When Hell Becomes Dogma: Freedom for Perdition

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 the dogma, sometimes with curious, sometimes with pernicious, results.
  3. Damnation always trumps gospel.

In this series I am reviewing three recent reviews by Roman Catholic theologians of That All Shall Be Saved. I have chosen Catholic theologians because the Church to which they belong affirms the eternal damnation of the wicked as a truth of divine revelation. I am testing the hypothesis that a dogmatic commitment to eternal damnation makes it difficult to constructively address the arguments advanced in the book.

Dr Joshua Brotherton received his Ph.D. in 2015 from Catholic University of America. His dissertation was devoted to the eschatology of Hans Urs von Balthasar: Reclaiming Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theodramatic Eschatology. He has also written several essays on the hopeful universalism of Balthasar.1 His extensive interaction with the eschatological writings of Balthasar and his disciples well equips him to critically engage That All Shall Be Saved.

In the first installment, “The Closing of the Catholic Mind,” I criticized Taylor O’Neill for ignoring David B. Hart’s crucial argument, formulated in meditation one, that the ecumenical doctrine of the creatio ex nihilo logically implies “the necessary ‘moral modal collapse’ of the distinction between divine will and divine permission (or between the divine antecedent and consequent wills).”2 In the consummation of the final future, when the world achieves its telos, the distinction of a twofold divine will will prove irrelevant—all that matters and has ever mattered is the consequent. The true identity of the Creator and his purposes for his creation are eschatologically revealed. “‪In the end of all things is their beginning,” explains Hart, “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.”3 The end determines the beginning; the beginning is fulfilled in the end. If hell, it was eternally planned. How could it be otherwise, given the divine transcendence and its attendant attributes (immutability, impassibility, timelessness, omniscience, omnipotence)? To put it bluntly (but in protological terms): if God foreknew that one, many, or most human beings would reject his love and condemn themselves to alienation and everlasting torment, yet freely chose to actualize this world anyway, then he is a monster. Concoct all the scholastic distinctions you want; they change neither the eschatological equation nor the moral calculus. They are but ad hoc attempts to conceal the horror of who God is and what he has done and will do.4 God, it turns out, is the author of perdition and is therefore evil. Yet no disciple of Jesus Christ would assent to this conclusion. All affirm that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is infinite and absolute love. He does not will evil; he does not do evil; he does not create evil: He. Is. Not. Evil.

Brotherton is not impressed by Hart’s version of the moral argument against hell. The Latin magisterial tradition stands against it. Consider his summary:

Throughout the various chapters of this collection are the same funda­mental arguments, articulated in slightly different ways and contexts. He repeatedly asserts that there is no reason why an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God would will or even permit the eternal condemnation of any of his (intellectual) creatures, whom he created precisely for everlasting communion with him. He argues that such a God would be a failure or a contradiction because, only if He could ensure the salvation of all, would an infinitely loving, powerful, and wise God create at all. He sees the view that the condemnation of some is necessary for the greater manifestation of God’s glory as both merciful and just in nature as simply sadistic. Hence, in the penultimate meditation of the second part, he takes particular umbrage at the claim of Aquinas and others that the blessed must rejoice at the justice manifested in the punishments imposed upon those who are eternally condemned.5

So what’s missing here (besides the argument’s eschatological framing)? I’m tempted to say, a heart, but that makes it too personal, so instead let me suggest, the gospel. Broth­erton expresses little sympathy for the universalist claim that the Father of Jesus Christ would never abandon even one of his children to eternal torment, nor is he worried by the moral modal collapse in the eschatological horizon of the difference between God’s (antecedent) universal salvific will and his (consequent) particular punitive will. With this collapse, infinite mercy disappears. Divinity is unveiled as pitiless justice, if justice it be.

Aside: It has become obligatory for critical reviewers of TASBS to express their disapproval of Hart’s harsh polemical rhetoric, and Brotherton is no exception. He speaks of the author’s “repetitive ad hominem attacks against those who profess belief in an eternal hell, whom he calls ‘infernalists.’”6 Okay, we all get it. Infernalists are offended. They are offended by Hart’s impolite tone. They are offended by his attacks upon Sts Augustine and Thomas. They are offended by his categorical insistence that the doctrine of hell violently distorts the New Testament portrayal of God. They are offended by his claim that most believers in hell do not really believe the doctrine.7 They are even offended by his use of the term “infernalists” to identify those who affirm eternal perdition.8 Yet the giving of offense is unavoidable, given the moral judgment embedded in the universalist assevera­tion. All proponents of apokatastasis find the doctrine of hell morally revolting. It scanda­lizes them in the deepest reaches of their being. Hart has simply been more public and scathing in the expression of his outrage. Jason Micheli diagnoses the pathos that underlies Hart’s polemic:

As much as the prophets, Hart thunders against the corrosive effects of Christianities rendered cruel through their incoherence. In doing so, he alerts readers to a simple but often forgotten truth: if the behavior or character of the deity you describe would elicit moral revulsion when attributed to any other creature, then the god in question is but a creature. It is not the Creator.9

The real question is: Why aren’t all Christians equally outraged by the doctrine of eternal damnation? End aside.

To better understand Brotherton’s critique of Hart, it is helpful to read his Theological Studies essay on the presuppositions of Balthasar’s eschatology:

The problem of universal salvation versus actual damnation (in the case of human beings) is simply put thus: if God desires all persons to be saved (1 Tim 2:15), then does God get what God desires, rendering the proph­ecies of hell (e.g., Mt 25) mere warnings, or is God’s will frustrated and the proph­ecies in fact revelatory of the eternal condemnation of some? Many exegeti­cal and historical questions may arise at this point, but I limit myself to the speculative concerns. Balthasar evidently thinks that revelation is clearer on the topic of God’s desire to save all than it is about the factual damnation of some, even though he concedes the necessity of the scriptural warnings about our real capacity to reject God’s love definitively. Balthasar’s entire argument indicates that he thinks revelation intimates a universal consummation that would seem incompatible with the damnation of any human being and that it obliges us to hope for the conversion of every soul, which itself is evidence of a concealed promise that the infinite sagacious power of God’s grace may choose to persuade from within every finite freedom (at or before the existential “moment” of death) of God’s unyielding love, which is personified in the crucified Christ who descends to the depths of hell and therein comes face-to-face with all sinfulness in purifying judgment.10

Though it’s been many years since I’ve read Balthasar on the universalist hope, my impression, for what it’s worth, is that Brotherton gets him just right. For both subjunctive and indicative universalists, faith hinges on a foundational apprehension of the Father’s absolute and unconditional love manifested in Jesus Christ through the Spirit.11 God truly wills the good of every human being (1 Tim 2:4) and will never abandon anyone to “wailing and gnashing of teeth”; therefore we may confidently hope and boldly pray that he will raise all to glory. The Lord is faithful, both to his promises and to himself. As an eternal communion of Love, he cannot fail to save all without denying his eternal identity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s as simple as that. As Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa might put it, it would be unfitting to attribute eternal condemnation to the good God.

But since the sixth century, the majority of Christians have not shared in this primary apprehension of the Creator’s absolute love (at least not at the level of second-order reflection), and the Latin Church has dogmatized its rejection. Perhaps my phrasing is too harsh. The infernalist insists that he too confesses God as love; he just doesn’t believe that it entails the moral necessity that God will save everyone. Perhaps he also believes that grace, to be grace, must permit the exclusion of some from the Kingdom or that the ceaseless punishment of the wicked redounds to God’s greater glory. “In such a system,” George MacDonald laments, “hell is invariably the deepest truth, and the love of God is not so deep as hell.”12 What the infernalist does not see is that once we posit hell, we condition the divine love, thereby unleashing a contagion of equivocity and reducing the gospel to law.13 Nonetheless, the infernalist answers, self-determination implies the possibility of self-damnation. If the offer of salvation must include the threat of final perdition, so be it:

Christian hope integrates natural hopes since grace builds on and perfects nature, but the certainty that accrues to divine promise does not pertain to all objects of Christian hope both because some are inevitably contingent and because the very promise of eternal life is conditional—conditioned by the absence of final resistance in the free creature.

Thus, the Church prays for many good things that may never come about (e.g., world peace). She is obliged by the virtue of charity to hope for all good to be bestowed upon all people at the Lord’s discretion. But properly theological hope, in the strictest sense, responds to an article of faith about what is beyond; in other words, the ultimate object of Christian hope is precisely what God promises. The question is whether Scripture or tradi­tion warrants a confident hope in universal salvation as a coming reality consequent on God’s own infinite love and power. But it is an article of faith that the conversion of all sinners is not guaranteed (i.e., revelation does not promise to persuade all freedom to yield to grace); hence, the hope for universal salvation is not at all certain precisely because God leaves us the radical freedom to refuse every grace.14

The dogma of eternal damnation now kicks in: universal salvation cannot be true because God has revealed that he has bestowed upon rational creatures the radical freedom to reject him definitively, irrevocably, perduringly (let’s call it freedom for perdition). This freedom is corroborated by the dominical threats of Gehenna and the outer darkness.15

And so we come to meditation four of TASBS—the book’s strongest chapter, in Brother­ton’s opinion and mine:

He argues there that creatures are incapable of making eternal or ever­lasting decisions; that is, there is no reason to suppose it even possible for intellectual beings limited in freedom to possess the power to determine their unending futures. He is staunchly committed to an “intellectualist,” even determinist, view of freedom (see especially 178), according to which there is no such thing as indifference between two apparently equal goods, but only rational process that guarantees eventual attainment of the ultimate good toward which all things are directed by the supreme good.16

On my first reading of this passage I immediately thought “This doesn’t sound quite right.” Does Hart actually say or imply that “there is no such thing as indifference between two apparently equal goods, but only rational process that guarantees eventual attainment of the ultimate good toward which all things are directed by the supreme good”? I confess I’m confused. I cannot find a passage in the book where Hart explicitly addresses the question “How does the human being rationally choose between two equally attractive goods within an intellectualist construal of volition? Is it just a matter of flipping a coin?” Perhaps Brotherton is simply summarizing what the intellectualist construal of volition means in philosophy. If so, please excuse my ignorance. (“I’m a blogger, dammit, not a philoso­pher.”)

But it is true that Hart affirms volitional determinism at the transcendental level. Created in the divine image, the human being is intrinsically directed to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. It is this dynamic orientation, i.e., humanity’s insatiable hunger for the divine, that makes consciousness and action possible and renders futile all attempts to definitively reject the Creator. The money passage:

For those who worry that this all amounts to a kind of metaphysical determinism of the will, I may not be able to provide perfect comfort. Of course it is a kind of determinism, but only at the transcendental level, and only because rational volition must be determinate to be anything at all. Rational will is by nature the capacity for intentional action, and so must exist as a clear relation between (in Aristotelian terms) the “origin of motion” within it and the “end” that prompts that motion—between, that is, its efficient and final causes. Freedom is a relation to reality, which means liberty from delusion. This divine determinism toward the transcendent Good, then, is precisely what freedom is for a rational nature. Even God could not create a rational being not oriented toward the Good, any more than he could create a reality in which 2 + 2 = 5. That is not to deny that, within the embrace of this relation between the will’s origin and its end in the Good (what, again, Maximus the Confessor calls our “natural will”), there is considerable room for deliberative liberty with regard to differing finite options (what Maximus calls the “gnomic will”), and considerable room in which to stray from the ideal path. But, even so, if a rational creature—one whose mind is entirely unimpaired and who has the capacity truly to know the substance and the consequences of the choice confronting him or her—is allowed, without coercion from any force extrinsic to his or her nature, to make a choice between a union with God in bliss that will utterly fulfill his or her nature in its deepest yearnings and a separation from God that will result in endless suffering and the total absence of his or her nature’s satisfaction, only one truly free choice is possible. A fool might thrust his hand into the flame; only a lunatic would not then immediately withdraw it. To say that the only sane and therefore free natural end of the will is the Good is no more problematic than to say that the only sane and therefore free natural end of the intellect is Truth. Rational spirit could no more will evil on the grounds that it is truly evil than the intellect could believe something on the grounds that it is certainly false. So, yes, there is an original and ultimate divine determinism of the creature’s intellect and will, and for just this reason there is such a thing as true freedom in the created realm. As on the cross (John 12:32), so in the whole of being: God frees souls by dragging them to himself.17

Hart of course is not denying that we may mistake apparent goods for genuine goods, false ends for true ends, or that our choices are often distorted by disordered desires, sinful attachments, illusions and delusions, moral, psychological, and spiritual pathology, and so forth. He appeals to St Maximus’ famous distinction between the natural and gnomic wills to explicate his point:

In the terms of the great Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662), the “natural will” within us, which is the rational ground of our whole power of volition, must tend only toward God as its true end, for God is goodness as such, whereas our “gnomic” or “deliberative” will can stray from him, but only to the degree that it has been blinded to the truth of who he is and what we are, and as a result has come to seek a false end as its true end.18

From humanity’s primordial ordering to the Good, Hart infers the impossibility of an absolute rejection of the Good. Choosing for and against God is not like choosing between two finite objects, given that God is simultaneously the transcendent wellspring of our desiring and its transcendent goal and consummation.

Neither, though, can God be merely one option among others, for the very simple reason that he is not just another object alongside the willing agent or alongside other objects of desire, but is rather the sole ultimate content of all rational longing. Being himself the source and end of the real, God can never be for the will simply one plausible terminus of desire in competition with another; he could never confront the intellect simply as a relative and evaluative good, from which one might reasonably turn to some other. He remains forever the encompassing final object that motivates and makes actual every choice, the Good that makes the will free in the first place. Even an act of apostasy, then, traced back to its most primordial impulse, is motivated by the desire for God. Even the satanist can embrace evil only insofar as he thinks it will satisfy a desire for what is most agreeable to his own nature. He is in error in the choice he makes, and is culpable to the degree that he abets the error willingly; but it is also then the case that, to the degree he knows the Good in itself, he cannot but desire it rationally. However the “gnomic” faculty may wander, the “natural” will animating it seeks only one ultimate end. You can reject a glass of wine absolutely; you can even reject evil in its (insubstantial) totality without any remainder of intentionality. Neither of these things possesses more than a finite allure in itself. But you cannot reject God except defectively, by having failed to recognize him as the primordial object of all your deepest longings, the very source of their activity. We cannot choose between him and some other end in an absolute sense; we can choose only between better or worse approaches to his transcendence. As I have said, to reject God is still, however obscurely and uncomprehendingly, to seek God.19

Even when we reject God, we are seeking God. An unquenchable desire for deifying union with our Creator constitutes who we are as human beings. For this reason, no person, no matter how wicked and vicious, can definitively close himself to the gracious influence of his Creator. His desire for the Good is ineradicable. “To be creature,” as Brian Moore remarks, “is largely nothing other than desire for God.” In C. S. Lewis’s parable The Great Divorce, the narrator comes across a complaining but relatively harmless woman. He turns to his guide, George MacDonald, and asks how she can be in danger of damnation. He replies:

Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman—even the least trace of one—still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it until the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.20

If Hart is correct in his analysis, a human being can never become a grumble, for at that point he or she will have ceased to be human. There always remains “one wee spark under all those ashes” just waiting to be blown into living flame.

Lewis would disagree, and Brotherton and the Catholic Church stand with him. If there is a hell, then it must be possible for human beings to lose their freedom completely and thus become mere shells of themselves, ashes of the person they once were, detritus. Brother­ton directs us to the existential bondage experienced by the drug addict:

I suggest that the Scriptures, read within the larger tradition, clearly indicate the plausibility, at least, that God desires all men to be saved, but more specifically to convert without being coerced, and absent such conversion, permits some to fall down the rabbit’s hole, as it were. Bishop Robert Barron would say it is simple “spiritual physics” that those who choose evil consistently have less and less ability not to choose it. In other words, evil is a spiritual addiction that eats away at the very desire to escape it and, thus, ultimately destroys the freedom of the one persistently lured by its snares. Since it is possible for finite intellects to choose myopically to focus in on a finite good out of love of self and fear of losing such, that is, to turn a blind eye to what is beyond that which is apparently good for self, it is possible for the free creature to become “absorbed,” as it were, by the chaos to which it succumbs.21

Yet this observation, as true as it is, does not refute Hart’s analysis of human freedom. Go as full Kierkegaardian as you want. Nothing changes, for God’s salvific will does not change. The infernalist needs to demonstrate, not just assume, that it is possible for a human being to extinguish within himself all desire for the Good. I do not know how this can be demonstrated, nor does Brotherton attempt a demonstration. Given the dogmatic commitment of the Catholic Church to freedom for perdition, he no doubt believes that a decisive philosophical argument is unnecessary; but its absence diminishes the cogency of his critique. As an Orthodox theologian, Hart is equally in his rights to insist that the burden of proof lies with the infernalist. Brotherton even suggests that the insights provided by Catholic reflection on nature and grace “would benefit Hart in making further distinctions with regard to how God may become ‘all in all’ without simply overriding the obduracy in evil that some evidently choose during their lifetime.”22 I imagine the gentle Hart as replying along these lines:

Thank you, good sir, for your suggestion. I am acquainted with Roman Catholic reflection on freedom, nature, and grace, though I have not immersed myself in the literature as you have. Quite frankly, I have not found Catholic thinking on this topic particularly illuminating. It is handicapped by the presupposition that human beings can irrevocably alienate themselves from God. But this is metaphysically impossible, as I have irrefutably demonstrated in That All Shall Be Saved. I fear you have not yet grasped my argument, as the criticisms raised do not touch it. I encourage you to think outside the Latin dogmatic box.

In your various essays you express an openness to the scholastic distinction between natura pura and grace-filled nature. I cannot help wondering whether this distinc­tion underlies your belief in the possibility of eternal damnation. (Hmm, I need to give this more thought. Sounds like another article in the making.) The moment we posit pure nature, we have taken a wrong, indeed heterodox, theological turn. I wholeheartedly agree with Conor Cunningham when he describes the idea of a graceless nature as an invention of the antichrist. Not only do we Orthodox universalists have no need for the concept, we reject it. You also favorably cite Jacques Maritain’s proposal that in hell God will bring the damned to a state of natural beatitude, thereby mitigating the sufferings of the reprobate.23 Joshua, if you suspect that God would be unhappy with a hell of anguish and torment, why think he would be satisfied with anything less than the beatific vision for his children? Trust your best instincts. Your heart knows the truth.

Please immerse yourself in the writings of Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, St Maximus the Confessor, John Scottus Eriugena, Nicholas of Cusa, Sergius Bulgakov, and then get back to me. There is no such thing as a human nature not ordered to theosis. There is only the God-man Jesus Christ, for whom the cosmos has been made and in whom humanity is comprehended. As I have elsewhere written:

There is no abiding difference within the one gift of creation and deification; there is only grace all the way down and nature all the way up, and “pure nature”—like pure potency or pure nothingness—is a remainder concept of the most vacuous kind: the name of something that in itself could never be anything at all. Creation, incarnation, salvation, deification: in God, these are one gracious act, one absolute divine vocation to the creature to become what he has called it to become.24

If this means that you need to jettison the Augustinian-Thomistic problematic Catholicism has inherited, do so and do so quickly. You will find the endeavor exciting and liberating. And ask yourself this question: If apokatastasis had remained an open question in Latin Christianity, would anyone have entertained the notion of a humanity divorced from a supernatural end? How much of your theology is driven by hell and an exaggerated anti-Pelagianism?

P.S. Keep watch for my soon-to-be-published book You Are Gods. It will answer all of your remaining questions.

Too polite?

But before bringing this article to a close, let’s reflect on Brotherton’s intimation that universalism overrides “the obduracy in evil that some evidently choose during their lifetime.” He believes that God has granted to human beings the libertarian freedom to permanently refuse divine grace, i.e., to enter into an irrecoverable state of mortal sin. Should and when this final refusal occur, God is helpless, as he is committed to respect the choices of rational beings. The only avenue left open to the Creator would be to violate the sinner’s personhood, something akin to brainwashing, I suppose. For this reason not even God can guarantee universal salvation.

How might Hart respond? As we have seen, he denies the radical freedom for perdition affirmed by Catholic theologians. We are made by God for God. Our natural hunger for the Good is therefore inextinguishable. There can never be a final, irredeemable state of mortal sin, as if we can build an interior wall that not even the Creator can penetrate. No matter how hard a person may work to kill his soul, no matter how perverted his desires may become, no matter how strong his enslavement to his passions or how deeply entrenched he is in his narcissism, he or she remains a human being in search of happiness and therefore is always open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. But Hart also challenges the claim that God cannot bring human beings to faith and repentance except by quashing their freedom. Given the divine transcendence, this claim is unsound for two reasons.

First, as already noted, God is not the kind of object one can rationally reject. To appre­hend the Good precisely as the Good and therefore as my Good, as the happiness for which I long and have never found, is to immediately embrace the Good. How could I not, for I have every reason to enter into union with God and no reason whatsoever not to? Hart’s transcendental dictum: “To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it.”25 When perceived in its fullness and glory, the divine Goodness is quite irresistible and happily so. Its enchant­ment does not violate our personal being but consummates it.

  • When we meet our soulmate and are overcome by her beauty, do we protest that our personhood has been violated? Of course not. She is the fulfillment of our dreams.
  • When after weeks of struggling with a complex mathematical equation we finally achieve comprehension, do we complain that truth has imposed itself upon us? No, we rejoice in our enlightenment.

These are only creaturely analogies, I know, yet they point us to the unanalyzable mystery of divine-human synergism and the always surprising giftedness of life.

But the analogies fail, we might think, because they assume that the gift of beauty or truth is welcome; but what if it isn’t? What if we hate God with every fibre of our being and have spent our lives fleeing from him? Even still, Hart replies, God remains the Good for which we yearn. Most crucially, he remains the good Shepherd who never gives up on his lost sheep. Why then think that the Lord is incapable of liberating the wicked from their bondages, delusions, and ignorance and manifest to them his irresistible Goodness, not only in this life but even after death.26 In this life, of course, most of us are not given to see God in his incandescent and transfiguring glory. Each of us lives in a condition of relative ignorance. We are told about the Good; we apprehend aspects of the Good; but we do not experience the Good in the fullness of its resplendent beauty and power. Even in his revelation, God remains hidden. As Hart writes: “Nothing in our existence is so clear and obvious and undeniable that any of us can ever possess the lucidity of mind it would require to make the kind of choice that, supposedly, one can be damned eternally for making or for failing to make.”27 But now imagine, if you dare, the moment of death when we are stripped of our attachments to the world and brought into the presence of the consuming fire that is the living God. Will he not find his way into the hearts of even the most obdurate? As always, George MacDonald takes us to the heart of the matter:

God who has made us can never be far from any man who draws the breath of life—nay, must be in him; not necessarily in his heart, as we say, but still in him. May not then one day some terrible convulsion from the centre of his being, some fearful earthquake from the hidden gulfs of his nature, shake such a man so that through all the deafness of his death, the voice of the Spirit may be faintly heard, the still small voice that comes after the tempest and the earthquake? May there not be a fire that even such can feel? Who shall set bounds to the consuming of the fire of our God, and the purifying that dwells therein?28

MacDonald’s concluding question is spot on. Who dares to limit omnipotent Love?

Second, Hart reminds us that transcendent causality does not compete or interfere with creaturely causality. It does not operate on the same dimensional plane and therefore cannot be properly understood, much less experienced, as coercive, invasive, or manipulative. God does not violently act upon us as an external finite entity. He acts within us as the Creator of our free actions:

The suggestion, then, that God—properly understood—could not assure that a person freely will one thing rather than another is simply false. Inasmuch as he acts upon the mind and will both as their final cause and also as the deepest source of their movements, he is already intrinsic to the very structure of reason and desire within the soul. He is not merely some external agency who would have to exercise coercion or external compul­sion of a creature’s intentions to bring them to the end he decrees. If he were, then the entire Christian doctrine of providence—the vital teaching that God can so order all conditions, circumstances, and contingencies among created things as to bring about everything he wills for his creatures while still not in any way violating the autonomy of secondary causality—would be a logical contradiction. God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will, while not acting as yet another discrete cause among them. In one sense, naturally, this is merely a function of the coincidence in his nature of omniscience and omnipotence. Knowing not only all the events that constitute each individual life, but also all of an agent’s inner motives and predispositions and desires—all thoughts, impulses, hopes, preferences, yearnings, and aversions—and so knowing what choice any given soul will make when confronted with certain options and situated among certain circumambient forces, God can (if nothing else) so arrange the shape of reality that all beings, one way or another, come at the last upon the right path by way of their own freedom, in this life or the next.29

As O’Neill notes in his review of TASBS, this passage almost sounds Bañezian. Hart would quickly protest, noting the criticisms he has advanced against Domingo Bañez in his essay “Providence and Causality,”30 but the doctrine of providence doesn’t get much stronger than this. I expect Brotherton raised an eyebrow or two when he read this passage. Like Hart, he too disagrees with Bañez on predestination and freedom,31 yet he also disagrees with Hart and O’Neill that God can “cause” human beings to freely embrace him in faith and love. The irony is palpable and quite delicious.

In his essay “Universalism and Predestinarianism,” Brotherton argues that all expressions of universalism presuppose a hard determinism:

By “predestinarianism” is meant a competitive understanding of the relationship between divine grace and created freedom such that freedom is authentic only if grace overcomes its capacity for sin. It is easy to see, then, why a Christian who takes the universal salvific will of God (or God’s infinite love for creatures) seriously, would hold that all human beings ought to be saved, if this understanding of the grace–freedom dynamic is assumed. There are predestinarians who are not universalists, but they escape universalism only by undermining the universal salvific will of God. The Catholic Church has clearly taught the latter, at least, since the time of the Jansenist controversy. While some universalists may not address the relationship between grace and freedom explicitly, they must implicitly accept a particular theology of the grace–freedom dynamic in order to conclude that all human beings are saved (indicative universalism) or that the salvation of all human beings is the object of theologically certain hope (subjunctive universalism).32

Universalism is necessarily predestinarian, Brotherton tells us, and predestinarianism requires a competitive understanding of divine causality and human agency; yet Hart explicitly appeals to a noncompetitive understanding of divine providence to ground his claim that God can and will bring all human beings to repentance and faith. The Creator does not need to override our free will to accomplish his plans, for he is the transcendent source and maker of our free actions. At every moment, as Hugh McCann would say, God is creating us freely acting.33 Clearly Brotherton and Hart need to sit down over a nice single malt Scotch and figure out where the logjam is. The question of divine agency and human freedom is one of the most baffling in philosophical theology. Fortunately I’m at the end of my article and will leave it to  others to arbitrate the dispute. I hope I have persuaded you, though, that Hart has produced a serious philosophical reflection that deserves serious attention. His transcendental determinism does not fit into the usual compatibilist or libertarian categories.34 Having been around the theological block more than once, I can honestly say that I do not remember reading anything quite like his fourth meditation. Is it possible that an Eastern Orthodox theologian has solved the de Auxiliis controversy‽

Conclusion

As I was disappointed with Taylor O’Neill’s review of That All Shall Be Saved, I am also disappointed with Joshua Brotherton’s review. David Hart has given the Church important and interesting arguments with which to grapple—arguments that take us to the heart of the gospel—but the grappling requires a reading charitable, attentive, and patient, akin to the way ecumenical Catholic theologians eventually came to read the writings of Martin Luther and his fellow reformers. Do not invoke dogma too quickly. You might miss the Truth staring you in the face.

 

Footnotes

[1] Brotherton’s essays are available for download from his academia.edu page. I wish all scholars would do the same. His review of TASBS is published in Nova et Vetera 18 (Fall 2020): 1394-1399.

[2] David B. Hart, “Response to Benjamin B. DeVan,” Christian Scholars Review (12 November 2020).

[3] David B. Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, p. 68. Also see Brian C. Moore, “The Eternal Teleology of Divine Creation.”

[4] See David B. Hart, “What God Wills and What God Permits,” Public Orthodoxy (5 May 2020). Cf. Thomas Joseph White, “Von Balthasar and Journet on the Universal Possibility of Salvation and the Twofold Will of God,” Nova et Vetera 4 (2006): 633-665.

[5] Brotherton, p. 1395.

[6] Ibid., pp. 1394-1395.

[7] When a reviewer criticizes Hart on this point, I suspect limited acquaintance with the philosophical literature on hell. The concern raised by Hart is called the “doxastic problem.” Hart isn’t just being sentimental or emotional—the issue is real. See R. Zachary Manis, “The Doxastic Problem of Hell,” in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 6, ed. Jonathan L. Kvanvig (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2015): 203-221; Alvin Kimel, “The Doxastic Problem.” Antinatalism concerns immediately arise: Randall Rauser, “A Christian Argument for Antinatalism.”

[8] Brotherton might have mentioned that Hart is hardly the first one to use the terms “infernalist.” Balthasar used it thirty-plus years ago. Catholics were offended then, too. If “infernalist” galls, please come up with a different descriptive term. I suspect all substitutes will be deemed unacceptable, if accurately descriptive. Ditto for –ism terms.

[9] Jason Micheli, “David Bentley Hart’s polemic against the alleged doctrine of eternal hell,” The Christian Century (4 December 2019).

[10] Joshua R. Brotherton, “Presuppositions of Balthasar’s Universalist Hope and Maritain’s Alternative Eschatological Proposal,” Theological Studies 76 (2015): 719.

[11] See Alvin Kimel, “Preaching Apokastasis: St Isaac the Syrian and the Grammar of the Kingdom, Logos 58 (2017): 197–213.

[12] George MacDonald, Robert Falconer, chap. 12.

[13] See Alvin Kimel, “Apokatastasis and the Radical Vision of Unconditional Divine Love.”

[14] Brotherton, “Presuppositions,” pp. 728-729; emphasis mine.

[15] Always interpreted, one must add, through a hermeneutic of perdition. Yet as “obvious” as the infernalist reading of the dominical threats may appear, it was not obvious to Origen, the greatest exegete of the early Church. Moreover, if it is true that God has bestowed upon human beings the radical freedom to reject him irrevocably, then it follows that the reprobate embody the necessary, and horrific, price of creation, divinely accepted and divinely imposed. See Alvin Kimel, “The Damned Are Suffering For Your Bliss.”

[16] Brotherton, “TASBS review,” p. 1395.

[17] Hart, TASBS, pp. 178-179. Also see David B. Hart, “What is a Truly Free Will,” Public Orthodoxy (24 April 2020).

[18] Hart, TASBS, p. 36.

[19] Ibid., pp. 184-185.

[20] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, chap. 9.

[21] Brotherton, “TASBS review,” pp. 1397-1398.

[22] Ibid., p. 1398; my emphasis.

[23] Brotherton elaborates on Maritain’s proposal in “Presuppositions,” pp. 729-737.

[24] David B. Hart, “Waking the Gods,” in Faith, Reason, and Theosis, eds. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos (Fordham University Press, 2022); quoted with permission.

[25] David B. Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil,” Radical Orthodoxy 3 (September 2015): 10.

[26] Brotherton would remind us, of course, that the Catholic magisterium has already pronounced against the possibility of post-mortem repentance. He cites three “general” councils (Lyons I, Lyons II, and Florence) and Pope Benedict XII’s papal bull Benedictus Deus (1336). “The Possibility of Universal Conversion in Death,” Modern Theology 32 (March 2016): 5. Brotherton’s essay provides a  introduction to Balthasar’s belief in the possibility of conversion “in death.” It’s well worth reading.

The Orthodox Church recognizes neither the three mentioned synods nor Benedictus Deus as possessing dogmatic authority. She has a long tradition of believers praying the wicked out of hell and does not teach the immutability of the particular judgment. See Alvin Kimel, “Is Post-Mortem Repentance Possible for Mortal Sinners?

[27] Hart, TASBS, p. 180.

[28] George MacDonald, “It Shall Not Be Forgiven,” Unspoken Sermons. I am particularly fond of MacDonald’s imagining of post-mortem life for the person who seeks to flee from the consuming love of God:

If the man resists the burning of God, the consuming fire of Love, a terrible doom awaits him, and its day will come. He shall be cast into the outer darkness who hates the fire of God. What sick dismay shall then seize upon him! For let a man think and care ever so little about God, he does not therefore exist without God. God is here with him, upholding, warming, delighting, teaching him—making life a good thing to him. God gives him himself, though he knows it not. But when God withdraws from a man as far as that can be without the man’s ceasing to be; when the man feels himself abandoned, hanging in a ceaseless vertigo of existence upon the verge of the gulf of his being, without support, without refuge, without aim, without end—for the soul has no weapons wherewith to destroy herself–with no inbreath­ing of joy, with nothing to make life good;–then will he listen in agony for the faintest sound of life from the closed door; then, if the moan of suffering humanity ever reaches the ear of the outcast of darkness, he will be ready to rush into the very heart of the Consuming Fire to know life once more, to change this terror of sick negation, of unspeakable death, for that region of painful hope. (“The Consuming Fire“)

For a bit of speculation on post-mortem conversion, see Alvin Kimel, “Hell as Universal Purgatory.”

[29] Hart, TASBS, pp. 183-184; emphasis mine.

[30] David B. Hart, “Providence and Causality: On Divine Innocence,” in The Providence of God, ed. Murphy and Ziegler (New York: T & T Clark, 2009), pp. 34-56.

[31] See Joshua Brotherton, “Toward a Consensus on the De Auxiliis,” Nova et Vetera 14 (2016): 783–820.

[32] Joshua Brotherton, “Universalism and Presdestinarianism,” Theological Studies 77 (2016): 604.

[33] Alvin Kimel, “God Makes Us Freely Acting.” What makes McCann a particularly interesting dialogue partner is that he too finds the Bañezian approach severely flawed yet argues for a very strong doctrine of divine providence. Also see “Freedom and Determinism.”

[34] The same, I suspect, can also be said about Origen and St Gregory Nyssen. Are they libertarians or compatibilists? Probably.

(Go to “Damning to Nothingness”)

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, David B. Hart, Eschatology. Bookmark the permalink.

108 Responses to When Hell Becomes Dogma: Freedom for Perdition

  1. Tom says:

    I have a serious point of disagreement with Hart re: his belief in God’s ability to determine the result of all secondary causes, including free will. I think this is fairly obviously false, but I’m not going to step into the ring until there are first plenty of other bodies strewn about and I’m able to get in and get out undetected!

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    • DBH says:

      Who said “determine?”

      Obviously the claim would not be obviously false, if God is God and not some being among beings. So you’re wrong there in any event. But all I have said is that God can providentially arrange for the scope of possibilities in any free choice to be limited in one way rather than another. To deny that is to deny God’s providence, omnipotence, omniscience, and transcendence.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tom says:

        DBH: Who said “determine”?

        Tom: You did. In the bold line of Fr Al’s quote in his post above (note No. 29, from TASBS).

        Forgive me for jetting momentarily. I’ve just walked in the door and sense God has arranged that I should first eat something and then give some thought to how best to describe my concern. It has nothing to do with a voluntaristic notion of choice though. No worries there. Fr Al has already cast that demon out of me!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Dr Hart,

        I did try to qualify myself a bit by saying your claim was only “fairly” obviously false. ;o)

        I can get with “God can providentially arrange for the scope of possibilities in any free choice to be limited in one way rather than another.” But “God…is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will…” appears to claim more than that God can “arrange the scope of possibilities” from which we choose. The stronger claim seems to say God can guarantee the specific choices (“results”). So my concern is, if God can determine every result of all secondary causes (including free will), I would think he would do so. It’s just a guess, but the Holocaust does suggest we often exercise our means of secondary causation in ways a loving God would not want us to. So I’m inclined to think that, given the state of world we live in, God isn’t guaranteeing precisely all the actual choices he in his goodness would want us to make.

        That we can never escape the reach of our transcendental orientation seems clear to me. So a voluntaristic libertarian view is out of the question. But that’s not to say God (to put it colloquially) always gets what he wants (even if it’s true that the world can never escape the reach of pathways back to God). But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude then that God isn’t (because he can’t and still achieve the end he desires) “determining the results of all secondary causes.”

        If I’m missing your point, do forgive me.

        Gratefully,
        Tom

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    • DBH says:

      In fact, Tom, if God cannot determine the results of secondary causes, then he cannot providentially order anything, he cannot bring about the Kingdom (not for sure, at least), he cannot sanctify–more to the point, he cannot create.

      You seem to be hung up on some libertarian picture of freedom that is, at the causal level alone, utterly incoherent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David says:

        In my experience, all that is required to be a libertarian is simply the belief that, *on some occasions*, agents exercise deliberate liberty such that their choice is not *fully* determined either by God or by antecedent conditions.

        It does not automatically require subscribing to a voluntarist view of freedom, in which decisions are made without aiming at a logically prior rationale or transcendent end (such as the natural will’s prior desire for and orientation towards the Good).

        It also does not mean thinking that libertarian decision-making is a requirement of ‘true freedom’ either, or that all instances of human autonomy are exercised in this libertarian way. Many libertarians hold that there all kinds of situations in which an agent could be acting freely yet in a way that is fully determined purely by a combination of our reason and circumstances – i.e. they recognise that one’s freedom is not violated simply by the fact that there are lots of situations where, relative to the ‘rationality’ of the agent, only one rational choice remains.

        They just hold that there are *some* situations in which a creature’s decisions are not fully determined in this way. The fact that we are bound to pursue the Good does not mean that we do not sometimes have to deliberate over which aspect of the Good to pursue – and if, due to a defect in our reasoning, the merits of a greater good and a lesser good falsely appear to us to be identical, we may indeed ‘spontaneously’ opt for one over the other, without being fully determined by any antecedent causes. And even there, libertarianism can accommodate the notion that ultimately even those actions are aiming at a higher and more abstract desire for the ‘good’, which is itself unchosen as an essential part of being a rational being and is therefore determined. We can ‘spontaneously’ choose certain proximate ends, though our final end is fixed.

        Obviously there are plenty of libertarians who don’t subscribe to all the details of this picture, and do in fact hold to an incoherent and voluntarist view of freedom. But plenty of them don’t – and as best as I can tell, for once it’s not really the analytic philosophers who are to blame, but rather various dodgy infernalist theologians (plus, in fairness, the bizarre existentialist ‘radical freedom’ of Sartre and co).

        This is probably just quibbling over definitions, but as I say, in my experience there are plenty of people who call themselves libertarians that are fully on board with (and usually require) a strong view of some kind of background unchosen natural orientation, whether that’s God or whathaveyou, as a necessary condition for making sense of our capacity to choose, and to distinguish libertarian choice from pure chance.

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        • Tom says:

          For the record, I agree with all the qualifications David (not DBH) mentions here regarding libertarian choice. This still leaves the concern regarding the claim that God is able to “capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will” (DBH) which seems to suggest that God can guarantee that we always make precisely the good choices he prefers we make, which, if true, begs the question ‘Why is God not doing so?’

          The only answer I can think of is: He can’t do so. The constraints of course are natural and they are ours. They’re embedded in the nature our finite, temporal movement to loving union with God – in the same sense DBH notes (in his post here a week ago) that God cannot finally create a free rational creature without that creature’s free acceptance of the invitation to arise from nothingness. Precisely.

          We may be free in the (properly qualified) libertarian sense far less often than we suppose we are, but surely we must be so in this instance, i.e., where we must freely assent to God’s creation of us and his love for us (even if that assent comes increasingly over time to define all we are, as DBH has also noted). If not, if our ‘yes’ to this invitation is something God can always determine and so avoid any ‘no’ that might derail us, why hasn’t he done so? Surely a perfectly loving God whose end for us requires absolutely nothing from sin and evil would foreclose upon the possibility of our choosing awry if he could do so. He hasn’t done so. So I suspect he can’t (which is not to say that an eternal hell or annihilation ‘are’ possibilities; they’re not).

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          • Tom says:

            David (not DBH), comments below: “I’d be inclined to make particular attention to the fact Hart states that it is the *result* of all secondary causes, rather than secondary causes themselves, which are determined.”

            Let me say that if THAT is Hart’s point, I withdrawal all objections. I understood Hart to be referring to the determining of the choices themselves.

            All is well, go back to work folks.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      FWIW, Tom, I would argue (rightly or wrongly) that to speak of the transcendent God as “determining” or “not determining” events and happenings is a category mistake. How can we speak that way when God is not a being who acts upon and interacts with other beings in all the ways science and philosophy can specify? What he does, rather, is confer being. At this moment he is creating me typing into the combox. Is he determining my thoughts? Is he determining my typing?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Fr Al, I think you know I agree. God’s conferral of ‘being’ as such is itself a determination of sorts, as is sustaining all beings in all their movements. God grants and sustains the righteous and the wicked, including Hitler and the Nazis in their despairing, genocidal policies, and the Nazi guard who ignites the ovens, and the flames that consume their victims, and the victims in their pain and suffering.

        Do we also want to deny the distinction in this between God’s conferral of being (and in conferring being, conferring whatever measure of agency we possess) and the exercise by us of that agency by which we defy God, his goodness, his will, and bring about all the miseries our world has known? I can’t imagine we want to say that “God determines ‘that’ Hitler exterminates 6 million Jews” is equivalent to “God confers being and agency upon Hitler and sustains him in his exercise of that agency.” I’m fine with viewing God at the scene of every crime transcendently present conferring and sustaining the being of criminals (under the terms which define our movement from origin to end in God) in their crimes. What I can’t say is that this conferral of being logically implies that God also is capable of always determining which choices people make (without, that is, also making it impossible for creatures to render to God the free assent we must render if we’re to find our end in God).

        It’s one thing to say divine and human agencies are not competitive on the level of God’s sustaining beings in the free exercise of their agency. I agree, there can be no competition here. But it’s another thing to say “non-competitive” also means God is present in the evils we commit choosing that we do as we do. I think you’ll agree that with respect to evil, competition can and does obtain (though only transiently, not finally).

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  2. DBH says:

    Al,

    O’Neill and Brotherton are well paired in N&V. Each is missing something vital that the other grasps.

    Matt Levering, the editor of N&V, admits that he was not enthusiastic about printing any review at all, since he thought that all the negative reviews had proved unimpressive so far. He inherited the O’Neill review when he took over the journal and commissioned the Brotherton review as an alternative. He did admit that they accidentally cancel one another out. Which is true, except on the one point where they agree: a fideistic certitude of eternal hell, based on a fideistic certitude of eternal hell, based on a fideistic certitude of eternal hell, based on… (Well, it’s turtles all the way down).

    O’Neill is the more philosophically sophisticated writer, Brotherton the more theologically sophisticated; but neither is quite sophisticated enough.

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    • DBH says:

      Oh, and whenever any critic accuses the book of ad hominem attacks, I know immediately that he was not reading with any care. I also know that he hears ad hominem attacks where there are none because his own conscience is alerting him to something he does not want to admit about the beliefs to which he has chosen to reconcile himself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joshua R Brotherton says:

        That’s funny. The most overrated “scholar of religious studies,” as I know you prefer to be called, makes an ad hominem attack in response to an observation of ad hominem attacks. I will not take the time here to refute all of your philosophical AND theological unsophistication. Do you sleep? Keep pleasing your groupies with idiosyncratic commentary. I am actually first a philosopher, then a theologian, not to mention mathematician and polymath…let me quit, lest I equal your arrogance (perhaps, one day I will boast only in the cross, like the great St. Paul).
        Matthew has an idiosyncratic view on the predestination debate, as you probably know, something between mine and O’Neill’s. But, as someone who used to hold O’Neill’s position on predestination and your position on salvation, which actually go together quite well (my overarching point elsewhere, if not in this review tackled by Fr Al), I think I have a handle on the debate at large, which will be released in a volume in the coming years, that is, assuming I have not overly offended one of the great puppet-masters of academia.

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        • arthurja says:

          “The most overrated “scholar of religious studies”

          Jealous much?

          Like

          • DBH says:

            He obviously thinks he’s been wronged. He’s written some decent stuff on Lonergan–though I think he defends Lonergan on one point that he shouldn’t–but obviously he took the most sinister possible spin on my remarks. My fault: rather than “unsophisticated writer” I should have said, more clearly, “in writing this review he is the one of the two reviewers who makes the more sophisticated theological observations on the issues in my book, O’Neill makes the more philosophically sophisticated, but neither of them is sophisticated enough, in the sense that neither accurately addresses the central argument in the book.”

            Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          Calm down, kid. There was nothing ad hominem. My reference was not to you, but to the quality of your two articles, neither of which addresses the actual arguments in my book accurately. In those articles, O’Neill makes better philosophical points than he does theological on what’s at issue for me, and in your article you do the opposite. If you read some global judgment on the two of you into my remarks, the fault lies with you.

          As for whether your work in general is of high quality or not (and some of what you’ve written on Lonergan I have thought good) was not the issue. Re-read my remarks: what I said chiefly was that you both make an argument tangential to mine, and therefore one that I have no reason to address, and yet you could be read as arguing against one another.

          Nice tantrum, though.

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          • Joshua R Brotherton says:

            You’re right, I have been wronged numerous times (who has not?); and I probably am jealous of your success…Thank you for the clarifications. I have a few quick questions for you, if you wish to entertain them. (Also, I am open to comments on a paper I recently had the opportunity to write on Bulgakov, if you’re interested).
            First, which point of Lonergan’s do I defend that I shouldn’t?
            Second, you say you are neither a Molinist nor a Bañezian nor apparently sympathetic to revisions of the usual Thomist account by the likes of Maritain/Marin-Sola/Lonergan(?). do you take a position on the debate or do you choose an escape route like those of Barth, Bulgakov, Balthasar, or Levering (whom I call a friend)? I don’t recall seeing anything by you specifically address the question, except for a couple of essays where you mostly criticize (rightly) Augustine’s approach & (wrongly) Aquinas’, to a lesser extent…

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            I’m sorry for my inept wording. Looking at it again, I see it can be read in a dozen different ways. Comment boxes are too casual in form. And I have become rather curt and telegraphic since that book appeared.

            The Lonergan point I’ll address quickly. I seem to remember an article of yours in which you cited Lonergan’s concession that–in keeping with God’s infinite creative power–God could have created a world not marked by the gracious vocation of rational natures to union with himself. Not that Lonergan claims God would, but only that this lay in God’s power. I believe that to be a concession he did not need to make, and one that is logically contradictory (unless he coyly meant God could create a world without any rational creatures in it at all). I thought you too needn’t make such a concession. But I think I recall that otherwise, in that article, your treatment of Lonergan on divine permission was very good.

            I’m willing to discuss all these things in future. Right now, I’m dealing with a friend who’s fighting for his life in hospital. Please pray for Alfred.

            Liked by 2 people

          • DBH says:

            Oh, yes, please send the Bulgakov paper to my ND email address.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            Vide infra infra.

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        • DBH says:

          Vide infra

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          You know, Molinism and Bañezianism are not the full spectrum of possibilities. In fact, it’s possible to believe that both are answers to a defective question, and therefore wrong in principal. Both presume a distinction between nature and grace that is misconceived. I notice, though, that simply by upholding the minimal definition of divine providence–that God can knowingly arrange the free course of secondary causation so that it leads to a universally good end without violation of rational creatures’ freedom–I have tempted some to suspect me of taking the former position and others to suspect me of taking the latter.

          As it happens, Lonergan is very good in refusing the supposition of the latter school that the withholding of efficacious grace from a creature would necessarily be an infallible permissive predestination of the creature to evil. He simply did not go far enough.

          I have never written a word about Thomas Aquinas on these issues, positive or negative. I have written only about Thomists.

          In fact, the distinction between natural and moral predestination–or natural praemotion and moral predestination–is inept. The only natural transcendental impulse of the rational will is solely for the Good. God therefore “permits” the free exercise of rational will precisely to the degree that he sets his creatures free from the obstacles inhibiting that irresistible volition from finding the end that fulfills it (including the marks of fallenness), and thereby brings the empirical will into conformity with the transcendental. By the ingenuity of providence, this can ultimately be accomplished for all no doubt. Not only is this not a violation of creaturely freedom; it is the very act of liberating the human will. God cannot, however, “permissively” decree the sin of a creature purely by “physical” disposition. The cases are not symmetrical. The creature has no natural transcendental orientation toward evil, and so a mere physical disposition leading to evil by negation (or absence) of grace must actually be a “physical” blinding of the creature’s empirical will to the better path. That is, even if it accomplishes that predestination by negation, that very physical disposition (that praemotio physica) would still be the positive act of compelling the creature with the moral cause of evil. God cannot abandon a creature to sin without morally compelling the creature to sin. Such a God would still will the evil in the free acts of the creature, and would be evil by so doing.

          So I seem to believe exactly the opposite of what Bañezianism says: I think that God could assure a creature’s self-damnation only by an act of moral predestination, but could assure the creature’s salvation merely by removing the “physical” impediments to the creature’s truly free self-willing.

          But that’s enough for now. A god who allows any creature to suffer eternally is infinitely evil, so why bother talking about the monster?

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            In principle.

            Shouldn’t the dictate function know the difference? Machine intelligence indeed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • brofessorphdmd says:

            Sorry it has taken me this long to respond, but I have been swamped lately with tests, etc. I hope you are doing well. I agree with your assessment of Bañezianism on infallible permissive decrees. I don’t know if you saw my article in NV on de auxiliis; it originally contained a section on your work, but I don’t think that made it in. Your comments make me think I was right to see in your work a position similar to Maritain’s (which he borrowed from Marin-Sola), not to mention Lonergan’s essentially similar position, that there is a fundamental dissymmetry between the “line of good” and the “line of evil,” that is, that God causes all our free good acts but the evil acts are solely our own doing permitted by God’s consequent will but not his antecedent will (to use Damascene’s terminology). Do you take exception to such a conceptualization? At the same time, I see in you clearly the influence of Bulgakov’s sophiology. Do you align completely with his panentheism (which seems akin to “open theism”)?

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          • DBH says:

            Oh dear, you really have Bulgakov wrong there. And you haven’t read all that much of my work, I perceive.

            There is nothing akin to open theism in Bulgakov’s thought. That some have the impression that there is, admittedly, has something to do with intentionally provocative language that he employed regarding how the conditions of the economy of salvation are already present in the economy of creation. But don’t take language of divine kenotic ignorance too seriously, because he makes it clear that there is a certain subjunctive “as if” in that language, and that all he’s talking about is the willed autonomy of secondary causes. In history, God pours himself out “as if” history is unknown to him, just as Christ prays “If it is possible that this cup be taken away…” But then Bulhgakov clearly explicitly states that the eternal God does not learn from creation and is not capable of pathos.

            I most definitely, however, embrace his “panentheism” properly understood, and the implicit metaphysical monism necessarily entailed therein.

            To say that God causes all our good actions, I must add, is to say that God causes us to be free, and that rational freedom produces only actions for the Good. To the degree that we are free, our transcendental intentionality and our empirical rational volitions perfectly coincide (as Maximus would say, there is no separation of a gnomic from a natural will). As for permission to evil, that is simply a mode of permission for Good, drawn astray, and even then the providential power of God can constrain its consequences without violation of freedom. Even so, as I have often enough said here, the distinction between antecedent and consequent wills is one that disappears at the eschatological horizon; like the difference between the gnomic and natural wills, it cannot be any but a provisional distinction in modes within a single reality. Either all are saved or God has antecedently willed both their moral evil and the natural evil to which they fall prey (the latter then also redounding to a moral evil within God himself).

            For Bañezians, God permits a necessarily defectible rational will to fall into unavoidable evil according to God’s eternal decrees (an evil supposition, of course). There is no such thing as a necessarily defectible rational will. Fallenness is extrinsic to the nature of the creature. Grace is intrinsic to the nature of the creature. The latter is, of course, the antithesis of the Bañezian position.

            Liked by 2 people

          • TJF says:

            I’m a philosophical lightweight, but I recently read Plato’s Protagoras and that helped me understand this topic immensely.

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        • Marc says:

          be careful David….Joshua’s a polymath

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          • Marc says:

            well both of you are much more accomplished than I, but still, i couldn’t let this opportunity go

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            Being a polymath does not mean one has got Bulgakov right. On the other hand, not being a polymath makes it hard to read Bulgakov well. So it’s a start.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Polymath and polyglot, in fact…There’s another word for you to google, Marc, lol.
            David, I’ve only read Bulgakov’s Bride of the Lamb and it was invigorating at points and at other points displayed a severe misunderstanding of Aristotle and Aquinas. He obviously received the post-Kantian renditions of their thought. But anyone who really knows their thought can pinpoint where exactly the moderns got them wrong and these errors are also clearly present in Bulgakov. I think dismissing Bulgakov’s sophiological panentheistic excesses as simply metaphorical or rhetorical is similar to those who overlook Balthasar’s Speyrian excesses with regard to the Trinity and Christ’s descent into hell, for instance. So, I gather that you do not much respect Paul Gavrilyuk’s scholarship on Bulgakov?

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          • DBH says:

            Again, you haven’t read enough Bulgakov. As for Paul, no, I don’t think his work on SB is particularly good.

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          • DBH says:

            Well, Brother Brotherton, you certainly have a high regard for Brotherton, that’s fairly clear. Forgive me if my opinion of your work so far is that your confidence is as yet in excess of your achievements.

            Your misunderstanding of Bulgakov is almost as large as your misunderstanding of me. In both cases, you seem to draw conclusions before you’ve done the work.

            As for Bulgakov, he was largely reacting to the Thomism of his time. Which is to say, Garrigou-Lagrange, Nicolas, etc. The great age of Thomas scholarship had not yet rescued Thomas from Thomism.

            If you want to know what I think about nature and supernature, read my next book from UNDP.

            Oh, as for being a polyglot, want to lay a wager on which of us wins that laurel wreath?

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          • DBH says:

            PS, That’s my gentle way of saying that you don’t need to praise yourself. But you do need to criticize yourself somewhat more than you apparently do. Your mistakes are not catastrophic, but they are mistakes.

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          • DBH, I was being tongue-in-cheek, as you can probably tell. I am not a renowned polyglot yet. I am still young, of course, and I’ve been concentrating on other achievements lately. In any case, I find your linguistic analysis of “aionas,” following Bulgakov, to be quite a stretch. I know how Bulgakov dismisses as metaphorical the New Testament’s few instances of “eis aionas ton aionon” (excuse the Latin letters), almost always reserved for God ‘s own eternity, in reference to damnation (although I couldn’t find a coherent interpretation of Jn 5:29’s dichotomization of the last judgment). How do you explain the same adjective being used just as often (and in parallel), even more often, in reference to heaven?

            Like

          • TJF says:

            I know this is directed at DBH, but Thomas Talbott has what I perceive to be a convincing argument against the parallelism charge in The Inescapable Love of God. Adjectives modify nouns and so depending on the noun, the meaning of the adjective varies. I expectantly wait DBH’s reply, though.

            Like

  3. David says:

    Thanks Fr Kimel for this beautiful piece.

    “God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will”

    Hart is quite clear that the fallen sufferings of this world do not represent God’s perfect will, so I’d be inclined to make particular attention to the fact Hart states that it is the *result* of all secondary causes, rather than secondary causes themselves, which are determined. So my tentative reading would be that, while the final conclusion (i.e. eschatological perfection) of all secondary causes is pre-determined at the transcendent level, the various diversions and stumbles we make beyond the way are entirely of our own making.

    That said…

    “Knowing not only all the events that constitute each individual life, but also all of an agent’s inner motives and predispositions and desires—all thoughts, impulses, hopes, preferences, yearnings, and aversions—and so knowing what choice any given soul will make when confronted with certain options and situated among certain circumambient forces, God can (if nothing else) so arrange the shape of reality that all beings, one way or another, come at the last upon the right path by way of their own freedom, in this life or the next”

    This particular passage has always puzzled me – to my mind (nose) it carries a slight whiff of Molinism – but that must be a misreading as Hart sure isn’t one of those. From reading “Providence and Causality: On Divine Innocence” I would be surprised if Hart’s view of creaturely autonomy essentially boiled down to saying “If we knew a creature’s exact condition at time X, and we knew exactly what choice it was about to face, we could predict with 100% accuracy what it would do”.

    So again perhaps we need to focus on the “one way or another” element of this passage. Perhaps there are certain conditions in a soul that could guarantee a certain result (where our perception of the good, with respect to a certain situation, is clear), but others (where our perception of the good is clouded and the relevant moral goods and comodious good appear equivalent) where it would not. Or is the sense just that God can guarantee what choice a certain soul will make *eventually* – i.e. the ‘choice’ Hart is honing in on is not this or that moral conundrum, but the final eschatological choice to irrevocably bind ourselves to God and find final stability in the good? (not that God doesn’t know everything we in fact do by knowing himself as the cause of all our actions).

    That may be a misreading of course, but oh well!

    Like

    • DBH says:

      I have repeatedly answered the Molinism charge. That is a confusion of issues. I don’t remember where I addressed the issue before. But I do still have what I wrote:

      Molinism is a special doctrine about God’s infinite knowledge of counterfactuals and his choice–contingent on that knowledge–of one possible world among others. Thus he is the passive recipient of epistemic deliverances from a realm of logical possibilities somehow independent of his primordial creative will. That is a far larger claim than the simple doctrine of Providence, which says that God knows how to order the eventualities of the creation he brings into being–even those produced by secondary causality–in a way that conduces to the ultimate good he intends without stealing away the autonomy of secondary causes.

      That passage, incidentally, is unrelated to the argument of freedom in the chapter except tangentially. It is a reply to Stump and Plantinga who claim that, even if God wishes for all persons to choose the good (to employ the anthropomorphism that anglophone philosophy seems incapable of avoiding), he could not guarantee that they do so. My point is simply that this is self-evidently false. At a crucial juncture, for instance, in elaborate harmony with all the events of nature and history, God might foreclose a certain very destructive course of action and leave open only one rational path, presented to a sane agent as a desirable end. If I should go left rather than right, God might providentially arrange that on that day the righthand path is blocked by a raging fire, while also arranging for me not to be under the influence of a hallucinogen. Thus he would be guiding me infallibly by his infinite foresight toward the end he plans for me, but would not in doing so be robbing me of rational freedom. And this is not Molinism either: I am not saying that God has a perfect inventory of counterfactuals in a file, but only that he is omniscient and knows me as the creature that I am. If here you say that he cannot know for sure what choice I will make, you are talking nonsense. Pure spontaneity is impossible for a truly free agent. All free movements of the will are purposive and dependent upon the rational competency of the agent, all of which God can know without any harm to freedom.

      But, of course, again, the actual argument of the chapter does not pretend to prove universalism by way of the doctrine of providence–it proves only the logical cogency of saying that what God wishes for us ultimately to choose, in keeping with our own aboriginal nature and deepest desires, he can arrange for us to choose without violating our power of rational deliberation and judgment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • David says:

        Thanks Dr Hart. As I said, I certainly don’t think you are a Molinist.

        You are explicit in Providence and Causality that “God knows actions he does not predetermine”, and in TASBS you state that God is “wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will”.

        Now obviously God cannot both ‘determine’ and ‘not determine’ all actions, at least not in the same sense, so I am assuming one passage must be interpreted in light of the other, or else there is some distinction in what you are saying in these two passages that would clear things up.

        So I was really wondering whether my reading above – i.e. that God determines the final result of all secondary causes (eschatological perfection), but does not will to determine literally every single secondary cause (such as contingent acts of evil) – was in the right ballpark?

        Also, in your example above you gave some fairly specific situations where any rational being would, with 100% certainty, obviously option for once choice rather than another. Obviously there are lots of situations like this, where we can guarantee a result without undermining anybody’s liberty. But are all situations like this?

        It seems to me that are other situations where, if an agent’s knowledge of God is clouded – perhaps they falsely believe the comodious of good of, say, stealing their supper, is absolutely equal to the moral good of preparing their own supper – then in principle it would not be possible to know which way the agent would go. Now that doesn’t stop God providentially ordering the event, and leading the agent into a more ‘determinable’ situation, from which he can guarantee final eschatological perfection. And of course, God knows the actual outcome of every secondary cause in any event, as the transcendent cause that creates this liberty in the first place.

        Basically, in other texts you are clear that God does not determine all our actions. So I am assuming you therefore do not believe that every single secondary cause is in fact determined by God (even if some secondary causes are determined, and if the final result of all secondary causes – eschatological perfection – is determined). It is surely not the case, after all, that God has determined me to do evil when he could have determined me to do good. God determines the possibility of my sin but merely permits the actualization of my sin. He causes both, yes, but causation is distinct from determination.

        So bearing that in mind, I was just trying to work out how best to interpret your statement that “God is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will”. Do you have any guidance for an admiring but often poor reader of your work?

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        • DBH says:

          The secret is in the word “result.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • David says:

            Righty ho. As that is precisely the word I suggested above was essential to understand your thought correctly, I’ll take that as a rare win. Only bought it up as I’ve encountered quite a few of your fans who think this sentence somehow reveals you subscribe to Hugh McCann-style ‘vertical determinism’ after all (i.e. a theoretical indeterminism on the horizontal plane – on the basis that our decisions are not determined by other events in the nexus of secondary causes – but with all our actions and choices nevertheless meticulously determined by God.)

            Likewise “knowing what choice any given soul will make when confronted with certain options” seems to confuse a lot of people – which I think is because “certain options” could easily be taken to mean “any specific choice you can think of” rather than just “certain specific options but not all” – I think it must mean the latter, as the former would amount to a form of either Calvinist or Molinist determinism and a denial of real deliberative liberty within limits. After all, you believe there are moments at which we need to choose between a commodious good and moral good which, to our defective reason, falsely appear balanced, and these must be genuinely indeterminate and not determinable based solely on knowledge of personality and circumstances.

            Also I observe that many folk interpret the term “transcendental determinism” as a generic “vertical determinism” in which every action whatsoever is a function of God’s transcendent will, rather than the more precise idea that God’s transcendent will functions as our final cause, telos and destiny by determining our natural will, while still allowing for an indeterminate straying of the gnomic will along the way.

            I have a few learning issues that paradoxically makes me quite good at identifying sentences which, while they seem clear enough in themselves, are liable to cause confusion. So my first thought on reading these were that a few folk would wrongly assume that your thinking was confused or that you were actually some kind of crypto-determinist and, lo and behold, when I encounter people who think these things it is indeed these passages that they cite.

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        • brofessorphdmd says:

          I think Prof Hart would second this: read Lonergan’s Grace and Freedom for insight here.

          Like

    • Tom says:

      David (not DBH): I’d be inclined to make particular attention to the fact Hart states that it is the *result* of all secondary causes, rather than secondary causes themselves, which are determined.

      Tom: If THAT is his point, fine. I was understanding the determining of the choices themselves. I wanna note this above as well.

      Like

  4. Marc says:

    Something I always wanted to know is where the idea of the “Aerial Toll Houses” came from and how that became a staple in Orthodox thought

    It’s so ridiculous, unbiblical and too arbitrary of a construction that it’s odd how this became a teaching. Is this simply Climacus’ sole invention?

    Like

  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    When we talk about God determining the result of all secondary causes, are we talking about determining each and every individual result of secondary causes as we go along, or the ultimate result in the end of the sum of secondary causes taken as a whole? I.e. to use a chess analogy, are we talking about God determining each move we make during the game, or being such a master player that no matter what moves we make he still wins? If it is the former it seems both incompatible with us freely willing anything, and also makes God the author of any evil that we do. The latter, however, would be compatible with both free will and universalism.

    Like

  6. oliver elkington says:

    I was having a discussion about this subject on the now defunct Catholic Answers forum, one of the members there who was a committed Thomist said to me that the problem with having no fear of Hell is that one has no incentive to do what is right and necessary, hence in unreligious societies like Denmark and Japan you see rapidly decreasing birthrates because people can not be bothered to have children, sadly it seems that people will only want to have children if they are of personal benefit in some way or if they feel they are compelled to have them with the threat of Hell if they don’t.

    Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Because of course we all know what a crime-ridden hellhole full of sinners Denmark is…
      Reduced birthrates are generally associated with increased material prosperity and education as people are more able to plan their families, and delay families for a college education and establishing a career, childcare costs become higher and people will have fewer children because they want to invest more in the future of those they have.
      Italy, Ukraine, Poland and Russia are all pretty religious, but with relatively low birth rates – it doesn’t correlate particularly well at all.
      It’s quite a silly argument.
      It’s also contradictory, since it often combines with a “free will” defence of hell which makes no sense if hell is supposed to be coercive, and if God is supposed to be happy to force people to be good, why not do that directly by just preventing sin, rather than trying to scare people into being good with threats of hell, and then, even more bizarrely, diluting the threat by leaving people to figure out for themselves if it even exists.

      Like

    • arthurjaco says:

      “The problem with having no fear of Hell is that one has no incentive to do what is right.”

      That thomist is obviously wrong (imagine my surprise).
      If one has done more evil than good in their life and ends up realizing that truth with perfect clarity, one then realizes another truth (unless one’s stupidity verges on the supernatural), which is that it would have been better for the world if he had never been born in the first place.
      Unless one is an unredeemable psychopath who genuinely does not care at all about the rest of the world and about right and wrong, realizing that truth can be utterly devastating because it is likely to completely destroy one’s self-esteem – provided that one’s self-esteem is built on rational grounds, that is, not on one’s fitness performance, on the number of women one has slept with or on the depths of one’s knowledge and understanding but on the belief that one has done more good than evil during his life.
      This, to me, is a quite powerful, rational, and non-psychotic incentive to always seek to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong : the real possibility of the irrevocable loss of (rational) self-esteem and (rational) love for oneself.
      As someone who does not believe in Hell, that simple line of reasoning constitutes one of my main incentives to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong.
      Although that one incentive clearly does not work for everyone, there are other incentives to do what is right apart from Hell and I see no reason why I should assume that that one only works for me.

      As for the many factors that come into play when one considers low birthrates, here’s one of the most important ones according to most economists and demographers : economic crisis, which leads people to be wary of the future, which leads them to have less children.
      Iain Lovejoy is also right to point out the few religious countries that he pointed out as counter-examples though I would not have included Russia in the list given its very strong non-religious minority, its extremely low levels of religious practice and the tendency that many “Orthodox” Russians have to identify as Orthodox merely out of love for their culture rather than out of personal conviction.
      I would also have added Romania, Cyprus, Serbia, Georgia, Armenia, Brazil and Iran to that list… all of these countries are overwhelmingly religious and their birthrates have fallen below the replacement rate of 2,1 children per woman.

      Given what I usually hear thomists say (“the misery of the damned will increase the bliss of the elect”, “it is better to exist eternally in a state of pain rather than to cease to exist”, etc), the only interesting question to me is “do people become thomists because they are wrong or are they wrong because they became thomists?”
      The mystery remains intact…

      Like

  7. doug says:

    Fr. Kimel, have you read Thomas Merton’s essay “The Moral Theology of the Devil”? It seems to me that Merton’s voice should be added to the discussion of Universalism vis-a-vis Catholicism — with the caveat, of course, that Merton was anything but a mainstream Catholic.

    Like

  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A question for DBH:

    In my article I represent you as suggesting a connection between the Latin notion of natura pura and a fervent commitment to eternal damnation. I don’t, of course, know whether there is any connection whatsoever, yet it niggles at me nonetheless. What are you real thoughts on the matter? Am I totally off-base?

    Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      That’s the whole point of the silly idea of natura pura.

      Like

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        A pre-cursor to modern notions of libertarian, indeterminate freedom?

        Like

      • No, I’m curious what your reasons are. Are you a fan of Henri de Lubac’s treatment or do you think the medieval development of a distinction between nature and grace was a corruption of doctrine? What makes grace, the supernatural gift of intimate participation in the Trinitarian life of divine love, necessarily intrinsic to the human being? Or do you, rather, merely say a man of “pure nature” is a speculative possibility but never a reality?

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Necessarily intrinsic. The supernatural vocation to union with God and creation of spiritual beings are one and the same act and must be so. De Lubac was correct until he was forced to qualify his thought. So correct he was almost Eastern. Neither a man nor in fact a world of “pure nature” is either reality or even a speculative possibility. It is the worst confusion imaginable.

          My impatience is that you are asking something that I’ve answered in print over a hundred times by now. I have a book coming out from UNDP this year that covers just this topic. I suggest you buy it–maybe ten or twelve copies, since royalties are fun–when it comes out.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I can’t promise 12, but I will certainly buy 1. I hope they give you ample percentage. Any who, I just wanted to hear you say “necessarily intrinsic.” Are you familiar with the Latin “real distinction” between essence and esse in creatures? Do you grant it or not. I ask because in scholastic philosophy, at least, distinction does not necessarily imply separability (i.e., the created essence is really distinct from its own act of being, yet it obviously cannot “be,” properly speaking, without it). I do not see anything in the notion “rational animal” or even “embodied spirit” that logically implies a vocation to perfect union with God…why would a created intellect be necessarily oriented to perfect understanding of that than which nothing greater can be thought (to use Anselm’s famous phrase)? I understand the fittingness of such orientation, but not the logical necessity. I take it, then, you think Lonergan’s “theorem of the supernatural” is an aberration, yet it is entirely consistent with the rest of his theology.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Are you really so entirely unacquainted with my work that you actually have to ask me if I am aware of anything so metaphysically basic? Essence and existence? Are you insane?

            Curiously, I am not inclined to dignify the question, and am less inclined to summarize the last two decades of my writings. But the book I mentioned will explain all of this.

            I’m beginning to see why you were so unable to follow the universalism book.

            And in fact any proper definition of spiritual creatures entails necessary deification. 12 copies at least.

            Like

  9. myshkin says:

    it strikes me that if the absurd notion were true that my sisters and brothers in hell are a source of joy, as it manifests God’s glory, then I should ultimately be indifferent to my own fate; I should be happy in beatitude or damnation for my only concern is love of God and ostensibly even in hell I increase His glory; therefore, I am happy even in hell, but I’ve yet to find a Thomist who is willing to increase God’s glory through their own eternal torment. Sure if you have to increase God’s glory in everlasting flame well thanks for manifesting God’s glory, but that’s not for me because I don’t want that fate, and there’s the problem. Drawn ever deeper into the embrace of Divine Eros, I the beloved, care for nothing but what brings my Divine Lover joy, and if my roasting forever brings the Divine Lover joy, then lets get cooking, but even as I describe that scenario the absurdity is profound. contempt is the only acceptable and loving response.

    Like

  10. DBH says:

    By the way, Al, I would never have been that polite to Brotherton. You make me sound like someone who has a patience I don’t possess. I would have been especially rude about the suggestion that I have something to learn about or from Catholic theologies of nature and grace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • arthurjaco says:

      Dr Hart,

      Given its long history of theological universalism, it often strikes me as odd that you did not choose to convert to the Assyrian Church of the East at any point.
      Hence I am wondering : do you plan on writing any article on why you chose to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church in particular?
      You have hinted at the reasons why you chose Orthodoxy before – its (relative) openness to universalism, its theological diversity, its deep attachment to the Church Fathers, your early exposure to Russian Orthodox theologians and philosophers and your admiration for them – but I suspect there’s more to this and I don’t recall you having written anything on that matter (though I haven’t read everything you’ve written so I might be wrong).

      Cheers

      Liked by 1 person

      • arthurjaco says:

        I mean, why did you choose the Orthodox Church instead of the Assyrian Church?
        That would be the essence of my question.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jakebharmon says:

          Arthur, all I’m aware of with the Assyrian Church is of course St. Isaac of Nineveh as well as the Book of the Bee – are there any more Assyrian Universalist documents you could make me aware of?

          Best,
          Jake

          Like

          • arthurjaco says:

            Hello Jake,

            I am no scholar, of course, and I’ll admit that there’s no Assyrian universalist document that I can cite apart from the Book of the Bee.
            However, I can certainly cite a couple more important universalist figures that are revered in the Church of the East apart from St (and Bishop) Isaac of Nineveh and Bishop Solomon of Basrah, such as St (and Bishop) Theodore of Mopsuestia and St (and Bishop) Diodore of Tarsus, who are quoted and cited by name in the Book of the Bee, and I believe Dr Hart made a reference to a Patriarch of the Assyrian Church who said that he did not think it “controversial to believe that Hell is not eternal” (or something along those lines) as late as the 13th or 14th century.
            Though I can’t recall that Patriarch’s name, I do recall that he was *not* Solomon of Basrah since even though Solomon was a Bishop, he was *not* the highest ranking clergyman (Patriarch) of the Church of the East.
            As you probably already know, St Theodore and St Diodore are two of the most highly revered figures in the Church of the East along with St Isaac.
            I said there’s no Assyrian universalist document that I can cite apart from the Book of the Bee but now I should say that obviously, St Theodore and St Diodore’s writings might be called “Assyrian” and were explicitly universalist, so…
            By the way, it does not seem to be controversial at all that both St Theodore and St Diodore were explicit and confident universalists : I’ve never heard any Patristics scholar say they weren’t and I’ve heard plenty of knowledgeable scholars say they were with great confidence (Solomon of Basrah in his days and Dr Hart, Dr Ramelli, etc, in our time).

            I hope this helps.

            Cheers mate.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Grant says:

            Well I have sneaking suspicion that it is the Church, in it’s history always strikes me as the most Christ-like, despite at one point being the largest Church both in terms of numbers and geographical sway it has held a dominate political power as did the others formed in the Roman Empire (for at least some of their history). And so has always kept the view of the outsider and the discriminated. And hasn’t suffered the corrosion of secular politics to the same extent which probably also accounts for why universalism remained stronger (no Emperor Justinian and other rulers deciding infernalism was better for control and the for the justification it gave to the continued use of the sword and fire). That is something Roman formed Churches failed miserably at.

            Probably over-romantising the situation but it is sneaking suspicion 😉 .

            Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          It is curious, ain’t it, given that Assyrian churches are everywhere in America. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • arthurjaco says:

            Ahah I do know that the Assyrian Church represents a tiny minority of the faithful in the United States, Father Kimel, don’t get me wrong!
            However, I also know that people like Dr Hart choose to follow one particular Church because it allows them to be universalists and because its teachings fit what their exegesis of the Bible has taught them, not because it has many adherents – if mere numbers mattered to Mr Hart, he would have been a Catholic or an Evangelical, wouldn’t he?
            Hence, I do believe that my question is quite reasonable 😉

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            One also has to have a congregation to attend. No point in joining a church if you can’t worship in it.

            Like

          • arthurjaco says:

            (I’m not sure this message will appear below your latest, Fr Kimel) It is true that it is important (even crucial) for most serious Christians to attend services on Sundays to receive the Holy Eucharist but that being said, one may ask himself what is more important between belonging to the one Church whose teachings are closest to one’s own convictions *at the cost of never attending any service* and adhering to some other Church where one can receive the Holy Eucharist on a weekly basis *at the cost of receiving it in a Church that may be somewhat less sympathetic to one’s deepest convictions*, isn’t it?
            Plus, it seems to me that Dr Hart has some kind of “soft spot” for the Assyrian Church.

            Like

          • arthurjaco says:

            But we shall see what Mara Hart has to answer – hopefully he’ll answer.

            Like

      • TJF says:

        Arthurjaco, it might have something to do with outstanding debt and admiration for Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, who were not part of that area of the world. He does also show love towards the others, but his work doesn’t seem as influenced by them as the Cappadocians. Just a guess, I am not Hart, obviously.

        Liked by 1 person

    • So, you put yourself above Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and countless other geniuses in the Church’s history?

      Like

      • TJF says:

        It’s extremely tiresome and intellectually lazy to see the same old tired responses. That’s what they are, it can’t really be called an argument. Shouldn’t a monumental polyglot and polymath genius be able to come up with something better than “You’re arrogant because you disagree with the saints I like?” There are also people like St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Diadochos of Photike, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximos the Confessor, and countless other geniuses in the Church’s history. Baseless and mindless appeals to authority are not becoming of someone of your supposed stature. Even St. Augustine said as much, that we must seek out the reason behind the authority.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Notice, I did not say one cannot disagree with great geniuses on things. I agree that would not be a good argument. I also take the liberty to disagree with both Augustine and Aquinas on things. I am, rather, responding to this arrogant quip: “I would have been especially rude about the suggestion that I have something to learn about or from Catholic theologies.” To refuse to be open to learning from others is what I object to. While it might be justifiable to have such an attitude toward lesser minds, to dismiss Catholic theology as beneath your intellect is certainly objectionable, not least because of minds like Aquinas who represent it.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            “Catholic theologies of nature and grace.” At least have the honesty to quote me in full. I have learned gratefully from many Catholic theologies over the years and have been quite prodigal in expressing those debts in print. In fact, my early career largely consisted in being attacked by fellow Orthodox for trying to correct their misunderstandings of Latin tradition.

            On the matter of nature and grace, however, the dominant Latin tradition is very silly, and based on very bad exegesis of Paul (principally). Even then, of course, there are countless glorious exceptions: Eriugena, Eckhart, Cusanus, Rosmini, Blondel…De Lubac (first stage)…even Lonergan at his very very best.

            Liked by 3 people

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I suppose, Joshua, that your comment is principally directed to DBH, but it’s of course directed to me (as the author of this article) and to all other universalists (99% of whom are not geniuses). It does not take a genius to discern that the traditional doctrine of hell is irreconcilable with the gospel confession that God is absolute love. The interesting question is why geniuses like St Augustine and St Thomas either could not see the conflict or did not feel free to acknowledge it. More pointedly, let’s direct the question to you: Why do you not see the conflict or do not feel free to acknowledge it?

        On the one hand, your writings on the subject reveal that you do see the conflict, as evidenced by your proposal that the damned may eventually come to enjoy a form of natural beatitude. I find this proposal curious and unconvincing. Is there anyone before the 20th century ever entertained this mitigation of the hell’s horror? The whole point of hell is that it is horrible and horrific, and at some level you recognize it. So why remain committed to the doctrine? The answer is clear: you are seeking to remain faithful to the dogmatic tradition of the Latin Church. To acknowledge that the doctrine of hell is grievously flawed and morally monstrous is to acknowledge that the Latin Church has authoritatively taught error. And this is intolerable. It calls faith into question.

        Can Augustine and Aquinas be wrong on hell, even if they were geniuses. Of course. Universalists can also claim geniuses on their side of the question–Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Maximus the Confessor, Sergius Bulgakov, to name a few. But as I said, it does not take a genius to recognize that hell, as construed in the Latin infernalist tradition, is irreconcilable with the gospel confession that God is absolute and unconditional Love. This leaves you, Joshua, only one alternative. To deny the gospel.

        As an Orthodox Christian I too have a high regard for tradition; but Orthodoxy is not strapped by the unbearable dogmatic weight of infallibility as developed in the Latin Church over the past two centuries. Nor are the Orthodox burdened by the predestinarian doctrines of the Augustinian-Thomistic tradition, though I am personally sympathetic to them. They only need to be christologically tweaked: in Jesus Christ all of humanity, without exception, is predestined to glory. Most Orthodox, of course, do not affirm indicative universalism; but they do wish to unequivocally and emphatically assert that God is absolute love, without qualification. Hence the popularity of the River of Fire construal of damnation. And it is precisely for this reason that Orthodoxy will and must continue to wrestle with apokatastasis.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Kimel, I will pull a DBH and say: I have a book coming out soon on this topic. However, much of it is based on some of the articles you cite. There are a number of reasons why I think it is more fitting for God to permit eternal damnation but to mitigate its gravity in the new creation to such an extent. Obviously, the great impasse in this blog debate is the distinction between nature and grace. I find the unwillingness to grant such strange and without reason. To quickly clarify the point about there being a conflict between God’s love and eternal damnation, which seems a particularly modern concern (although I concede it to be legitimate), I do not find the arguments convincing that say free creatures do not have the God-given natural ability to defect from the good permanently. For the moment, let me pull another DBH and quote what I have written elsewhere (in “Universalism and Predestinarianism”):
          “Only by developing an integral theological anthropology does it become clear that the specific manner in which God chooses to reconcile all things remains unknown to human beings in this life. In the end, theologians ought to recognize that amid all our speculations about how the good and the true may finally be manifest in an infinitely beautiful dynamism, we do not know precisely in what the “endgame” consists because God has not chosen to reveal the intricacies of such a mystery. The predestinarian is not willing to suspend judgment regarding the prospect of universal salvation. In light of the relationship between grace and freedom, a healthy skepticism with regard to such a “prospect” is demanded, and yet this does not impede the believer’s hope for the conversion of all human beings. Hence, just as God allowed the human creature to fall from grace so that God might bring forth an even greater good than preservation from all sin (namely, redemption), likewise, God would permit some to choose condemnation only to manifest divine glory more fully. Now, the nonuniversalist predestinarians claim that the glory of God
          is fittingly manifest through the eternal display of divine mercy and divine “vindicative justice” in distinct manners (i.e., heaven and hell, respectively). But since God’s mercy and justice are inextricably united, the two attributes do not demand distinct manifestations, and it would seem improper for mercy alone to endure, as if mercy were to claim victory over justice. But it appears most fitting that the divine will bring forth the greatest possible good out of the evil God suffers precisely in voluntary receptivity to finite freedom such that justice is manifest but mercy “superabounds.” Would not God’s glory be most manifest if a final perfect hierarchy of created goods were brought about such that some human beings be permitted (inevitably, but not infallibly!) to exclude themselves from glory but granted respite from the intensity of such misery through the enjoyment of a natural knowledge and love of God in the new creation (i.e., the consummation of all things)? Maritain’s eschatological proposal is precisely that the pain of loss and remorse of conscience eternally suffered by the damned is mitigated by an ever-growing natural knowledge and love of God granted by divine mercy following the final judgment . . .
          A view of the grace–freedom dynamic that maintains the natural integrity of created freedom maintains that, while it is true that finite freedom is radically contingent upon infinite freedom and only by grace may sin (and thus damnation) be avoided, divine grace is ordinarily conditional upon the lack of a persistent obstacle posed by the creature and thus even the fallen creature is capable of waiting for the efficacious help of God rather than opposing it at every turn. This means that God may truly desire that all human beings cease from resisting divine grace, but that God permits some to persist in resisting its efficacy. On the other hand, if one holds that because infinite freedom undergirds finite freedom and God’s love for each human being is infinite, it seems inevitable that each will eventually yield to divine grace, then there is evidently a need for a more profound theological anthropology.”
          Pardon the formatting.
          To flesh out some of the questions I am mentioning here, I would also point one to my earlier article: “Presuppositions of Balthasar’s Hope and Maritain’s Alternative Proposal,” Theological Studies 76, no. 4 (December 2015): 718–741.
          In short, there are lots of other issues in the background that determine how one approaches the question of eternal damnation. I have dealt mostly with intra-Catholic debates, particularly, with regard to Balthasar. But, if anyone is interested in a better understanding of what I have been arguing regarding these issues and how they relate to the universalist question, consult also the following:
          “The Integrity of Nature in the Grace-Freedom Dynamic: Lonergan’s Critique of Bañezian Thomism,” Theological Studies 75, no. 3 (September 2014): 537–563.
          “The Possibility of Refusal: Grace and Freedom in Balthasar,” Josephinum Journal of Theology 21, no. 2 (Summer/Fall 2014): 342–361.
          “God’s Relation to Evil: Divine Impassibility in Balthasar and Maritain,” Irish Theological Quarterly 80, no. 3 (August 2015): 191–211.
          “Universalism and Integralism: Balthasar’s Syncretism and the Lonergan-Maritain Alternative,” Angelicum 92, no. 3 (2015): 305–348.
          “The Possibility of Universal Conversion in Death: Temporality, Annihilation, and Grace,” Modern Theology 32, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 307–324.
          “Toward a Consensus on the De Auxiliis Debate,” Nova et Vetera 14, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 783–820.
          “Hope and Hell: The Balthasarian Suspension of Judgment,” The Thomist 81, no. 1 (2017): 75-105.
          “Towards a Resolution to Balthasar’s Aporia: The Problem of Moral Evil and Theodramatic Hope,” Josephinum Journal of Theology 25, nos. 1-2 (2018): 29-64.
          I plan to engage Eastern Orthodox approaches to the questions involved here in due time.

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          • DBH says:

            I suppose one could sort of evade the argument in Meditation One of my book—sort of, and only after one has got the argument right—by arguing that damnation will (not could, but will) evolve into a state of natural beatitude in a wholly natural end. Alas, satisfaction in a wholly natural end is impossible for a spiritual being, and so eternal natural beatitude would be eternal suffering for a spiritual soul. Alas, also then, only in deifying all spiritual natures can God be God.

            Another shameless plug for my next (and penultimate) book on theological issues.

            Still, moreover, Meditations Three and Four have not been answered meaningfully (or even correctly stated) by any critic.

            Still, the Brotherton tack shows infinitely more moral and theological intelligence than does the course O’Neill took. I would point out, in addition, that Brotherton’s solution is every bit as heterodox as anything I say.

            In the end, Joshua, if you ever truly undertake to understand Bulgakov, there’s hope for you.

            Liked by 1 person

          • David says:

            Penultimate? Well, I’m glad there’s another one coming at least, but that is still worrying. Unless, of course, it is to make room for more of your lovely fiction, in which case I can only heartedly approve.

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      • DBH says:

        Do you put yourself above Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and countless other geniuses in Church history?

        Well, as a matter of fact, I don’t give a damn about arguments from genius. And I am far more familiar with Catholic debates on grace and nature–and on the defective premises often underlying them–than you can possibly know.

        It’s all rather tedious, Joshua, isn’t it? I’m sure you’re very clever. At least, I have it on your authority that you are, and who would know better than you do? But it would be unseemly of you to insist that others recognize and defer to that cleverness even if you had successfully demonstrated its reality. And, to an extent, you have, and you’ve done good work. But you have also given evidence of a lack of refinement in that cleverness.

        Let’s look at the reality here. Just lately, we’ve been discussing Bulgakov. Admitting you’ve read one volume of the man’s work, and that volume in total abstraction from his remarkably complex and ingeniously thought-out system as a whole, you start making pronouncements whose callowness are all too evident to those who know his actual thought. To suggest that he came close to open theism, for instance, is so gross a category error that it defies parody. No thinker in modern Orthodox thought was more insistent on God as actus purus, susceptible of no pathos or “real relation” or change. I explained to you your error. In brief, I’ll try again: Bulgakov had a brilliantly worked out theology of the divine kenosis in incarnation but also in, by virtue of the economy of incarnation, creation. He did not literally believe that God in his eternal nature is or could be ignorant of something “future” to himself. But he did believe—based on an extremely sophisticated reconstitution of all Christian dogmatics in terms of the economy—that there is an entire economy of the trinitarian relations in history, and that creation itself is nothing but the context of the incarnation. Within the horizon of that history, Jesus as a man relates to his Father as to the one who in the past and present opens the future to the Spirit; and in terms of that relation one can speak “as if” the Father had veiled the future from himself, in the drama of creation’s freedom as embraced within the economy. Now, there are too many details to this idea—too many steps in the argument to lay out for those who don’t know the man’s oeuvre—to allow for its exposition here; but anyone who is unaware of what is going on in his thought on these things, and of how very carefully he laid out his understanding of the relation between time and eternity, would not make the mistake of thinking that Bulgakov fell into elementary metaphysical errors. For those who don’t know his thought, the best course is silence. Don’t pronounce on what you don’t know. And don’t throw around vacuous talk of “panentheism” based on a thumbnail caricature. It is, as a I say, a callow judgment. (And, for God’s sake, don’t base your ideas on secondary literature by Paul Gavrilyuk or others, who are not on Bulgakov’s level.)

        Similarly, this whole exchange began because you wrote a review of my book that—not as a matter of interpretation, but as a matter of objective fact—misstated what little of its argument you addressed, and addressed very little of its argument indeed. I will take what blame I must for being obscure at times; but a great many other readers, even many who would never think to wave their credentials as “polymaths” in the air, have been able to follow that argument, and some have written it out for others. You have also asked many things of me in this thread that show you have little acquaintance with my work, and less understanding of it.

        So, again, yes, you’re very bright. But you have much more to learn, as we all do, and you will only prejudice others against you if you demand recognition before you’ve fully earned it. Just for your own good, put your credentials away and just keep working. And, above all, avoid pronouncements you can’t back up and challenges to scholars you haven’t adequately researched.

        Oh, and also, rethink the whole nature and grace thing, preferably with the help of Maximus.

        Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          OIncidentally, the forthcoming book is called “You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature.” You’ll find it makes an excellent Christmas present.

          Liked by 2 people

        • You’re right that I haven’t read much of your work. I have only read the one book and a few essays here and there. If you would be so kind and humble as to condescend to my inferior status for a moment and pithily state your own intended fundamental argument in that “book,” which is merely a compilation of talks that do not coherently build on one another, except insofar as they repeat the same tired mantras of post-modern “misericordes” (please, please excuse my usage of Augustine’s term here). As you know, it is difficult to write a few pages about an entire book and do it justice. I have writing all over my copy of your book. Of course, it has been awhile since I’ve been able to look at it again. Also, try to write an article with two screamers toddlers and a crazy wife clambering for attention. Oops, did I say that last bit? lol. Working sheerly from my memory of much of your argumentation, I would say the overall argument is that spiritual creatures as images of God do not have the “freedom” to reject the author of true freedom for eternity because such a creature would be a monstrosity God would never create (or could not create at all?) and the eternity of an evil place would detract from an infinitely good and powerful God. Am I mistaken?
          Actually, Maximus presupposes a distinction between nature and grace WHILE INTERPRETING NYSSA: “The third meaning [of apokatastasis] is used by Gregory especially in reference to the qualities of the soul that had been corrupted by sin and then are restored to their original state. Just as all nature will regain, at the expected time, its completeness in the flesh [at the resurrection], so also will the powers of the soul, by necessity, shed all imprints of evil clinging to them; and this after aeons have elapsed, after a long time of being driven about without rest [stasis]. And so in the end they reach God, who is without limitations [peras]. Thus they are restored to their original state [apokatastenai] through their knowledge [of God], but do not participate in [God’s] gifts” (Questiones et dubia 13, PG 90, 796AC).
          Without the nature-grace distinction, how does one make sense of this? His proposal here sounds much more like Maritain’s eschatological speculation than straightforward universalism. The great patristic scholar, Brian Daley, S.J., agrees that Maximus is not a universalist: see The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 201–202 n. 96; “Apokatastasis and ‘Honorable Silence’ in the Eschatology of Maximus the Confessor,” in Felix Heinzer and Christoph Schoenborn (eds.), Maximus Confessor: Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confesseur Fribourg, 2-5 Septembre 1980 (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires Fribourg, 1982), 309-339.
          I also find Nyssa to be more vague on the whole question, not explicitly endorsing the complete abolition of eternal hell. If I am mistaken there, please point me to a clear passage of his.
          I am the first to admit that I am no expert on Bulgakov. I found the Bride of the Lamb interesting but ultimately unconvincing. I found him to use “panentheism” in a different way than I have seen it used elsewhere in earlier texts (in the Latin tradition), although it is somewhat a rare word used. I found his accusation of Aristotle and Aquinas of pantheism to be completely misguided, odd, and reflective of a Kantian conception of causality. The kenosis piece I get – it’s all very similar to what one finds at points in Balthasar (obviously, he borrowed this from Bulgakov, among others). I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. If he is strong on divine immutability, then it certainly doesn’t come out in that book, but I trust your expert judgment on him.

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  11. oliver elkington says:

    I think it is naïve optimism to believe that everyone will do the right thing if there is no fear of punishment, of eternal punishment, for many doing good takes effort while not doing good does not take much effort, the most common sin is that of omission, that of leaving out doing the right thing because of the effort it takes. Denmark for instance is a secure society and one where having children is an absolute ease and with a fantastic welfare system yet we see how their birth rate is only higher because migrant families from poorer more religious countries are having more children, otherwise it would be in a death spiral. Many young people now regard having children as a chore, that is messy, gets in the way of living day to day life, i am sorry but it is the reality, maybe the fear of Hell is the only thing that will get people do do effortful things like having families…

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    • arthurjaco says:

      Mr Elkington,

      “I think it is naïve optimism to believe that EVERYONE will do the right thing if there is no fear of punishment, of eternal punishment (…)”

      I never said that EVERYONE would follow me on my line of reasoning, though, Mr Elkington.
      In fact, I think I explicitly said the contrary, if memory serves me well.

      Also, I would like to point out that even the intimate conviction that people can go to an eternal Hell of literal flames has not prevented many Christians to murder, steal, lie, cheat on their spouse, rape and/or plunder throughout History.

      Then, I agree with much of what you say up until you say “maybe the fear of Hell is the only thing that will get people do effortful things like having families…”, an idea that I find demonstrably false.

      For one thing, if one truly believes in an eternal Hell of utter and unrelieved misery where at least some people (let alone many or most human beings) actually go, one then has a powerful reason to refuse to have children because one is thus certain that Reality is fundamentally a dystopia – a solid line of reasoning that many people here (including Mr Hart) have defended many times.
      “But that would constitute a kind of rebellion against God’s will!”, you might answer.
      So what?
      If that is truly “God’s will” that people take the risk of bringing into the world other people whose ultimate fate either *might be* or *probably is* eternal pain (be it psychological, physical, or both), then even God’s will does not matter at all because that will is wicked and that God is therefore wicked as well.
      If my eternal fate really is to go to Hell, then I shall go there alone.
      I refuse to take the risk of bringing into the world anyone who might suffer the very same fate.

      But at the end of the day, I don’t really know why I’m even trying to persuade you.
      You’re obviously never going to change your mind no matter how many arguments we make and how many textual and historical evidence we point to.

      Like

  12. oliver elkington says:

    You are mistaken, i do want to change my mind but i remain depressed at the state of human nature, the selfishness one encounters, the fact that people are generally more likely to favour doing wrong than what is right. All the most prominent teachers in the Catholic and Orthodox churches have said that if there is no threat of Hell in the afterlife then there is the very chance of chaos reigning on earth, if you don’t believe me look at the Nazis or the communist regimes of anti theist Russia and see what happens when the importance of judgement is minimized. You could argue that God could sentence the worst sinners to 100 million years in jail but would that really work against the most hardened souls as a deterrant? i don’t think so as some people are willing to risk anything for doing a few minutes of evil, let alone a whole life lead in evil.

    Like

    • arthurjaco says:

      “You are mistaken, I do want to change my mind”

      Then please do not misrepresent other people’s arguments.

      “But I remain depressed at the state of human nature”

      If it is our very *nature* that is evil, which it might be, it obviously cannot be our fault.
      One does not choose one’s nature before one is even born, obviously.
      Furthermore, the story of the Fall is rather clear when it teaches that our nature was corrupted at some point and that we now inhabit a fallen reality with a fallen nature.

      “All the most prominent teachers in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have said that if there is no threat of Hell in the afterlife, then there is the very chance of chaos reigning on earth.”

      1) Why would you only consider what Catholic and Orthodox Fathers and teachers said or have to say on that matter?
      What about the finest Protestant scholars and what about Assyrian teachers?
      Why on earth would a Barth (who is said to have been something of a hopeful universalist, by the way), a Schleiermacher (who was clearly a universalist), a John Wesley (not a universalist, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make) a Rowan Williams (same) and many more not matter?
      They may not have been Catholic nor Orthodox, but that does not magically diminish their erudition, their commitment to the Bible and their intelligence.

      2) Universalists believe in Hell.
      They just don’t believe in an eternal one and they tend to not believe in the “fire and brimstone” literal take on what it would be.
      Thus, I have no idea where you got the idea that they think “there is no threat of Hell in the afterlife.”
      They just believe that that “threat” is not eternal, which is not tantamount to it not existing at all.

      3) Assuming you meant “all the most prominent teachers in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have said that if there is not threat of an ETERNAL Hell in the afterlife, then, there is the very chance of chaos reigning on earth.”
      Obviously, not all Fathers of the Catholic and Orthodox (and Assyrian) Churches did not teach universalism, but some of those who did chose to teach it OPENLY (some believed in universalism privately and occasionally hinted at their true convictions, others taught universalism to the morally enlightened along with eternal damnation to the morally immature and OTHERS taught it openly and with great confidence).
      Among them were some prominent Fathers including Sts Evagrius Ponticus, Didymus the Blind, Gregory of Nyssa, etc.
      These openly universalist Fathers would beg to differ with your (inaccurate) statement that “ALL the most prominent teachers in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have said that if there is no threat of an (ETERNAL) Hell (assuming you meant ETERNAL Hell, again) in the afterlife, then there is the very chance of chaos reigning on earth.”
      I’ve also read a few very positive reviews of Ilaria Ramelli’s books on the History of Christian universalism that were actually written by Catholic theologians and even Jesuits (such as the late Fr Anthony Meredith, a reputed Patristics scholar who specialized in the thought of the Cappadocian Fathers).
      People like Fr Meredith do not count as Church Fathers, obviously (it’s a bit too late for that) but they do count as TEACHERS of the Catholic Church.
      So again.
      MOST, yes.
      ALL, no.

      4) As many, as knowledgeable, and as smart as they may be, men are not infallible.
      That includes the Fathers and the “teachers of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches” (and of course, this cuts both ways).
      Beware of “arguments” from authority, they’re about as weak as they come.

      I could go on and many a couple other points, but I think that’s more than enough, already.

      “If you don’t believe me, look at the Nazis or the communist regimes of anti theist Russia and see what happens when the importance of judgement is minimized.”

      I’ve also had a good look at what many “traditional” Christians have been capable of doing to this very day and that sure wasn’t pretty.
      You know.
      Enslaving people, stealing other people’s resources after having colonized them, the Jim Crow laws, the Apartheid in South Africa, attempted genocides against the Roma in the Middle Ages and almost completed genocides throughout the Americas, so-called “religious” wars, anti-Jewish riots by “Christian Orthodox” Iron Guard fascists (clerical fascism) in 20th century Romania, half-completed genocide against the Pygmees of North-East DRC less than two decades ago (Effacer le Tableau Operation), the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, Christian on Christian wars,…
      I also know that many German (and non-German) Christians (mostly Lutherans but also many Catholics) joined the Nazi army and that other believers cooperated with them.
      Christian themselves have thus given very good reasons to believe that belief in an eternal Hell is far from being the very reliable deterrent that you apparently take it to be.
      Furthermore, Buddhists and Hindus have never believed in an eternal Hell but in many very long (and actually gruesome) hells… and I see no reason why I should assume that a truly good Buddhist or a truly good Hindu actually acts less morally towards his neighbour than a truly good Christian.
      After all, it is Christians who predominantly believed in an eternal Hell who also dared to colonize and pillage much of the world, not Buddhists nor Hindus.
      And Karuna (compassion) as well as Honest Living are as fundamental to these religions as compassion is supposed to be in Christianity.
      Actually, Buddhism’s (and Jainism’s!) MAIN values are compassion and wisdom, as any scholar of both religions will tell you.

      “You could argue that God could sentence the worst sinners to 100 million years in jail but would that really work against the most hardened souls as a deterrent?”

      It becomes clear at that point that you do not know much about traditional universalism, and I say this without arrogance nor resentment towards you, please believe me.
      To traditional universalists, Hell does not function as a jail but as an active purifier : God being Goodness as such, He does not lower Himself to punish for the sake of punishment but only to improve those souls that have “fallen into the bondage of sin”, sin being something that He, given His own nature, cannot simply tolerate.
      To traditional universalists, that improvement shall be similar to a surgical operation with God taking from the fallen soul all of the evil that has come to corrupt it a bit like a surgeon who takes a tumor out of somebody’s heart to save that “somebody” ‘s life.
      Intense pain shall follow up until the operation (which is believed to be more or less painful and long according to the level of each soul’s attachment to sin) is finally complete.
      Either you choose to believe in a “good” God who creates people whose fate He always knew would be to suffer forever (and yet he creates them anyways) or who decided that it would be great to create a little game where at least some people (let alone MOST people) “lose” eternally, or you choose to believe in Goodness itself.

      “I don’t think so as some people are willing to risk anything for doing a few minutes of evil, let alone a whole life led in evil.”

      People who are willing to literally risk ANYTHING for “doing” even a few minutes of evil are obviously quite irrational and irrationality necessarily lessens (even annuls, in some cases) culpability.
      To say that people deserve to suffer forever because they’re irrational is obviously nonsensical.

      A last point : if you’re a Christian, you then probably believe that our nature is fallen and that Reality as a whole is fallen.
      Though this does not completely annul culpability, you cannot deny that it does however mitigate it.

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      • arthurjaco says:

        It’s really too bad that one can no longer correct one’s own comments once they have been posted.

        In the first paragraph, forget about “Furthermore, the story of the Fall is rather clear when it teaches that our nature was corrupted at some point and that we now inhabit a fallen reality with a fallen nature.”
        That’s not a point that I wanted to make THERE.

        “Obviously, not all Fathers of the Catholic and Orthodox (and Assyrian) Churches DID NOT TEACH universalism”.
        Obviously, I meant “Obviously, not all Fathers of the Catholic and Orthodox (and Assyrian) Churches TAUGHT universalism.”

        “I could go on and many a couple other points, but I think that’s more than enough, already.”
        “Many”?
        More like “Make”, yes.

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  13. JBG says:

    Fr. Kimel: “Why aren’t all Christians equally outraged by the doctrine of eternal damnation?”

    It seems like it is the ultimate taboo within Christianity.

    They approach it in the vein of Pascal’s wager: better to bet that everlasting hell exists and be wrong than vice versa…implying of course, that the disbelief in hell is a sure ticket to hell. And not just a firm disbelief in hell but the mere act of questioning hell, in any serious way, would guarantee one’s place in it.

    My parents became universalists around 20 years ago (former annihilationists, mind you). At the time, they purchased scores of books promoting the logic of universal salvation and gave them to their Christian friends.

    Needless to say, it didn’t go over well. In fact, they essentially lost many friends over it. One of their friends said they would have preferred that my parents had become atheists rather than universalists, because after all, universalism was the “ultimate deception”.

    Apparently, there is nothing more insulting to God than portraying him in this manner. It is the gravest of all affronts to God. “How dare you have the gall to suggest that I possess this unending kindness. Off to hell with you!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Another explanation is the complex issues of freedom and justice. I have personally found those to be the most common objections.

      Like

      • oliver elkington says:

        Thank you for your comment, i appreciate your time you spent to write it, anyway i think that while Christian history has often been gruesome and quite violent just think about how much worse it would have been had God said you can do any amount of evil you like but you will be forgiven, can’t you see that the civilising aspects of Christian history meant that Europe and America in the 19th century were ahead of the rest of the world when it came to the level of civilisation, can’t you see how Christianity civilised the Vikings, civilised the Germanic tribes and gave us Bach, the cathedrals of Salisbury and Chartres and a welfare state. Why live if you have a certainty that you will not go to Hell when you die? surely if that was a case a family going through hardship would rather commit suicide? Indeed that was often the case in tribes where there was little hope in the future, you only have to read accounts of people that have lived with the Inuit or the ancient people of Congo and the Amazon.

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        • arthurja says:

          “Thank you for your comment, I appreciate the time you spent to write it.”

          You’re welcome.

          “Just think about how much worse it would have been had God said “you can do any amount of evil you like, you will be forgiven””.

          1) Obviously, one cannot know for sure what path Christendom would have taken had it become predominantly universalist, but one can easily imagine that perhaps *less* violence would have then been committed against non-Christians (especially European Jews) and against “heretics” (such as the Cathars) because no one would have then believed that the possibility of those “false” religions spreading around Europe represented a serious threat to people’s souls.
          2) Again, Buddhists and Hindus do not believe in any eternal punishment and they believe in one form of universalism since according to them, sooner or later, everyone eventually awakens and reaches Nirvana – which is uncreated, eternal bliss.
          Yet, *in spite* of these eternal-Hell-free and universalist belief systems, plenty of truly holy Buddhist and Hindu saints have existed and still exist today and I do not believe that there’s any good evidence that suggests that violence abounded more in Buddhist and Hindu societies than in Christian ones.

          “Can’t you see that the civilising aspects of Christian history meant that Europe and America in the 19th century were ahead of the rest of the world when it came to the level of civilisation?”

          1) That’s too vague.
          What “civilising aspects of Christian History”?
          What do you mean by “level of civilisation”?
          2) Whatever you meant by that, I cannot see any good reason to assume that “the civilising aspects of Christian history” that apparently made 19th century Europe and America “ahead of the rest of the world when it came to the level of civilisation” would not have existed if Christianity had been universalist all along.

          “Can’t you see how Christianity civilised the Vikings and the Germanic tribes and gave us Bach, the cathedrals of Salisbury and Chartres and a welfare state?”

          Christianity *did* civilise the Vikings and Germanic tribes and it *did* give us Bach, the cathedrals of Salisbury and Chartres (and many more) as well as a welfare state, yes.
          I’m pretty sure that it could have accomplished all this without any belief in an eternal Hell, though.

          “Why live if you have a certainty that you will not go to Hell when you die? Surely if that was the case, a family going through hardship would rather commit suicide?”

          Many Christians have become universalists lately and there’s no evidence that suggests that they’re more likely to commit suicide than Christians who believe in an eternal Hell when confronted by the same hardships.
          If anything, they’ve probably become much happier Christians.
          Also, if you think that suicides go to an eternal Hell, I think it’s pretty obvious that the God you believe in is a moral cretin and anything but Goodness as such.

          “Indeed, that was often the case in tribes where there was little hope in the future, you only have to read accounts of people that have lived with the Inuit or the ancient people of Congo and the Amazon.”
          If memory serves me well, many Inuits committed suicide because they were either starving or dying of disease (or both), although I might be wrong.
          Given the pains of dying of starvation and/or of disease, committing suicide unfortunately became the sanest option for them and they were right to take it.
          I’m not sure who you’re referring to when you speak of those “ancient people of Congo and the Amazon”, but let’s not stray from the main topic; we’re not here to talk about anthropology but about Hell, of course.

          Like

  14. JBG says:

    But for anyone that genuinely engages, these objections are readily seen to be predicated on incoherent distortions of the concepts of freedom and justice.

    “Taken literally as a doctrine of everlasting torture, ‘Hell’ amounts to blasphemy itself. For if it were in the power of human freedom-choice to produce a consequence of this kind, there must be something radically diabolical in the order created by God, and in God himself. Such an interpretation may vindicate human freedom but at the cost of demonizing God.” – Alan Watts, Behold The Spirit.

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  15. Excellent critique. I’ve been hoping that someone would engage Brotherton’s work on Von Balthasar and Maritain.

    Back in 2009 I had the privilege of asking Peter Kreeft if the damned retained their natural desire for God. He seemed disturbed by the question, as if he had already been wrestling with the question himself, then responded: “I do not know.” Trained in the classical tradition, I knew that man’s freedom was liberated by knowing the good, as Lewis put it: His compulsion is our liberation. If Kreeft left open this possibility, I knew that the possibility of universalism was a live option. I was afraid to voice that position for the dogmatic commitments you’ve laid out.

    Damn it, father, I’m blaming you if I become Orthodox.

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  16. Edward says:

    Joshua Brotherton writes:
    “Thus, the Church prays for many good things that may never come about (e.g., world peace). She is obliged by the virtue of charity to hope for all good to be bestowed upon all people at the Lord’s discretion. But properly theological hope, in the strictest sense, responds to an article of faith about what is beyond; in other words, the ultimate object of Christian hope is precisely what God promises.”

    The above seems problematic to me, even from a Catholic point of view. The Council of Trent stated that no one can have the certainty of faith concerning their own salvation. And this is because the salvation of any particular individual is not an object of faith to which we must assent. If Brotherton’s statement above were correct, we could not even hope for our own salvation. And this runs contrary to Catholic teaching. God has revealed in Sacred Scripture that He wills that all should be saved. Two things should be noted about this universal salvific will of God. The first is that God does not will things the way some humans do, i.e., He does not merely wish that things might turn out a certain way but then do nothing to ensure that they do. Rather, when God wills something, He actively works to bring it about. Second, the verse in Scripture which speaks clearly of God’s will to save is written in the context of prayer for all men. So, we are told to pray for all men because God will’s that they all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. When we pray for something that is in accord with God’s will, we should be confident of attaining that for which we pray. It seems to me as simple as that.
    I see the situation in my Church (i.e., the Catholic Church) today as little different from that in the Orthodox Church. Catholics today are allowed to hope for the salvation of all and, I would argue against Brotherton, that this is a properly theological hope based on the promise of God to answer prayer that is in accord with His will. As such there is no limit to the confidence one can have in this hope, provided one does not become indifferent to the real sin that exists in the world and that clearly is an obstacle to salvation. At the same time, there is a lot of pushback by those who believe that the traditional doctrine of hell implies that many or most people will end up there. I would argue, however, that there is an ancient tradition, even in the Catholic Church of praying for the deliverance of sinners from hell. One need only look at the “Libera Me” chant which is sung in a traditional requiem. It is clearly a prayer that the deceased be delivered from hell.

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    • The hope for one’s own salvation is conditional, of course; that is, conditional upon the possession of habitual grace at death. So, it cannot be certain, if one’s knowledge of one’s state cannot be certain. Nonetheless, it is a proper response to the promise of salvation to all who remain in His love. In that sense, you are correct. I am merely intending to argue that the hope for universal salvation is much more uncertain, not only because we do not know the spiritual states of every other free creature, but also because it has been revealed that some indeed do will to exclude themselves eternally from perfect union with God. Balthasar, it seems to me, is trying to argue that because we ought to hope that everyone converts in the end, something not promised but a desire resultant of universal charity, therefore it cannot be revealed that some are condemned, as such would preclude the admissibility of hoping for all. It is almost a Scotist type of argument from possibility to necessity; it is not explicitly, but subtley there in Dare. I have more to say about hope, and I probably could have argued better in that piece on this point, but I save the rest for a later occasion (I have in the past had ideas of mine expressed outside of print stolen and published without attribution, so I am a little reluctant to say more here).

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      • DBH says:

        Wrong on every single point. But very predictable. Hoe the row you’ve been given. Happily, I’m working in a more fertile landscape.

        Saint Sergei Bulgakov preserve us. And Saint John Scotu Eriugena intercede for us.

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  17. Though I fear I’m slightly too late to the conversation to elicit a proper response, I’m going to ask the truly brave and contentious question that this post obviously demands, which Fr Aidan himself has irrevocably prompted: WHICH particular single malt Scotch is most appropriate to the discussion he proposes between Hart and Brotherton towards the end of the post?

    I’m currently sipping Port Charlotte 10 Year as I write this, having already visited Ardbeg An Oa and Laphroaig Quarter Cask tonight.

    It seems to me that philosophical/theological conversations regarding the eternity of fire and brimstone naturally lend themselves to the peat smoke of Islay.

    But on the other hand, the unwavering Gospel hope of apokatastasis and the inauguration of that kingdom until which established, Christ swore he would not drink again of the fruit of the vine, suggests the optimistic wine-laced sweetness of a sherry bomb more along the lines of Macallan, Glenfarclas, Glendronach, and especially Auchentoshan Three Wood, or, one must insist, since they seem to have both saved civilization and also invented whiskey itself (and its correct spelling), an IRISH sherry bomb such as Redbreast Lustau. (and for the truly wonky purists among us: alas that our sherry bombs have all been tainted with ACTUAL brimstone in the last decade owing to EU rules about sherry as an AOC designation originating only in Spain, so that every sherry barrel shipped to Scotland must now suffer the violence of a sulfur candle burned within it to stave off spoilage… let the reader understand).

    I hope every reader of good faith (and good taste), as well as this blog’s venerable founder, and the good David Bentley Hart himself, will weigh in on the most appropriate libation with which to nurse one’s gnomic will during the ongoing infernalist-universalist clash of minds. May the God-man win.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I agree completely about the Islay scotches for conversations about hell. In fact, perhaps we can get even more specific. If our conversation partner is a proponent of retributive eternal punishment (the more hellfire peat the better), Lagavulin 16 or Laphroig would seem particularly appropriate. If he or she is an advocate of the free-will model of hell, then Bunnahabhain is the ticket. And if a Orthodox River of Fire proponent, Bowmore 18.

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      • DBH says:

        That’s Laphroaig, Al. You’re allowing your Goidelic languages slip.

        Since my near-fatal mold infection, I’m no longer able to drink any alcohol. But I would recommend Laphroaig for the clinches, Dalwhinnie for the recuperation.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Haha! Until I stopped drinking altogether a year and a half ago, Oban was my go-to single malt (when I could afford it). Slàinte Mhath!

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  18. Jeff says:

    Almost seems in these comments a struggle to maintain Maximus’ disdain of passion introduced by non dyothelete heresies , a dominator /dominated passion diminishing / compromising both natures ( infinite freedom swallowing up finite freedom, etc) ,

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  19. Brendan Triffett says:

    Hi Father Kimel

    I enjoy reading your blog. I whipped up something in response to a couple of your claims here. It’s 6000 words or so. Happy to hear your thoughts.
    God bless
    https://brendantriffett1.blogspot.com/2021/02/where-chasm-really-lies-libertarian.html

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