nor destroy in all my holy mountain.

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      • DBH says:

        For the record, I don’t endorse that answer either. The things thus learned, I still maintain, are learned contingently by way of defect and so such lessons contain no knowledge pr moral joy that the direct vision of the divine Good would not impart in the absence of sin. I deny that evil makes any actual instrumental increase to the good.

        Liked by 4 people

    • DBH says:

      Gosh, there’s a point no one has brought up here before, and certainly one I’ve never addressed in print or on this page or even in this particular comments thread.

      (Okay, Karl, that time I was being a little bit “contemptuous”–or at least “dismissive”–or at the very least sarcastic My apologies. Covid cabin fever and all.)

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    • DBH says:

      I admit I find it surpassingly strange that anyone should imagine that temporary suffering that God will heal and abolish as abhorrent to his ultimate intentions in creation and eternal suffering that God imposes as part of the grand design of his ultimate intentions in creation could possibly pose the same logical moral dilemma. I don’t care if you buy the answer to either problem , but there is simply no excuse for thinking they are one and the same problem. It’s like thinking the Achilles and the Hare problem and the Epimenides Paradox are the same problem because they both seem to involve a contradiction that is not merely one of intrinsic logical consistency.

      Sometimes the most baffling aspect of a question is trying to guess whay the questioner thinks it relevant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • M. Robbins says:

        I have heard the same question from the other side often enough, twice in response to my review of yr book, from smart unbelievers. The connection makes sense to me from that side. To put it crudely: OK, God doesn’t damn people to torment in hell, but he still made the world, with all its torments, so I still object on principle. It’s a version of Ivan’s refusal. I respect it.

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        • DBH says:

          Yes. I have no problem with that.

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          • Karl says:

            Your solution is almost casual in its dismissiveness: The suffering isn’t as big a deal, because God will one day clean it up. And your emphasis on its contingency and non-instrumentality makes its allowed occurrence even more cruel and pointless than the Thomists’ instrumental view. I’m afraid the strength of the objection holds, whether you’re a believer or not.

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          • TJF says:

            Karl, what planet are you from? How on earth is finite, temporary suffering that is not intended WORSE than infinite, eternal suffering planned from the very beginning?

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          • Tim says:

            What objection? You don’t have an objection. You have a vague impression can’t formulate into anything like a proper argument.

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          • Karl says:

            TJF, I never said finite suffering was worse than infinite suffering.

            Simply because finite suffering isn’t infinite doesn’t mean finite suffering isn’t itself a problem.

            You seem to think that because God makes good in the end the previous suffering has no moral weight. It’s like a father standing by while his child is assaulted, but then because he later cleans the kid up he is somehow absolved of prior negligence.

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          • TJF says:

            Karl, you said Hart’s view was “more cruel and pointless” which sounds a lot like “worse” to me. No one here ever said that the problem of evil is not still a problem. Earlier on in the thread I asked Hart about this very topic. He even said that the problem of evil never really goes away and he isn’t sure if he is entirely convinced by the seemingly only logical answer. I agree with that. It has become more clear to me however that these are two totally different problems. The fundamental choice appears to be between atheism and universalism. Infernalism is worse than both, from what I understand.

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          • Grant says:

            Karl you are conflating the problem of evil argument itself with the point DBH is making, as Robert Fortuin has already told you above universalism in itself is not a theodicy, and is not in itself offered as such (that is as an answer to why if God is the good and is love as Christianity claims why there is such suffering).

            The point that is being offered is that one: there is a difference between a temporary and finite period of suffering which God is against and committed to overcoming and will do so, and that of infernalism or anhilationism where evil and suffering is not temporary and necessary feature of creation but one which will be brought into eternal and everlasting existence. One in which the suffering and pain and evil becomes a permanent feature, where someone having suffered already on into eternity and so on without end or with deliverance. That this is in fact God’s settled intention in creation itself, not something that is a possible feature that once appeared will be overcome for all. It is also the point that for the above reason (better expressed by others here and DBH himself) that it is only within the universalist framework that any theodicy that is coherent with Christian claims (in which the claim is that God has revealed both His utter opposition to death and suffering in Christ and the extent of His determination and length to which He has gone to free creation from it) can be offered. In either infernalism or annihilationism evil and suffering endures forever and any even attempt at theodicy fails.

            Now you are fully in your rights to find no attempted theodicy convincing, in truth against the terrible mystery of death and evil right now for us entrapped in the midst of it, there is no explanation that will ever seem sufficient, even as Christians only looking to Christ provides the faith beyond such arguments in the truth of it. But again, to emphasis DBH isn’t making a theodicy to answer the problem of evil, and in itself univeralism isn’t one, you are mixing up to different points.

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          • DBH says:

            Karl,
            You obviously cannot follow a conversation. Anyone who knows my work knows that I take the suffering of this world with far more seriousness than is healthy. Moreover, you completely missed the meaning of my reply to Michael. I meant I have no problem with the atheist’s rejection of faith on the Ivan Karamazov grounds he cites. Pay attention.

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  16. jsobertsylvest says:

    Logical defenses (I countenance) & evidential theodicies (I disdain) will differ for God as Artisan vs moral agent. Hence, utilitarianism strikes me as a category error within a universalist frame, but on the mark for infernalism.

    Here’s why:

    In the universalist stance, the Artisan metaphor “works” as what is divinely intended will be aesthetically realized, ultimately, even if subcontraries (ephemeral parasitic existences) are divinely permitted, temporally.

    In the infernalist stance, the Artisan metaphor collapses because the eternal nature of those parasitic existences indicates they were divinely intended, i.e. not subcontraries but teloi (per game theory). A utilitarian moral paradigm then obtains.

    The difference is permitting ephemeral subcontraries versus intending eternal evil.

    Because the Artisan metaphor (fittingness) is ultimately sustained in universalism, those subcontraries represent – not moral (utilitarian), but – aesthetic occasions for the divine, even though some of those very same subcontraries are determined by human ethical lapses, representing moral realities for creatures.

    While the divine aesthetic opera (works) are necessarily opera-tive in human acts, including the existential, efficient & formal, as are limited by essential, material & final potencies, they are not finally (sufficiently) determinative of all human telic realizations or subcontrary frustrations, temporally. In short, they aren’t responsible for the sin of secondary causes.

    The divine energeia (works) and Logoi, per the universalist stance, will ultimately, necessarily & sufficiently, determine our beatific destinies, inevitably closing the epistemic & axiological distances that provisioned the soul-making of each person’s theosis.

    My take:

    So, no, temporally, we aren’t absolutely free or absolutely determined. Yes, our eternal destiny is absolutely determined in terms of subjective beatitude (aesthetic intensity) while, in my view, sufficiently self-determined in terms of objective beatitude (aesthetic scope). So, human persons are sufficiently free & adequately determined contra absolutist accounts.

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  17. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    For those who have either not read or forgotten it, I commend David’s article “Theodicy and Apokatastasis.”

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Marcus says:

    David, do you have objections towards Annihilationism? at least that sounds morally better than eternal suffering?

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David addresses annihilationism in TASBS. Bottomline: the annihilated are the sacrificial lambs for the Kingdom.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Better but not best. At least, like universalism, it can be defended from scripture, which infernalism can’t. But it would make a nonsense of the rest of Christian belief.

      You know, it’s all in the book, which is very reasonably priced.

      Like

      • DBH, permit me a barrage of related questions about your knowledge of maximus and gnomic vs natural will: I’m curious about your understanding of mariology in relation to these things.

        1. Do you personally affirm some sort of “immaculate conception” doctrine, in which mary was born “free of original sin?” (interpret that as loosely as required in order for it to be orthodox to you)

        2. Did Mary have a gnomic will? did she have to deliberate?

        3. Was Mary impeccable from conception? Could she have sinned?

        4. If Mary did not have a gnomic will, was this a “miraculous intervention in history” on God’s part, or did something happen in salvation history prior that “merited” the happening?

        5. If it was a miraculous intervention, a theodicy problem arises: why did God wait so long? Couldn’t he have just done it to everyone? On the other hand, if Mary’s status was merited by someone, somewhere, somehow….. then the theological crossword puzzle has a lot of gaps still to be filled in (ie, where, when, by whom, and how was mary’s immaculate status merited?)

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  19. Jack says:

    I wander if the stubborn adherence to ECT has an experiential basis. I’m thinking here of John of the Cross and his “dark nights”. Carmelites and other contemplatives seem to highlight the sheer contrast between “basic cable” human life and a life with God. Those who undergo the dark nights often experience sheer agony when God goes “underground”. Some of these absences are described as so drawn out and so painful that any kind of suffering is preferable. I imagine this might give rise to the fear that God might abandon us forever. Even in this life they see a gaping chasm between the poverty of their own condition and the Divine life. Such contemplatives often make a distinction between the mystical grace itself and its psychological effects. I would imagine that is like being terribly out of shape and trying to scale Everest. Most of us would despair at ever having to take the journey. Who knows?

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    • DBH says:

      I doubt that the fierce adherents to ECT are, for the most part, contemplatives with any experience of either the purgation or bliss of mystical experience. Mostly they’re either pious souls trying to believe something they really don’t or fanatical souls rejoicing in their own sense of specialness. Experience is irrelevant to either class.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    To bring the discussion back to the video:

    David, in his lecture Taylor discusses the differences between incompatibilism and compatibilism, and places St Thomas Aquinas (and yourself) in the compatibilist camp. I know that in the past you have resisted the compatibilist label. I’d like to ask you to explain, both for my benefit and that of our readers, how your understanding of divine agency and human freedom differs from that of Aquinas and why the compatibilist description does not accurately describe your position.

    Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      The terms compatibilism and incompatibilism are products of an already crudely conceived distinction between libertarian and determinist pictures of the will. As soon as one employs them, and defines one position as one or the other, others will interpret one’s view in those stark and inadequate terms. But what if one believes the rational will is determinate at one level and somehow indeterminate at another?

      It is misleading to call mine a “compatibilist” view of free will (except with some very precise definitions being attached) only in that it obscures the distinction I make between the transcendental determinism of the natural will and the liberty of the deliberative or “gnomic” faculty of the empirical will. Since I believe a certain very real liberty of the gnomic will is precisely what becomes possible through the necessary determination of the natural will, I reject either label. I won’t go into the manualist Thomist distinction between God’s irresistible moral predestination of the will of the elect and his irresistible physical permissive predestination of the sinner’s choices (because it’s rubbish, chiefly), but I will simply say that I find the modern distinction too coarse-grained to be helpful.

      Daniel Dennett, for instance, is a true compatibilist in the best modern analytic sense: that is, he is a physicalist determinist as regards human actions, but he also believes that, at the level of empirical consequences, the sheer complexity of the physical causal chain that produces human actions can also be described as free choice. That is, he believes there are two very different but compatible ways of describing a single empirical reality, one blindly “mechanical” the other intentionally “purposive”; nevertheless, he is still certain that this empirical reality can in principle be reduced without remainder to purely empirical physical forces that only appear to be purposive. There are two different levels of reference, but not two different levels of operation. For Dennett, every “free” act is the emergent result of an incalculable sequence of small, mindless, material causes. The appearance of freedom for him–as of consciousness–is a kind of “user interface,” a handy algorithmic result that can be treated in isolation from the algorithmic process that produces it. In the same way, he allows that one may say that one has a “soul,” but only so long as one grasps that this soul is composed of millions of tiny robots.

      I believe exactly the opposite: that the will really does act purposively, towards an end that operates upon it as a real final cause of rational liberty. Rather than believing that the will is empirically determined and lacks any transcendental teleology, I believe that the will can be empirically indeterminate precisely because it is transcendentally determined to an actual transcendent end; and, under the canopy of that orientation, the mind and will are able to pursue various finite goods freely, choosing between them as realizing different aspects of the Good in itself. Beyond that, I do not speculate on the range of possible deliberative outcomes.

      Liked by 6 people

      • Curdie says:

        Why do you think so much of the conversation around Universalism and/or Hell gets stuck on issues like compatibalism? I understand why it would be a major sticking point in the Calvinist/Armenian debate, but I don’t understand why so many people engaging universalism for the first time freeze up at the implications it might have for their understanding of free will. It seems to me that I shouldn’t have much of a problem with God potentially interfering with my “free” will if it results in my most ultimate good! In fact, I’ve often thought that if eternal conscious torment was a reality, and yet God came to me one day and told me He could make my heart completely clean and conform all of my wills and actions to His own divine will, and the only cost would be my personal free will, I would say yes in a heartbeat! To be conformed to God, to be a “slave of Christ” is to be perfectly free! Why would I resent that proposal?

        Do you think that the west’s total fetishization of freedom has resulted in a theological system which prioritizes libertarian freedom too heavily? It’s just an issue I don’t think sees nearly as much attention in the Bible as it does in our theological debates (Christ doesn’t appear to care much for our libertarian freedom to “freely choose” hell when he promises to “drag” us all to himself!)

        I should clarify, I don’t think the question is totally unimportant, nor do I think that my understanding of my own freedom (or lack thereof) doesn’t have implications for the life of Faith. I just don’t understand why it has become the lynchpin of many theological questions (or the deadbolt, in many instances).

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Curdie – my estimation is that we have demonized authority such that any notion that appears to even remotely impinge upon or otherwise interfere with freedom is automatically considered suspect.

          Like

        • brian says:

          The point of a transcendental final cause is that God doesn’t have to interfere with your freedom. The Kantian neuralgia regarding heteronomy does not come into play when finite freedom is a gift of Infinite Love. All your gnomic deliberations about the good are only possible because the Good is the teleological end that makes any choice possible in the first place. For finite being, person is aspirational. Your freedom and personhood become intelligible when coincident with the initial divine calling. The modern bases for describing freedom are incoherent and/or based on metaphysically limited conceptions.

          Liked by 1 person

  21. Owen says:

    It is understandable that DBH would not be persuaded by O’Neill’s arguments. I wasn’t particularly convinced either, though I think he (and Thomas) are on the right track. For this track begins, ends and traverses a territory that O’Neill mentions at the end of the interview: divine revelation. He basically states that apart from revelation, Hart’s rational arguments are good. I agree. Yet DBH’s arguments stand apart from revelation. Thus, they are not Christian arguments—as bright as they may shine in the firmament of modern academia. Hart questions (see above) “whether Christianity itself is too polluted with this sort of thinking [re eternal damnation] to be credited.” Indeed, concerning “most Western and much Eastern tradition…perhaps the contradictions and affronts against moral rationality go too deep to be extirpated.” While O’Neill at least seeks to argue as a “Christian”, Hart does not pretend to—unless one applies his own version of the term. That’s all fine, as long as readers understand this, namely, that under Hart’s approach, any traditional given of Christian faith is open not only to rational scrutiny but also to change. Of course, Hart argues the traditional teaching of eternal hell is not part of revelation. Yet why would the early Christians invent such a dread teaching? They would not. Admittedly, it took several centuries for the teaching to be clarified in the light of theological missteps, but it *was* clarified to be part of the deposit of Christian revelation. O’Neill gets this right and seeks to make an argument to defend the received doctrine. This is faithful to the Christian way.

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    • TJF says:

      *sigh* you haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about. Hart argues FROM revelation. He argues FROM divinely revealed, specifically Christian dogmatic claims. He teases out the logical consequences of creatio ex nihilo, chalcedonian christology, what it means to for man to be an image of God, etc. Read the book, closely and with an open mind and you may be less prone to catastrophically embarrassing errors. You think Hart is wrong, that’s fine. But to say he is bucking tradition or that he isn’t even pretending to argue as a Christian is absurdly offensive.

      Even you say it “took several centuries for the teaching to be clarified in the light of theological missteps.” How come your side can clarify teachings in the light of theological missteps, but universalists can’t? Because it’s part of tradition? That’s begging the question. Why would Christians invent the teaching of eternal hell? Hart gives a reason for this in the book. It’s obvious why anyone would invent a teaching that inspires fear in people. All the people who teach peace and love end up murdered.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Now, that is far and away the most buffoonish remark anyone has made about my arguments yet. Someone who hasn’t a clue about what the book actually says, or how it deals with biblical and dogmatic issues, blundering in on a conversation he has only half overheard through a wall of ignorance. Why do people feel compelled–or authorized–to comment on texts they haven’t read?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Owen says:

      The argument of TASBS indeed begins from dogmatic claims. But it needs also to argue toward dogmatic claims. That’s the Christian way. You can’t use dogma to disprove dogma. I.e., you can’t use creatio ex nihilo to nullify everlasting hell. Unless eternal damnation isn’t dogma…which it is.

      Like

      • Curdie says:

        I think you may have just demonstrated the most unfortunate problem inherent in heavily dogmatic religion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        Not in my church, little man. But, you’re right, if it were dogma there, I’d bid farewell to that church. Any “dogma” that is logically incoherent is a false dogma, and any tradition that advances a false dogma is a false tradition. And the idea of eternal torment is logically incoherent. If my arguments work “except for revelation” then they work “despite revelation”–or, rather, despite what people have mistaken for revelation. A logical truth is true, and whatever does not accord with it is false. Excluded middle and all that.

        As for your ridiculous pomposity in presuming to dictate what “the Christian way” is, it would seem to fall afoul of the historical record, as well as reason.

        Those who cling to dogma because it is dogma, which they know to be infallible because dogma dogmatically pronounces it to be so, and we mustn’t doubt dogma as then we would be violating dogma, and dogma is infallible, because dogma says… (somewhere in here there has to be a place where this comes to rest on an actual rational premise, but I’ll leave that for others to find)…actually believe nothing at all. They’re just grateful not to have to think and thereby stake themselves to a genuine set of convictions.

        Religion really is an opiate for many of us.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Preach it.

          And still folks are mystified as to why Christianity has been broadly rejected, why there are so many identify as “not affiliated,” why authority is held in disrespect, etc. etc.

          Like

      • M. Robbins says:

        Ah, there it is, the “Christianity” that chased me away from the church for decades.

        Like

  22. Marcus says:

    David, i don’t mean to sound rude, but is your philosophy of mind book ever coming out?. Feels like you been talking about it for years now and then you have all these other books that pop up instead “Theological Territories” now your upcoming one. To me it seems like an excuse to not release your book :)…..

    I jest, I jest of course, I’m looking foward to “You Are Gods’ as well as all your future work

    Like

  23. Jack says:

    One thing I have always appreciated about Dr. Hart is that he does not make us wait too long between books. Would that I could say the same about other authors. Many of my favorites write like a tortoise on ambien.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      I actually have books on backlog with publishers. Curious nervous habit, that.

      Like

      • Marcus says:

        Is it fair to say that the philosophy of mind book will be one of your biggest works, just in terms of how many years you have been taking about it? Your magnum opus?

        Like

          • Marcus says:

            Sorry for my Banal questions, Mr. Hart, i just didn’t know what else to ask you, nothing came to my mind. Might of been better if I refrained from asking in the first place, but that’s too late now

            I’m excited for whatever you have down the road

            Like

          • DBH says:

            It’s not a banal question. Maybe the answer was too curt. But the delay in the book’s appearance has been more a matter of getting around to it than a matter of endless investigation and synthesis.

            Like

      • Jack says:

        I suppose that’s just the way she goes. When all is said and done, at least you don’t take the better part of a decade to write a book.

        Like

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