My working principle: once eternal damnation is accepted by an ecclesial community as dogmatically binding, three things happen:
- Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition will be read through the dogma.
- Preaching and theological speculation will be governed by the dogma, sometimes with curious, sometimes with pernicious, results.
- 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.
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‽
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.
 David B. Hart, “Response to Benjamin B. DeVan,” Christian Scholars Review (12 November 2020).
 David B. Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, p. 68. Also see Brian C. Moore, “The Eternal Teleology of Divine Creation.”
 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.
 Brotherton, p. 1395.
 Ibid., pp. 1394-1395.
 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.”
 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.
 Jason Micheli, “David Bentley Hart’s polemic against the alleged doctrine of eternal hell,” The Christian Century (4 December 2019).
 Joshua R. Brotherton, “Presuppositions of Balthasar’s Universalist Hope and Maritain’s Alternative Eschatological Proposal,” Theological Studies 76 (2015): 719.
 See Alvin Kimel, “Preaching Apokastasis: St Isaac the Syrian and the Grammar of the Kingdom, Logos 58 (2017): 197–213.
 George MacDonald, Robert Falconer, chap. 12.
 See Alvin Kimel, “Apokatastasis and the Radical Vision of Unconditional Divine Love.”
 Brotherton, “Presuppositions,” pp. 728-729; emphasis mine.
 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.”
 Brotherton, “TASBS review,” p. 1395.
 Hart, TASBS, pp. 178-179. Also see David B. Hart, “What is a Truly Free Will,” Public Orthodoxy (24 April 2020).
 Hart, TASBS, p. 36.
 Ibid., pp. 184-185.
 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, chap. 9.
 Brotherton, “TASBS review,” pp. 1397-1398.
 Ibid., p. 1398; my emphasis.
 Brotherton elaborates on Maritain’s proposal in “Presuppositions,” pp. 729-737.
 David B. Hart, “Waking the Gods,” in Faith, Reason, and Theosis, eds. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos (Fordham University Press, 2022); quoted with permission.
 David B. Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil,” Radical Orthodoxy 3 (September 2015): 10.
 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?“
 Hart, TASBS, p. 180.
 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.”
 Hart, TASBS, pp. 183-184; emphasis mine.
 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.
 See Joshua Brotherton, “Toward a Consensus on the De Auxiliis,” Nova et Vetera 14 (2016): 783–820.
 Joshua Brotherton, “Universalism and Presdestinarianism,” Theological Studies 77 (2016): 604.
 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.”
 The same, I suspect, can also be said about Origen and St Gregory Nyssen. Are they libertarians or compatibilists? Probably.