When Hell Becomes Dogma: The Closing of the Catholic Mind

My working principle: once eternal damnation is accepted by an ecclesial community as dogmatically binding, three things happen:

  1. Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition will be read through the dogma.
  2. Preaching and theological speculation will be governed by this dogma, sometimes with curious, sometimes with pernicious, results.
  3. Damnation always trumps gospel.

In this series I will examine three recent reviews of David Bentley Hart’s controversial book That All Shall Be Saved by Roman Catholic theologians: Taylor Patrick O’Neill, Joshua R. Brotherton, and Paul J. Griffith.1 I have chosen these reviews because the Catholic Church teaches eternal damnation as a truth of divine revelation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church succinctly states the doctrine:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. (§1035)

While it may be theoretically possible for a Catholic theologian to contest the irreforma­bility of the doctrine of eternal damnation2 or to read it in such a way as to leave open the hope for (but not expectation of) universal reconciliation,3 the Latin Church has long affirmed both the de fide authority of the dogma and the construal that hell will be eternally populated. Until the Pope tells everyone otherwise, it’s probably best for an Orthodox blogger like myself to assume this remains the official Catholic position.

I begin with the review by Dr Taylor Patrick O’Neill, published in the Fall 2020 issue of Nova et Vetera.4 Dr O’Neil is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Mount Mercy University. He is a Thomist who stands within the commentarial tradition of Domingo Báñez and Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange and is the author of Grace, Predestination, and the Permission of Sin. O’Neill is active on Twitter and has on several occasions expressed his rejection of universal salvation. The following two tweets, I think, are illuminating:

As a traditional Thomist who affirms predestination, compatibilism, and efficacious grace, O’Neill believes that God possesses the power and freedom to bring all sinners to repen­tance, faith, and beatific vision. Why then may we not entertain the universalist hope? Because we know by divine revelation, authoritatively defined by the magisterium of the Catholic Church, that the Almighty Creator has willed not to save all. Some, many, or most human beings will suffer—and are suffering—interminable punishment for their sins. Eter­nal damnation, in other words, is an infallible, de fide doctrine, binding on the con­science of all Catholic Christians. If O’Neill had his druthers, he tells us, he too would affirm universal salvation; but as a theologian faithful to the magisterium, he is compelled to reject it and defend the traditional doctrine of hell. This means, of course, that he must assume a critical stance in his reading of TASBS. The arguments advanced by Hart on behalf of apokatastasis cannot be sound, much less probative: God has spoken otherwise. This is not to say that theologians who affirm eternal perdition (whether Catholic, Ortho­dox, or Protestant) are incapable of bracketing their dogmatic commitments in order to carefully and fairly assess the merits of the arguments advanced by proponents of universal salvation, and I’m certainly not questioning anybody’s sincerity. I’m just saying they are only human. If the doctrine of everlasting damnation has been divinely revealed, then an attack upon it is an attack upon the gospel and Church the theologian is pledged to defend. It’s hard to be open-minded when confronted with indubitable heresy. That’s the point of infallible dogma—to keep the Church closed-minded, hopefully in a faithful way. But what if the dogma is false?

Now to the review …

O’Neill finds That All Shall Be Saved a frustrating, disappointing work. He objects to the book’s unsupported assertions and its superficial treatment of Scripture and the theological tradition:

Even after completing the work, I am still unsure as to what Hart’s intentions with the book were. It often reads more like a personal journal or the begin­nings of a comprehensive work which is still gestating than a work of specu­lative theology. Hart spends substantial time earlier in the book discussing his own experiences and history. He never directly engages any particular theological text, historical or contemporary. Names and ideas are referenced in passing but never cited. A single contemporary text is mentioned but hardly explored (Brian Davies’ ​The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil ​takes that honor). One keeps expecting the rhetorical setup to punch through to a complete argument on the next page, but the blow never lands. There are the beginnings of very interesting ideas here, but the times in which they are argued forcefully or even fleshed out are few and far between. The work concludes with a basic re-hashing of the post-modern trope on the genesis of the doctrine of hell: the Church, especially when it mixed with temporal powers, duplicitously concocted an error to keep the rabble in line. The rhetoric is rich, but there isn’t an ounce of historical evidence to back up the claim. On the very final pages of the book, Hart seems to be alert to the lack of argumentation, saying, “I could go on. I could, if nothing else, spend a few hundred pages more dealing with certain highly technical issues of Christian metaphysical tradition…. But I do not think that it would actually add any­thing to the essential arguments of these pages” (207–208). It is hard to overstate how frustrating it is to find this statement nestled at the end of over two-hundred pages. Indeed, the debate about the existence of an eternal hell is ​in so many ways a​ debate which absolutely ​must ​take place upon the metaphysical level. I would like to see this argument in its fullest and most robust form. Instead, all we receive is, frankly, a lot of preaching to the choir with rhetorical flourishes. Hart’s grasp of the English language is probably unmatched by any living theologian, and yet he transgresses the fundamen­tal principle of writing: show, don’t tell.5

In other words, Hart should have written a different book, specifically, a scholarly tome with close analysis of Scripture and the key arguments advanced for eternal perdition over the centuries, accompanied by plenty of footnotes. I sympathize. I too hoped for a different book. I wanted a comprehensive monograph on the gospel as apokatastasis, with robust critique of the biblical and philosophical arguments advanced over the past two millennia in defense of eternal damnation, as well as an in-depth metaphysical analysis of human freedom and its orientation to the Good, with special attention to Plotinus, Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Augustine, St Maximus the Confessor, John Scottus Eriugena, and St Thomas Aquinas. I calculate Hart could have covered all this in only two or three thousand pages. Alas, that is not what he has given us. Yet it seems churlish to complain, and it is most definitely unfair to judge TASBS by criteria the author did not intend to meet. The book has its flaws, and reviewers are right to point them out; but not being the objective, meticulous, dispassionate, non-polemical academic title we think it should be cannot be one of them. (If only Luther had adopted a more Erasmian tone, perhaps we could have avoided all that Reformation unpleasantness.) Reviewers of TASBS need to correctly identify its literary genre—jeremiad and diatribe immediately come to mind—before complaining about its trenchant rhetoric. Even invective has its good purposes, as Jesus and the prophets well knew. Personally I would have preferred a less polemical book,6 but it’s no doubt the case that if Hart had written a polite, amiable treatise it would not be receiving the wide attention it is now enjoying. Nor is there any mystery as to why the book has the form that it does. As stated in the concluding acknowledgements, the first three “meditations” incorpo­rate the public addresses delivered at the Virginia Theological Seminary in 2016. We may assume that their original audiences were composed of seminarians, faculty, and local clergy and laypeople. The result is a volume that more resembles Hart’s popular (footnoteless) work on theodicy, The Doors of the Sea, than the dazzling and erudite comet that burst upon the theological sky sixteen years ago, The Beauty of the Infinite.

So how does O’Neill’s review fare when evaluated by my above-stated working principle? The young professor focuses his attention on meditations three and four and ignores meditation one. I find this curious (and possibly confirmatory of my working principle), given its decisive importance to the book. In this chapter Hart advances four conjoint claims, forming a single argument:

  1. God has freely created world from out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo).
  2. The eschaton definitively reveals the divine identity and nature.
  3. The confession of God as absolute love is irreconcilable with the teaching of eternal damnation.
  4. Therefore, “Christians dare not doubt the salvation of all.”7

Of these claims O’Neill says nothing. I deem this omission a fatal flaw. I know that book reviewers are constrained by severe word limits, but the creatio ex nihilo argument drives Hart’s reflections in That All Shall Be Saved and therefore must be noted by every reviewer who seeks to inform the reader of its primary thesis.

But before discussing the import of the claims, I wish to identify a weakness of TASBS that only became clear to me in the writing of this article. I now believe that much of the con­fusion and the misunderstanding engendered by the book might have been avoided if Hart had included an initial meditation devoted to the Holy Trinity as absolute Love, self-re­vealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those of us who are acquainted with Hart’s writings came to TASBS with his understanding of God and gospel firmly in our minds; hence we readily grasped his assertion that eternal perdition violates the good news brought to the world by Jesus Christ. It’s not that the divine mercy is missing in the book; on the contrary, it underlies every sentence, every syllogism and logical dilemma, every expres­sion of moral outrage and prophetic indictment. It informs Hart’s exposition of human personhood and his analysis of humanity’s unquenchable desire for the Good. The infinite love of God for mankind is the evangelical heart of TASBS, yet somehow many readers appear to have missed it. Some have even finished the book thinking that Hart has presented us with a philosophical construal of divinity and eschatology alien to the Scrip­tures, as if he had not learned the character of God from Scripture and Eucharist. Consider this sentence from O’Neill’s above-cited tweet: “There’s a rationalism at the heart of this kind of univer­sal­ism that cannot be ignored.” I disagree. Universalists do not project onto the Godhead their abstract constructions of love. They do not reason to the kenotic love of Jesus Christ offered on behalf of humanity on the cross; they indwell the divinely revealed narrative of this love and then extrapolate to the glorious consummation that love intends and must intend. The incarnate Son, crucified and risen, reveals God the Holy Trinity as absolute, unconditional, all-embracing, triumphant love. Read Origen, read St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian, read Sergius Bulgakov—and then reread the New Testament and all the texts that intimate and promise universal reconciliation. When the Scriptures are interpreted through a herme­neutic of boundless love and paschal victory, the biblical case for eternal damnation loses its power and cogency. Now reread That All Shall Be Saved. Hart does not reason to Love; he reasons from it.

Back to the missing claims.8 All orthodox Christians confess that God has freely created the cosmos ex nihilo. Hart notes that this doctrine not only has metaphysical but also moral implications:

Perhaps the first theological insight I learned from Gregory of Nyssa is that the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not merely a cosmological or metaphysical claim, but also an eschatological claim about the world’s rela­tion to God, and for that reason a moral claim about the nature of God in himself. In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the per­spective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness. Anything will­ingly done is done toward an end; and anything done toward an end is defined by that end.9

God creates the world from the eschaton. The conclusion of the story envelops the begin­ning; the meaning of the story is revealed in its end. Is God truly good? Can his love triumph over evil and sin? Are we living in a tragedy or a comedy? Let’s skip ahead and see how the story ends, for the ending of this particular story necessarily discloses the charac­ter of its author. Protology folds into eschatology. When the last trump sounds and the final judgment is declared, we shall see that God’s antecedent will (“his universal will for creation apart from the fall”) will prove identical to his consequent will (“his particular will regarding each creature in consequence of the fall”).10 “Under the canopy of God’s omnipo­tence and omniscience,” explains Hart, “the consequent is already wholly virtually present in the antecedent.”11 The final future defines the eternal identity of the Creator. Hart confronts the reader with a discomforting dilemma: if one or more rational beings are condemned to everlasting torment, it is divinely intended and God is revealed as their tormentor; yet this cannot be, if the gospel is true:

God goes forth in all beings and in all beings returns to himself, as even Aquinas (following a long Christian tradition) affirms; but God also does this not as an expression of his dialectical struggle with some recalcitrant exteri­ority—some external obstacle to be surmounted or some unrealized possibil­ity to be achieved—but rather as the manifestation of an inex­haustible power wholly possessed by the divine in peaceful liberty in eter­nity. God has no need of the world; he creates it not because he is dependent upon it, but because its dependency on him is a fitting expression of the bounty of his goodness. So all that the doctrine of creation adds to the basic metaphysical picture is the further assurance that in this divine outpouring there is no element of the “irrational”: nothing purely spontaneous, or organic, or even mechanical, beyond the power of God’s rational freedom. This, however, also means that within the story of creation, viewed from its final cause, there can be no resi­due of the pardonably tragic, no irrecuper­able or irreconcilable remainder left behind at the end of the tale; for, if there were, this irreconcilable excess would also be something God has directly caused, as an entailment freely assumed in his act of creating, and so as an expression of who he freely is. This is no more than the simple logic of the absolute.12

Gravamen: if God is absolute love and wills the good and salvation of every human being (1 Tim 2:4), then hell cannot be the eschatological destiny of even one person. To think otherwise shows that we do not understand the meaning of love. Nor do we escape the problem by suggesting that the eternal sufferings of the damned mysteriously contribute to “the greatest manifestation of God’s creative self-revelation.” To take this route is to fall into the abyss of equivocity: “love” is turned inside out and the gospel becomes unpreach­able. As St Silouan of Athos replied to a hermit who maintained that the damned deserve their suffering: “Love could not bear that. We must pray for all.”13

O’Neill acknowledges the problem of equivocity and grasps the nettle. We should not be surprised by the strangeness of a love manifested in everlasting retributive punishment. Our heavenly Father is a strange parent, and he is not obliged to save any sinner, much less all sinners:

Hart presents us with the picture of a parent who is saved and yet also aware of a child who is damned. He gestures at it wildly with his words as if to say: “See how strange this looks! Look at how ugly this picture is. It could not possibly be the case.” I admit that it appears strange to me. So do many aspects of the Faith. But strange does not equal contradictory. Since none of us really understand what heaven is, my first takeaway from the image is that I am indeed contemplating a mystery, the reconciliation of which necessarily extends beyond my temporal purview. For Hart, how­ever, the mystery has been cast aside. Either the child is saved or the parent cannot taste heaven. The issue is that the argument is presented as an appeal to the emotions. If one even begins to contemplate how these two truths might be reconciled, one can almost hear Hart already begin to question one’s qualities as a parent. As with many arguments within this text, one has the feeling that Hart is pushing the analogia entis to its breaking point. At times, he seems to push it straight into univocity. We cannot forget that parental imagery is just that: imagery meant to aid but not exhaust our contempla­tion of the divine. It does not take much theo­log­ical acumen to see how quickly the metaphor can fail. The human father owes many things to his son by nature, while participation in the divine life of God is radically unowed to man on account of the infinite disparity between natures. We might say that the Father owes the divine life to the begotten Son, but it is in no way owed to the creature qua creature. This is the very definition of grace: supernatural and utterly gratuitous.14

If one is dogmatically committed to everlasting perdition, the analogical rope between divine love and human parental love must be cut. It’s just imagery and metaphor, as O’Neill reminds us. But consider the cost. We immediately lose our moral objection to supralap­sarian, or double, predestination:

Hyper-Calvinist: “The Almighty Creator has chosen to damn some of his creatures as vessels of wrath, apart from their merits and demerits.”

Thomist: “But that would be unjust.”

Hyper-Calvinist (smiling): “Who are you to judge the strange, inscrutable justice of God according to your anthropomorphic notions? Has the potter no right over the clay?”

Needless to say, Hart has little sympathy for either Thomism or Calvinism. Both systems reduce theological language to vacuity. He aptly quotes John Stuart Mill: “To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?”

But O’Neill is hardly alone in his avoidance of Hart’s creatio ex nihilo argument advanced in the first medi­tation. Just about every critical review of That All Shall Be Saved I have read, whether by Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant theologians, has ignored Hart’s powerful moral objection to infernalism, thereby confirming my working principle. Once we embrace eternal damnation as dogma, our minds and hearts inevitably close. Nothing to see here … move along. It does not surprise me that reviewers pre­fer to focus their attention on Hart’s contestable argu­ments on personhood (meditation #3) and freedom as realization of our divinely-given orientation to the Good (meditation #4). The case for universal salvation, though, does not rest on arguments such as these. If sound, they provide decisive support for the greater hope; but even if they should be refuted, universal­ists will continue to proclaim the cosmic victory of the risen Christ. God will be all in all, even if we cannot imagine how he can bring about this glorious outcome.15 The love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be defeated. Ultimately the debate must be joined on the fundamental Christian confession “God is love” (1 John 4:8).16

I would like to comment on Dr O’Neill’s reflections on the fourth meditation, which is my favorite chapter; but this article is already too long, and the topic is well-above my philo­sophical pay grade anyway. I would like, though, to issue this challenge to Christian philos­ophers who, like O’Neil, find Hart’s reasoning on creaturely freedom and humanity’s ordering to the Good flawed and unpersuasive: temporarily bracket your dogmatic com­mit­ment to eternal damnation and with all of your intellectual acumen and good will formulate an improved, superior version of the argument, with as cogent rejoinders as you can muster to the usual objections. Think of it as a thought experiment. Then ask yourself this question: “If I were not dogmatically committed to the doctrine of perdi­tion, and therefore to the possibility of irrevocable rejection of God, would I find my elaboration of Hart’s argument intellectually compelling, perhaps even convincing?”17



[1] I will not be including Orthodox reviews in this series for two reasons: (1) because none have yet been published that are worthy of critical analysis [edit: Andrew Louth’s review is now available], and (2) because I believe that the question of apokatastasis still remains open in Orthodoxy. See the following articles: “Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?,” “Orthodoxy, Dogma, and the Neuralgic Question of Doctrinal Development,” and “Dogma, Damnation, and the Eucatastrophe of the Jesus Story.”

[2] See Justin Coyle, “May Catholics Endorse Universalism?“; also see Ty Monroe, “Faith, Reason, and Moral Sensibility,” Taylor Nutter, “The Possibility of a Thomistic Universalism,” and R. T. Pomplun, “Heat and Light: David Bentley Hart on the Fires of Hell,” Modern Theology (2020): https://doi.org/10.1111/moth.12650.

[3] Famously proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? Cf. Avery Cardinal Dulles, “The Population of Hell,” First Things (May 2003): 36-41.

[4] Taylor Patrick O’Neill, Nova et Vetera 18 (Fall 2020): 1399-1403.

[5] Ibid., pp. 1399-1400.

[6] As I noted in my article “The Polemics of Perdition.” Also see Jordan Wood, “The Remarkable Unity of Rhetoric and Dialectic in That All Shall Be Saved,” as well as Hart’s own thoughts about his rhetorical style: “In Defense of a Certain Tone of Voice.”

[7] Hart, p. 66.

[8] I have attempted a summary of these claims in “The Incoherence of Everlasting Perdition” and “Revealing the God Behind the Curtain.” Since I haven’t heard back from David, I assume they are not too far off the mark.

[9] Hart, p. 68. Hart first advanced his creatio ex nihilo argument in his 2015 Notre Dame lecture, published in the online journal Radical Orthodoxy (15 September 2015): “God, Creation, and Evil.”

[10] Hart, p. 82. Also see Hart’s article “What God Wills and What God Permits.”

[11] Hart, p. 83.

[12] Ibid., pp. 71-72.

[13] See Met Kallistos Ware, “The Salvation of the World According to St Silouan.”

[14] O’Neill, p. 1402. It might be observed that a modern Orthodox theologian could not have written this paragraph, despite the Eastern Church’s emphatic apophatic commit­ments, so strong is Orthodoxy’s conviction that the Philanthropolos Theos would never, could never inflict interminable retributive punishment upon his children. For the same reason, she has little interest in Latin notions of merit and demerit—they are eschatologi­cally irrelevant. If any suffer everlastingly, it is because they experience the divine glory as an excruciating inferno: see “Divine Presence and the River of Fire.”

[15] For one imagining of how God might save the impenitent, see George MacDonald’s sermon “The Consuming Fire.”

[16] I am struck by the similarities between the present universalist controversy and the 16th century Catholic-Protestant controversy on justification by faith apart from works. Both controversies raise the question “What does it mean for God to be love and grace?” As Robert W. Jenson writes: “According to the Reformation insight and discovery, the gospel is a wholly unconditional promise of the human fulfillment of its hearers, made by the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” One might even say that the greater hope is but the extension of justification by faith unto the cosmos. In both, divine grace triumphs over sin and evil.

[17] I apologize for the click-bait title. I trust that all my Roman Catholic friends and acquaintances know the deep respect in which I hold Catholicism. If I am picking on Catholic theologians in this series, it’s only because the Latin Church provides the strongest example of how dogma constrains genuine consideration of the arguments advanced on behalf of the greater hope.

(Go to “Freedom for Perdition”)

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64 Responses to When Hell Becomes Dogma: The Closing of the Catholic Mind

  1. Interesting article. If I were Catholic, after reading Hart’s book, I would probably try to push Balthasar’s hope to an ALMOST certainty, with an emphasis on the almost. From my understanding of the Roman Catholic dogmatic tradition, it does seem to forbid a universalist certainty. I could get some sort of intellectual satisfaction from that “almost certain” position, though I would have to submit what now seems to me a more certain hope that I see in scripture up to the Catholic Church and assume that my private exegetical assumption must be wrong.

    Your post brings up an interesting issue regarding dogma itself. You say,

    “If I am picking on Catholic theologians in this series, it’s only because the Latin Church provides the strongest example of how dogma constrains genuine consideration of the arguments advanced on behalf of the greater hope.”

    What exactly is the point you’re trying to make about dogma? Is there a larger point here? Because it seems like you could take that above logic and apply it to ANY dogma. For example, dogma constrains Christian’s honest assessment of Oneness Pentecostalism, or arguments against the possibility of the incarnation or Trinity. Surely you don’t think dogmatizing things is ALWAYS bad because it restricts free thought.

    Fr Behr’s point has been that dogma is the first principle that enables us to have any coherent thought at all. Though I’m MUCH more favorable towards natural theology than Behr, I’ve always thought that point was interesting. And yet Behr is a universalist.

    So is there a way we can speak about apokatastasis and dogma that gives a more positive spin to dogma itself? That doesn’t make it sound like any time anything is dogmatized, it just chips more and more away at our ability to reason?


    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Full disclosure: I’m an Anglican and we have something of a problematic relationship with dogma anyway, but if I may make a suggestion.
      The problem is asserting that something must be true because it is dogma. This is not the case: this is circular reasoning. The church’s message does not have to be true because the church itself says so. I would suggest rather that it is more accurate to say something is dogma because it has to be true: that is something can be regarded as dogma if, if it were not true, the church or Christianity or the Christian message as a whole would be rendered nonsense, or contradictory, or fundamentally different from that which it is.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Mark: “What exactly is the point you’re trying to make about dogma? Is there a larger point here?”

      No larger point, Mark. I haven’t had any further insights into dogma since writing “Orthodoxy, Dogma, and the Neuralgic Question of Doctrinal Development.” My goal in the present series is fairly modest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • to all above in this comment thread: lets pray to the saints that they would swiftly intercede to allow DBH to publish his next book. Supposedly it’s going to be all about how dogma and tradition are supposed to work. I think it will be a wonderful clarifying word for all of us here.


        • Alex says:

          This would extremely welcome, especially given criticisms—such as those of Gomes (https://credomag.com/article/shall-all-be-saved/)—that Hart completely jettisons tradition in favor of “private moral intuitions” in his argument for universalism.


          • DBH says:

            I do jettison traditions (note the plural), but certainly not in favor of private moral intuitions. I do so in favor of very strict logical criteria of coherence and intelligibility and consistency. Logic is in fact the only means we have of knowing the difference between rational faith and irrational fideism. And the logic of the book has not as yet been answered even partially by any critic.

            I find that encouraging. I also find it to be precisely what one should expect, because much of that logic is easily recognized by any intelligent person who thinks about it, and I am merely calling attention to things so obvious that only unthinking adherence to nonsense could blind us to them.

            Liked by 2 people

          • JBG says:

            And what is it about private intuitions that renders them unacceptable? Isn’t it the implication that they would be arbitrary and not grounded in universal knowledge and experience? Isn’t that another would have to simply take such testimony at your word (and based on your authority), since it does not accord with any system of self-evident, self-validating existential facts.



          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes, but if a private intuition is shared with a lot of people, such as infernalism enjoys, then one can say that at least it isn’t private – and thus one can take perfect cover the collective delusion provides.


  2. brian says:

    Eh, I personally don’t worry about it. Thomas Merton embraced Christian universalism and Balthasar minimally leaves open the possibility for apokatastasis. There’s no doubt dogmatic blinkers cause presumptive dismissal of arguments that do not hold to dominant positions. There’s still room to maneuver, in my opinion, but I’m naturally a contrarian, so I won’t be too offended if they want to kick me out. I’m still going to include them among those who God destines for love. Annoying, isn’t it?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Curdie says:

      Just wondering, where did you find that Merton embraced universalism? I’m not doubting you, it definitely seems like he’s leaning that way in much of his writing, but I’ve never personally read anything of Merton’s that was definitively universalist (but I would love to if there is something out there). If anything, he seemed more likely to embrace pluralism to me than Catholic Universalism.


    • I’m in the same boat, Brian. It is also revealing that some of the great Thomists (like J. Maritain) of the 20th century tried to embrace some form of apokatastasis. Of course, we would find his attempt wanting as he hoped that all the damned (including Lucifer and the devils) would reach a natural state of happiness in limbo. Nevertheless, he knew at bottom he could not accept the popular, infernalism of thomism at the time. His system wouldn’t allow it while his saintly gut said all things will be made new.


  3. I affirm all 20/21 of the councils recognised in the latin tradition, which means i’ve got some severe dogmas to wrestle with which quite explicitly affirm “everlasting” damnation.

    But so what? it’s all just language games and the Logos, being the ultimate truth, will always win if we leave space for him. Just because damnation is everlasting does not in any way require that God be either unable or unwilling to save the souls who are stuck there. An everlasting damnation is no obstacle for divine love.

    Admittedly, I’ve run these ideas by DBH before on this blog and he wasn’t too keen on the apophatic mysticism involved. The understanding that I came away with is that DBH refuses to affirm the statement “Damnation is everlasting” to be true in any sense whatsoever. unfortunately from my perspective, this really isn’t good enough, because Catholics are dogmatically bound to affirm statements of this sort. Therefore DBH is not acting particularly ecumenically, and the vibe I get is that he would rather that Latin christians just completely abandon their dogmatic tradition and jump ship to orthodoxy. This is a tough sell.

    Just to rehash what i’ve already written elsewhere on this blog, I don’t necessarily see a problem with affirming that Hell is “endless, everlasting, infinite in both duration and intensity, unending, eternal” etc. So long as by affirming these things, you don’t also affirm that “God is unable and unwilling to save these people, and in fact never will”. The first statements are basically orthodox catholicism, the second statement is rank blasphmey. Hell is just as bad and unending as catholics think it is; but no, this in no way prevents God from acheiving universal salvation. This might appear a contradiction, but actually it’s just holding two convictions in tension, which happens often in the history of doctrine and theology. What tends to happen is that such tension serves as a prompt for further theological reflection and elaboration. Heresy is when you only go for one horn of the dilemma, rather than trying to peacefully reconcile.

    So in short, I haven’t worked out a robust synthesis of Unending damnation (as required by catholic dogma) with apokatastasis (as required by common sense, scripture, the gospel and human decency), but I’m sure that such a synthesis can be found and one day some one will discover it. Until that day, devout catholics will generally have to apostasise and become orthodox if they want to believe in apokatastasis.


    • As a Catholic, I’ve been holding a similar position of tension. But it’s nothing new. I think of Thomas Aquinas’ rejection of the immaculate conception. Because he could not live with the apparent contradiction that all need salvation and that sin never touched Mary he wrongly chose one over the other. So, arguably, the greatest catholic theologian erred regarding the deposit of faith because he could not hold two doctrines in tension with each other. Catholics now look on these two doctrines as easily compatible. But it was not so for over a thousand years. In this way I think we can hold the doctrine of eternal hell and the salvation of all while hoping one day there will be a way of reconciling them. I think Justine Coyle has done a decent job in his article at EO (Father cites it).


  4. Sonya Stockklausner says:

    I am not as educated or erudite as so many here. And dogma per se is not part of the tradition of much of my theological tradition and early training. Hence my rather naive question. Is there a hierarchical nature to dogma? That is, are some dogmatic statements more important than others because they form the underlying basis of other dogmatic statements and must answer to those statements?


  5. Tom says:

    The absence of any successful defeat (well, of even any real engagement) of Hart’s first (moral) argument is revealing. If there is no rational demonstration of the falsity of all Hart’s arguments (and they ALL have to fail, because if any one is true, UR is true even if other of his arguments are inconclusive), one ends up essentially conceding UR rationally while denying it ecclesially, no?

    And Hart’s point about the evacuation of meaning from all the relevant terms (love, goodness, mercy, justice, etc) has to be engaged. I don’t see any way one can avoid Hart’s ‘contagion of equivocity’. All theological claims are consumed by it IF love, mercy, goodness, and justice can set into motion, out of nothing, even the possibility of the eternal loss or unending suffering of a single sentient creature.

    One ends up having to admit not only that the magisterium is correct, but that the Church came to believe in what God revealed by embracing/employing contradictory meanings to Scripture’s terms (love, mercy, goodness, justice). In other words, it seems the language failure doesn’t only implicate Catholic dogma as inherently, morally and semantically nonsensical ‘after the fact’, it exposes divine revelation itself to be a contradictory act at its heart, since the terms of revelation (love, goodness, mercy, justice) have to carry meanings the opposite of how we rationally construe them in order for this view of revealed truth to be held true. One’s left without any predictable, sane logic for construing the terms. This is intellectual/rational suicide, no?

    Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      I suppose it’s much better than real suicide, and maybe a belief in God’s unending wrath against those suffering spiritually enough to take their lives can dissuade some from that path. Still, I think even more could be rescued from despair by a genuine Gospel of divine love.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. JBG says:

    Trusting, or rather being taught to trust, that the “revealed” (i.e., arbitrary) supersedes rational, critical thought is the problem. Not only does it supersede reason, but it can contradict it. It is revealed—end of argument. This kind of faith is utterly toxic and delusional. It is the faith of the kool-aid gulping cultist.

    It is rather telling when the principal objection to Hart’s work is that it is rational—too rational. I imagine that he will gladly accept this criticism.

    Even if the existence of eternal hell was unambiguously delineated in the Bible, I would roundly reject it. If it was unambiguously delineated in each and every holy book every written, I would roundly reject it. I would do so because it is abjectly irrational (not to mention unfathomably sadistic).

    But the cultist maintains that one cannot trust reason. This, of course, means one cannot trust any rational statement or give oneself over to a rational decision. But the cultish stance of placing arbitrary dogma over and above reason doesn’t just happen—it is a decision. To be consistent, they must admit that such a decision cannot grounded in reason because reason cannot be trusted. They must admit that theirs is an irrational position.

    And yes, the stark incoherence is totally lost on them. They are blind to it—that is what happens when you subscribe to cult-think. One of the most pervasive misconceptions is that cults are small, fringe groups. This couldn’t be further from the truth.


  7. DBH says:

    Let me live up to my irascible reputation here.

    I have been absent from this site and from this argument for some months now, as I have been deeply immersed in a number of other things. So I’ve lost the thread of what may or may not have been going on lately. But, truth be told, I’ve also wearied of the debate, since it’s impossible to get the other side to respond to the actual arguments of TASBS.

    O’Neill’s review is just more of the same. Nowhere does it accurately address the argument made by the book. Instead, it is full of misrepresentations, among them the claim that the book’s argument is rhetorical rather than logical and metaphysical (a sentence or two usefully pulled out of context on analogy or on metaphysical exposition to make the point). Needless to say, he does not get even the remarks on analogy and fatherhood right. It’s possible that the argument went over O’Neill’s head because the genre (English prose) confused him. Even so—no response to the argument about the modal moral collapse of the distinction between divine will and permission and between antecedent and consequent divine will at the eschatological horizon, no accurate account of the argument about free will (much less a cogent reply), no grasp of what is going on in the meditation on the coinherent nature of contingent personhood, etc.

    I have simply lost interest now. Another ditherer shambling across the text’s surface, missing the landscape because he’s already blinkered, blindfolded, and bespectacled himself by assuming in advance that he knows what must be true and what I must be arguing.

    As for the book I wrote, Al, it was never intended to be the sort of comprehensive survey you may have anticipated precisely because such a survey is utterly pointless. The purpose of the six or seven part argument the book advances is that the very concept of an eternal hell is incoherent in the most basic logical terms if Christianity as a whole is logically coherent, and that therefore no authority on earth—no church, no father, no pope, no bishop, no council—can possibly make it intelligible or true. And, as I have also repeatedly said, until some critic comes along who proves he has followed the argument (i.e., has been able to follow it because he has not determined in advance that it must be false), and then offers an interesting or germane reply, I will continue to consider the matter closed. The argument remains irrefutable in my estimation, and the repeated failure of fellows like O’Neill to refute it continues to fortify me in my sublime arrogance on the matter (that and, of course, the fact that I happen to be right).

    I have to say, though, I’m beginning to despair of the reading skills of a lot of these guys.

    Liked by 5 people

    • JBG says:

      It is impossible to argue with someone who has contempt for rational thought.

      They cannot all have such poor reading comprehension skills. They have rejected your argument—and all rational arguments—before they even began reading.

      What they need is a thorough deprogramming. This is not hyperbole. No argument can penetrate a cemented mind.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Suffering and loss help – being dragged by them into the Void.


      • It also appears that they have contempt for emotional thought. And, certainly, how can one argue against contempt for emotions and for logical thought? At least, the excerpt about the “flaw” of the parent-child analogy suggests contempt for emotional approaches. I think that, perhaps, either logical thought or emotion, while insufficient to grasp the whole of reality of God, if actually listened to will lead one towards Him, but what to do when both are rejected? I don’t know!


  8. The last Twitter comment from O’Neill shows that, at some level, he sees that universal reconciliation appears to be the more reasonable and beneficial option, yet he has bound himself (voluntarily) to a particular understanding of dogma and revelation that in turn prevents him from accepting that which seems more reasonable. It is all akin to saying that there is a goodness that surpasses the Good.

    Thomism: it’s a hell of a drug.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Cameron, of interest here is John Milbank’s reply to Taylor:

      Liked by 3 people

    • I’m assuming that Taylor finds the arguments in favor of staying Catholic stronger than Hart’s arguments for universalism. And so he would simply assume that Hart has made a mistake in his reasoning regardless of whether Taylor can find it or not. While I tend to think Hart’s arguments are actually more convincing than arguments in favor of being Catholic (I’m not Catholic), such a position doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable one.

      We all have to make judgments like this and we aren’t always going to agree. I believe the scriptures are inspired (though not inerrant), but if I didn’t think that was a revealed truth of Christianity, I certainly wouldn’t believe it. All things being equal, it seems to make more sense to say that the Hebrew scriptures were simply written by a bunch of different people throughout history, some of whom seemed quite genocidal, mysoginist and xenophobic and that there is no spiritual/allegorical meaning to be found anywhere. But things aren’t equal. I have overriding reasons to believe Christianity is true, so I believe in the inspiration (in a very Origenian fashion) of the Scriptures.

      So it seems unfair to say that Taylor has simply accepted a doctrinal system that forces him to reject reasonable arguments. He probably finds the premises upon which the system that forces him to reject universalism to to be more reasonable than Hart’s conclusions. Both are reasonable, but he seems to find the arguments for remaning Catholic MORE reasonable. I don’t agree with him, but I don’t think his reasoning amounts to intellectual suicide.


  9. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    I like the challenge issued at the end of the article. I remember going through a similar process at one stage of my life and it contributed to my turn towards universalism. The catch is that I had done it all before; ostensibly with my head & heart in the right place, but still with the same old cadre of religious voices in my head making sure that it was ONLY an exercise in proving my original position correct. I think that most often arguments play a secondary role in changing minds. The mind & heart first need to be softened and then the conclusion from a rival argument can become a live option. At least that’s my experience. My own inner dogmas weren’t fully open to alteration by argument until something else placed a question mark at the end of them. It’s depressingly easy to remain unconvinced of even the most cogent of arguments when you already “know” the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rob says:

    Notice the chilling implications of what O’Neill says in that tweet. God could save everyone but actively chooses not to for no discernable reason. If one actually thought about that for any length of time, even a purely selfish love of God becomes totally impossible as you or those closest to you might well be among those arbitrarily damned for executing the predestined will of God just as perfectly as those who are saved. And the traditional Catholic idea of abandonment to divine providence? How, when you are obliged to believe that providence might have decided to hate and torment you from and for all eternity without cause?

    If this is faith, no wonder atheism has been taking off.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Can someone explain to me how that is different from Calvinism? I admit, on the face of it, it does seem preposterous to me. But I don’t know Thomism very well

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rob says:

        There is a lot of sophistry about it, but in the end there is no meaningful distinction. God has either chosen you to be infallibly saved or infallibly damned, nothing you can do about it either way. Traditionalist Catholicism indicates that your particular odds are not very good, so even a total sociopath ought to be pretty disturbed by it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        The more interesting question is how either differs morally from satanism. If one’s going to adore an arbitrary monster, one can’t really be too fastidious about those who choose to adore another one.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I know. It’s very strange. And it makes me suspect that Satan does have his hand in it. Hasn’t it been his game from the temptation in the Garden itself to convince men that God is evil – is like him?


        • Christopher McGarvey says:

          I have been arguing for a while now that Satanism is in fact the only intelligible moral option in a universe in which God damns creatures of his own making to eternal conscious torment, and particularly in any Augustinian predestinarian universe. If God is a capricious tyrant who determines/permits his creatures to be destined to eternal perdition, then the only possible sane and moral response is total rebellion, and the destruction of as much of his malevolent order as possible, even if victory is ontologically impossible. And that is precisely the problem with these visions of God and the cosmos… that it is so easy to imagine a morally superior God, and that the rebels and Satans of his universe obviously possess a moral high ground over their creator. Like Ivan, I must return the ticket to salvation in this universe, and side with the damned.


          • JBG says:

            Those in “heaven” would not be those who are morally superior but rather those who were willing and able to overlook the manifestly unjust, sadistic scheme for the purpose of securing their golden ticket. Craven, brute self-interest is what is rewarded in heaven.

            I used to pose the question to my religious friends: How many people would be “worshipping” and “praising” God if humanity had incontrovertible knowledge that oblivion is the immutable end for everyone?

            Let’s be frank, people are trying to get something for themselves. Far from inspiring selflessness, religious belief rooted in a model of eternal punishment/reward inspires the most debased selfishness, all the while masquerading as “morality” and “love for God”.


          • Robert Fortuin says:

            och, but who can know the mind of God. 😉


          • Grant says:

            JBG while I agree that a worldview founded on the idea of infernalism does help engender a sense of selfishness and nerosis, in which love of God is rendered meaningless and even a horror, and in which acts of love (in those geninuely believing in infernalism lack become at best acts of deep cognative disonance or ats of selfishness).

            Though whether people would continue to worship and believe in a system in which they believed they had would face oblivion as an end for everyone, well history would say yes. In the OT itself there are traces of what those under the older Yahwahist belief systems thought, in which the end of all was that of the shadowy Sheol. That is of a essentially near non-existence, only a shadowy barely half-self, barely of any awareness and a destiny shared by all, no matter their virtues or failures, or favour with Yahweh, yet worship remained. Abraham’s bosom and similar views, along with the promise of resurrection would come much later, but it was not a aspect of earlier belief systems. Similar story with ancient Greek belief, a reading of the Odessey will reveal no concept of a happy afterlife for anyone, all decend to Hades as half-existing, gibbering shades of which Achilles who lived the best life according to that heoric belief system but declares:

            ‘I’d rather slave on earth for another man – some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive – than rule down here over all the breathless dead.’

            This was the view for a long time, a dismal destiny for all humanity equally inrespective of their virtues or the favour of the gods (or lack thereof). Yet the belief system did not collapse.

            The New Testament references the Sadducees who admittedly we know not that much off, yet one detail seems to be their denial of resurrection and of spirits and of an afterlife, essentially they seem to hold to earlier views, but they still worshipped God (then again, that may well be because they were amongst the weathly and perhaps saw reward and favour being shown in present so such views helped enforce current status including inequalities and injustices, but this may not be doing them justice).

            And the Germanic belief system held to the ‘long defeat’, in the end the gods, men, the world would fall, the monsters and chaos would win and all would fall into oblivion. Even the idea of Valhalla was when it arised was just a moment’s respite until the end fell, a place for the chosen heroes to feast and prepare for the final, climatic battle. A battle which they would loss, they yet held to this view and face it with a grim fatalism and flintly determination, knowing all they did was utlimately futile. Perhaps one of the reasons the Gospel had such impact amongst the Ango-Saxon English, certainly a theme running through Beowulf is the failure of hope under the old belief the poet knew so well.

            Basically the idea of a future of oblivion hasn’t hindered worship in the past or produced questions of the problem of evil, or love or justice in certian other wordviews or belief systems, particularly where they did not view such as being the primary truth of reality. Chaos was often seen as a primary truth of reality, which needed to be placated a staved off, the gods themselves were not necessary there to aid men, so much as to be feared, plecated to stave of their anger, and even that could never say amongst Greeks be trusted that you had done that and not offended them all. Humans are often their playthings and slaves (Enkil and Marduk create humanity to be their slaves, doing the work for the gods), and where gods might protect they would fall to the terror and chaos in the end, as in Germanic mythology, where all is ultimately hopeless. The idea that some promise of personal (or sometimes even coperate) paradise or joyful afterlife of some sort is inherent to ‘relgious’ belief systems just hasn’t been true in many places and in many times, and for long streches of time, of centuries or millennia. Questions of the problem of evil and justice and love arise where this is viewed to be the heart and source of what reality is, there such a fate becomes problematic and contradictory, so of Christianity infernalism (or even anhilationism) strikes against key Christian claims of who God is, what ulitmate reality is, and under Christanity yes, worshipping God believing this is insane.

            It would perhaps also be, in the shadow of Judeo-Christian belief ironically that adherence to such views and beings is shown to be the evil and mistaken, so ironically but justly it is a Christian derived morality that critques infernalism so strongly, and shows that indeed to believe in the God of Augustinian (or lets be honest, any Christian theology which views infernalism as true, since St Augustine and his followers were simply working out the implications of what it means infernalism is true, in which Calvin stated this conclusion most terrifyingly and clearly) predesintation would be no different to choosing Satan. And morally inferior to that choice in a way. Christainity’s own morality and views on God (and what is the truth of reality) is infernalism most devistating critic.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. JBG says:

    O’Neill: “That God could have saved all is the only metaphysical tenable position. That He doesn’t is revealed.”

    How does he know—not believe—but know that this is revealed?

    I assume he does not accept the “revealed truths” of other religions, even though the dynamic is identical for those believers and their revelations. They believe their revelations in the same manner that he does, but oddly, he is not swayed by this argument.

    How can he make his case? How are his irrational convictions distinguishable from those of other faiths and how could he make the argument this his “revealed truths” are better than their “revealed truths” of other religions, when the only grounds for belief is their purported revelation. There are no arguments on any other grounds because there are no other grounds.

    It is so interesting when you take the dynamics within Christian belief and flip them around. What a Christian sees as unacceptable and even ridiculous in another religion is seen as entirely acceptable within their own. The religious mind never ceases to amaze me.


    • Luca says:

      As a Christian who like to read about every religion, I would agree with you on this particular topic, since eternal Hell really is an untenable position. In my opinion it prevents many people, who otherwise would be well disposed, to fully embrace Christianity.
      But the fact that so many religion do indeed exists (while skepticism need to be enforced or disappear, because it is absurd) does not disprove religion itself, on the contrary, since at their top all religions appears to agree with each other, the variety of the faith present in the world confirms the validity of the religious experience itself – as DBH explain in his book The Experience of God.
      And the point about which they all agree (even Buddhism, albeit it does so in a purely negative way) is that there is a ground of existence to be found outside matter, space and time, from whence everything comes and to whence everything return. That “ground” can be called in many different way. Particular revelations, like Christ, never deny that ground itself, but firmly point towards it.


  12. Marc says:

    Dante ruined Western Christianity with the hell ideology


    • Marc says:

      that was a bad joke by the way 🙂 not serious….

      in all serious though…. I assume at this point DBH is tired of this topic, its time to move on…I’m more excited for what his next work. DBH, can you give us a tentative date for when “You are Gods” will most likely come out?


  13. Robert Fortuin says:

    ” I would like, though, to issue this challenge”

    >> crickets <<


  14. Fr. Kimel,

    With all due respect, I highly encourage you to read my article on the topic of universalism’s dogmatic status within Orthodoxy. I pray that you will see that if you wish to be Orthodox, you are not exempt from the “problem” of having to believe in the eternity of hell on pane of heresy.



    • DBH says:

      I wonder what “pane of heresy” would be. For some ultra-Orthodox, that would mean stained glass in an Orthodox church.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Codex, what is your Orthodox name? You have me at a disadvantage. Also, what is your jurisdiction?


    • Rob says:

      Question: assuming that your interpretation of what is or is not infallible dogma are correct, on what basis should an individual believer in universalism become or remain Orthodox? You cannot appeal to my moral sense, as it tells me that infernalism is cruel beyond belief and unworthy of any God worth believing in. You cannot appeal to my reason, as I can see no reasonable counterargument to DBH’s regarding freedom and the Good, and how evil is to one degree or another necessarily unfree. Having dismissed both of the faculties I use for determining truth as unreliable, what is left as the ground on which I should be Orthodox?

      Or, to put it more simply: if I am not to trust my own judgement with regards to the moral necessity of universalism, why should I trust anything it has to say with regard to anything your or anyone else might claim?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas says:

      If there’s a contradiction between Orthodoxy, on the one hand, and the unrestricted power and goodness of God on the other — wouldn’t that be an argument against Orthodoxy?

      Liked by 2 people

    • arthurjaco says:

      Hello Codex,

      1) Many of the Fathers that you quote clearly did not believe that anyone who is *not* a member of the One True Church could still *possibly* make it to Heaven.
      Put in other terms, many of the Fathers that you quote were explicitly religious exclusivists.
      Many of their quotes simply speak for themselves and St Cyprian of Carthage, whom you quote, is perhaps the most unambiguous representative of that club.

      2) Since most of its Fathers, most of its Saints and most of its Patriarchs have believed in that degrading nonsense (sorry, “belief worthy of consideration by virtue of being old and held by most believers up until fairly recently”), it can be said that the Orthodox Church, *being* these Fathers, Saints and Patriarchs in a very real way since it lives and grows through them, has been *primarily* exclusivist for most of its History – just like the Roman Catholic Church.

      3) You entertain the *possibility* that *some* non-Christians might actually be saved – though you’re not 100% sure, and I know that because I’ve read your blog.

      4) So you entertain the *possibility* that the Orthodox Church might have been dead wrong for roughly one millenium and a half about such a crucial matter as its soteriological teaching on the fate of the unbaptised – which is to say, the majority of Humanity.

      Why the cherry-picking?

      Instead of advising an Orthodox priest and a scholar of religion who converted to Orthodoxy over 30 years ago on what they must and must not believe in order to “be Orthodox”, why not be a “real” Orthodox yourself by becoming an unabashed and full-fledged religious exclusivist like those “authoritative” Fathers you chose to quote in your article?

      Why are those Fathers and the Church itself *unquestionably authoritative* when it comes to Hell’s alleged eternity and *possibly dead wrong* when it comes to the equally basic matter of who can and cannot be saved?

      On a positive note, though, I was pleased to learn that you believe that there *might* actually be hope for non-Christians.

      I am glad to know that you entertain the *possibility* that a 15 year old Hindu teenager who was bought by unscrupulous men to become their sex slave for the rest of her miserable life might *still* not burn eternally in the exquisitely loving flames of Hell for her unspeakable audacity of not reading apologetic works on Christianity while being raped by seven men so as to “know” whether or not she’s studying the one true religion.

      No doubt though that if your Church had taught dogmatically (and I think it probably *did* at some point, since dogma reflects the theological opinions of the majority) that you just “have” to believe that she’ll burn in Hell forever, you would find a way to believe in this nonsense and to justify it by “simply answering” that “God’s ways are not our ways” (TM) and that “we can’t possibly judge God” (TM) so as to get God off the hook, wouldn’t you?

      You cannot deny that you have uttered those good excuses before.

      You cannot deny what you have written on your blog and if the fine people of this blog think that I am exaggerating about Codex on that particular issue, you only have to read his blog.

      The guy is smart and well-learnt – there’s no denying this – but I dare say that I have not misrepresented him here because I have been very careful not to.

      Still, I wish you well (Codex).

      PS : when you’re unsure as to whether God will graciously extend a hand to non-Christians, think about that Hindu girl I just described – she probably exists.


      • arthurja says:

        Gotta correct myself here : it seems that Fr Aidan and others are right when they say that the Orthodox Church never taught dogmatically that anyone will burn in Hell forever – not that anyone will read this and especially not Codex, who just left the conversation after posting his comment, but still, I hate to write incorrect information.

        My bad. I stand corrected.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Codex Anonymous, I read through your piece in the latter part of September, after someone sent me the link. I skimmed it again this morning. I approve of the spirit in which you wrote your article, but its theological and historical substance is exceptionally thin and your biblical exegesis is … well … interesting … but unconvincing to anyone who isn’t already convinced of eternal damnation. An annihilationist would certainly insist that Revelation better supports his position than the infernalist position. More importantly, though, it has an evangelical-fundamentalist, not an Orthodox, feel to it.

      As far as your florilegium of patristic sayings … each citation would need to be carefully examined within its proper historical-theological context. That’s the problem with a florilegium: it doesn’t provide context. It treats a citation as if its meaning were obvious. But that’s not the way it works. And by the way, there is no universally held Orthodox doctrine of doctrinal infallibility. I trust you didn’t become Orthodox thinking you could escape critical thinking and having to deal with a diversity of opinions. Many converts are disappointed to discover that Orthodoxy is a bigger tent than they initially thought it would be.

      Given my long-standing interest in the 5th Ecumenical Council, I wanted to see how you would treat the anti-Origenist anathemas. Poorly done, Sir. Why in the world would you rely on the writings of non-scholar Craig Truglia, another recent convert from Protestant fundamentalism? Bottomline: the anathemas were not formally issued by the Fifth Ecumenical Council and therefore do not possess conciliar authority. Period. Even more critically, not only do they not touch on Origen’s own views, they do not touch on the views of St Gregory of Nyssa or St Isaac the Syrian.

      Intead of counting theological noses in support of eternal damnation, I suggest that you think about what makes the good news of Jesus Christ truly good news. That’s when the theological reflection begins.

      Quite frankly, new converts to Orthodoxy should not be instructing anyone about what Orthodoxy believes and teaches. I understand why you would write a blog. I’m sure you find it helpful in organizing your thoughts. But it’s also spiritually dangerous. Sometimes the convert starts thinking he knows more about Orthodoxy than long-time Orthodox (which I am not), or that he has an obligation to warn other Orthodox of their heresies. And that is both dangerous and rude.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Alura says:

      Codex Justinianeus, this article you wrote no doubt is a good faith effort. In as far as that, you deserve props. Furthermore, the interactions between you and myself and my other commentators on my own blog have been incredibly charitable and respectful. Nonetheless, I must be a bit gruff here.

      I among numerous others have cited modern scholarship on this matter. I myself have even gone as far as to cite and translate from German (my worst language btw) into English in the hopes that this debate would be more fruitful, more interesting, and more accessible (within the comment sections of others’ blogs). Yet, nothing of the sort has happened. The level of debate has not raised at all. If anything, it became worse. These scholars – German translated into English and even native English scholarship – have continuously been slapped away on thin grounds, usually with accusations of modernism. Sometimes it has been done with gentle charity, often it has been done with rancorous stupidity and foolishness, as Craig Truglia has done with me. The bridges have been burned here, not by you of course, but by others.

      So until American Orthodox bloggers on your side decide to learn Latin, Greek, French, and/or German (and so forth) – I myself don’t know Greek btw – , which are necessary in varying degrees to debate this issue with any sort of seriousness, then there virtually is no reason to read any of your posts on this matter. It is a hard thing for me to say, since you have been so respectful and decent. But by and large, at least for me as I won’t speak for others, I have exhausted myself on translating, citing, using my university access to make paywalled articles accessible, etc. Nothing has come from it for me. No debate has been interesting beyond the level of the occasional experience of cordial disagreement. I can’t really be bothered anymore to condescend to other people’s level of linguistic ability or their lack of institutional access to a wide array of scholarship. I just don’t have the patience, and more so I don’t have the time.

      My only hope is that you and your fellow bloggers on your side of this issue in the so-called Netodox world take the time and trouble to learn those languages yourselves. Maybe then the sheer strangeness (and arrogance mind you) of condemning the very scholars, whose translations and paleographical skills your rely on, for modernism or some other bad-faithness (if that’s a word) will appear more absurd to you. You might still disagree, but at the very least, you would put more effort in your disagreements.

      I will only leave you with one last note. The idea that somehow philosophical reasoning, which I’ve seen you invoke negatively in other venues (more discretely in this article), is somehow less authoritative than faith, is certainly a modern concept, not a patristic one. Even Augustine argued that reason can fully explain and justify faith. He warned against false reason for sure and he also thought most believers will be content with what he undoubtedly regarded as the inferior model, which was just accepting all Christian matters on authority alone. But he and even other infernalists, like Lactantius, regarded Christianity as not just the true religion, but as the true philosophy and the pinnacle of reason. For sure all people begin with assent to authority, but ultimately a faith or authority that is unable to be assumed into reason is ultimately false. That’s the classical Christian view.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Alura, can you point us to the places where you have shared your translations of German works regarding Constantinople II. Thanks.


        • Alura says:

          It’s a bit embarrassing to give the link, since it is paired with a separate and what I now regard as an embarrassing Latin argument on my part. It is also present in the comment section of a certain someone’s blog who does not deserve the traffic. I’ll give the general context of the argument and then the translation here, if that is okay.

          In short, this blogger was arguing that the during the 5th and 8th sessions of II Constantinople, the condemnations of Origen invoked were those from the local synod of Constantinople of 543 and therefore, universalism is more broadly condemned than the text of the 553 canons. The logic of this person’s argument being that since a local council was invoked, its canons, despite not being recapitulated, were given ecumenical authority. I then cited Franz Diekamp, who argues that the reference of condemnation in the 5th and 8th sessions belong to a preconciliar session that happened shortly before the formal beginning of II Constantinople, id est the 15 anti-Origen canons that had come to be regarded as part of II Constantinople. Part of the stakes also of the argument was the merit of pseudo-Anastasius’ worth as a witness. I made the effort in part to show that it has been regarded as worthy witness in this case for well over a century in scholarship. The end result of all this was ultimately some sort of concession on the point from them, but then they double spoke and insisted it was still possible that 543, not 553, was what was being referenced in a subsequent blog post of theirs – all done without engaging with any sort of scholarship whatsoever. It was a frustrating experience. The whole debacle was on a very minute, but what I felt to be important point.

          Forgive my German, it was and still is quite rough:

          “Der Werth der Aufzeichnungen des Anastasios Sinaites springt in die Augen, zumal da seine Notiz über den Brief des Papstes Vigilius an den Kaiser verbürgt, daß er die Acten der fünften Synode gekannt hat…. Was endlich den Brief des Papstes an den Kaiser betrifft, so berichtet Evagrios nach dem Texte des Valesius zwar umgekehrt von einem Briefe des Kaisers an den Papst über die origenistische Angelegenheit; allein die gleichfalls handschriftlich bezeugte Lesart (I cannot reproduce the proceeding word in Greek) Βιγίλιος steht mit den Worten des Anastasios in vollem Einklang und darf demgemäß vielleicht als die richtige betrachtet werden. Da Vigilius in der fraglichen Zeit in Konstantinopel war und sicher kein Bedenken getragen hat, die Irrthümer der Origenisten zu verurtheilen, so konnte ein Antwortschreiben von ihm schon eingelaufen sein. Gegen die Glabuwürdigkeit der Nachricht über den Brief des Papstes ist also nichts einzuwenden. Eben diese Nachricht schlißt die Möglichkeit aus, an eine Verwechslung mit der [Greek phrase] von 543 zu denken; denn diese trat alsbald nach demn Erscheinen des kaiserlichen Edictes gegen Origenes zusammen, so daß eine Meinungsäußerung des Papste Vigilius, der damals in Rom weilte, noch nicht vorliegen konnte.”

          “The merit of the record of Anastasios Sinaites jumps to the eyes, particularly his note about the letter of Pope Vigilius delivered to the emperor, that he (Pope Vigilius) knew of the fifteen acts of the fifth Council…. Finally what pertains to the letter of the pope to the emperor, likewise Evagrius [Scholasticus], according to the text of [Heinrich] Valesius, reports conversely [as well] from a letter of the emperor to the pope about the Origenist matter; but the signed, witnessed version [insert Greek phrase here] stands in support with the words of Anastasios in full accord and can accordingly perhaps be considered as correct. Since Vigilius was in Constantinople during the time questioned and [since] he certainly bore no reservations for condemning the errors of the Origenists, thus an answering letter by him could have been received. Against the credibility of the report of the letter of pope there are no objections. Even this report precludes the possibility of contemplating a confusion with the [Greek phrase] of 543; because this [council] assembles shortly after the appearance of the imperial edict [to Patriarch Menas] against the Origenists, such that an expression of an opinion of Pope Vigilius, who at that time had tarried in Rome, could not yet be present.” – Die Origenistischen streitigkeiten im sechsten Jahrhundert und das fünfte allegemeine Concil, pp. 114 : https://archive.org/details/dieorigenistisch00diek/page/114

          The general acceptance of this proposition is demonstrated in the historiography cited by Daniel Hombërgen’s The Second Origenist Controversy, pp. 21fn2. See here: https://afkimel.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/Daniel_Hombergen-The-Second-Origenist-Controversy.pdf

          Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Alura, I am unaware of a letter from Vigilius in which he acknowledges the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas. That would certainly seem to support the hypothesis of a pre-synod. Can you tell me more about it (perhaps with a citation from the letter). Is an English translation available? I hunted through Price’s book for it, but all I could find is a reference to Vigilius’s oath stating his support of Justinian’s condemnation of the Three Chapters. Thanks for your help.


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I just found this footnote in Price: “The bishops had condemned Origenism shortly before the council formally opened (see vol. 2, 270–1). ‘Your holinesses’, if used strictly, would refer only to the patriarchs, but doubtless all the bishops had signed the decree. According to Pseudo-Anastasius, On heresies and councils a letter of Vigilius to Justinian was extant in which he expressed his assent (Chrysos 1969, 150, n. 1).” Is this the reference that Diekamp is referencing? Have you been able to take a look at Pseudo-Anastasius to confirm the reference to the 15 anathemas?


          • Alura says:

            So this is where my language abilities meet there limit. I am unaware of any translation of this work, which is in Greek. I can’t read the Greek. There is an edition of this work that has a Latin translation below it, which is what Diekamp cites. The rough gist is that Vigilius consented to the emperor (Justinian) on condemning Origen among others as well as the three chapters. He did this by writing.

            Pitra, Jean-Baptiste, ed. In Iuris Ecclesiastici Graecorum Historia et Monumenta, volume 2, pages 257-71. Rome, 1868.



          • Alura says:

            Just to clarify, Diekamp doesn’t cite the Latin, he cites the Greek of course. I meant that he cites this edition on page 111:



          • Alura says:

            Fr. Kimel, I believe the letter is lost and all we have are reports of the letter from decades later. Price talks a bit about these reports and their supporting evidence in volume 2 of his translation on pages 270-272 (Appendix I).


  15. JBG says:

    Religious belief (particularly fundamentalist) shares many of the same dynamics as conspiracy belief. For instance, neither depend on evidence and neither can be countered with reason. They are also both marked by zealotry and intransigence.

    It is no coincidence that most conspiracy theorists are also religious fundamentalists. It is also no coincidence that religious fundamentalists tend to be uneducated. A mind that has not been properly instructed in the art of critical thinking is more suggestible and easily swayed by ridiculous irrational notions. The cultivation of critical thinking skills is really the only inoculation against these toxic viruses of the mind.


    • arthurjaco says:

      I don’t really know what you believe in (though I do suspect that you’re an atheist) but I’ve seen enough highly educated and rational skeptics convert to this or that religion to know that the sentence “religious belief does not depend on evidence and cannot be countered with reason” is simply false – and I say that as a long-time agnostic who doesn’t want to believe at all in the God that most Jews, Christians and Muslims have believed in throughout History (a moral monster who deserves to be forgotten, not to be worshipped and certainly not to be adored).

      Though the rest of what you said is true, that sentence of yours leaves one wondering whether they’re dealing with a New Atheist.


    • Grant says:

      In this I would echo arthurjaco here, and would also further state that the concept of ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ belief is a decidedly Western concept and categorization (one that is a thoroughly historically contingent result of Christian and particularly Western Christian/Christendom history and thought, a good book on that is Dominion by the historian Tom Holland, a non-Christian himself, showing just how ‘Christian’ our post-Christian secular world is). Outside the West and areas of Christian heritage people don’t think in the same way at all, there just isn’t that kind of division that fall along those kind of fault-lines, they might seem instinct and natural to us Westerns, but just shows how much we are product of our environment and past, that has shape the landscape of society, language, cultures and their meanings and referents we were born into and shaped by. Even your objects are significantly rooted in that experience (again I can’t recommend Dominion enough in relation to this point, it’s not the first, and Hart himself has stated this, as well), as is the objection to infernalism.

      As for education making someone less likely to be swayed by irrational notions and beliefs, that just isn’t true in my experience or just looking at recent history. Just look at the ideological conflicts at work in the West, with cultural wars and divisive politics, or the reaction by educated expects to the virus for example, with completely contradictory positions by different educated expects, who far often from changing their minds become ever more committed to the position they hold (and the ideology it underpins). As Max Planck observed ‘science advances one funeral at a time’. Confirmation bias, selectivity, and tending to agree more with what you already socio-politically and culturally aligned with strongly influence the educated just those with lesser education. I’ve seen people, highly educated on both sides of various culture war issues loss any real rationality when it comes to those fault-lines, areas where their most cherished ideology and belief (and self-identity) are at risk, and their defence and attack is fierce and irrational (and it comes from both left and right, both sides in the US debate or Remainers and Leavers here in the UK for example). I’ve seen both misuse evidence, misrepresent their opponents, demonize their opponents wholesale (ignorant racists/sexists or predatory globalists etc), and to both the facts clearly don’t matter, only their belief and ideology, their ‘religion’ does, even pretending they don’t have one.

      Another example is the tired historical falsehoods said about Christian history, that they burnt down libraries (they didn’t) or attacked pagan temple (by and large never happened, Greco-Roman and Christian lived alongside each other for a long time, and it was the pagans becoming Christians that saw the reuse of old temples as churches, might as well react to churches now largely fallen into disuse being turned into flats, or some other religious building). For topically, claims that Christmas comes from a pagan Greco-Roman festival Sol Invictus or Mithras, however Sol Invictus was 17 December not 25th and we know almost nothing about Mithraic rituals and dates so have no idea how they come up with that idea. In truth it’s comes some Christian’s Jewish heritage, since around Passover, or the Spring equinox just before it, was when Christ was crucified there was a belief (due to ideas of symmetry also inherited from Jewish tradition) that it occurred on the same date as Christ’s conception and using the Roman calendar gave that date as 25 March, and so nine months roughly later we get 25 December. Yet year on year, these and other claims are continually bandied about online and in the media by apparently well educated people, and accepted by the same, why, because it confirms they pre-existing beliefs and concepts not only negatively (of a somewhat or outright nefarious Church or Christians manipulating and controlling throughout the past and of more general ‘religious’ – again in Western concept – backwardness, irrationality and lack of originality and creativity etc and of producing more ‘dangerous’ and less enlightened cultures) but also enforcing post-Enlightenment deliverance and ‘salvation’ from those ‘dark times’ and to bring ‘progress’ to the world. Right or wrong, that is the narrative, and things that support it are uncritically accepted by some of the most educated people (because they don’t want to look at anything that might even suggest things are more complicated and complex than that). And don’t get me started or the extent to which people still think people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat (or even that was why Columbus mounted his expedition, in fact it was based on a disagreement on the size of the round earth, and Columbus side was wrong as it turned out), itself the result of deliberate falsehoods in the 19th century that took off like wildfire and was taught in most schools, intended intentionally to make the Middle Ages backward and so to support secularism against ‘backward’ religion (basically deliberately misrepresenting the past in order to win points in a then contemporary struggle.)

      It began in 1828, with Washington Irving’s highly romanticized biography, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, mistaken by many for a scholarly work. In it, Irving gave a largely fictional account of the meetings of a commission established by the Spanish sovereigns to examine Columbus’s proposals. One of his more fanciful embellishments was a highly unlikely tale that the more ignorant and bigoted members on the commission had raised scriptural objections to Columbus’s assertions that the Earth was spherical. However the actual issue was the not the shape of the Earth, but it’s size and the position of the east coast of Asia, which Irving did point out. Historical estimates from Ptolemy onwards place it at 180° east of the Canary Islands. Columbus adopted an earlier (and rejected) distance of 225°, added 28° (based on Marco Polo’s travels), and then placed Japan another 30° further east. Starting from Cape St. Vincent in Portugal, Columbus made Eurasia stretch 283° to the east, leaving the Atlantic as only 77° wide. Since he planned to leave from the Canaries (9° further west), his trip to Japan would only have to cover 68° of longitude. As said, he was actually wrong and Ptolemy was mostly right.

      However in 1834, a few years after the publication of Irving’s book, Jean Antoine Letronne, a French academic of strong anti-religious ideas, misrepresented the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat Earth in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers. Then in 1837, the English philosopher of science William Whewell, used Lactantius, as evidence of a medieval belief in a Flat Earth. Lactantius had been ridiculed much earlier by Copernicus in De revolutionibus of 1543 as someone who “Speaks quite childishly about the Earth’s shape, when he mocks those who declared that the Earth has the form of a globe”.

      Other historians quickly followed Whewell, although they could identify few other examples. The American chemist John William Draper wrote a History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), employing the claim that the early Church fathers thought the Earth was flat as evidence of the hostility of the Church to the advancement of science. The story of widespread religious belief in the flat Earth was repeated by Andrew Dickson White in his 1876 The Warfare of Science and elaborated twenty years later in his two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, which exaggerated the number and significance of medieval flat-Earthers to support White’s model of warfare between dogmatic theology and scientific progress. As Draper and White’s metaphor of ongoing warfare between the scientific progress of the Enlightenment and the religious obscurantism of the “Dark Ages” became widely accepted, it spread the idea of medieval belief in the flat Earth. It wasn’t just that these claims were made, it’s that they actively supported despite being false and demonstrably so (just consult medieval text books of the time, or the reason why the orb was used in coronation representing Christ’s authority over the earth, and it is unsurprisingly, round), but it was actively aided and accepted by the educated for decades by and large.

      In fact, I will say educated can be worse, for a couple of reasons, educated person, because they are educated can actually become more blinkered and set in their views then non-educated because they can believe that their trained understanding actually makes their views ‘correct’ and can actually be less receptive to counterpoints or arguments since ‘they know better’, particularly if it comes from outside their group. They are also at times more able to use sophistry to protect false views from other arguments or evidence or come up with reasons to discredit them or ignore them. And finally, they are the ones best able to convince wider public in maintaining false views.

      This isn’t to say educated are more likely to be ideological fundamentalists, but they are just as likely in my experience to be so, can have larger platforms. Take this issue, most of those reviewing Hart’s book are educated, in fact they are by and large academics, O’Neil here, Griffiths who basically just dodges Hart’s argument wholesale and basically argues Christian practices means Christians cannot accept the argument (irrespective of whether it’s true or not) and so to embrace fideism (even though with Hart’s argument true it would mean Christianity is self-contradictory and essentially nonsense and false) and given God and Christ in Christianity expect us to use our rational and moral judgement to weigh and assess the truth of things, this self-destructs Christianity absolutely. And so on, they are educated, and they all avoid the heart of his argument, and misrepresent it, for the same ideological reasons as those misrepresenting events of history (because of ideological commitments) or what happens on all sides on the culture wars (then again infernalism is a part of that so it’s not surprising).

      I will and definitely do agree with your point above, as it is what I was trying to say in relation to Paul Griffiths review, that to embrace that thinking is to embrace nihilistic relativism, in which you accept something wholly on the basis of arbitrary authority, and because you want it to be so, but throwing rationality out of faith, or having a faith not guided and centred in rational and moral reasoning, our God-given means to understand and determine what is more true (to see what ‘fruit it brings’ to read the signs of the times or discern or know what is just and what is truth, all core to Christianity and other systems) you believe just because you do. And you loss any ability to enter into dialogue, discussion, debate or critique or other views, beliefs and systems and their practices, since your foundation is ultimately irrational, you cannot critique any other for their embrace of a different source of authority, no matter how arbitrary it is either or the practices that result. It is an intellectual, and even spiritual suicide of a sort.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        Sol Invictus was 25th December not 17th December, but 25th December was also when the winter solstice was celebrated in Rome (the festival was inaugurated in 285AD). There seems to have been a quite diverse celebration of the birth of Christ in the early church: some celebrated it with Epiphany on 6 January, some in March, some in May, and on various different dates for various different reasons. 25 December was the date celebrated in Rome. There are several explanations as to why 25 December was thought a possible date, the theory about the date of conception being a common one.
        It is probably likely, I think, that 25 December won out as a date over the others both because of the importance of Rome, because the winter solstice was theologically and symbolically very appropriate as a date and also, cynically, because having the festival on 25 December allowed Christians to have their own winter festival fun that the pagans got to have with Saturnalia the previous week.


        • Grant says:

          You are correct I was thinking about Saturnalia not Sol Invictus so that is my bad (my own disinformation though not intention, thank you for the correction 🙂 ), it was Saturnalia that began on the 17 and ended on the 23 December (this being the most recent fesitval put forward). Sol Invictus was indeed on the 25 though while Sol Invictus may have been formalised before Pope Julian formalised the date of Christmas in the West on the 25th (again there is no real evidence it was) the tradition placing Christ’s birth then probably proceeds that of the pagan festival occurring on the same day. The tradition dates to at least the third century (and possibly much further) of identifying Passover as the date of announciation, due again the feeling of ‘fittingness’ that He should havr been conceived on the very day He died, in accordance with Old Testament precedents for famous men and messianic traditions. But of course there was disagreement over this across the Christian communities with some at various times embracing different dates (of which remains with us) though again a detail left out of ideological purposes usually. Afterall it’s a poor cabal of conspiratorial all-manipulating and all-controlling priests who can’t even enforce a single date for Christmas across Christian communities (almost as if that kind of control didn’t exist and wasn’t possible: in that age).

          But the focus is always on the Western and Latin date and so that is where my focus goes, since the complexities of history are an anathema to conspiratorial thinking. Back to the west, if assigning the Winter Solstice seems an unlikely coincidence, then that well well be down only to the quartering of the year into which the Sun’s cycles divide it and the periid of human gestation naturally coinciding with three of those quarters. But like all disinformation these moddrn fictions blend fact and fiction to simplify complex history strategically to fit simple pre-determinef narratives, playing to the prejudices of their audiences. And such writing, as it ignores and resists correction acts an assertion of power over another ideology or group, to displace them from having a voice or defination of their own, and frees the conspiracy theorists from having to engage with them.

          It also misses the rich interaction between Christianity and pagan cultures they grew in, while Christmas is not a pagan appropriated festival harvest paganism is everywhere in Christian thought and liturgy. Choral music associated with Christmas might derive from ancuent Greek choirs honouring Dionysus, the earliest depictions of Christ are those of Apollo, while the hirsute one we are more familliar with may have found inspiration from Zeus.

          These points are often pointed to as examples of Christainity lacking ‘authenticity’ and ‘stealing’ other traditions, but here the critic fall back into old Protestant arguments (there is a strong inheritance of old Protestant ideas and concepts and impulses among most of these assertions, even as Protestantism itself becomes included in the attack). But it shows a misunderstanding of not only Christianity but also Greco-Roman paganism.

          Ronans freely invented religious holidays, even new deities, and loved to bortow and appropriate new gods and rites wherever they found them (also a necessary practice in the ancient world to see similarities between different gods as being the same god as otherwise swearing to agreements or treaties between dufferent people swearing to different gods would make them unworkable). Liturgy was a state matter like any other, essentially interchangeable with’ secular’ laws (because for them the divisions we now conceptualize of religious and secular spheres didn’t exist, that historically contingent conception was yet to arise). These were subject to the sane factors of perpetual amendment, abolition, politicisation and pragmatism. Christians throught antiquity highly familiar with pagan rites and gods, and no one could have missed the similarities and associations of Christian figures and holidays with pagan ones.

          Far from disbelieving in pagan gods, Christians like Augustine in a state of warfare with God His angels and saints in a cosmic conflict with fallen angels (poising as gods) and their misguided followers. Right from the beginning pagan myths and stories were understood as imperfect and corrupted anticipations and reflections of the ultimate truth of Christainity (which made sense as they didn’t believe themselves to be preaching just a god, but God Himself). Pagan philosophers were widely read and praised, and friendships and debates between Christians and pagans persisted well into tge era of Christian dominance.

          For most of Roman history Christians were mistly pagan converts or the children of pagan converts and were members of pagan or paftially pagan cities. They were not usupers of Greco-Roman culture but its inheritors, who saw the bring in and inclusion of such things as in accordance with St Paul, of bringing all things into submission to Christ, that is that brought into the light and undrstanding of Christ the full truth is revealled and enjoyed. Hence why similarities far from disturbing them instead simply became a further source of confirmation.

          A good article on this is one done by the aforementioned Tom Holland (historian not the Spider-Man actor 😉 ) here:

          unherd.com/2020/12/the-myth-of-pagan-christmas/ .

          But thank you again for the correction as I had Saturnalia in my mind and that was but of a bad mistake on my part.


  16. Dee of St Hermans says:

    I’m not familiar with this icon. It’s interesting to me that a couple in the cauldron are naked but wearing crowns. Perhaps depicting wealth and power.

    Fr Aidan, thank you for your helpful essay and reflections. I’m came from basically a non-Christian background but believed in God before my conversion to Orthodox Christianity. The western Christian tradition never made sense to me. Generally, I found it repugnant for its fundamentalists’ traits to condemn ‘others’. Ideology in all its stripes is hard to break with logical argument, I believe, because it isn’t fabricated on logic. And unfortunately, the culture in the US is deadly and rife with ideology. May God have mercy on us.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. joel in ga says:

    “Damnation always trumps gospel.”

    Hence George MacDonald’s remark that in low theologies hell is invariably the deepest truth, and the love of God not so deep as hell.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. joel in ga says:

    Also, thanks very much for the link to Met. Ware’s (where would anglophone Orthodoxy be without him?) article on Saint Silouan.

    “Our own salvation is necessarily linked to the salvation of every other human being.” This was the insight that so troubled C. S. Lewis and caused to describe the dwellers of hell in The Great Divorce as tiny–lest if they were bigger they interfere with the joy of the saved.


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