Last week Dr Brendan Triffett published “Where the Chasm Really Lies: A Libertarian Infernalist Responds to Fr Aidan Kimel.” It’s not often that anyone directly replies to my writings on the greater hope, so I quickly read it. I confess I was a tad confused. Instead of responding to my many constructive pieces I have published over the past eight years, he decided to respond to my response to Joshua Brotherton’s review of That All Shall Be Saved. Wouldn’t it have been better to cut out the middle man? David Bentley Hart’s the man everyone’s gunning for. I’m small potatoes. But I get it. I suspect my article simply provided the spark for Triffett to write the piece he’s wanted to write for a good while now. Anyway, upon reading it I recognized that I lack the philosophical chops to address his more interesting arguments. But most importantly, it seems to me that he has missed the crucial universalist contention. Triffett must have come to the same conclusion because yesterday he followed up with a “pared-down” version: “The Source of the Disagreement Between Universalists and Infernalists.” In my opinion, this is a much better presentation. Triffett lays out seven theses in support of the Roman Catholic infernalist position, with comments on each. Excellent. Here is something I can sink my teeth into. The seven theses:
- Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
- God is able to put each created person into a situation that would non-violently necessitate her acceptance of the love of God and infallibly secure her salvation.
- The only situation that could non-violently necessitate a person’s acceptance of the love of God and infallibly secure her salvation, is having a vision of God (and the Truth) that is equal to the beatific vision in clarity, if not in duration.
- The only situation that could possibly secure a person’s salvation non-violently and infallibly, is one that non-violently necessitates immediate and total adherence to God.
- While God can put each created person into a salvation-securing situation, He need not, and in fact, He chooses not to.
- There is a (non-empty) set of created persons such that for each member M of this set, God puts M into a salvation-securing situation.
- There is a (non-empty) set of created persons such that for each member M of this set (i) God puts M into a salvation-securing situation and (ii) God’s (eternal) decision to do so is not responsive to any previous merit of M.
Triffett concludes his article with this statement:
This much should be abundantly clear by now: simply pointing out the truth of the first two theses above is no argument in favour of universalism. In order to refute infernalism, the universalist has to refute (5) by introducing a further premise or set of premisses.
There’s a problem here. Can you see it? … [tick tock, tick tock] … Still need a hint? Okay, if you confess universal salvation, please gather in the center of the room so I can see you clearly. Everyone else, stand over by the walls. Okay, good, thank you. Universalists, raise your right hand if you believe that God will save all human beings because you are convinced that theses #1 and #2 are true. I see a few hands raised. (David, put your hand down!) But most hands are not raised. Exactly. All of you who are standing by the walls (Dr Triffett, I’m glad you could join us—welcome), are you seeing what I’m seeing? The overwhelming majority of universalists do not confess the greater hope because they have been convinced by a philosophical argument. I know I sure don’t. In his seven-point argument, Triffett has omitted the fundamental thesis that all universalists affirm and upon which they have expounded at great length. Thus when he writes that universalists need to refute thesis #5 by providing a further premise, they will simply shake their heads. “Well, duh. We’ve already done that.” As I recently noted in “The Closing of the Catholic Mind,” even if critics should refute Hart’s argument on human freedom, proponents of the greater hope would not be dissuaded one whit in their faith in the indomitable love of God.
So let me now provide the missing premise that Dr Triffett has overlooked. It can be formulated in different ways. I offer two versions:
In his absolute, infinite, and unconditional love, God wills the eternal salvation of every human being.
In, with, and through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Father has predestined all of humanity to boundless life in his Kingdom.
Both statements deny Triffett’s fifth premise. Every universalist would emphatically reject the assertion that the God of absolute love, although possessing the power and freedom to place any and every person in a salvation-securing situation, has nonetheless chosen not to. If this were true, there would be no gospel to be proclaimed.
Are you interested in exploring the case for universal salvation? Start with the articles and books listed in my Readings in Universalism. If you are serious person and intend to write on this topic, I suggest that you at least read the following, in this order:
- “The Consuming Fire” by George MacDonald
- “Justice” by George MacDonald
- The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott
- God’s Final Victory by John Kronen and Eric Reitan
- That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart
- A universalist homily
I lead off with George MacDonald to highlight the point that universalists ground their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not upon abstract arguments on human freedom and divine agency. The books by Talbott, Kronen & Reitan, and Hart advance the strongest arguments in support of universal salvation. Quite frankly, if you have not carefully read and considered their arguments, you need to keep your opinions on the topic to yourself. As bonus reading (#6) I have assigned the only explicitly universalist sermon I have ever preached. Given how frequently I have declared the absolute love of God during the course of my priesthood of forty-one years, I have often been asked, “Does that mean all will be saved?” On 22 June 2012 I finally gave the answer my heart had long known but dared not speak.