When Hell Becomes Dogma: Damning to Nothingness

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

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

We come now to the third Roman Catholic review of That All Shall Be Saved that I will be considering in this series: “Universalism’s Convenientia” by the esteemed theologian Paul J. Griffiths.1 Unlike our two previous reviewers, Dr Griffiths is sympathetic to the greater hope. He believes that the universalist answer to the question “Who among us is saved?” (WS) is the most fitting Christian response:

All Christians ought agree, and it’s to say the least unfortunate that they don’t, that the possibly all answer to WS has a high degree of convenientia with the terroir. It grows naturally out of the soil and flourishes there. We can, therefore, indeed we should, assert it with a high degree of confidence; and attitudinally we should hope, pantingly, that all isn’t just possible, but actual. The truth about possibly all is that it’s vastly more fitting than any of the answers to WS that rule it out. The two principal marks of this fittingness, and they’re strong, oh yes, are: that prayer for the salvation of all is inscribed deeply into the text of the liturgy; and that we have no litany of the damned to parallel that of the saved. We know none of their names, and those who think we do (Dante, I’m looking at you) move, just by so thinking, very far, very far indeed, outside orthodoxy’s grammar. That we pray for some­thing, and that the tradition has shied, with respect to the putative damned, from naming any of them in such a way as to make our prayer impossible, speaks strongly for confidence in possibly all. Christians who don’t share this thought and this attitude typically don’t because they think there’s one thing or another, or some large basket of things, in the tradition’s authoritative sources that requires possibly all‘s most frequent competitor, which is its contradictory, not possibly all, as an answer to WS. They’re wrong about this, though I won’t argue it here. Possibly all just does better, much better, with the tradition’s complex­ity than its contradictory.1

Yet despite this fittingness, Griffiths is unwilling to embrace the bold confidence of David Bentley Hart and his fellow necessarily all universalists. He believes that the grammar of faith mandates the possibly not all. Hope and lament constitute the oscillating rhythm of the Christian life. Griffiths therefore stands with Balthasar and many others in the subjunctive universalism camp: we may hope that God will save all, but we cannot be certain that he will. The spectre of hell haunts our paschal festivities.

Griffith’s hopeful universalism sprouts from his apprehension of the divine love as revealed in Scripture and his rejection of the traditional assertion of everlasting punishment. The LORD would never, will never inflict irredeemable suffering upon his creatures:

Sin, the averting of sinners by their own actions from the LORD’s loving face, has nothing whatever to do with the LORD. It is an absence, a horror, a grasp at nothing that succeeds in moving the graspers toward what they seek. The LORD has nothing to do with the privation that sinners seek. He cannot. He is the LORD who spoke the beautiful cosmos into being out of nothing, and his causal involvement with attempts to return it to nothing is and must be exactly zero. For the LORD to inflict pain, eternally or tempo­rarily, upon nothing-seekers, would be for him to recognize an absence as a presence, and to respond to it as if it were something. The pain that we suffer is always the result either of the damage to which the fall subjected the cosmos, or of the particular sins we commit in that devastated cosmos. The LORD does not punish us, if that means inflicting pain on us in retribution for the wrongs we have done. The only sense in which he can be said to punish us is that we, because we are damaged and sinful, may find his caress painful. But such pain is epiphenomenal to love, and has the presence of damage (the presence of an absence) as its necessary condition. The LORD, therefore, does not and cannot intend the infliction of pain, and has no causal implication with its occurrence. Pain is, without remainder, the felt component of an absence being reduced by presence. What the LORD does is enter into and pass through that absence by incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, thus remaking the cosmos away from the absence introduced into it by sin, and toward the harmony of ordered beauty. The doctrine of the harrowing of hell, implicit already in the Apostles’ Creed and one of the earliest scenes to find representation in Christian art, can stand as a symbolic representation of this view: the LORD makes and remakes; he does not unmake, and the infliction of pain as punishment would be to contribute to unmaking. An objector who wishes to defend the necessity of the LORD’s agency in pain-producing punishment for those who attempt to unmake themselves is insufficiently serious about what it means to say that the LORD is creator and redeemer, and therefore all too likely to make of him a local idol engaged in a cosmic battle with dark forces. Better, altogether more Christian, to say that the only thing the LORD does for sinners is remake them (by baptism, by killing the fatted calf to return their substance to them) when and whenever they ask, and that the only thing sinners can do for themselves is unmaking. Necesse est quod anima deo deserta in nihilum cadat [“It is necessary that the soul, deserted by God, fall into nothing”] we might say and since the LORD does not change, remove himself, punish, or condemn to hell, this must occur as a result of the sinner damaging himself sufficiently that the LORD no longer sustains him—and can no longer sustain him without refusing his freedom to seek the end he prefers, even if that end is nothing.2

It is in the nature of the the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to make and remake, to heal and restore, to give life and raise from the dead. God does not mete out misery and torment, not even in the name of justice. “He does not unmake, and the infliction of pain as punishment would be to contribute to unmaking.” Suffering belongs to the realm of the devastation. We suffer because we seek nothingness and death; we suffer because we are damaged and broken, because we lack the abundant life Christ intends for us. As a result, we even find our Lover’s “caress painful.” Griffiths thinks it unthinkable that the God of the gospel would condemn anyone to eternal conscious torment. This is neither who he is nor what he does. The love that is Holy Trinity does not inflict irreparable injury. Suffering belongs to the fallen creation. Were it to perdure indefinitely, then this would mean that the LORD had failed to accomplish the transfiguration of the cosmos. Forever there would remain a portion of his creation not fully redeemed, a realm in which God is not all in all:

What is wrong with the idea that human creatures might exist … as ensouled flesh subsequent to the general resurrection subject to endless torment? The quick answer is that pain is a feature, an artifact, of the fall, and as such belongs properly to the devastation; its occurrence for human creatures is inseparable from the metronomic time that belongs to the devastation, and to say that it can continue after the general resurrection is just to say that the devastation is not fully and finally healed. The enfleshed inhabitants of hell, should there be any, inhabit what remains of the devastation, and their sufferings are therefore the principal sign of the failure of the LORD’s passion to heal that devastation.3

Yet Griffiths concedes that sinners may succeed in their quest for autonomy and independence, thus making it impossible for God to sustain them in existence, except by refusing their freedom to seek the end they prefer. Free will is commonly invoked to justify eternal damnation. God graciously offers himself to all, but also permits his rational creatures to definitively reject his fellowship. What is the final end of this rejection? Griffiths answers: nothingness … ontological obliteration. Whether by defiant rebellion or tenacious flight—both amount to the same action and realize the same goal—the wicked may achieve ultimate separation from their Creator:

It is essential to Christian orthodoxy to claim that we can damage our­selves. This is what the doctrine of sin is about. When we sin, we avert our gaze from God and from the radiant weight of God’s glory that is evident in creation. We turn ourselves away, that is, from what is toward what is not, from the good that is God to the privano boni that is God’s absence, also known as evil. In doing so, we become less than we were, which is to say that we participate less fully in God than we otherwise would have. We are diminished by our sin. This way of describing sin’s nature and effects is both scriptural and philosophical. It assumes and hinges upon a particular, broadly Platonist, understanding of what it is for particulars (me, you, tables, trees) to exist, an understanding that construes the existence of each particular in terms of the participation in God—the plenum, the ipsum esse subsistens (to use Thomist language)—appropriate to its nature. A rational soul’s sin, on this view, damages it by removing it from such participation and taking it toward the nihil, that absence from which it came and which is the only possible direction in which such removal can tend.4

Detachment from the transcendent source of being inevitably leads to nonexistence, just as prolonged starvation leads to physical death. This conclusion, moreover, is not divinely willed in any sense:

It is axiomatic for Christians that if any creature comes to nothing, this is never because the LORD brings it to nothing. The LORD is creator ex nihilo, not the bringer of his creatures ad nihilum. Destructive activity is not what the LORD does; and destruction is not what he effects. Any movement toward nothing, whether on the part of humans or other creatures, is a result of sin and nothing else; and sin is an action of free, rational agents, whether human or angelic or other. From which it follows at once that if any creature finds its novissimum in annihilation, it does so as a result of sin, whether its own or that of others.5

But is it possible for anyone to rationally will definitive separation from the God who is their supreme happiness and fulfillment, absent ignorance, delusion, and disordered desire? Griffiths acknowledges that with most if not all sinful acts, sinners do not intend nothing. They intend a particular created good. This is true even if they know that their action violates the divine law:

The thief or the adulterer or the liar or the blasphemer or the murderer will usually understand herself to be seeking a real good even if she under­stands her seeking of it to be sinful, and will take her seeking of it to be sinful because of circumstances that make it inappropriate as an object for her to seek now…. This is reasonable enough as far as it goes: sin ordinarily is the grasp for a created good that circumstance makes illicit for the one doing the grasping.6

But deeper analysis and reflection, contends Griffiths, reveals that “the skull beneath the skin of the beautiful but illicit good really is the absence that is the void.”7 Yet the question remains: Would any rational person freely choose extinction, knowing (not just super­ficially but with one’s whole being) that communion with the Holy Trinity represents the supreme happiness and joy he is seeking? Is the notion of radical evil coherent?8

To grasp at nothing is to become nothing. Such is the logic of self-annihilation:

Sin, like all actions, conforms its agents to the intentional objects of their actions. But sin’s intentional object is unlike that of all other actions. Sinners seek, when they sin, an object that has no existence. The ideal typical sin is an action directed without intermediaries or simulacra toward the nothing from which the sinner came, and since that nothing is in every respect other than the LORD—it is not the LORD himself, and is nothing he has made—it must be pure absence, pure lack. What sin seeks in its pure form is evil unadulterated; and, it has been evident to Christians at least since the fourth century, as an essential and nonnegotiable component of Christian orthodoxy, that evil unadulterated is just and simply nothing at all. In seeking that, sinners seek what is not; and in seeking what is not, they seek their own annihilation.9

Hell exists, we might say, but it is the hell of the self-annihilated, which in turn leads to the odd conclusion that hell is empty! “To be damned, definitively and irreversibly extricated from participation in God, would be to be brought to nothing,” Griffiths explains. “And so it would follow that if hell is populated by the damned, hell would have to be empty because those who have been brought to nothing populate nowhere.”10

Annihilationism enjoys a great moral advantage over all infernalist construals: the horror of everlasting suffering is nowhere to be found. Like the damned, it too is expunged. In his mercy God permits the wicked to experience the inexorable conclusion of their sinful determinations—absolute death. The reprobate return to the nihil from which they were brought forth. They have no place in God’s new creation, thus obviating con­cerns regard­ing the justice of perdition. Yet Griffiths’ proposal remains vulner­able to the arguments advanced by Hart in That All Shall Be Saved—specifically, the argument from creatio ex nihilo (meditation one), the argument on human personhood (meditation three), and the argument on the Good and human freedom (meditation four). Unfortu­nately, Griffiths does  not address them in his Eclectic Orthodoxy review, nor does he address Hart’s direct critique of annihilationism.

The free will model of damnation, Hart maintains, presupposes the willingness of God to risk one, many, or most human beings for the blessedness of the saved. It’s as if God has created a magnificent contest of survival, both thrilling and horrifying. The winners are rewarded with eternal glory; the losers punished with everlasting torment. Even if in the end, against all likelihood, all should be saved, one crucial fact stands out: when God freely created the world ex nihilo, he comprehended perdition within the eschatological consum­mation of the cosmos:

Let us, that is, say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and on the chance that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into the fiery abyss forever. This still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price—even if, in the end, no one at all should happen to be damned. The logic is irresistible. God creates. The die is cast. Alea iacta est. But then again, as Mallarme says, “Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hasard” (A throw of the dice will never abolish the hazard): for what is hazarded has already been surrendered, entirely, no matter how the dice may fall. The outcome of the aleatory venture may be intentionally indeterminate, but the wager itself is an irrevocable intentional decision, wherein every possible cost has already been accepted; the irrecuperable expenditure has been offered even if, happily, it is never actually lost, and so the moral nature of the act is the same in either case. To venture the life of your child for some other end is, morally, already to have killed your child, even if at the last moment Artemis or Heracles or the Angel of the LORD should stay your hand. And so, the revelation of God’s glory in creatures would still always be dependent upon that evil, or that venture beyond good and evil, even if at the last no one should perish. Creation could never then be called “good” in an unconditional sense; nor God the “Good as such,” no matter what conditional goods he might accomplish in creating…. Once again, then, who would the damned be but the redeemers of the blessed, the price eternally paid by God for the sake of the Kingdom’s felicity?11

Does anything change if eternal suffering is replaced by annihilation? Not as much as might be hoped. Ontological obliteration simply replaces interminable suffering as the unconscionable price of redemption:

But such an eventuality [i.e., annihilation] would still be an irreducible price exacted, a sacrifice eternally preserved in the economy of God’s Kingdom. The ultimate absence of a certain number of created rational natures would still be a kind of last end inscribed in God’s eternity, a measure of failure or loss forever preserved within the totality of the tale of divine victory. If what is lost is lost finally and absolutely, then whatever remains, however glorious, is the residue of an unresolved and no less ultimate tragedy, and so could constitute only a contingent and relative “happy ending.” Seen in that way, the lost are still the price that God has contracted from everlasting—whether by predestination or mere permission—for the sake of his Kingdom; and so it remains a Kingdom founded upon both an original and a final sacrificial exclusion. In either case—eternal torment, eternal oblivion—creation and redemption are negotiations with evil, death, and suffering, and so never in an absolute sense God’s good working of all things.12

In both the infernalist and annihilationist models, the Kingdom is built on the sacrifice of the lost. The LORD has become Moloch.

Dr Griffiths is clearly sympathetic to the universalist proposal. I cannot help but wonder, though: if apokatastasis is the most fitting conclusion to the story of salvation, why not fully embrace it? Jesus is risen from the dead and emptied hell. How then can the lament of possibly not all be constitutive of Christian life? Pascha enjoys, must enjoy, the final word.

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!



[1] Paul J. Griffiths, “Universalism’s Convenientia,” Eclectic Orthodoxy (9 December 2020).

[2] Paul J. Griffiths, Decreation (2014), pp. 211-212. Also see his essay “Self-Annihilation or Damnation,” Pro Ecclesia XVI (2007): 416-444. For a Catholic critique of Griffiths, see Joshua R. Brotherton, “A Response to Paul Griffiths’s Annihilationist Proposal,” Modern Theology 37 (January 2021): 89-113. For a fascinating dialogue between Griffiths and five scholars, see the 2015 Syndicate Symposium on Decreation.

[3] Ibid., p. 242.

[4] Griffiths, “Self-Annihilation,” p. 423.

[5] Griffiths, Decreation, p. 192.

[6] Ibid., p. 194.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “So with all of this in mind, let us now begin to explore what it might mean to say that someone freely rejects God forever. Is there in fact a coherent meaning here? Religious people sometimes speak of God as if he were just another human magistrate who seeks his own glory and requires obedience for its own sake; they even speak as if we might reject the Creator and Father of our souls without rejecting ourselves, oppose his will for our lives without opposing, schizophrenically perhaps, our own will for our lives…. But if God is our loving Creator, then he wills for us exactly what, at the most fundamental level, we want for ourselves; he wills that we should experience supreme happiness, that our deepest yearnings should be satisfied, and that all of our needs should be met. So if that is true, if God wills for us the very thing we really want for ourselves, whether we know it or not, how then are we to understand human disobedience and opposition to God?

“Let us distinguish between two senses in which a person might reject God. If a person refuses to be reconciled to God and the person’s refusal does not rest upon ignorance or misinformation or deception of any kind, then let us say that the person has made a fully informed decision to reject God; but if the person refuses to be reconciled to God and the person’s refusal does rest upon ignorance or deception of some kind, then let us say that the person has made a less than fully informed decision to reject God. Now no one, I take it, would deny the possibility of someone’s making a less than fully informed decision to reject God; it happens all the time…. But what might qualify as a motive for someone’s making a fully informed decision to reject God? Once one has learned, perhaps through bitter experience, that evil is always destructive, always contrary to one’s own interest as well as to the interest of others, and once one sees clearly that God is the ultimate source of human happiness and that rebellion can bring only greater and greater misery into one’s own life as well as into the lives of others, an intelligible motive for such rebellion no longer seems even possible. The strongest conceivable motive would seem to exist, moreover, for uniting with God. So if a fully informed person should reject God nonetheless, then that person … would seem to display the kind of irrationality which is itself incompatible with free choice.” Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, pp. 172-173.

[9] Ibid., p. 193. For a brief comparison of Griffiths and Hart on sin, see Roberto De La Noval, “The Fork in the (Final) Road,” Pro Ecclesia XXV (2016): 317-318.

[10] Griffiths, “Self-Annihilation,” p. 439.

[11] David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, pp. 85-86. Also see my article “The Damned Are Suffering for Your Bliss.”

[12] Ibid., p. 87.

(Return to first review)

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

27 Responses to When Hell Becomes Dogma: Damning to Nothingness

  1. TJF says:

    Excellent article. I’ve never understood how people think we can cling to shadows. I tried it a lot as a kid and trust me, chase my shadow as much as I could, I could never catch it, let alone grasp it.


  2. Many Catholic theologians assume that hope entails a risk, an uncertain roll of the dice. This, it seems to me, conflates hope with wishful thinking. This conflation betrays a poor understanding of the phenomenology of hope. We end up either wishing that God will rescue us or wishing that we can please him by being good boys and girls. Either wish leads to despair of God’s goodness, making hope an impossible act.

    Given the nature of human experience and desire, hope cannot work without assurance, without complete trust that all will be well. If all will not be well for each person then all will not be well for my children, for my wife, for my friends, for my enemies, for me. Griffith’s “hope” unravels into the whimper of: let’s see what happens. And we call this the great hope of the Gospel? This was Good News anticipated, that great hope of redemption for which creation groans? What a terrible story. The nature of human experience dictates that hope is an impossible virtue, a mere synonym for wishing, if it does not entail the assurance of apokatastasis.

    Are any of you aware of contemporary, phenomenological works on hope? Perhaps an expert on Gabriel Marcel’s oeuvre could help us out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Artman says:

    Good analysis!


  4. Pretty Lamb says:

    Any effort to preserve the eternal separation of the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, for whatever reason (to preserve some sense of arbitrariness in human liberty; to preserve the drama of the cosmic-spiritual war and its heroic pathos; to warn against complacency or scare against apostasy… ), is misguided; because the question in spiritual terms is not how many will be saved or how likely or unlikely my own salvation is when all is said and done in the ages of ages, but whether right here and now I can trust the God who would make or consider my fate something conditional, and my soul something disposable.

    If this dualism of eternal heaven and hell is preserved I can’t even begin to offer God my own free and unconditional devotion, since the possibility of eternal darkness (for myself, or my friends, or my fellow human beings) would linger as a permanent stain on my mind and my conscience, at least as some kind of fearful threat of not a full moral objection to the absurdity of such an existence.

    When you read Christian mystical and spiritual books I think you can detect a constant effort of the soul to work its way out of this dark threat or objection, except in the more satanic theologies like Calvinism or Jansenism: for example, in Baroque Catholic spirituality you have the mysticism of the Sacred Heart and the sublime sentimentality of St. Alphonsus Liguori, which excludes the possibility of hell not on the level of dogmatics but at least on the level of emotion. See Alphonsus’ hymn, “O Bread of Heaven”, with the last stanza :

    Beloved Lord, in Heaven above
    There, Jesus, Thou awaitest me,
    To gaze on Thee with endless love;
    Yes, thus I hope, thus shall it be:
    For how can He deny me Heaven,
    Who here on earth Himself hath given?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Myshkin says:

      I find your point about the mystics resonates. St Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, and even St Anselm; when writing from the place of union they are stymied by how impossible hell is in the face of God’s love.


    • TJF says:

      Yeah except Alphonsus Liguori also said that you could only confess so many times before God would stop listening and wouldn’t forgive you anymore. Yikes.


      • arthurjaco says:

        Ah, the wonderful God of Western Christianity.

        Liked by 1 person

        • TJF says:


          I intend to show in this discourse that when sins reach a certain number, God pardons no more. Be attentive.


        • Brenden says:

          I’d rather take the western God that abolishes the caste system in this life and be delightfully wrong about the afterlife. It’s a win win in the west, Arturo


          • arthurja says:

            Hello, Brendy.

            Just two lines and yet so many things wrong.

            1) As you already know, there isn’t just Western Christianity and Hinduism out there, but also Eastern Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Daoism and many more.
            I’d tell you to study sikhism and see for yourself whether it’s great or not (I’ll let you in on a secret : it is) but that would be pointless since it seems you’ve already made up your mind.
            Western Christianity = good.
            The rest = bad.
            Keep telling yourself that : it may not be true, but at least it is easy to understand.

            2) Either all or almost all societies were / have been based on a more or less abominable and rigid caste system.
            Medieval Christian societies were no exception and the caste system that they were based on was not *opposed* by the clergy, but rather *defended* by much of it.
            Christianity *did* improve Europe significantly by wiping out European forms of paganism and replacing their nasty values with Christian values (just like Buddhism improved Asia even though it never wiped out indigenous religions but blended with them) but it took an incredibly long time before it abolished any caste system here – being French, I can say “here” while referring to Europe.

            I could go on, but why bother : again, you’ve already made up your mind.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            “Sankara, the great Hindu philosopher of Advaita Vedanta, was one day coming from his bath in the Ganges when a drunken outcast accidentally touched him. ‘How dare you touch me?’ he exclaimed. The outcast replied that since the same Atman is in all, how could his touch contaminate, and proceeded to expound the philosophy of Oneness. ‘Whom are you telling to keep away, Acharya the fountainhead of all knowledge of Vedas and Upanishads! This body or the Atman which resides in this body? Your body and mine are made of the same substance, as pots of varying sizes and colours are made of the same clay. So one such body cannot ask the other of the same to stay away. Are they not part of the same maya?’ Sankara listened in wonderment and humbly acknowledged that he was right. Whereupon the outcast stood revealed as Siva Himself, and Sankara fell at His feet.”

            “There is only one breath; all are made of the same clay; the light within all is the same. The One Light pervades all the many and various beings.” Guru Granth Sahib 96


          • DBH says:

            What a wonderfully unintelligible remark. Are you absolutely sure you’re spelling your name correctly?

            Anyway, just noting your bigotry regarding Eastern religion and your apparently rosy view of Christian culture’s social history.


      • Grant says:

        To me that backs up Pretty Lamb’s point, that when seperated from the dogmatic commitment many felt to deny universalism, into the more spiritual and mystical expressions, freed in that moment from the need insist on infernalism and everlasting damnation universalism is often voiced.

        So that fact as said just kind of makes their point.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill Katsoulis says:

      The kingdom of light and kingdom of darkness existing eternally. I see what you mean. It’s manichean to the core. But that’s not supposed to be the Christian eschaton as we know it where good obliterates evil and there’s a new heaven and earth where the old things have passed away (including sin and it’s effects).

      Can we say that infernalism preserves the Manichean sensibility? Does the “River Of Fire” model escape Manicheanism while preserving external torment? Dunno.


      • JBG says:

        “The kingdom of light and kingdom of darkness existing eternally.”

        Yes but remember, the infernalist maintains that the evil of hell is a special species evil; the existence of hell is Good, as it must be if it is willed by God. Thus, the infernalist position rests on a logically impossible, self-negating postulate. Their hell must be both entirely Good and entirely evil. As the eternal conscious torment of sentient beings, it represents the pinnacle of unalloyed evil. As the fruition of “divine justice”, it must necessarily be entirely Good. Their hell is a Good evil and they don’t seen to see how that is a problem.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. dianelos says:

    Consider the proposition “By creating the world God made it possible that evil be eternal; God made it possible that he will share all eternity with evil”. The more I contemplate this proposition the more deranged the idea strikes me. In theism evil can only have an ephemeral existence. No possibility of evil being eternal exists, he who is goodness itself will not become co-existent with evil. But if that possibility does not exist then hopeful universalism is false.

    On the other hand, perhaps hopeful universalism should not be understood as a theological claim but as a condition of the soul. In humankind’s response to the transcendental no certainty is given to us. To embrace theism is an existential choice, an expression of one’s hope that all of reality is grounded in goodness – while remaining aware of the possibility that one may be wrong. Hope then lies at the very heart of the theistic condition. We who love goodness and trust it with our lives only hope for the Kingdom, we don’t affirm it. We don’t consider ourselves in possession of any rights, we don’t believe we deserve anything. Perhaps theism itself is but a beautiful image, nothing beyond a good way to live this life. Seen from the existential angle hopeful universalism becomes the truest expression of the Christian soul: Be reality as it may, we love Christ and in Him deposit all our hope.


    • doug says:

      However muddy the relationship between hope and belief may be in the bewildering flow of time, I think the distinction between what is hoped for and what is believed dissolves when one’s gaze moves to the eschatological horizon. The effect of this realization, I would suggest, is that one is forced either to believe things that one scarcely dares hope for or, by the tortured warping of one’s moral imagination, to hope for awful things.

      Nevertheless, something in Griffiths’ apophatic hesitation rings true to me. The eschatological horizon is holy ground, and perhaps would do well to take off our rhetorical shoes and be cautious in how and when we put our hopes and beliefs into words. I don’t know. I’m just trying to process the wanderings of my heart and mind on this issue.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Richard John Neuhaus has been my guide on the question of hope since 2001: “Faith is hope anticipated, and hope is faith disposed toward the future.”


        • doug says:

          Thanks for the link to the Neuhaus article. He engages the issue with rare grace.

          I find it interesting, though, that Neuhaus restrains himself to hopeful universalism when it seems the eschatological convertibility between faith and hope — which he articulates so beautifully — is a fairly decisive argument for the ultimate logical incoherence of any distinction for what may be hoped and what may be believed.

          But still we are left with the unresolved dialectic of judgment and reconciliation in Scripture, and that gives me pause. I suppose I must borrow from Brad Jersak and say, with hope already as a given, “permit me to pause.”


      • Grant says:

        I would say the because it is holy ground we should affirm the hope in the sense not of something meaningless, which would be in the same order of saying, well I hope Christ is Risen, and is the Messiah and the Son of God and that Resurrection of the dead and the renewal of the world has and will certainly come, but on the other hand, perhaps Jesus of Nazereth is just a failed Messiah who is near 2000 years dead and we still in our sins and under death’s dominion. You see how that sounds, no Christian would suggest that, we confidently proclaim that Christ is Risen, death is defeated, the new order has been born into the world, and God will be all in all.

        Universalism is the statement of that belief and vision, of God’s complete victory in Christ, it is simply to believe that all shall call Christ Lord, all things will be brought under the Son, death will be destroyed and God all in all, that Christ will draw all men to Him, and cannot lose any the Father has given Him, that as in Adam all fell under the law of sin and death, in Crhist shall be all be made alive.

        This is Christian hope, faith being the assurance of what we hope for, and the certainty of what we do not see, hope in what is guaranteed and revealed in Christ, and that when He came to take away the sins of the world, and that God’s giving His Son to save the world through Him does exactly that, and not even the gates of Hades or the power of death that He has defeated can stand against Him.

        To me now, it is the resistance to this, that gives proclaims death, sin, to have a power greater than God and what He has done in Christ. Because of it being holy ground, it should be proclaimed confidently since that is the source of the message, it is the Gospel, it is Good News for all the world.

        God really doesn’t fail.


  6. Grant says:

    To be honest to me Paul Griffiths needs only move a little further to realise that something called into being by God and a positive being can never become nothing, even more so when upheld by and in the Logos, nor can they truly choose nothing or non-being (since it quite literally doesn’t exist to be chosen), while it is a warped effect of a misguided move towards the Good, towards Christ in fact (thus sin or missing the mark), a turn towards non-being can never suceed because that which is exists and has being. Nothing is nothing, and can never be chosen or identified with, nor can something either embrace it or being idenfied with it, only be warped by the turn towards the nothing from which it came, but unless God actively ends something, not just allowing it have have their desire towards something it cannot have (as you cannot choose something that doesn’t exist) to slay them absolutely and arbitrarily into non-existence as an active punishment and a decided and accepted sacrifice towards the Kingdom, the creation He wished. Their eternal loss to them and all they are connected too (utimately all humanity, all embodied rational agencies, if alien life exists, all spiritual beings and all creation) is rendered eternal too, and eternal abcess into eterntiy, and the victory of death eternal (as with infernalism), and so St Paul is liar.

    But, with a little move as I said, Griffiths could see that those absences he sees on people, where they are diminished by the move towards non-being (rather than non-being itself) by death, to see that it, and that illusion is what vanishes and is ‘destroyed everlasting’ in Christ’s light (as we being to see with St Paul). Basically that illusion formed by the move of the gravity of non-being origin, the false selves both personal and corporate are dispelled and vanished in His Light from within and without, and in unity with all humanity, all rational beings, and all creation illumiated in the Light of Christ, the Light of the Truth. That which is false, a distortion from what is true is revealed by the Truth and as it is doesn’t truly exist, but distortion of what is true, it vanishes and is destroyed as in the fulness of Life and Truth death is swallowed and destroyed.

    He just needs to make the move Justin Coyle already did in his article to this site.


  7. brian says:

    Grant, I’ve been working on a long novel for many years which attempts to exemplify many of the points you are making. There is a nice little article by Graham Ward called The Beauty of God which is included in a small volume of essays Theological Perspectives on God and Beauty. (John Milbank also has a nice contribution.) Two brief excerpts from Ward’s article:

    The questions of how to recognize and how to receive are questions concerning discipleship . . . The nature of discipleship is such that one is enabled to recover a lost perspective. In brief, the beauty we apprehend is ultimately the recognition of ourselves and all creation in Christ . . .

    and from a footnote this observation: no object is shut up within itself in such a way that the participating, co-operating gaze cannot open it up, enabling it to blossom. To reiterate what I said, rehearsing the judgment of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the idol is nothing, it is a fantasy. There is no idol.

    In my view, ecclesial existence which is the path of discipleship is the often difficult ascesis and poesis (the two go together) by which the “it is good that you exist!” is pronounced to every being called into existence by the God who is love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grant says:

      I agree Brian, I think that this is one the central points in the Jewish conviction against idolatry and idols, that is expanded upon by St Paul, is not just comtemptous dissmissal of the gods any particular idol might represent not being real or a true god, and the idols just being stone or wood etc. But rather is a deeper conviction (since of course Jewish culture often had it’s own complex mythologies and cosmic orders) but more that the direction and object itself of worship and all it might entail was a mirage, and distorted fantasy, even the idol itself was a distortion of the true thing (whether some animal creature and attributes, or concepts, ambitions and aims it might respresent to a nation or people, or say an Aphrodite, Isis, or Cybele were distorted understandings or eros, or motherhood or creation), and were mistaken something true for something that isn’t there at all. To follow St Paul, by mistaking the creature for the Creator, they missed the creature as well, and thus all idolatry is to follow a mirage and a distorted illusion that has no reality nor substance but is to turn mistakenly in aiming for a good missing it in part of full towards something that doesn’t exist (though of course in trying to choose mistakenly something that does).

      Thus idoltary is nothing but the turn towards or under the pull of non-being, or death and sin.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. DBH says:

    The notion that reincarnation (however you define it) is an inevitable conclusion of universalism is so nonsensical that it is not even wrong.

    Thanks for reminding me just how bizarre some people’s trains of thought can be once they start from a defective premise.


  9. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have deleted Brenden’s comments and placed him on the moderation list. Because of this action, responses to his deleted comments are no longer visible.


  10. JBG says:

    “Whereupon the outcast stood revealed as Siva Himself, and Sankara fell at His feet.”
    “There is only one breath; all are made of the same clay; the light within all is the same. The One Light pervades all the many and various beings.”
    — Guru Granth Sahib 96 (As quoted by DBH)

    The outcast is Siva Himself—the One Breath, the One Light.

    If I may take this opportunity to express my abiding bewilderment as to the mystery of the One and the Many. We, as the many and various beings, are but Siva Himself. But what about Siva? Is there Siva “apart” from its innumerable multifarious expressions?

    Considering that we are admonished not to approach God as a being among beings, can one even say that God, as God, is conscious? This is to say, does God have its “own” consciousness, apart from the consciousness of beings?

    If God does not have its “own” consciousness, in what way can it be said that God loves humanity? Conversely, if God does have its own consciousness, is God then not, in some sense, a consciousness among consciousnesses?


Comments are closed.