by Mark Chenoweth
Many of the critics of David Bentley Hart’s presentation of universalism in his That All Shall Be Saved argue that he doesn’t give nearly enough weight to church tradition. I agree. However, these critics, the latest one being the Eastern Orthodox priest Fr Lawrence Farley, tend to go on to say that not only does Hart not care about church tradition, but that the Orthodox Church Tradition speaks univocally against Hart’s universalist claims. The latter claim is where I demur. While Hart doesn’t much seem to care what church tradition has to say about universalism, it is nevertheless the case that there is a very strong stream of Orthodox Church Tradition (though certainly not the only stream) that supports him, not just in his universalism per se, but also in his arguments in support of it. I’m not just talking about St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac the Syrian, but several others as well. In this response to Fr Lawrence Farley’s review, my goal is to show the deep patristic foundations of Hart’s book and to respond to many of Farley’s criticisms using mostly the church fathers, although my own voice will chime in briefly from time to time.
Rather than following the trajectory of Farley’s review, I will begin by looking at what Farley sees as Hart’s pitiful use of scripture and tradition and then move on to look at Farley’s analysis of Hart’s arguments and rhetoric. The reader should also remember that Hart’s book was written to the Christian world at large, and his references to church tradition don’t typically refer specifically to Orthodox Church Tradition. Nevertheless, since this review is a response to Fr Lawrence who is concerned solely with Eastern Orthodox Church Tradition, when I say Church Tradition in this post, unless I qualify it, I mean the Orthodox Church Tradition.
Scripture and Tradition
Fr Lawrence finds Hart’s claims that universalism was probably the majority view in the early church to be far-fetched and tries to drive home to his readers that there was a consensus among the fathers of the Church that hell is eternal. He gives us a long list of which early church fathers and non-canonical but orthodox books he thinks supported a belief in an eternal hell: “Ignatius of Antioch, 2 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Cyprian of Carthage, Dionysius of Alexandria, Lactantius, Anthony the Great, Ephraim the Syrian, Basil the Great, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, John Cassian, and others.” He says there is a “consensus” six times throughout the review. However, merely repeating this claim of “consensus” doesn’t make it any more believable, and neither does listing or even quoting several church fathers—a consensus is different from a majority. The fact is, as the revered patristics scholar Fr Andrew Louth puts it, “the dismissal of universalism as an aberration (however influential) in the Christian dogmatic tradition on Origen’s part is less and less defensible.” Hart’s claim that universalism was probably the majority view in the early church is only growing in evidence and scholarly support. World renowned patristic scholars such as Fr John Behr, Fr Andrew Louth, Fr Anthony Meredith, Istvan Perczel, Frances Young, Mark Edwards, and of course, Ilaria Ramelli, all believe that the popularity of universalism among the saints in the first 1000 years of Christianity has been significantly underestimated. I’m guessing the list of eternal hell supporters that Farley gives us comes mostly from Brian Daley’s book on early church eschatology, which is excellent but nevertheless quite dated. And two can play at “the list” game. Ilaria Ramelli, whose work the other scholars above generally endorse, also gives us a list of who she thinks were universalists in the early church. I am omitting anyone not an Eastern Orthodox saint in her list: “St. Anthony, St. Pamphilius Martyr, [St.] Methodius, St Macrina, St. Gregory of Nyssa (and probably the two other Cappadocians),… St. John of Jerusalem, St. Jerome … (at least initially), [St. John] Cassian, St. Isaac of Nineveh, St. John of Dalyatha, [St.] Ps. Dionysius the Areopagite, probably St. Maximus the Confessor.” In her second, more popular level book on the subject, Ramelli adds to this list The Apocalypse of Peter, the Sibylline Oracles, Eusebius, and “perhaps” St. Athanasius and St. Ambrose, and states in another place that St. Gregory the Wonderworker also taught the doctrine and brought it to the Cappadocian mothers and fathers. She also gives us no reason to doubt that St. Cyril of Alexandria was also a universalist. In my opinion, Ramelli is wise to leave figures like Justin Martyr, Ignatius, and Irenaeus off of the list, and Fr Lawrence should do the same. Their theology of hell was too undeveloped at that point to safely put them in either the universalist, annihilationist, or eternal hell camp. Their teaching has elements of all three views, and just because they use the word aiōnios, which is usually translated as “eternal,” doesn’t mean they were “infernalists,” since they were simply quoting the same scriptures that Nyssen and Origen also quoted. As universalists, Nyssen, Origen and others, as we will see, did not take the Greek word to always mean absolutely eternal.
Similarly, as Fr Aidan Kimel has painstakingly shown, the view that the universalism of Gregory of Nyssa was condemned at the fifth ecumenical council is not a view that most scholars accept today, nor from the available evidence, should we accept. (I shall let Fr Aidan’s article persuade the reader of this.) Fr Lawrence has written elsewhere that “where such scholars disagree about patristics, I am happy to walk away quietly and leave the question open.” One wonders why he then does not take his own advice and stop repeating that there is a “consensus” against universalism when so many patristic scholars beg to differ. Does he believe that anyone that takes the position of the above scholars is just reading universalism into the fathers when it isn’t there? It would be presumptuous to accuse all of the above scholars of simply wanting to capitulate to secular culture because, as Fr Lawrence hypothesizes, our culture has “lost its sense of sin.” Due to the thoroughness of Fr Aidan’s article arguing that universalism was not condemned at the fifth ecumenical council, we will focus on other aspects of the Orthodox tradition’s relationship to universalism and begin with Farley’s critique of Hart’s use of scripture, using several of the fathers as our interpretive guides. I am aware that Fr Lawrence has reviewed Ilaria Ramelli’s massive tome on patristic universalism and found it wanting. His review reads like someone arguing that the Beatles were actually a terrible band because Ringo’s songs lack musical depth. He points out some genuine problems with Ramelli’s work while ignoring what she does well. I have no illusions of convincing Fr Lawrence of anything in this response, but his “consensus” claim needs to be closely examined for the sake of those still with an open mind on this issue.
The Fathers and 1 Corinthians 15
1 Cor 15:23-28: Each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then [Greek epeita] those who belong to Christ at His coming. Then [Greek eita] comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under Him,’ it is plain that He is excepted who put all things under Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
Farley writes that Hart’s interpretation of this passage “is solely a fantasy concocted by the universalists.” Yet, when we look at the early patristic interpretation of this passage, Hart’s universalist interpretation seems right at home. This doesn’t mean it’s a good interpretation, of course. Hart and many of the Church fathers could be wrong. But it does mean that the “consensus” to which Fr Lawrence refers throughout the review does not exist.
Fr Lawrence underestimates the extent to which other Church fathers followed Gregory of Nyssa’s exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15. Gregory’s exegesis in his In Illud is undoubtedly a universalist one, but it was universalist precisely to combat the Eunomian heresy at the time, and as we will see, Gregory’s contemporaries and successors valued this universalist argument against heresy. To avoid the idea that Christ’s submission to the Father was the equivalent to some sort of boot on the neck, which would imply Arian subordinationism, Gregory argued that the submission that the Son offers to the Father was the submission of his humanity. In Gregory’s theology, which he articulates in his Ad Ablabium, what are referred to as universals only subsist in their particulars, meaning that the universal of humanity can only be saved if every particular, i.e. every human, is also saved. Therefore, as the head of the Church, Christ’s “humanity” consists of every hypostasis of human nature (i.e. every human being) and is “the kingdom” that Christ hands over to the Father in 1 Corinthians 15. Although I quote an extremely long portion of Gregory’s In Illud below, it is essential that we see exactly what he does with 1 Corinthians 15 so we can then see how other great Church fathers follow Gregory’s exegesis, who, it should be pointed out, was only expanding upon Origen’s work. Here is Gregory:
Here, then, is the object of our treatise: I will first set forth my own understanding of the text and will add the Apostle Paul’s words as applied to my understanding. What does Paul’s teaching consist of? Evil will come to nought and will be completely destroyed. The divine, pure goodness will contain in itself every nature endowed with reason; nothing made by God is excluded from his kingdom once everything mixed with some elements of base material has been consumed by refinement in fire. Such things had their origin in God; what was made in the beginning did not receive evil. Paul testifies to the truth of this. He said that the pure and undefiled Divinity of the Only-Begotten [Son] assumed man’s mortal and perishable nature. However, from the entirety of human nature to which the divinity is mixed, the man constituted according to Christ is a kind of first fruits of the common dough. It is through this [divinized] man that all mankind is joined to the divinity…The goal of our hope is that nothing contrary to the good is left but that the divine life permeates everything. It completely destroys death, having earlier removed sin which, as it is said, held dominion over all mankind. Therefore every wicked authority and domination has been destroyed in us. No longer do our passions rule our [human] nature since it is necessary that none of them dominate–all are subjected to the one who rules over all. Subjection to God is complete alienation from evil. When we are removed from evil in imitation of the first fruits [Christ], our entire nature is mixed with this selfsame fruits. One body has been formed with the good as predominant [this one body is all of humanity, which at this point, is also the Church]; our body’s entire nature is united to the divine, pure nature. This is what we mean by the Son’s subjection–when in his body Christ rightly has the subjection brought to him, and he effects in us the grace of subjection.
Here is how Gregory’s good friend and fellow warrior against Eunomianism Gregory of Nazianzus interpreted 1 Corinthians 15:
God will be “all in all” at the time of restoration (apokatastaseos).… God will be “all in all” when we are no longer what we are now, a multiplicity of impulses and emotions, with little or nothing of God in us, but are fully like God, with room for God and God alone. Paul himself guarantees us of this. What he predicates of “God” without further specification in this passage, he elsewhere assigns clearly to Christ. I quote, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision, nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is “all in all.”
Notice that both Nyssen and Nazianzen contrast how we exist now, with many passionate impulses still to be quieted, and how we will exist then, when we will have no room for any evil in us, but only for “God and God alone,” as Nazianzen says. He also clearly sees humanity’s subjection to God as universal and voluntary, and he explicitly says so:
But when all things are put in submission under him, when transformed they obediently acknowledge him, then will Christ bring me forward, me who have been saved, and make his subjection complete.… Thus it is that he effects our submission, makes it his own and presents it to God.
It is quite easy to see the strong parallel between Nazianzen’s and Nyssen’s conception of what this submission means. As Nyssen says, “when in his body Christ rightly has the subjection brought to him … he effects in us the grace of subjection.”
Cyril of Alexandria also follows Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation:
Since the human being, having sinned, ended up with being submitted [notice this subjection is involuntary] to corruption, and, because of the devil and the demons, detached itself from God … then the Only-Begotten became a human being for our sake, and has annihilated the power of death and also eliminated the root of death, which is sin; he threw out the ruler of this world. After doing all this and bringing the whole salvific economy to completion, he will hand to the Father the Kingdom that once upon a time had been stolen from him and had passed under the power of others [the devil/demons], so to exert his power over all beings on earth, after restoring them [apokatastēsas], having them return to himself, once he has annihilated death and Satan, who had tyrannized them, the Son will have again, and for the world to come, the excellence of the power over all [pantōn].
Although the parallels are not as clear as in Nazianzen, humanity is first said to be submitted to sin and the devil, which clearly contrasts with the final submission to Christ. Christ is also only said to have “power over all beings on earth” after “restoring them,” and here, Cyril specifically uses a variant of the Greek word apokatastasis to describe the restoration. This restoration and “return to himself” is more than just a mere physical resurrection, especially when it is contrasted with the annihilation of the devil and Satan. No part of humanity is said to be cast out with them, but rather, the Son has “power over all.” As with the other fathers, Cyril’s universalist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t come out of nowhere. Cyril was a follower of the Cappadocians, was taught by an Origenian, and also knew Origen’s works themselves, as Ramelli shows. His interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15 as a reference to a universal spiritual restoration as well as to a universal resurrection is made fairly evident from his other references to a holistic sense of resurrection in a fragment from book 6 of his commentary on 1 Corinthians and a couple places in his Commentary on John.
We turn now to St. Dionysius the Pseudo Areopagite’s use of 1 Corinthians 15. Although patristic scholars Istvan Perczel and Ilaria Ramelli both believe the author of the Dionysian corpus believed in universal salvation, they also think he may have actually held to the heretical version condemned in the 15 Origenist anathemas attributed to the fifth ecumenical council. Nevertheless, the unknown author is a saint of the Church and he or she doesn’t interpret 1 Corinthians 15 any differently than does Gregory of Nyssa:
The cause of all is “all in all” according to Scripture, and must certainly be praised for being the giver of existence to all, the originator of all beings, which brings all of them to perfection. It holds them together and protects them. It is their seat, and has all of them come back to itself, and this in a unified, irresistible, absolute, and transcendent manner.
The words Dionysius uses here such as “perfection,” or the concept of a “return” show up throughout his corpus, and so taking them as referring only to a physical resurrection without a spiritual resurrection (i.e. universal salvation) is to evacuate his language of the meaning he gives it on several other occasions. For example, in Divine Names 1.4, Dionysius specifically defines “return” (epistrophē) as the return to the Good itself, which is, of course, God. It isn’t plausible to interpret this return as anything other than the full and holistic return of humanity to God envisioned by Gregory of Nyssa and Origen.
Maximus the Confessor also followed Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation, emphasizing the complete eradication of all evil:
The Godhead will really be all in all, embracing all and giving substance to all in itself, in that no being will have any movement separate from it and nobody will be deprived of its presence. Thanks to this presence, we will be, and will be called, gods and children, body and limbs, because we shall be restored to the perfection of God’s project.
Throughout the rest of Maximus’ corpus, any movement apart from God or against nature is defined as evil. Therefore, if there is no movement separate from God, then universal salvation is being referred to here. Unlike in some places, such as his Questions and Doubts 13, where he stops a hairs breadth short of affirming the deification of all creatures, he is not as timorous here. His language of being “gods,” and part of the “body” are clear references to deification and to the body of Christ, and this interpretation is supported by a passage in Ad Thalassium 59 when he says that “divinization (ektheōseōs) will be present in actuality to all (pantas), transforming (metapoiousa) all human beings into the divine likeness.” Earlier in Ambigum 7, before his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15, Maximus states that “man as a whole will be divinized, being made God by the grace of God who became man.” He also tells us that the “subjection” of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15 means “those who freely accept to be subjected to Him,” which is, according to 1 Corinthians 15, all things. In his Questions and Doubts, Maximus also interprets the “death” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 not merely as physical death, but also spiritual death (just as Nyssen does). Maximus writes:
“death is the last enemy to be destroyed” means whenever we, ourselves, submit the entire self-determining will to God, then the last enemy is also abolished. And it is called “death” since God is life, and that which is opposed to life is fittingly called death.
Whatever this “death” is, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that it is universally abolished. Maximus’ universalist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15 is very significant given that he lived after the fifth ecumenical council. It would seem to be confirmation that although quite unpopular and controversial by his time, Maximus still saw Gregory of Nyssa’s vision as an orthodox belief.
St. Basil the Great, Universalism, and 1 Corinthians 15
We now come to St. Basil’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15. Fr Lawrence repeatedly lists St. Basil as an anti-universalist. Is he right to do so? The scholarship surrounding Basil’s relationship to universalism is an extremely complex matter, but from what I can tell, it really boils down to whether Basil is the author of the universalist Commentary on Isaiah or the author of a particular anti-universalist passage in his Regulae for monks. In antiquity, both were attributed to him, but now his authorship is questioned regarding both. Although I personally believe Ramelli offers plausible reasons to reject his authorship of the anti-universalist passage in the regulae, and Nikolai Lipatov offers a reasonable case in favor of Basilian authorship of the Isaiah commentary, let’s simply assume the “best case” scenario for Farley. Let’s assume that Basil was the zealous anti-universalist who wrote the passage in the Regulae and that he believed that his brother Gregory Nyssen whom he approved of as bishop, his sister Macrina, and his beloved hero St. Gregory the Wonderworker (universalists, all) were among those he considered “deceived by the devil” because they believed the lie of universalism, as the author says in the Regulae. Before we proceed, I cannot resist saying we will also have to assume that St. Gregory of Nyssa still chose to dedicate one of his most explicitly universalist works, On the Soul and the Resurrection, to his virulently anti-universalist recently deceased brother Basil, which is a little comedic but not impossible, I suppose. Let’s also assume Basil did not write the universalist commentary on Isaiah. Would this pseudonymous Commentary on Isaiah lose its value in the Orthodox tradition? I see absolutely no reason to think so. There are many Orthodox scholars who do not believe the author of the Dionysian corpus is the Dionysius spoken of in the book of acts (Bishop Alexander Golitzin, Fr Andrew Louth, Fr Thomas Hopko, for example), and I am not aware of anyone who has suggested that non-Dionysian authorship takes away from the Dionysian corpus’s authority within the Orthodox tradition. Just as in the case of the Dionysian corpus, subsequent church fathers felt the ring of truth in Pseudo(?)-Basil’s Commentary, and so should we. Regarding the Orthodox debate on the permissibility of universalism, this would mean we simply have another text in the Orthodox tradition that attests to the acceptance of universalism as an orthodox belief in the early church. With that being said, let us now take a look at how Basil, or Pseudo-Basil, interprets 1 Corinthians 15:
The peace of Solomon was limited to the recorded years, whereas the peace from the Lord is co-extensive with the whole of eternity, being unlimited and boundless. For all shall be subjected to him and shall recognize his mastery, and when God shall be all in all, and those making an uproar by their apostasies are silenced, all in peaceful harmony shall praise God with hymns.
One would have to work fairly hard against the text to argue that this isn’t a statement of universal salvation. It clearly echoes the interpretation we have seen in Nyssen, Nazianzen, Cyril, and Maximus: After those who were formerly against God have been pacified or their apostasies have been silenced, then all will praise God. Clearly echoing the “hymn” in Philippians 2, Basil does not say that even those who are still in apostasy praise God. He says that after their rebellion has been silenced or pacified, then all will praise God. We will draw much more from St. Basil’s commentary below.
The Early Church Fathers and 1 Corinthians 3
1 Corinthians 3:14-15: If the work that someone has built endures, that one will receive a reward; if anyone’s work should be burned away, that one will suffer loss, yet shall be saved, even though as by fire.
Unsurprisingly, Fr Lawrence finds Hart’s universalist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 implausible and writes, “it is clear that in this passage that Paul is not talking about the fate of all men, but solely about the fate of those Christian teachers in Corinth.” Farley offers his own exegesis of the passage which I find credible, although my own opinion regarding what’s going on in this passage is different from both Farley’s and Hart’s. Nevertheless, I have no desire to discuss my own exegesis here. Once again, I only intend to look at how closely Hart’s interpretation aligns with what we find in early church tradition. Farley asserts that Hart’s interpretation has no basis in Orthodox Church Tradition. He’s wrong. Hart’s interpretation may actually have more support in the early church than Farley’s position or my own.
Let us start with Gregory Nazianzen, who sees the “fire” of 1 Corinthians 3 as the same fire mentioned in Mark 9:49 (“For everyone will be salted with fire”), which he interprets as extremely painful, yet purifying, due to Mark’s reference to salt. In short, for Nazianzen the fires associated with Gehenna, in addition to having a chastising or punishing function, also have a purifying function. In one sermon, Gregory cites an image directly from 1 Corinthians 3 and tells his audience to fear the second baptism that is “by fire…that is more laborious and longer, that devours matter like hay and consumes all evils like the lightest things.” As further confirmation that Gregory has 1 Corinthians 3 in mind here, Gregory’s translator Nonna Verna Harrison puts 1 Corinthians 3 as a footnote to this passage. It is clear in this instance that Gregory interprets 1 Corinthians 3 as Hart does: the fire spoken of devours all evils, not just those of Paul’s fellow-workers in Christ, and it said to last longer than baptism on earth but not forever. The fact that he refers to it as a second baptism also implies that it doesn’t last forever since just as one has to pass through the water in baptism, if one does not repent in this life, he or she must pass through the fire in the next. If this fire were eternal, the baptismal imagery would not “work.” It lasts until (with the person’s consent) it has burned away all of the evil in that person.
Earlier in the sermon, Gregory applies several different biblical images to Gehenna, and it is again clear that he certainly sees a purifying function to these images, although he still tends to throw in the more literal biblical image of hell (e.g. separating persons rather than evil from good in a person) in order to only hint at the universalist images, because, as we will see later, the tradition of the early church was to hide universalism from those perceived to be spiritually lazy. As he says in the passage from his sermon quoted in Hart’s book, “For all these fires belong to the destroying power, unless some prefer even here to understand this fire as showing more love to humankind, in a way worthy of the punisher.” Although Gregory intended most people to simply hear this statement in passing, when we focus in on it, it is clear that he certainly wouldn’t believe in any meaning of the fire that is unworthy of the punisher and so he must believe the fire is purificatory. Origen was remarkably clear that universalism should not be preached openly to the spiritually lazy, and should only be hinted at in public homilies, and Nazianzen was following Origen’s lead here:
And what is the winnowing fan? Purification. And what is the fire? The destruction of the chaff and the fervor of the Spirit. And what is the axe? The cutting down of the soul that is incurable, even after the manure. And what is the sword? The cut made by the Word, which divides what is worse from the better, and separates believer from unbeliever.
Gregory then goes on to say that “Christ’s sojourn and the flesh” is a difficult matter to both those who are “infants” in Christ, and those who are more like John the Baptist “in the Spirit.” It was the “infants” in Christ who Origen was reticent to tell about the apokatastasis, and Gregory is just as timid as Origen in this regard.
Basil, or Pseudo-Basil is even more forthright than Nazianzen in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3, which makes sense since Nazianzen references the passage in a sermon where he has to worry about “certain lazy people,” as Origen says. Basil, on the other hand, references the passage in a commentary, and commentaries were known to be far more theologically serious and for more “advanced” believers than homilies. At first, it appears that Basil is quite the annihilationist, since he keeps making references to God utterly destroying people and speaking about those who have rebelled to the point of being without hope. He even seems to interpret 1 Corinthians 3 in the least generous way possible, as referring to the destruction of entire groups of people:
A city is a community of people of different pursuits which is welded together for a life in common, a city which because it contains many vain works: timber, grass and straw, is burnt to ashes on the day of judgment, and the communities of the impious are burnt up in fire.
However, Basil eventually lets his readers in on what he thinks is truly going on when someone is referred to in scripture as being completely destroyed. He writes that the fire comes to
destroy utterly … the fiery arrows of the devil into a soul that does not have the shield of faith, and when the divine fire falls upon such a soul it quenches the darts of the evil one, and becomes a purification for the other fire which inflames us into senseless and noxious desires.
He then quotes a portion of Malachi, which speaks of God coming to judge the earth by purifying it. He goes on to say that the “entirely lawless” will be “broken together,” but then explains that by “breaking,” this means that God “breaks their old man,” so that they can “walk in newness of life.” He then tells his readers that even when Isaiah says that “an end shall be made for those who forsake the Lord,” this “by no means signifies complete obliteration,” but rather that the sin in those who forsake the Lord is being obliterated. He then gives an astonishingly Origenian interpretation of the destruction of the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:
The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the spirit of His mouth and annihilate [him] by the manifestation of His advent [2 Thess. 2:8]. For if the destruction is a complete obliteration, how shall he be annihilated who no longer exists? But quite clearly it is the falsehood which is in the lawless [now a reference back to “the lawless” in Isaiah 1] that will be obliterated utterly with the spirit of the mouth of Truth and thus he shall be annihilated by the manifestation of Christ’s advent. We have already observed many times that vices are utterly obliterated, not the beings themselves in which they occur.
Going back to Basil or Pseudo-Basil’s reference to 1 Corinthians 3, there is now little question that he interpreted it exactly as Hart does, especially since his original reference to the passage was one in which the destruction of sinners was being discussed, not simply half-converted Christians.
Although Maximus was not as obvious as Basil was about his universalism, and his passages that did address the topic were even more purposely confusing than Nazianzen’s, it still quite clear that Maximus interpreted 1 Corinthians 3 as a reference to all humans and not just Christians. When asked point-blank what the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 means in his Questions and Doubts, Maximus writes:
And in the case of sinners [notice, not just impious Christians], the works are completely consumed while discernment renders conscience righteous and diminishes the sins through repentance and saves the human being; and he is responsible for the loss of time that has passed as a result of the neglect of the virtues.
Maximus sees those whose works are “burnt up” as those who would normally be classed as the “eternally derelict,” i.e. “the sinners,” and not just faltering Christians. This is confirmed for us when in Ambigum 46 he takes up the universalist understanding of the parable of the wheat and the tares, surreptitiously arguing that the tares are not people, but the evil things in people. As we can now see, Hart’s interpretations of the main “universalist” scriptural passages certainly has patristic support.
Remaining Issues on Scripture
Fr Lawrence’s longest and most detailed critique is directed to Hart’s interpretation of scripture, and so a few more general comments need to be made in reply before we move on. I agree with Fr Lawrence that it’s difficult to see why Hart believes the book of Revelation should be included in the New Testament if it is so unintelligible to the modern Christian (in our case, the Orthodox Christian). I also doubt whether Origen or Gregory of Nyssa would approve of declaring a book incomprehensible since Origen was always so insistent that all of scripture was written for our benefit. Also, like Farley, I have found modern commentaries on the book greatly enriching, especially Richard Bauckham’s. Nevertheless, it is also true that the book of Revelation is not read within the liturgical life of the Eastern Orthodox Church partly because it is a mysterious book, and so while Hart pushes its mystery too far, his opinion is not entirely divorced from Orthodox practice. All that being said, Hart’s view of the book of Revelation is not central to the main points of his book. At the same time, Farley’s dismissive attitude towards Hart’s aside that Revelation also has universalist elements betrays the respect the universalist Robin Parry has received from New Testament scholars such as Preston Sprinkle, precisely for showing how the book of Revelation does have universalist elements. On whether the Greek word aiōnios means eternal or age, it should go without saying that if the fathers spoken of above were indeed universalists, then their understanding of aiōnios would have to be quite similar to Hart’s understanding. Unfortunately, Farley misstates Hart’s understanding of the word by telling his readers that Hart says the word always means age-long, which is in fact false. Hart says (more than once) that variations of aiōnios may “perhaps indicate something like eternity, but [they] also might be taken as meaning an indeterminately vast period of time.” In fact, I’m not aware of any universalist scholar who argues that aiōnios always means age, not even Ramelli. As with other subjects, Fr Aidan has addressed the meaning of aiōnios in a more in-depth manner than I can do here. Since this piece is primarily about the patristic foundations of Hart’s arguments, I don’t intend to fully address every problem Farley sees with Hart’s scriptural interpretation. As one final note on this subject, it is unfair on Farley’s part to expect Hart to have addressed all the passages that Farley believes indicate eternal punishment in such a short chapter in such a short book.
Yes, Many Fathers Purposely Hid Their Universalism from the Public
One claim of Hart’s that Farley finds preposterous is the idea that some church fathers actually “kept” the secret of universalism to themselves while preaching an eternal hell to the masses. He writes, “were the many Fathers of those early years, men such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian of Carthage, as well as men such as Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, aware that they were offering ‘a grim distortion of the gospel’ to their flocks and to the world at large?” Well, in the case of the Apocalypse of Peter, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Maximus the Confessor, I answer Farley with a shocking, “absolutely!” They (especially Nazianzen and Maximus) were almost certainly aware that they were offering a distortion of the gospel to their flocks, as outrageous as that may be to us moderns. It was the only way they could think of to keep their parishioners virtuous, which is a viewpoint Farley should have some sympathy with since he argues in his review that a certainty of universalism makes life meaningless (we’ll address this later, by the way). Having taken an in-depth look at this issue of “honorable silence” in the church fathers, the conclusion that many church fathers kept universalism from the “common folk” is almost inescapable to me.
Origen, the first Christian to work universalism out in detail, saw this “secret-keeping” in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and he took it to heart:
Paul is thus acting as a wise steward of the word. And when he comes to the passages in which he has to speak about God’s goodness, he expresses these things in a somewhat concealed and obscure way for the sake of certain lazy people lest perchance, as we have said, “they despise the riches of his goodness and patience and forbearance and store up for themselves wrath on the day of wrath” (Rom 2.4–5).
Origen repeats this sentiment in Contra Celsum 4.19 and Homilies on Jeremiah 19. He also imitates this tendency he sees in St. Paul throughout his sermons, though no such reservations about stating his universalist predilections are observed in his more theologically serious On First Principles. As I show in my piece on Maximus’ universalism, one of the most interesting connections between Origen’s practice of “honorable silence” and the continuation of the practice later in church history is between Origen and Maximus the Confessor. Notice the similarity between these two passages:
Origen: The remarks which might be made on this topic [of hell/universal salvation] are neither to be made to all, nor to be uttered on the present occasion; for it is not unattended with danger to commit to writing the explanation of such subjects, seeing the multitude need no further instruction than that which relates to the punishment of sinners; while to ascend beyond this is not expedient for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of age-enduring punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin.
Maximus: It would have been possible to give this theme a more mystical and sublime interpretation. But because, as you know, the deeper secrets of the divine doctrines must not be committed to writing [notice that Origen says the same exact thing above], let the above be enough to satisfy those who seek a more detailed understanding of this question. When God grants us to come together again, we shall inquire assiduously into the apostolic mind regarding this question.
Maximus’ “honorable silence,” as Hans Urs Von Balthasar famously titled it, occurs at least four more times throughout his corpus (Prol. to Ad Thal. 1.2.19, Ad Thal. 43.2, Amb. 31.5, and 45.4), and every time it occurs, it is in connection with themes directly associated with universal salvation since the time of Origen. In one of these “silences,” Maximus specifically says that if the fathers broke this silence, “it was only after they first discerned the capacity of their listeners.” Maximus also says in several passages that the fear of hell helps to keep “beginners” from sin, while more mature Christians are motivated through love, and in one passage of “honorable silence,” says he will only share the interpretation that is suitable for both beginners and the advanced. In other words, he will not share the interpretation suitable only for the advanced. Although I am glossing over reams of material on Maximus when I make this summary statement (one can refer to Ramelli, or my other articles on this if one wants more detail), it nevertheless seems that Maximus saw the Tradition of his Church as one of universalism and honorable silence, and this was after universalism was allegedly condemned in 553, which, of course, implies that it was not condemned. Why would Maximus believe that a universalist honorable silence was the tradition of his church? Most importantly, he saw his hero Gregory of Nazianzus following this tradition of honorable silence. Moreover, as Istvan Perczel has shown, Maximus intimately knew the writings of Origen and Evagrius despite modifying certain aspects of their thought, and Evagrius also states explicitly in his Gnostikos 36 that the doctrine of universal salvation should not be explained to young people. As odd as it may sound, in one of his festal letters, Athanasius also follows Origen’s tradition of “honorable silence” when he says that because “God wants the repentance and conversion of the human being, evilness, all of it, will be burnt away from all humans,” only to then turn around and seemingly affirm eternal damnation so as to not give anything away (this, of course, does not at all exhaust the evidence for Athanasius’ universalism). It seems much more difficult to me to argue that this “honorable silence” in the tradition simply doesn’t exist than to simply acknowledge it was a part of a tradition within the Church.
The Patristic Roots of Hart’s Philosophical Arguments
The Primordial Orientation of the Will
As with most other reviews, Fr Lawrence’s weakest section is his dealing with Hart’s philosophical arguments. Despite agreeing with Farley regarding Hart’s rhetoric and dismissive attitude regarding the importance of church tradition (Orthodox or otherwise), these criticisms only deal with the peripheral details of Hart’s book. The philosophical arguments are the meat of the volume, and if they are more-or-less convincing, then Hart succeeds at what he set out to do.
Fr Lawrence begins with the last of Hart’s arguments. This is Hart’s argument that due to the primordial orientation of the will towards God, each creature will eventually find its permanent satisfaction in God and in deification. Fr Lawrence asks the common question that if any being that knows God as He truly is will desire God insatiably (as Hart claims), “how did Satan fall in the first place?” As Hart’s argument goes, every created will will eventually know God as He truly is, and won’t be able to fall away. But if this is true, how did Satan fall away? “Presumably,” says Fr Lawrence, Satan was made “seeing the good (i.e. God) and knew it truly.” Presumably, yes. But why presume such a thing?
The most common response would be because the scriptures tell us that “the demons believe and tremble” (James 2:19), but the type of knowing Hart is talking about is not the same as mere intellectual belief. Hart’s knowing is more akin to a nuptial or conjugal knowing, an experiential knowing. Did the demons have this type of knowledge of God before they fell? If they did, then we run into a new problem that Maximus saw more clearly than perhaps any other church father.
If, as Farley claims, the demons had a perfect experiential knowledge of God before they fell, then what is to prevent an eternal recurrence of future falls? As Maximus says in his Ambigum 7, “for our part, we do not conceive of the Good as something so narrowly circumscribed and ignoble, as if it could induce a type of satiety and provoke a rebellion among those whose desire it cannot satisfy.” If the demons can fall from such a great height after knowing God intimately, then what is to keep the human beings that God has led into his kingdom from getting bored and falling back down into sin and this cycle repeating for the rest of eternity? God could certainly impose some coercive measures to keep all the believers in heaven, but this would violate the very type of libertarianism Farley wants to uphold. To my mind, Hart’s and Maximus’ solutions to this problem are almost exactly the same (and Hart tips his hat to Maximus in the book). In short, the universalist answer to Fr Lawrence’s question about the fall of the demons is that the demons were not created in a state of a perfect experiential knowledge of God. As Hart says in a recent piece:
temporal extension, entailing emergence from nothingness and growth into a last end, is simply what it is to be a creature. And the emergence of a free, intentional, rational nature—beginning in nonexistence and ending in an endless journey into deification—is what it is to be a spiritual creature. That passage from nothingness into the infinite, which is always a free movement toward a final cause, is the very structure of such creatures. They could not exist otherwise.
Or, as Maximus says:
If, in the first place, we accept that the Divine is immovable (since it fills all things), whereas everything that has received its being ex nihilo is in motion (since all things are necessarily carried along toward some cause), then nothing that moves has yet come to rest, because its capacity for appetitive movement has not yet come to repose in what it ultimately desires, for nothing but the appearance of the ultimate object of desire can bring to rest that which is carried along by the power of its own nature.
This conception of what it means to be a creature also helps answer Farley’s next accusation that Hart’s arguments force us to ask why God hasn’t stopped evil already. Farley’s argument appears to be that if evil will eventually cease, why can’t God simply make it cease now? Fortunately, Hart has answered this question in a recent post on Eclectic Orthodoxy, and it should already be obvious from Maximus and Hart that what it means to be a creature necessarily entails development and education and may very well mean a temporary lapse into horrendous evil (though not as a necessity).
Can Evil qua Evil be Chosen?
Against Hart’s notion that evil cannot be freely chosen as evil, Fr Lawrence relates to us a story of a deacon he knows who works as a prison chaplain whose stories seem to confirm that evil can be “perversely chosen precisely because it is evil.” Fr Lawrence’s assertion here has little if no support in the early patristic tradition. Most of the fathers followed Clement of Alexandria who emphatically states that “no one chooses evil qua evil. He is led astray by the accompanying pleasure, supposing it good, and he thinks it right to choose.” For Hart, but also Clement, Nyssen, Dionysius, and Maximus, we choose evil out of ignorance (this “ignorance” doesn’t totally abolish personal responsibility, however). Maximus prefers to use the more Aristotelian term “motion” instead of desire, but for both Hart and Maximus, every will (whether human or angelic) is created in relative instability with a childlike learning curve in the Good, and it is therefore prone to malfunction. We are not created in sin, but we are created in innocence and immaturity with the potential to unite the world to God, and our fall gives rise to ignorance of the Good. We must, however, think of this as an experiential ignorance, not simply an absence of knowledge about God. Maximus refers to ignorance as the “mother of all evils,” and that in the fall, Adam “fell sick with ignorance of his own Cause, and, following the counsel of the serpent, thought that God was the very thing of which the divine commandment had forbidden him to partake.” Here we have a description of the fall entirely in terms of humanity confusing good and evil, which is wholly in line with Hart’s understanding of evil, and wholly at odds with Fr Lawrence’s assertion that evil can be “perversely chosen precisely because it is evil.”
St. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite also states the exact opposite of Farley regarding the ability to choose evil:
Nor will evil itself exist if it acts as evil upon itself, and unless it does this then evil is not entirely evil but has something of the Good within it, which enables it to exist at all. Now if it is the case that things which have being also have a desire for the Beautiful and the Good, if all their actions are done for what seems to be a good, and if all their actions have the Good as their source and goal (for nothing does what it does while looking at the nature of evil), what place is left for evil among the things that have being and how can it exist at all if is bereft of good purpose?
Dionysius’ answer is that something cannot exist if it is entirely without good purpose; therefore even the demons “have within them some stirrings of desire.” This “desire” would have to be a desire for the Good, although they could consistently mistake evil for good. To argue in favor of Fr Lawrence’s position is to give evil an ontological weight it can’t sustain and to come dangerously close to Manichaeism, which is probably one reason why Augustine appears to endorse universal salvation when he was fighting Manichaeism before he disavowed it later in life.
This is not to say that these fathers didn’t also speak in a libertarian manner about free will. They did. But this type of libertarianism would have to be considered a “soft” libertarianism. They would agree with C.S. Lewis that one of the reasons evil exists is because the Good must be freely chosen without coercion, but this was within a larger theological context of paideia where creatures learn that choosing evil results in pain while choosing the good eventually results in the stability of Maximus’ “ever moving repose” in God. The free choice of evil was seen as free only in a secondary sense, whereas in the primary sense, it was an experiential confusion of evil with good that would be overcome through education and asceticism (only by grace, of course). If those methods of education didn’t work, God’s last resort was hell, which could be seen as God’s giving persons fully over to their evil desires so that they could taste all the bitter consequences of them and eventually accept the purifying fire of God’s love. Gregory of Nyssa beautifully mixes together libertarian language with “intellectualist” language to describe free will in his Oration On Those Who Have Died (“intellectualist” meaning an understanding of seeing the “choice” of evil as simply confusing it for the Good).
Farley then takes on Hart’s claim that “a retribution consisting in unending suffering imposed as recompense for the actions of a finite intellect and will … [is] at the last nothing more than an expression of sheer pointless cruelty.” Farley argues that the eternal suffering of those in hell is self-imposed and self-willed and argues that such suffering is morally acceptable. More of an argument needs to be made, however, before Farley’s argument can successfully work against Hart’s. First of all, Farley would have to knock down Hart’s first ex nihilo argument in the book in order for his own line of reasoning to work here. But his only response to that argument was to ask why God shouldn’t be indicted for allowing evil now if He is to be indicted for allowing it forever. As we saw above, however, this response ignores the Maximian metaphysical grounding of Hart’s conception of creaturehood. With a better grounding in Hart’s metaphysics, we are still forced to ask Farley why God would create such people to suffer forever (even if self-imposed), and how His creating such people doesn’t make Him evil rather than the Good itself. Secondly, this line of argument presupposes a type of “hard” libertarian understanding of free will, where evil can be freely chosen, and the will lacks its primordial orientation towards the Good. But we’ve seen plenty of reasons above from Hart, Dionysius, Maximus and others, to doubt whether the “hard” libertarian conception of the will should be accepted.
Does Universalism Make Life Meaningless?
Next, Farley accuses Hart of “asserting that what we do in this life ultimately does not matter in the next.” The only reason Farley says this is because he argues that without the real threat of eternal suffering in hell, our current lives become meaningless: “why bother about anything—including writing (and reviewing) books?”
First of all, Hart never says nor even implies that what we do in this life doesn’t matter in the next. Take for instance, Hart’s statement about Hitler’s damnation: “I for one do not object in the least to Hitler being purged of his sins and saved, over however many aeons of inconceivably painful purification in hell that might take.” For Farley, it seems that if in the end Hitler is saved, no matter how long Hitler spends in hell, even if it’s trillions upon trillions of “years,” his final salvation means his actions on earth didn’t matter. But this is absurd. Farley would of course be correct if Hart adopted some sort of quasi-new age view of the afterlife where hell does not exist and everyone just flies off to heaven immediately after they die regardless of what they did in this life, including the Hitlers and the Stalins. But this is not at all what Hart or any of the universalist fathers argue. Even if the “self-willed” damnation of the next life is not eternal, this by no means implies that our actions here are of no consequence. St. Gregory of Nyssa, even while plainly acknowledging that hell is not forever, still thought the prospect of even age-enduring punishment was a lot to bear emotionally. As he says to his sister St. Macrina (both universalists), “what grain of comfort is left from any subsequent expectation to him whose purgation is thus commensurate with an entire age?”
The universalist fathers were very clear: In any cost-benefit analysis, the pain of seeing one’s unrepented sin in light of Christ’s infinite goodness at the final judgment will always cost more (emotionally, spiritually, perhaps even physiologically) than choosing not to sin and following Christ in this life. If choosing to sin will never win in a cost-benefit analysis, then this is all the negative motivation anyone needs in this life to avoid sin. Holding fast to the serious consequences of hell is partly why St. Isaac the Syrian could make his entire corpus about the importance of repenting in this life while still holding fast to an eventual universal restoration in the next. Nevertheless, as St. Isaac and so many other church fathers believed, love for Christ and Christ’s love for us should be the primary motivating factor in our lives, not the fear of hell, even if for some like myself, fear can still be useful.
What Should We Do with The Later Orthodox Church Tradition?
After looking at the scriptures and Hart’s philosophical arguments through the eyes of some of the Church’s most significant church fathers, it should be fairly clear that the number of universalist saints in the Orthodox Tradition comes to more than just Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac the Syrian. Perhaps Fr Lawrence could respond that an eternal hell became the consensus sometime around the time of St. John of Damascus. Now, I reject the label consensus, but it does seem correct to say that an eternal hell was assumed to have always been the teaching of the Church within a few hundred years after the time of St. Maximus. This argument from tradition has some more weight to it in my opinion. It does look as if it was assumed for centuries that universalism had always been considered heretical until it was revived again mostly by the Orthodox theologians at the St. Sergius Institute in France in the first-half of the twentieth century. But we must ask why universalism faded into oblivion and why it was assumed (wrongly, I would argue) to be heresy. Was it because the Church, through the Holy Spirit, consciously decided to reject it, having all of the relevant arguments for and against it at its disposal (historical, theological, etc.)? Or was it, as Hart argues in his book, a result of many misunderstandings and the imperialization of Christianity? In other words, was this judgment simply an historical error rather than a theological one? If it were simply a matter of misunderstandings and incorrect historical assumptions, would this anti-universalist tradition constitute an infallible Tradition of the Church? Certainly not. But my suspicion is that Farley finds Hart’s view of history totally incompatible with the sense that God guards the Church from error. How could God let the Church “get it wrong” for 1,000 years? I am sympathetic to this question, but it’s not as if this type of question is a new one for Orthodoxy. The same question comes up regarding the possibility of reunion between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches. If the two church’s dogmatic traditions essentially agree with one another, why did God let us stay separated for a millennium and a half? Although many dissertations could be written on this question—and I suggest we Orthodox need to think very hard about it—Fr Aidan’s general instinct on this seems correct: Why assume that 1000 years is a long time on God’s timeline? After all, it probably felt like forever to the Byzantines who waited for decades for the restoration of the icons. For all we know, we could still be in the early Church. Suppose the Orthodox Church becomes mostly universalist again for the next 9,000 years. Then, universalism would be the majority tradition for about 9,500 years and the minority tradition for only about 1000 years. Would the fact that it went out of vogue for 1,000 years matter that much?
As for whether Hart is right regarding why a belief in universalism declined, it does seem likely that the story he gives us in the book is roughly accurate. As scholars like John Behr and Ilaria Ramelli have demonstrated, there certainly were a lot of misunderstandings regarding Origen and universalism which the anti-universalist St. Justinian helped bring about. In addition to posthumously condemning Origen for things that many scholars now think Origen didn’t believe, Justinian also ordered Origen’s books to be burned. This action helped to obscure the link between Origen and his universalist followers like Athanasius, Dionysius, and Maximus. It didn’t help that from the time of the Apocalypse of Peter to Maximus the Confessor universalists purposely only spoke of their beliefs in an obscure manner, which made it even easier for their universalist passages to be ignored and for them to be read through the hermeneutic of an everlasting hell.
There were other confusions as well. Shortly after the fifth ecumenical council, supporters of universalism like St. Maximus and critics of the doctrine like St. Barsanuphius were still able to separate Gregory of Nyssa’s notion of restoration from the heretical Neo-Evagrian notion of a restoration to a bodiless state condemned in the anathemas attributed to the fifth ecumenical council; but as time went on, these two separate doctrines became conflated. By the time fathers like St. Mark of Ephesus sat down to read the early church fathers in the early 1400s, not only did he wrongly assume that Nyssen’s universalism was condemned at the fifth ecumenical council, but he also assumed all the church fathers other than Gregory of Nyssa (who was just too explicit) believed that hell was eternal. He read all of church history through an anti-universalist lens, with Origen’s legacy literally burned away and his incalculable influence on the early church fathers now barely visible. Fathers like St. Mark of Ephesus were doing the best they could with the information they had. Yet, as most church historians today now argue, Mark wrongly assumed that there was a time when the bishops of the Church got together and condemned the universalism of Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac the Syrian at an ecumenical council. Nor, as Mark also assumed, was the tradition of the early church consistently anti-universalist, as we have seen. That later church fathers simply presupposed that there was such a council and that there was such an early consensus does not make it so. Incorrect historical assumptions that last for even 1000 years are not the same things as dogmas. They are factual errors that can be corrected—and yes, the discipline of historical-criticism is helping us correct them. It took the Church some time before it became comfortable with historical-critical scholarship of the bible, and now we have to become comfortable with it in the area of church history and patristics. The Holy Spirit does guide the Church in every period of history, but sometimes that guidance requires retrieving traditions and practices that have become obscured. As scary as it may sound to many Orthodox converts (including myself), many Orthodox are now acknowledging that some element of error can creep into the tradition of the Church (which I would distinguish from the capital T Tradition of the Church). This is evident from the Antiochian Archdiocese’s realization that concerns of Levitical purity in the 15th century corrupted the earlier prayers for a woman who just gave birth. Despite these corrupted prayers being used widely throughout the Orthodox Church for the last 500 years, the new Antiochian book for the Services of Initiation suggests putting them aside. In their place, it is recommended that priests read a set of prayers constructed from an older manuscript tradition without the foreign concerns of Levitical purity. If these types of returns to earlier traditions can be made in the Orthodox Church, why can’t a return also be made to the earlier universalist traditions of some of our most beloved fathers? Fr Lawrence is quick to argue that scholars like Ilaria Ramelli try to take Church Tradition into their own hands and that following the Orthodox Tradition is as simple as “having humility.” While this is certainly true in the realm of what we need for our personal salvation, it is not true in terms of what the Church needs to thrive. When Fr Alexander Schmemann argued that the church needed to go back to the earlier church tradition of frequent communion, his arguments were not the results of simply sitting humbly in prayer, although that is necessary. They were also the result of a measured, scholarly, and revisionist look at how far the current practice of communion deviated from the early church’s. Shockingly, some of what Schmemann had to say back in 1972 wasn’t all that different from Hart’s rhetoric today:
Why did we leave it [frequent communion] so far behind us that a mere mention of it appears to some, and especially clergy, an unheard-of novelty and shaking of the foundations? Why is it that for centuries nine out of ten Liturgies are being celebrated without communicants? — and this provokes no amazement, no trembling, whereas the desire to communicate more frequently, on the contrary, raises a real fear? How could the doctrine of a once-a-year communion develop within the Church, the Body of Christ, as an accepted norm, a departure from which can be but an exception?
It is clear that in the past, the Holy Spirit has used the work of liturgical scholars like Schmemann to help bring about renewal, and it’s certainly possible that the Spirit might use revisionist scholars like Ramelli, Hart, Behr, Perczel, and others for that purpose once again.
We finally turn to Farley’s assessment of what he calls Hart’s “vituperative rhetoric.” I agree with Fr Lawrence that Hart’s rhetorical style is far too off-putting, and I believe it may keep otherwise open-minded people from seriously considering the arguments in the book. However, “vituperative rhetoric” is not the same as an “ad hominem” attack, of which Fr Lawrence also accuses Hart, and we need to be careful here. To call what Hart does in the book “ad hominem” would be to sever the connection Hart makes between an eternal hell and God’s character. The end result of Hart’s first argument from creatio ex nihilo is that if hell is eternal, then God is ultimately evil. The reason Hart characterizes believers in an eternal hell “victims of their own diseased emotional conditions” (and other similar descriptions) is not because Hart is distracting us from his arguments by attacking peoples’ character (which is what an ad hominem argument does), but precisely the opposite. If his arguments succeed, then only someone who has a “diseased emotional condition” could believe in an eternal hell, because they are, in effect, believing in an evil God. This rhetoric may very well be evidence of Hart’s overconfidence in his arguments, but it is not “ad hominem,” which is a logical fallacy of which Hart is not guilty. Furthermore, though I still don’t support Hart’s harsh rhetoric, there is much patristic precedent for speaking as forthrightly as he does regarding those who attribute “unworthy things” to God. Hart’s indignation at those he calls “infernalists” (those who believe in an eternal hell) is the same indignation that Hart’s hero Gregory of Nyssa felt at his fellow Christians who wanted to interpret literally the killing of the firstborn in Exodus:
How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not…If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can the history so contradict reason? Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said.
Gregory was not simply some anomaly in church history, but is supported in his main sentiments here by St. Basil (or Pseudo-Basil),  St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Maximus, and certainly St, Isaac the Syrian. Of critical importance in the above quote from Gregory is his reference to the literal history contradicting reason. Much has been said about Hart’s elevation of human reason to a type of idol below which lie the subservient sources of revelation, scripture, and tradition. As I said before, I agree that Hart should invest more importance in tradition, but it is worth asking if Hart is elevating reason any higher than Gregory of Nyssa or the other saints mentioned above. After all, both Nyssen and Hart argue that scripture does not contradict reason. They both agree that our reason can guide our interpretation of scripture and help us come to interpret scripture in a way that is worthy of the God who inspired it. When Hart or Nyssen or Maximus or Origen argue that one’s conception of God goes against reason, they are essentially arguing that it goes against who Christ revealed God to be. What else is reason other than the Logos that became flesh? Origen, Nyssen and Hart all believe that an eternal hell contradicts who God is revealed to be through His Son Jesus Christ, the Logos. Whether or not they are right, their objection should be seen as a genuinely Christocentric one, rather than an objection rooted in the modern sense of a loss of a sense of sin, as Farley speculates. Hart desires, as did Origen, that people believe the God revealed by Christ to be the Good and that no one would, as Origen says, “believe such things about [God] as would not be believed even of the most unjust and savage of human beings.” Hart gets far too vitriolic for my tastes in his hatred of beliefs that many holy saints of the Church have held; but it is nevertheless the case that underneath the vitriol is the ancient interpretation of scripture, the dazzling metaphysical systems of St. Maximus and the Cappadocians, and the patristic longing for God to be worshiped for being the Good Himself rather than “the most unjust and savage of human beings.”
 Andrew Louth, “Response to Tom Greggs,” in Five Views on the Extent of the Atonement, ed. Adam J. Johnson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 218.
 Fr Behr has confirmed through private correspondence that he believes the presence of universalism in the early church has been severely underestimated.
 Same as above.
 Same as above.
 Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 11.
 Ilaria Ramelli, A Larger Hope?: Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2019), 235.
 Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 598-602.
 I am not disagreeing with Farley here that our culture has in fact lost its sense of sin. I am questioning whether all of the scholars sympathetic to Ramelli have also lost a sense of sin.
 I have simply copied the translation of the text that Farley used in his blog.
 Other than In Illud, Gregory also works out the universalist implications of his theology of particulars and universals in his Catechetical Discourse 27.
 In Illud (PG 1312-1316), trans. Casmir McCambley, “When (the Father) Will Subject All Things to (the Son), Then (the Son) Himself Will Be Subjected to Him (the Father) Who Subjects All Things to Him (the Son) – A Treatise on First Corinthians 15:28 by St. Gregory of Nyssa,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 28 (1983) 11-12, 15. Emphasis added.
 Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 30.6 (PG 36, 112), trans. Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 98, emphasis, mine. I slightly altered their translation inserting part of Ramelli’s translation of this passage. See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 453-4. The word “guarantee” is more faithful to the greek word tekmerioi, which has the sense of “to prove positively.” Whether the “guarantee” applies to Gregory’s previous sentences about apokatastasis or to what he says afterwards is difficult to say. Perhaps the “guarantee” applies to the entirety of what Gregory has to say regarding the eschatological submission of both Christ to the Father and all of creation to Christ.
 Or. 30.5, trans. Lionel Wickham, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 96.
 Ed. P.E. Pusey, S.patris nostril Cyrilli in D.Joannis evangelium, III (Oxford, 1872, reprint 1965), 305–306. Citation from Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 599-600.
 Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 598.
 Ed. M. Richard, “Le florilège du Cod. Vatopédi 236 sur le corruptible et l’incorruptible,”in Opera minora 1 (Turnhout, 1976), nº 4, 262, used in Ramelli, Apokatastasis. Comm in Io. 2.481–482, 1,693–694. Again, these references are taken from Ramelli.
 DN 1:7, trans. Ramelli, 167.
 See, e.g. TM 7.9, DN 9.5, 11.5,
 Amb. 7.31 (PG 91: 1092c). From Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 184. Emphasis added.
 Quaestiones Ad Thalassium 59.11, trans. Nicholas Constas, St. Maximos the Confessor: On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture, FOTC series (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2018), 421.
 Amb. 7.26 (PG 91: 1088c), trans. Nicholas Constas, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume I, ed. Nicholas Constas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard), 113.
 Amb. 7.11-12 (PG 91: 1076a-1077a), trans. Constas, 89.
 See Basil’s great praise of Gregory the Wonderworker in On the Holy Spirit 29.74. In regard to whether Gregory the Wonderworker was a universalist, I consider Ramelli to have established this beyond any reasonable doubt due to the fact that Gregory explicitly states it in chapter 17 of his Panegyric Oration for Origen, brought Christianity to Basil and Gregory Nyssen’s family, and is said to have supported the doctrine by Rufinus. See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 275-77.
 Dumitru Stăniloae may be one exception, since though I do not read Romanian, my Romanian friends have told me he defends actual Dionysian authorship. I do not know, however, whether this implies that were the author not Dionysius, that Stăniloae would advocate the Orthodox Church should stop venerating “him”!
 Enarr in Isaiam 9.227, trans. Lipatov, 276.
 Hart’s translation, That All Shall be Saved, location1351 of 3096, Kindle ed.
 Or. 39.19, ibid., 97.
 Ibid., n. 153.
 Matt. 3:12
 Matt. 3:10
 Luke 13:8
 Matt. 10:34
 Or. 39.15, trans. Harrison, Festal Orations, 92.
 As I said above, Origen is much more forthright in expressing his universalism in his treatises and commentaries than in his sermons. I am of the opinion that Nyssen was as well, though this is debatable since it isn’t clear whether his blatantly universalist In Illud was read before the entire church or just a group of bishops concerned about combatting Eunomianism. His Catechetical Discourse does not actually seem to be something that everyone read, but only presbyters, so this does not help us answer whether Gregory bucked the trend and preached universal salvation to the masses. From the information we do know, however, Gregory was not afraid to preach a fire and brimstone sermon, and while we find occasional passing references to universal salvation in his sermons, these references pale in comparison to his thorough explanations of universalism in his commentaries and treatises. See Ignatius Green, St Gregory of Nyssa: Catechetical Discourse (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2019), 51-57 for a discussion of the genre of the Catechetical Discourse, and pp. 18-24 for a discussion of some of Gregory’s most fire and brimstone sermons. I disagree with Green’s assessment of what these sermons mean for Gregory’s eschatology, but it is nevertheless a good summary of Gregory’s “darker” side.
 Se,e e.g. Enarr in Isaiam 1.18, trans. Lipatov, 20.
 Enarr in Isaiam 1.19, Ibid., 23.
 Enarr in Isaiam 1.55, ibid., 68-9.
 Enarr in Isaiam 1.55, ibid., 69, reference to Mal. 3:3.
 Enarr in Isaiam 1.55, ibid., 73.
 Isa. 1:28.
 Enarr in Isaiam 1.59, ibid., 73.
 Enarr in Isaiam 1.59, ibid., 74, emphases added.
 Not only did Maximus inherit the pastoral concern about preaching universalism to the uninitiated, but he lived after Emperor Justinian who had pushed the Church in a very anti-universalist direction.
 Questiones et Dubia 159, trans. Despina Prassas, “St. Maximus the Confessor’s Questions and Doubts: Translation and Commentary,” (Catholic University of America, 2003), 221, emphasis added.
 See Sprinkle’s concluding essay in Four Views on Hell, ed. Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016), Kindle ed., location 4048 of 9862. It is also not at all insignificant that Parry’s book The Evangelical Universalist was heartily endorsed by the eminent New Testament scholar Joel B. Green, though Green ultimately doesn’t agree with Parry’s universalist perspective.
 Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, location 1758 out of 3096, Kindle ed.
 See my two articles on Maximus’ universalism: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/st-maximus-the-universalist/ and https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/06/30/was-st-maximus-merely-a-hopeful-universalist/. See also Mark Scott’s excellent article “Guarding the Mysteries of Salvation: The Pastoral Pedagogy of Origen’s Universalism,” Journal of Early Christian Studies, 18.3 (2010): 347-368. I am currently working on an article on Gregory of Nazianzus’s “honorable silence” on universalism.
 Homilies on Luke. 22.5, 23, 32.5, Homilies on Jeremiah 5.4.
 C. Cels. VI, 26 (SC 3:242-44), in Origen, Against Celsus, trans. Frederick Crombie, D.D., in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, emphasis added. I also changed Crombie’s translation of aioniou kolaseus as “eternal punishment” to “age-enduring punishment,” since this fits better with Origen’s use of aionion elsewhere. Quoted in Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope that All Men Be Saved?: With a Short Discourse on Hell, 2nd ed., trans. David Kipp (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), Kindle Ed., 71 percent.
 Ad Thal. 21.8, trans. Constas, 148.
 Amb. 7.29 (PG 91: 1089c), trans. Constas, 117.
 Amb. 7.3 (PG 91: 1069b), trans. Constas, 77.
 Ad Thal. 16.5, trans. Constas, 132.
 Ad Thal. 1.2.13, trans. Constas.
 DN (PG3: 725b), 91.
 See Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 157. She also references several scholars who agree with her findings regarding Augustine’s original penchant for universal salvation: Karla Polllmann, Istvan Perczel, Michael Cameron, and Daniel Heide.
 PG 46: 524-529.
 Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, location 586 of 3096, Kindle ed.
 I say “hard” to differentiate from the “soft” type of libertarianism I see in the church fathers. They did believe that free will was given to creatures so that The Good might be chosen voluntarily, but they nevertheless saw the choice of evil as an ignorant choice.
 Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, location 1114 of 3096, Kindle ed.
 See Services of Initiation: Into the Holy Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church, trans. and ed. Frs Michel Najim and Patrick B. O’Grady (LaVerne, CA: The Antiochian Orthodox Institute, 2017), 27-30, and the explanation for the alternate prayers in 133-37.
 Basil, Intro. to in Enarr., Lipatov, 6.
 E.g. Or. 40.36.
 E.g. Ad Thal. 32.3, 63.4-5.
 Princ. 4.1, trans. John Behr, 248.
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Mark Chenoweth received his M.Div. and Th.M. from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and is an adjunct professor at St. John’s University in New York. His articles have been published in scholarly journals such as St. Vladimir’s Quarterly, and he is hoping to soon begin a dissertation on the eschatology of Maximus the Confessor.