The Greater Hope: How do I find a God who triumphs over evil and death?

Once upon a time, I would have been considered a traditionalist. That was back when I was an Episcopal priest. In my parishes I was known for my evangelical-Lutheran preaching (thank you Robert Jenson) and my firm commitment to Anglican catholic orthodoxy (thank you Jim Daughtry). Eventually I came to the attention of the national church with my authorship of the Baltimore Declaration. My celebrity status was short-lived (thank God), but I’m proud to say that it earned me hate mail and the opprobrium of bishops. Two decades passed. In May 2011 I entered into the communion of the Orthodox Church. In becoming Orthodox, though, I discovered that I had unwittingly become, at least in the eyes of many Orthodox, a progressive and heretic (and unwelcome saboteur). Apokatastasis—this is the one topic on which my fundamental theological commitments have changed since seminary. To find myself once again standing in the whirlwind of controversy was neither what I wanted nor expected. I naively thought I could hide from disputation by wrapping myself in the cassocks of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac of Nineveh—both beloved saints, both outspoken universalists. Not so apparently. So once again I find myself living in the ecclesial fringes. God makes his plans, so here we are.

During my years of ministry as an Episcopal priest, I was a defender of the free-will construal of eternal damnation, C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce being my favorite text on the topic. In the mid-90s, after reading Balthasar’s Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? I became a hopeful universalist. For me this was a easy step hardly worthy of comment. If one believes that the divine love is absolute and unconditional, as I have believed since seminary (thank you James and Thomas Torrance, Robert Jenson, Gerhard Forde, and Robert Farrar Capon), then how could I not join Balthasar in his hopeful universalism? Of course the Hound of Heaven will pursue us until we surrender to his mercy and good will. That is simple gospel truth.1 But like Balthasar and many others, I could not become a full-fledged universalist because I could not see my way through the freedom of will objection. The objection seemed insurmount­able. For me personally, therefore, to be “hopeful” could only mean: if any one can find his way through the free will objection, God can and will … probably … maybe … But always there remained the unspoken “or maybe not.” The “maybe not” long vexed me. It called into question my foundational apprehension of the gospel and therefore my preaching and ministry. Is God really, really, really good or only maybe good? Does the Lord Jesus truly will our happi­ness, or does his will change when confronted with an obdurately evil person?2 In 2010 (or perhaps earlier) philosopher Thomas Talbott entered my life in the form of his book The Inescapable Love of God. He convinced me that the free will objection can be satisfactorily answered (thank you Tom). The following paragraph jumped out at me:

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. [William Lane] Craig thus speaks of “the stubborn refusal to submit one’s will to that of another.” 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.3

Exactly. We speak so blithely and confidently about human beings freely rejecting God decisively, definitively, irrevocably; but does such a destiny-defining choosing for hell make rational sense? Surely only a mad, ignorant, or emotionally disordered person would embrace everlasting misery and torment—and in each case we would regard the person as mentally incompetent, both legally and morally. Divine Love would never allow such an irrational, self-destructive decision to stand.

And then came the cataclysm of 2012: my beloved son Aaron died by suicide, compelling me to bring my universalist convictions to public expression in the funeral sermon. I could not remain silent and cannot remain silent. If the gospel is true, the Lord will find a way to reconcile all sinners to himself in cosmic transfiguration. If the gospel is true, all will be healed, all will be made right, all will be glorified. Our divine Creator would not, could not make a universe in which his salvific will could be effectively neutralized. That would be like trying to square a circle. The divine love is its own necessity. Apokatastasis is but the gospel of Christ’s absolute and unconditional love sung in an eschatological key.

But what about free will? The simple answer: why believe it is a problem for the trans­cen­dent source and creator of our free will? “With God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). Edith Stein speaks of God as outwitting our freedom. If I were to address this problem in a sermon today, I would likely invoke the image of a computer programmer. Programmers occasionally (albeit unethically) leave a backdoor through which they may evade firewalls and antivirus software if they need to. What backdoor then did God install? An ineradi­ca­ble, insatiable hunger for him!4 We were not created as beings neutral to his love and therefore free to damn ourselves forever whenever we damn well choose, God dammit. That is the voluntarist myth which the Church has no business entertaining, much less teaching. If God were interested in libertarian fair play, he would not have made it impossible for us to find our happiness except by union with him. In a fair scenario the playing field would be even, as it were. Choose door #1 (eternal bliss with God) or door #2 (a jubilant never-ending holiday in Disneyland, the French Riviera, or Banff)—no matter which we choose our happiness is guaranteed. Only then would a disinterested choice be possible. But that’s not how the game is rigged. It’s either eternal joy or infernal misery. The only question is whether God can deliver the self-damned from their confusion and egoism, thereby bringing them to the point where they want to choose door #1, the very door they would have freely chosen if they were not enslaved to their delusions, pathology, and disordered desires. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (St Augustine).

In commenting upon Dr Larry Chapp’s recent blog article “Universalism, Balthasar, the Massa Damnata, and the Question of Evangelization,” I do not intend to wade into an intradenominational dispute; but Chapp’s wrestling with the traditionalists of his commu­nion resonated. Orthodoxy too is plagued with its own hyperdox, individuals who seem to be more concerned with the uncritical preservation of tradition than with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I should note another point of contact: back in 1978 my wife and I came briefly into the orbit of the charismatic movement and were baptized in the Spirit, receiving the gift of tongues. On one summer night the Lord granted me an experience of his Spirit that con­vinced me at a profound existential level both that God existed and that he loved me with a boundless love. It was a glorious, ecstatic, joyful moment, and I look back upon it with deep gratitude.

Chapp’s principal concern in his article is to defend Balthasar against the unjust attacks leveled against him by the traditionalists. I agree with most of his article, but would like to engage him on two points. Before naming them, I first want to share Chapp’s Amazon review of That All Shall Be Saved. The review, posted on 11 February 2020 and titled “An Irrefuta­ble Argument,” has recently been deleted, but fortunately I copied it two months ago:

As a retired professor of theology, one who specialized in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, I approached Hart’s book with a largely negative attitude. I smugly believed that there was no way to improve upon Baltha­sar’s measured and reasonable approach. Namely, that we are allowed, theologically, to hope that all are saved even though we must hold out for the real possibility that some are damned. Furthermore, I am always deeply suspicious of any modern theologian, even one I am fond of like Hart, claiming that they alone have now uncovered, for the first time in centuries, what the New Testament “really” said, as opposed to all of those lesser lights who have gotten things wrong for millennia. I am always suspicious of a Magisterium of one.

But as soon as I started reading Hart’s work it became clear immediately that this was an argument that was going to have to be dealt with. As I read the text I found myself trying to poke holes in his argument, only to find that he addressed those very criticisms later in the text and smashed them to pieces. And slowly, slowly, it began to dawn on me that the arguments he was pursuing were irrefutable. So then I turned to the various reviews of the text that were coming out, hoping to find smarter minds than mine laying waste to his arguments, his exegesis, and his historical analysis. But as I read the reviews what became clear was that the authors had no idea how to refute his main philosophical and theological arguments, and opted instead for ad hominem attacks, or spurious and specious counter arguments to some arcane point of history.

And so I had to reluctantly admit, that I was part of that crowd of theo­logians that Hart mentions who knows damn well that the doctrine of an eternal Hell is a bestial idea, but cling to it out of a false sense of commitment to a set of dogmatic a priori ideas. And I also had to reluctantly admit that Hart’s mild criticism of Balthasar’s position is entirely correct. And so I came to view Hart as the completion, by way of correction, of Balthasar’s approach.

I think this is one of the most important theological texts written in a very, very long time. This is an absolute “must read” for anyone interested in this topic.

Now compare the review with the following statement from Chapp’s blog article:

But with regard to Balthasar’s views on Hell let me just mention before I proceed that I can honestly say that it is not an issue that I dwell upon or care that much about because it is not a topic that I think is central to Balthasar’s overall theological project but is rather a piece of highly speculative theologizing which is downstream from the main current of his thinking. As a scholar of Balthasar’s theology I am drawn to the profound truth and beauty of his christology, trinitarian theology, ecclesiology, and theological anthropology. His massive trilogy is a monumental achieve­ment that has drawn the praise of many fine, orthodox, theologians, too numerous to mention, as well as Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. I do not share all of Balthasar’s conclusions with regard to the topic of Hell (nor does Bishop Barron for that matter) and consider his assertion that it is “infinitely improbable” that human freedom can resist the divine offer of grace in the long run a bridge too far. He might be right, but it is not a position that I am willing to defend. I share his view that we can reasonably hope that all will be saved given the depth of Christ’s soteriological action, and that we should pray for that to happen, but beyond that I prefer not to speculate for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, it is not something that keeps me awake at night and it most certainly does not rob me of my enthusiasm for Balthasar’s broader project. Even the great Aquinas got some important things wrong, but that fact does not send me into a screaming tirade against his dangerous perfidy whilst tossing his Summa into the bonfire. [emphasis mine]

On the face of it, it looks like Dr Chapp has retracted his assent to the central arguments advanced in That All Shall Be Saved. In the comments section I posed to him the following question:

Larry, your defense of Balthasar against Martin & others is most welcome, but may I push you on this a bit? Would Martin’s position be more palata­ble if he were obsessed, not with a densely populated hell, but with a thinly populated hell? I know this is an unfair question. I [am] just sneakily trying to persuade you to engage David Hart’s critique of Balthasar’s universalist hope.

His gracious response:

It is not an unfair question at all but a most pertinent one. Thanks for commenting. The post wasn’t really about universalism so much as it was about condemning the massa damnata thesis as necessary for motivating evangelization. I did not want the primary focus to be a debate about universalism but rather a debate about how bestial the massa damnata approach is. That said, I definitely agree with Balthasar although I think Hart’s critique is something that needs addressing. I have read Hart’s book and he and I had a few friendly email exchanges about it. I loved the book and think his arguments are powerful. However, as a Catholic the Church’s dogmatic tradition does not allow me to embrace universalism. Balthasar under­stood this too. Furthermore, I think at issue too is that I just don’t think we are given to know who is not saved, or if all are. Still, Hart’s book is powerful and I encourage everyone to read it. [emphasis mine]

In an earlier age Catholic theologians maintained a discipline not to publicly dissent from authoritative Church teaching but to keep their concerns and criticisms in-house, as it were, i.e., to communicate them only in publications read by the schola theologorum (Newman’s phrase). This is one reason why the teachings and reforms of Vatican II were such a shock to the Catholic laity. They were not privy to the scholarship and debates that preceded the “new” theology. But with the dawn of the internet, the speculative privacy of theologians has disappeared. Every published thought is now available for scrutiny. I almost feel like I should apologize to Chapp for reprinting his review of TASBS. I wish neither to embarrass him nor put him in an awkward position; but I do wish to engage his article, particularly given that only a year or so ago he found Hart’s argumentation “irrefutable.” I hope that at some time in the future he will write a substantive analysis and critique of TASBS. Eclectic Orthodoxy would be honored to publish it.

Regarding Chapp’s statement “it [the possibility of eternal damnation] is not something that keeps me awake at night,” I respectfully offer this fraternal correction: Larry, the question of universal salvation should keep you—and all Catholic, Orthodox, and Protes­tant believers—awake at night! Eternal torment is an objective evil and horror. It is not evangelically incon­se­quential and must not be relegated to the theological backroom. Just as the question of justification by faith (“How do I find a gracious God?”) contentiously brought the gospel of God’s grace and mercy to the forefront of ecclesial reflection and preaching in the sixteenth century, so the question of apokatastasis (“How do I find a God who triumphs over evil and death?”) is now bringing the gospel of God’s eschatological love to the same forefront.

  • Does God’s love, actualized in the saving work of Christ, intend every human being?
  • Is this love truly absolute, infinite, unconditional, victorious?
  • Can the risen and glorified Christ be trusted to accomplish his good purposes in our lives, despite our wickedness, sins, failures, and contumacy?
  • Is the gospel of Jesus Christ truly good, liberating, transformative news, or is it just another form of exhortational moralism?
  • How can the absolute and infinite love of the Creator be reconciled with the eternal sufferings of the damned?
  • If God has freely created the world ex nihilo, and if the sufferings of the damned is everlasting, why does this not logically entail that God is ultimately responsible for this tragic and horrific eschatological conclusion to the biblical story of salvation?

How we answer these questions, and others like them, determines the preaching, mission, and flourishing of the Church.5

In his article Dr Chapp chastises traditionalists for their “obsession with a densely populated Hell.” I deem the criticism misplaced, first because I doubt it accurately represents the traditionalist concern, but primarily because it misses the evangelical point. As I asked in my comment to Chapp: “Would Martin’s position be more palatable if he were obsessed, not with a densely populated hell, but with a thinly populated hell?” Surely the answer must be no. The number of the damned is irrelevant. Hell does not become more agreeable if it is populated by only a few. Even if only a single person is eternally damned, hell remains morally abhorrent. One is one too many.

This reminds me of my initial reaction to Pope Benedict’s instructive encyclical Spe salvi, published during the short time I was a Catholic (that’s another story). Benedict identifies three kinds of people (§§45-46):

  • The truly holy—those “who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.” These individuals are immediately admitted to the beatific vision at the moment of death. They are few in number, Benedict suggests, or at least a minority.
  • The truly wicked—those “who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readi­ness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves…. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell.” At death these persons are immediately condemned to eternal suffering. They too are few in number or at least a minority.
  • The in-betweens (my phrase): “For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.” At death these persons are admitted to a post-mortem process of purification, cleansing, and healing (tradi­tion­ally called purgatory) to prepare them for the vision of the Holy Trinity.

I was surprised by the Pope’s speculation on the numbers of the blessed, the damned, and the in-between. How could he know, and why even conjecture on the matter? I eventually typed out my thoughts for my old blog Pontifications and published it under the title “Counting the Saved” (16 February 2008). It’s interesting to reread this article after so many years. My concern back then was that all such conjectures detract us from repentance:

All conjecture on the number of the saved and the damned directs us away from Christ. Look at everyone else, we say. Most are pretty good people, are they not? They do not appear to have damned themselves by a defini­tive destruction of love and denial of truth. Yes, they aren’t saints. Yes, they will probably need to undergo purgatorial purification. But isn’t it encour­ag­ing that most will be saved? And if the majority, perhaps the large ma­jor­ity, of folks will be saved, then odds are I am included in their number! After all, I’m not nearly as wicked as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. And thus I decline, without even realizing it, the summons to faith.

I also sent a link to the piece to Fr Richard John Neuhaus, with whom I occasionally corresponded. As I recall he expressed basic agreement. Neuhaus too was a hopeful universalist and vigorously defended Balthasar against his detractors in a First Things article, “Will All Be Saved?

So why did this old article of mine come to mind? I suppose because of Benedict’s belief that hell is thinly populated. All this worry about numbers is a distraction from the real issue at hand—hell itself. The traditionalists grasp this better than do the hopeful universalists—hence the fury of their attacks. Despite all the qualifications and nuances advanced by Balthasar and Ware, the traditionalists rightly see that the the hopeful position, if taken seriously (not all of its advocates do), subverts the homiletical and ascetical practices that embody the dogma of eternal damnation, thereby emptying the terrifying threat of eternal perdition of its power. And without the threat, what’s the point of the dogma?

In his review of That All Shall Be Saved, Chapp acknowledges the cogency of David Hart’s “mild criticism” of Balthasar’s position on hell. Here is the relevant passage from TASBS:

I want to make it absolutely clear that I approach these meditations not as a seeker tentatively and timidly groping his way toward some anxious, uncertain, fragile hope. Unlike, say, the great Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), I would not think it worth the trouble to argue, as he does, that—given the paradoxes and seemingly irreconcilable pronouncements of scriptures on the final state of all things—Christians may be allowed to dare to hope for the salvation of all. In fact, I have very small patience for this kind of “hopeful universalism,” as it is often called. As far as I am concerned, anyone who hopes for the universal reconciliation of creatures with God must already believe that this would be the best possible ending to the Christian story; and such a person has then no excuse for imagining that God could bring any but the best possible ending to pass without thereby being in some sense a failed creator. The position I want to attempt to argue, therefore, to see how well it holds together, is far more extreme: to wit, that, if Christianity is in any way true, Christians dare not doubt the salvation of all, and that any understanding of what God accomplished in Christ that does not include the assurance of a final apokatastasis in which all things created are redeemed and joined to God is ultimately entirely incoherent and unworthy of rational faith.6

Hart’s criticism of the hopefulness position is simple and may be traced back to the writings of George MacDonald. If we can imagine a better eschatological outcome to the story of creation, then the Lord sure can too; indeed, his imaginings of cosmic apoka­tas­tasis precede and ground our own. The critical difference is that the good God’s imaginings necessarily become reality. His act of imagination is identical to his act of creation is identical to his act of knowing is identical to his act of being. Capon comes close to saying what I’m struggling to express:

Because the divine knowing—what the Father knows, and what the Word says in response to that knowing, and what the Spirit broods upon under the speaking of the Word—all that eternal intellectual activity isn’t just day­dream­ing. It’s the cause of everything that is. God doesn’t find out about creation; he knows it into being. His knowing has hair on it. It is an effective act. What he knows, is. What he thinks, by the very fact of his thinking, jumps from no-thing into thing. He never thought of anything that wasn’t.7

Just substitute “imagines/imagined” for “thinks/thought.” What God imagines is.

Do I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all will be saved? No, of course not—just as I do not know with certainty that God exists or that Jesus is risen from the dead or that God loves unconditionally. I believe that God exists, etc., but I do not know that he exists, etc. I guess that raises a host of questions, particulary regarding the respective meanings of knowlege and belief, knowing and believing. I’ll let let those more astute than I think all this through. For me, it’s just a matter of honesty and commonsense. Nor does anything change if an infallible teaching office is thrown into the mix. I still have to believe that this office has spoken truly. But I do believe that in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, God the Holy Trinity has revealed that he loves every human being. I do believe that eternal salvation is a gift bestowed upon us by the preaching of the gospel, received in faith and repentance. And I do believe that God will most certainly bring the story of humanity to a happy and glorious conclusion, precisely because I believe that he is absolute, infinite, and unconditional Love who died on the cross for my sins and rose again for my justification. For me, these are articles of faith—indeed, together they constitute one article of faith. But perhaps there is another distinction to be made. Most of the articles of faith speak in the past and present tense—God exists; YHWH entered into covenant with Israel; Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind; Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning and now lives at the right hand of the Father; the Spirit has been poured out upon the Church; Jesus Christ and the Spirit are homoousios with the Father; the Holy Trinity is absolute, infinite, unconditional Love—but there are also others for which we use the future tense—God will deify the faithful; Jesus Christ will return in glory to deliver creation from its bondage to evil and death; the incarnate Son will judge the quick and the dead. For the former it makes a kind of sense sense to say that the Christian believes them to be true, while for the later that he or she hopes they will come to pass. But this is a difference without a difference. As Richard Neuhuas comments: “Faith is hope anticipated, and hope is faith disposed toward the future.”8 Hope enjoys the same measure of certainty as faith—no more, no less.

“Hopeful” universalism? It is only genuinely hopeful if we confidently believe, without qualification, that God will save all. Gehenna is but a purifying, sanctifying means to that glorious consummation.9 In the words of George MacDonald: “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children.”10



[1] I am convinced that the apprehension of the Holy Trinity as absolute and unconditional Love necessarily entails universal salvation. That it took me so long to see this obvious conclusion testifies to the power of tradition. If there is a debate to be had, therefore, it must first address the confession that God loves humanity unconditionally. All other matters are secondary. See my article “Apokatastasis and the Radical Vision of Unconditional Love.”

[2] This question resolves (I think) into the question of God’s antecedent and consequent wills. See David B. Hart, “What God Wills and What God Permits,” Public Orthodoxy (5 May 2020).

[3] Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, p. 172.

[4] See my articles “Ravished by Irresistible Love” and “The Necessary Choosing of the Good.”

[5] On preaching, see my article “Preaching Apokatastasis: St Isaac the Syrian and the Grammar of the Kingdom,” Logos 58 (2017): 197-213.

[6] David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, p. 66; emphasis mine.

[7] Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three, pp. 235-236. If in response someone should exclaim, “This means that there is a world in the multiverse where Tolkien’s Elves actually do exist,” I shall gladly assent. 😎

[8] Richard John Neuhaus, “Will All Be Saved,” First Things (August 2001). I do not know the exact page. Limited space no longer allows me to retain my old issues of journals and magazines.

[9] Note my use of the biblical word “Gehenna.” Christian universalists most certainly believe in Gehenna. We know the possibility of self-damnation all too well, both in our own experience and the experience of our fellow human beings. And we believe it is proper and necessary for the pastor to warn, in the most severest terms, the terrible consequences of unrepented sin. We just don’t believe in hell.

[10] George MacDonald, “Justice,” Unspoken Sermons. In a sermon delivered at All Soul’s Unitarian Church, New York City, on 11 May 1873, MacDonald declared: “We do not hope half enough. ‘This is too good to believe,’ we say. But, if there be a God, nothing is too good to believe; and, if Christ be His Son and messenger and image, humanity is divine and God is human. A father’s heart, a heart like our own, only infinite in tenderness, will be found at the bottom of things”—reported by the Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows, quoted in Wingfold (Winter 2007). Also See Jordan Wood’s article comparing Balthasar and MacDonald: “George MacDonald against Hans Urs von Balthasar on Universal Salvation.” Also see my article “Hell as Universal Purgatory.” In one of his lectures on Dante, MacDonald remarked: “When the [Protestant] Church thought that three places for departed spirits was too many, she took away the wrong one. I do indeed believe in a place of punishment, but that longing and pain will bring us back to God.”

(Return to part 1)

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43 Responses to The Greater Hope: How do I find a God who triumphs over evil and death?

  1. Ed H. says:

    Father Neuhaus’s article can still be found here:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greg Pavlik says:

    “Programmers invariably leave a backdoor through which they may evade firewalls and antivirus software if they need to.” is categorically untrue. Other than malicious actors – a government trying to force a back door for spying on citizens, domestic or otherwise, this would be an intolerable and business ending risk. No responsible software developer would do this and no employer would tolerate it. Further, its a bad analogy on its face – a backdoor for manipulation bears not analogical relationship to the finite will and its proper teleological orientation.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Greg, I’m sure you’re right about the ethics of backdoors and have changed my wording to accommodate your point. As far as it being a bad analogy, well … we preachers often employ bad analogies. 🙂


  3. Counter-Rebel says:

    I’ve written on this before. I find the free will objection horrible. Free choices are random. There’s no reason a person does A over B, with all the reasons for A and B fixed. Free will = unpredictable spontaneity.

    The free will objection also assumes free will can never be compatible with determinism. While I do think free will requires at least one indeterministic choice, other free choices may be deterministic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Greg Pavlik says:

      Well, that idea of free will seems a bit more like insanity, certainly not the rational will


      • Counter-Rebel says:

        On my view, modest libertarianism, all choices have reasons behind them. There are reasons for A and reasons for B, but no deeper standard (no deeper reasons) to judge which set wins out. What’s random is that A-because-reasons-for-A won out over B-because-reasons-for-B.

        The random nature of indeterministic choice is why I won’t bend the knee to a god that allows eternal torment. You don’t know what your choice is until it arises, but then it’s too late. No one deserves hell because they witnessed a bad intention pop into their mind.


  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Since publishing this post yesterday I have made a several changes. If you’ve already read the article, you may wish to read it again.


  5. Bruce M says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey in this search. I find it very encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      You are welcome. I honestly don’t know why I felt I needed to provide to provide some personal context in my response to Dr Chapp. Perhaps I just wanted him and others to know that I had come into the greater hope years before I read TASBS. 🙂


  6. brian says:

    I concur that the premise that somehow a limited number of souls in hell mitigates the horror or that the notion that such eschatological concern is an elective issue outside the center of revelation is manifestly obtuse and utterly unconvincing. Hart is surely right to assert that the reality and nature of God is ineluctably involved. One can only imagine Dr. Chapp’s claim is ultimately a deflection to avoid difficulties with the Catholic magisterium. As myself a Catholic, I assert that the understanding of the magisterium must accomodate an argument drawn from biblical revelation and shown to be coherent and logically compelling. If the magisterium ever becomes an intransigent defense of long-standing opinions at odds with the unique logic of the Gospel, it will have proved itself inadequate, not the Gospel.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Barbara says:

    Thank you, Father, for this article. I’ve read it several times and I wanted to say that I am so grateful for your presence and scholarship as an orthodox priest. I imagine it must be discouraging at times to find yourself on the fringes. Please keep preaching. I believe there are many orthodox who receive this gospel with open hearts and longing.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. oliver elkington says:

    In the Catholic faith you are probably aware that there are two views with regards to the nature of damnation: Molinism and Thomism, Molinists teach that some people are beyond redemption because they are constantly against Gods will and no amount of grace from God will be able to convert them, this seems to be the main view taught by the church today, the view that God would love to save some people but he cannot because they just hate him too much to ever be saved. The Thomist view which you have mentioned many times on here teaches that God could save all if he wishes to by giving everyone efficient grace but he chooses not to for his own reasons. The Church has never come to an agreement over which teaching makes the most sense and most importantly is correct, maybe it is because both views really do have major major problems? At least with the Thomistic view one can recognise the fact that God really is able to save all if he wishes, that gives one hope that the church will develop on the doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas to the extent where God can and will provide everyone with enough grace to be saved.


  9. Stuart Kenny says:

    I am currently going to a Unitarian Universalist church. I’ve been influenced by the same sources you list, but I also have been influence by Hosea Ballou’s “Treatise on Atonement” and Theodore Parker’s “Transient and Permanent in Christianity.” It seems to me that once you’ve accepted Universalism, you must end up in Unitarian Universalism.

    If everyone is saved by God, Jesus doesn’t need to be God. He can be a great religious leader, but salvation doesn’t depend on his divinity–hence, Unitarianism.
    Everyone is saved regardless of what they believe–hence, there is no need to believe Christian dogma.
    God is leading everyone to Him–therefore, we can assume God uses all religions to announce his universal salvation. We can find inspiration in all of the 6 sources the UUA lists as inspired writings.
    Universalism must necessarily lead to pluralism.

    So, you are just one or two steps away from leaving your Christian foundations and joining in a Unitarian Universalist church, as I am finding myself–or what prevents you from taking that step?


    • Grant says:

      Not to disrespect your own views and convictions, but since you ask the question what keeps us Christians from taking the step you did, or why at least in the manner (at least as I understand it in what you have said here) you understand and phrase it that universalism does not lead to pluralism.

      The first would be, what does it mean to be saved, the Christian view would be theosis, to be not just delivered from death, but that this means being brought fully into the life of God, to become as God. But how can this be, how in any way can the finite be joined to, partipate in, in any sense, the infinite wellsrping of Being that is Beyond Being of God. To me, only by God Himself descending to us, bringing creation into direct partipatory unity with Himself could this ever be possible. Only that is, by following the logic of the Incarnation claim and understanding, that as St Athanasius said, ‘God became man so that man might become God,’ or 2 Peter talks on partipating in the divine nature, this logic following from adoption lagic, children of God, Body of Christ, Christ in us the hope of glory, of Matthew 25 in which Christ is present in all you meet, again this logic of the Incarnation, of Christ making unkownable infinite knowable and of (again in the understanding the two natures of His One Person) our union by the Holy Spirit into the divine life of the Trinity possible, for us and all creation, making both possible and indeed confidence in it’s deliverance, divinization and glorication.

      Also, were Jesus not the person He claimed to be, take the passage where He tells the rich man only God is good, where the rich man calls Him good Teacher, then tells the rich man to sell all He has and follow Him both in it not only saying He is not the transcendant Good but establishing that God is the only transcendent Good that the rich follow Him (so putting Himself on that plane), or saying something greater than the Temple was present (which is place of God’s direct presence), or saying how can the Messiah be just the son of David if he calls him Lord (thus both one prayed to and pre-existent), and so and so (and I’ve used just the synoptics here). If this is so, to some extent CS Lewis trilemma still has some purchase, in that he would be a very flawed teacher with some bad dellusions (and therefore to be used with caution). Of course it would be true to say that this still might not explicitly be the Nicene understanding of the Father and the Son, and that the language, philosophical understanding and historical imperatives (such as the Arian crisis) producing such clarifical were not present in the 1st century, either in Judea nor in the wider Roman and Parthian worlds. It would also be true that for the first few centuries most Christians operated within the language of a subordinate Logos until this crisis came to ahead focusing direct attenion on it’s meaning and how it’s to be understood and have the position (larger unity of Christian people within the Roman Empire) and the intellectual tools, persons and assoicated drive (crisis of disunity) to achieve this focus.

      But even if you were to take a more Arian position would thereby still be claiming for Christ something much more than just a wise sage, and of claiming a clear and difiniative revelation and rescue act, so I would still say that a Untarian position would logically entail view Jesus as a defective teacher.

      Other problem is a two-fold one, the first is you say everyone would be saved regardless of what they believed, but how could be so? If say someone is anti-semite, lets say a full on neo-Nazi, say they regard Jews, non-whites as sub-human and that was (as it is for those in such movements) a central belief of theirs, they could hardly be saved regardless of their beliefs. The same could be said for someone advancing a belief in a system that exploits the poor and the weak, leaves them indepted, living in misery, stealing from them and helping subjugate them to enrich themselves, to bring short and terrible lives to them and make profit of their backs. You could equally go the extremes of those who enjoy hurting others and belief in the superiority of power (beliefs of course at the heart of many older pagan systems, the heart of the system the legitized the right of a Roman citizen to use those below him, his slaves however he wanted, and whatever manner he wanted, and this was understood to be the sacred order of things, might revealed sacred blessing), abuse in families etc. Clearly to me there can be no saving ‘regardless’ of their beliefs, their very understanding and beliefs would need to be challenged, and in number of cases at the more fundemental assuptions and even metaphysics that support them as part of their very salvation (otherwise they would continue on as raised demons suffering in ongoing hell). So it seems very clear true beliefs and orientation is rather essential a part of salvation.

      Secondly, it seems to avoid that this movement is one which essentially attempts to displace and reject the claims of alternative traditions (much as that version of Christianity called secularism does in using a pretence of neutrality to side-line other belief traditions, and evangelize it’s own claim without being prepared to directly argue for such dominion) and place it’s own understanding, claims and metaphyiscal framework in dominion and as ajudicator of a true path and understanding of Truth. But would seem to do so without sating this clearly and upfront, of stating that it claims the ulitmate framework and optics by which the truth of God can be known, it’s synthesis is the truer position. I doubt this directly intentional, but it is in effect what this position does. What does that say for example to Islam’s claims of Mohammed being the final, last, greatest prophet and only through the Qu’ran and through submission of Mohammed as God’s last prophet (through which only the true and clear understanding and revelation has been delivered)? The Jewish understanding in ther bones to be God’s chosen people? The same could be said of most traditions in relation to key beliefs (including of course Christian’s claims concerning the uniqueness of Christ and salvation through Him). To me it seems somewhat disengenous to deny the claims to truth of those traditions and their frameworks, particularly more ulitmate claims in their unity and totality without the Unitarian putting their own cards on the table and stating the clear view that their tradition and theological and philosophical understanding is the superior or truer vision and provides the best means to see and understand the truth and is therefore a rival to the claims at points with other traditions. It essentially leads to not according those traditions the respect that they all deserve I believe.

      A truer dialogue acknowledges the differences and conflicting claims, this of course is not to say that we both are not enriched by dialogue with other traditions and can fruther gain and see truth sometimes clearer within what other tradition provides, and of course their many overlaps and places that should encourage embrace of the truth in those traditions and of fruitful borrowing and creative development for all that deepers both traditions and their believers in their understanding of the truth. I’m certainly not arguing against that, and in fact in favour of it, as well as the understanding that the truth in broader and deeper, particularly that of God, than any finite tradition can express, and would agree that His revelation and truth are found within many traditions. But I do so because of my conviction of who Christ is, not against it, it would because the Logos of God was Incarnate in Jesus of Nazereth, that God united Himself to us so we are united to Him, that it is by that very parituclarity that He trancends and is revealed throughout humanity and creation and appherend Him, and that I should as a Christian expect to find Him present and interacted with in other traditions (inlcuding amonst you Unitarians 🙂 ). But this still is founded on seeing the finality of Christ, and of seeing and understanding all things through Him and illuminated by Him, revealing what is the best truths in them. I and would hid and dimish this claim from say my Muslim brothers or sisters, and therefore of the place of a major disagreement between us, and of practices that follow from that, over the fact, that however might believe some geniune insights and deep and divine truths came via Mohammed, I cannot accept him as the last and greatest prophet, nor the Qu’ran as the final revelation, that I believe is Christ. And a practicing Jew might see much value in Christianity or Islam, but utimately (unless they are a Messianic Jew) they are not going accept Jesus as Messiah, nor Mohammed as final prophet or the Qu’ran as superior to Torah.

      I think must be unfront in the claims to truth we are making, and since Unitarians are doing so just as much, then again beliefs matter.

      Finally though, for me, if Jesus is not the Messiah, the Son of God, God Incarnate, and so God revealed why should I believe that God wishes salvation of all, or that that salvation would accord with a blissful and joyous future free from what we define as evil or harm? Aristotle and most ancients believed the first mover, the high transcendent God was to far removed from us humans to ever reach or understand, nor had any real thought or care for us down in this lowest and corrupitble aspects of reality. That was God of cool and even (to us) cold intellect, deep and unkownable and utterly unconcerned with us, certainly not having any specific love towards us, and not one concerned with our personal rescue and salvation. Why should besides the revelation of Christ think that they were wrong, I look at the universe around me, and I look at it’s disease, it’s predation, it’s death and suffering on a scale that makes all humans amatuers, and this going back to the origins of life, of chaos and destruction, pain, suffering and death woven into the very fabric of the universe, why should I think looking on that that God is love, or that He as any specific care for us, let alone that we should be ‘saved’ from the creation He has made? Why should I not think that this is part of the order He has determined, and that pain and suffering, the dominion of the strong over the weak is as the ancients believed, the true sacred order? And what would salvation look at that look like, but something rather like hell, or that least an extention of the hell present in this world at least. And I certainly couldn’t see how you could affirm with certaintly any universalism that confirmed salvation as we generally mean it.

      No, it is only looking to Christ that I can see creation is against God’s intention, that disease and death are enemies that mar His creation which He defeated utterly in the Cross and Resurrection and has so become the ‘Second Adam’ in whom both humanity and all creation is and will be fully delievered, confirmed in His Resurrection,

      Take away that and I don’t see any reason what so ever to affirm God is either love, cares for us, nor that pain, suffering and dominion of the strong is not part of His sacred order, and no reason to believe in any universal salvation whatsoever.

      Again, I’m trying to disrespect your views, but you question why Christian universalists would not follow you into a Unitarian like position, and that is at least my answer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Grant says:

        Just saw a typo (probably not the only one 🙂 , sadly we aren’t saved from them 😉 ), but I wouldn’t hid my conviction of the finality in dialogue with followers of other traditions not that I would. Oh well, hopefully all can still understand it.


        • Stuart Kenny says:

          You give your reasons for your belief, but you still haven’t shown why Jesus needs to be God if universalism is true. He is a great religious teacher who discovered God’s intent to save everyone and stated those ideas in a particularly clear way. Since we’re not repaying an infinite debt to an infinitely wrathful God, Jesus can be just a man who loved God. It doesn’t even have to be as complicated as Arianism.

          If God saves everyone, then He must have a relationship with everyone. He speaks to each of His children in the way that best suits their needs. Different religions are the records of people finding language and stories explaining how God is speaking to them. Since God speaks to everyone, each religion is inspired, and our worship can include inspired writings from many sources. These would be the 6 Sources of UUA.

          If there are no requirements for salvation, then there is no such thing as dogma. There are no required beliefs. Sin is moving away from God. Goodness is moving towards God. There is no separation from God. Our goal is to do the things which move us all towards God. Every person we see is a person we are going to be in Heaven with forever. Our only goal on earth is to figure out what we can do for each other to get us to Heaven faster, to make God’s will be done here as it is in Heaven. These would be the 7 Principles of UUA.

          Life and worship built around the 6 Sources and 7 Principles brings me closer to Jesus than any creed or dogma.

          You can stay where you are for as long as you like, but eventually reason will take you in the direction of seeing that Jesus is just a man and all religions in some way speak about God. How do you see that not happening?


          • Grant says:

            My friend I gave you the reason related to Christian understanding of Incarnation, of what salvation means of us being united to the infinite so the finite is drawn out disorder into divinity, it’s far more then just forgiveness and deliverance, and that God alone must unite creation to Himself by descending into, again become man so we can become God on the understanding God is not a being amongst beings, He is Being itself and Beyond Being so how else that I can see can theosis be achieved but by God? Other traditions put forth other answers or other views of what salvation is, but the Christian one this the view and understanding and shows only the descent and ascent in uniting all people to Himself can bring us to into the life of God. And no one is talking about infinite debts to wrathful gods, there you indicate your awareness of mostly Western understanding of later atonement theories such views are largely of not enterly absent amongst other Christians and older understandings (say Eastern and Oriental Orthodox of the Assyrian Church of the East), nor other traditions even in the West throughout late antiquity, the Middle Ages until present (with even the tedency towards over legalistic or forenstic understandings in Roman Catholicism having only one aspect of their larger understanding in relation to the idea of theosis, and as I said other and deeper streams and wells). There is ransom, and deliverance and victory from the tyranny and dominoin of death, rescuing us from the fall to non-being, but really no infinite debt unless you only inhabit a particular and minority Western Christian view (a defective one at that). So perhaps I’m wrong but it feels you don’t fully understand the broader and older Christian understanding of what salvation is, nor how as I reflected the view of how salvation could be possible with Christ being God who unites humanity and all creation to Himself via the Incarnation. I refer you again to re-read my first few paragraphs.

            And again, if Jesus says what He says and isn’t who He says and claims to be (within the Jewish 1st century context giving it meaning and resonance) then again He would defective and misguided teacher, someone to use with caution, to pity but not to listen to much.

            And again, your statement there is no dogma, no required beliefs is a dogma, as would be the doctrine you derive from it, your 7 Principles, as is the truth claims that denies and subordinates the claims of other traditions (not just Christianity) such as denying Christ is who Christians say He is, who Muslims claim Mohammed is, how Orthodox Jews view the Torah, and so and so on. It also determines how you view the Good, your praxis and subsequent secondary beliefs and behaviour and how view whether someone is moving towards or away from God. And again such a view does require and is stating required beliefs, again if you view our misguided neo-Nazis above as moving away from God (which would be the seperation along the lines of a number of traditions btw, since clearly none can be seperated from God in absoluteness since they would cease to be, in Him we live, move and have our being) it is his very beliefs, and the ones behind that that generate what you see as sin. Yet he can have a whole developed understanding of reality (including spiritual and transcendent understandings) that framework and justification to his life and actions (take Himmler’s and the SS neo-paganism used with social Darwinism, part of the only real mass attempt in Western recent history to truly turn away and through off the Christian understanding and framework). And related to that, a social Darwinist, much like classical Greco-Roman pagans, viewing the rule of the strong over the weak as just and truly sacred order, of the weak there to serve at their desires or wims, to be killed off or enslaved or used and exploited if weak or defective or simply losing. Views like this, the mass exploitation of others were both common and in fact entirely endorsed and exulted, a Roman say, or Nazi now would feel no need to justify they exploitation of others or would see anything wrong with it it would be to them the very sacred or true nature of reality. Again, if beliefs don’t matter or you would claim their are God’s revelation on what basis would you disagree, even though what they understand to be good and bring true realization, salvation what have you, this is doing good to this belief system. If you reject it as sin and moving away from God, then clearly you also delcare their understanding and beliefs are highly misguided and wrong in key ways and lead to damaging themselves (whether in the anitquity or amongst our Nazi or social Darwinist believers). And again you asserting direct claims to true beliefs, and to a wider claim of truth and framework and metaphyiscs that backs that up (of what is good, and the Good, and what moves closer to God and salvation and what moves away and deminishes them, towards non-being to use a Christian framework).

            So you d0 assert dogma and clear and rather absolute claims of who God is, paths to Him and what He is not, and what therefore Jesus is not, Mohammed is not, Moses is not and so on. You present clearly definited theological claims, and framework of beliefs and following practices, and thereby also reject key understandings and claims and aspects of frameworks, of life and worship in it’s fullest sense, of other traditions. As I said, recognise this, and remember to put your cards on the table, It is in my view more honest and truthful.

            And again, to my final point where you asked why I am not a Unitarian, again why should I think God’s everyone, or that He has that personal relationship to any human, or that the ancients were wrong? Why should I looking at the universe think that death, suffering, pain, humiliation, the rule and exploiation of the strong over the weak, and the weak there to serve, suffer and die of the strong, is not God’s sacred order given the universe is His creation, and this is seemingly woven into that universe as a fact of life, death reigns eternal seemingly. So if Jesus is not God, and the Incarnation isn’t what Christians claim it is, why should I think otherwise (in fact would not our neo-Nazi or social Darwinist be closer then to reality of things?)? And why should I expect salvation would be what you and I would think of salvation and not something more damination?

            I’m certainly glad you are a univeralist and happy you you see God as love and relate to Him, and if the worship around 6 Sources and 7 Principles has brought you into partication with Christ more than any Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist etc tradition and has lead to renewal and growth in love, life, holiness and deliverance from death into theosis than I’m truly happy for you. If you know Him best all things being equal in that place and it’s healthy for you then you have my blessings and all the best for you.

            But I’m afraid it is reason that leads me to deny your claims against Christainity, though I can agree all things speak to God, but again my confidence on that is because I’m a Christian and because of the Incarnation that makes the infinite alone knowable and unites us to God. But without it reason would lead me to reject you understanding of universal salvation and obviously false and hopeless wrong, I’m honeslty glad it doesn’t for you since that would be a false position. But again, that is because of who understand Jesus of Nazereth to be, my answer to Him is St Peter’s answer, you are the Anointed, the Son of the living God. It it because of that, of Resurrection that I’m confident death and suffering are against God and distortion and passing illusion of true reality, which has been defeated and by which all will be delivered from. And it is because of that I have confidence we united in Him by Spirit to God the Father and will be ever drawn more into the infinite life and love that is dance of the Trinity, and that because He God, became man, we will become God.

            So I’m afraid I don’t see that happening, not at all, there as with my Muslim friends we have fundemental disagreement. Doesn’t mean I don’t support you helping people and showing them love, keep doing that stuff, keep meeting Christ in them and knowing Him in the way you do (even not seeing it as such). That is salvation and theosis in act, where as in the Eucharist, He is directly present, meet and participated in, so again, you have you love and blessing, but I’m afriad on this point my disagreement as well 🙂 .


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Intending no disrespect, but your comment reminded me of an old joke I loved to tell way back when I was an Episcopalian:

      Q. What do you get when you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah’s Witness?
      A. An Episcopalian who goes around knocking on doors for no reason whatsoever.

      It always got a chuckle. 😎


      • Stuart Kenny says:

        How about to knock on doors and announce that God has saved us all? How about to ask how we can help you?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “If everyone is saved by God, Jesus doesn’t need to be God.”

      Stuart, I find this a strange way of putting the matter. One could just as well say, “Because only some are saved, Jesus must be God.” No Christian universalist would argue from universal salvation to the divinity of Christ, just as no Christian non-universalist would argue from eternal damnation to the divinity of Christ. But perhaps this last clause is not quite accurate. I suppose that those who believe in penal substitutionary atonement might argue along such lines, but the folks who hang out here on Eclectic Orthodoxy do not believe such nonsense.

      “If everyone is saved by God, Jesus doesn’t need to be God”—instead of thinking along these lines, ask us instead “What are the benefits of the incarnation of the divine Son?”


      • Stuart Kenny says:

        The purpose of this blog is to figure out whether you can be a Universalist and a Catholic. But if Universalism is true, you don’t have to be Catholic. You don’t have to believe anything. You’re going to Heaven no matter what you believe. So why not believe what makes you happy?

        If you think there are benefits in believing Jesus is God, and that makes you happy, then believe it. You still go to Heaven. If I find it more meaningful to see Jesus simply as a great man, then I still go to Heaven. Jesus is certainly one of the people who will be in Heaven, so it will be fun one day to talk it over with him.

        This world is a classroom to help get us ready to live in Heaven. Maybe it’s best to focus on learning how to get along with each other, how to love our neighbors as ourselves, rather than try to figure out whether this or that belief system is more pleasing to God. God likes them all and uses them all.


        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Stuart, in case you missed the memo–I am not a Roman Catholic. 😛

          As a Christian I confess the greater hope. This doesn’t mean that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, is now irrelevant. That’s nonsense. Jesus’ words still stand: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” In this life or the next, you will come to realize this truth. It’s just the way things are. 🙂

          But as you have noted, this blog does not principally exist to persuade non-Christians to become Christians. This is a theology blog, not an apologetics blog. You are quite welcome here, but please keep the purpose of this blog in mind.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Stuart Kenny says:

            The fact that a writer possibly named John put those words in Jesus’ mouth doesn’t make them true. They are the ecstatic exclamation of someone who was profoundly impacted by Jesus, not how Jesus saw himself. If it makes you happy to believe that those exact words came out of Jesus’ mouth and were immediately written down by someone who heard them, and then translated them from the Aramaic Jesus spoke into Greek, then you are free to do so. Be happy. The point of Universalism is that I am not required to do that. And that’s theology–I believe that God doesn’t care whether I believe Jesus was God or not. I don’t have to think of the Bible as any more than a profound record of spiritual seekers. God welcomes me to Heaven anyway.

            What you haven’t shown is that what you believe gets you to Heaven better and faster than what I believe. And if it doesn’t, then you are believing what you believe because it makes you happy, not because it is more true than what others believe.


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Okey dokey. I have put you on the moderation list. I suggest you move on to a different blog. Ciao.


          • JBG says:

            Krishna’s words:

            “I am and I support the entire cosmos…”
            “I am the light of the sun.”
            “I am the sacred word…”
            “I am the beginning, middle, and end of creation.”
            “I am without birth and changeless.”
            “I am the ritual and the sacrifice.”
            “I am the father and mother of this universe; I am its entire support”
            “I am the sum of all knowledge.”
            “I am true medicine.”
            “I am the offering and the fire which consumes it, and the one to whom it is offered.”
            “I am the life of all that lives.”
            “I am the Lord who dwells in every creature.”
            “I am the original seed of all existences.”
            “I am seated in the hearts of all beings and from me come memory,
            knowledge, and understanding.”
            “I am everything…
            “There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon me…”
            “The birth and dissolution of the cosmos itself take place in me. There is nothing that exists separate from me.”
            “I am the goal of life, the Lord and support of all.”
            “I am the only refuge.”
            “I am the womb and the eternal seed.”
            “Fill your mind with me; love me; serve me; worship me always. Seeking me in your heart, you will at last be united with me.”
            “All the scriptures lead to me; I am their author and their wisdom.”
            “I am the Progenitor, the God of Love.”


          • JBG says:

            From my reading of Krishna’s words (since is he the truth, the life, the word, the sacrifice, the only refuge, and goal of all existence), it is clear that no one comes to the Father but through him. Now what? Hmmmm.


        • I want to clarify something that I think Fr Aidan has already hinted at. I don’t think it’s at all true that what we believe doesn’t matter “because Jesus will save everyone anyway.” I believe, and I would venture to say that most Christian universalists believe, that when Christ appears at the second coming, those non-Christians who followed the law of conscience written on their heart and the true messages of the Logos in their own religion will see the face of Christ as the Good they were seeking all along.

          For those of us who still need purification, it may take a good amount of time in Gehenna before we fully recognize Christ for who he is. But if Philippians 2 is a universalist passage, it’s also a radically Christocentric one. Only those who confess Christ’s lordship will be let into heaven. It just so happens that every creature that God created will indeed confess that Lordship:

          “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
          in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
          and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
          to the glory of God the Father.”

          I also don’t think that Aristotle will be able to enter heaven before he gives up his belief that women are by nature inferior to men, or that some people are by nature slaves. I don’t think Hitler will be let into heaven before he gives up his belief that the Jewish race should be exterminated. Beliefs matter and naturally effect our behavior. The belief that God became man so that man might become god has radically determined how centuries of orthodox Christian monks and nuns have chosen to pray, worship, and live. I do believe that orthodoxy effects orthopraxy.

          Liked by 1 person

          • JBG says:

            Mark Chenoweth: “Only those who confess Christ’s lordship will be let into heaven.”

            This reminds me of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence. Father Rodrigues has it within his power to end the excruciating torture of his Jesuit brothers by simply renouncing his faith, by uttering the words or stepping on the symbolic fumi-e (the image of Christ). He is monumentally struggling with this dilemma when he hears the voice of God making it abundantly clear that ending the suffering (love in action) is the all important thing, not an outward confession (which is purely symbolic).

            Love in action is the true confession; the true acknowledgement of the Good.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Grant says:

            For the first Mark I would rather say that for many see ing Christ that will see the One they have always know uncloaked, who they have known under the names and systems they lived in, and in the people they have known and loved (Matthew 25, and so they already decided for Christ). As in the road to Emmaus, they will see the One they have always followed and been with clearly, but then so is that for us Christians, we think we know Him, but only then will we truly see and understand all the ways He is with us and know Him truly. Even as we are more correct in some ways, all of us will see how inadequate we haven’t known anything at all, and that includes the fact that in some ways, from other traditions they will have known Him more then we do. That even includes those follows of the various sub-denominations of that dominate form of Christianity in the West that calls itself secularism.

            The Incarnation means in uniting to us in the particular of Jesus of Nazereth, He has united to all humanity and all creation and transecends and is present throughout time and space. So take JBG’s words of Krishna, I would say what is behind that and in it is Christ, and they will see and know it, even as they know in part now.

            I would also agree that those who confess the Anointed’s Lordship are those who respond in faith and love to that Lordship and Kingdom, that is by servant’s love, who respond to Christ as they encounter and see Him (again Matthew 25 shows that to convert and follow Christ, to truly confess His Lordship is to show in your life and to respond to HIm in others, to following the prompting of the Spirit and to obey charity, love and life and depart from the ways of death). It’s there those are found who show whether they are currently sons of the Father or sons of the devil by how they react to Christ (who is present in the other, our brothers and sisters united in the Incaration). Not everyone who says Lord, Lord and all that.

            Those would be my reflections on what you said,

            On JBG’s mention below on the issue show in the novel Silence I think that is a difficult and hard situation, in terms of denouncing Christ. I say this because the examples from the early Church onwards through all the martyrdoms and persecutions bear witness to the strong devotion to faithful witness no matter to the torment, such as Blandina a slave girl, or Pepetua and Felicity in whose diary we hear the harrowing seperation from their children, and of putting Christ and refusal to renage on that witness even at that cost and against their family, to the martyrdom in the arena. And you don’t get from them, or from current martyrs, all to many and increasing, those 20 Copts and one Ghanian who chose to stand with them and for Christ even to there filmed beheading by ISIS to Christians alongside Yazidis crucified (a horrific punishment thought long gone returned), shot, burnt etc, to persuction and death in Nigera, Pakistan, now in various ways in China both as Christians and for standing up for the rights of others (there of couse alongside Uyghurs, Khazaks, Falon Gong, and other groups deemed a threat), North Korea and so and so on.

            I’m reminded of a case not very long ago of a Copt again, kidnapped by radical Isalmist terrorists, who was tortured and had all his teeth kicked out demanding he reounced Christ, but through it all he would not, even right to the point they beheaded him on video. For the Copts as many of those Christian communties martyrdom is both a very present reality and a very powerful one as well. It’s not something we in the West have much experience of at all outside isolated cases, we don’t understand what it means to have to face someone threatening you, removing you from your family and you could get out of it just by renouncing Christ. And of course, some people do, it must be truly a horendous position to be in, and since I fear I would fold very quickly I both sympathise and cannot bring myself to blame any who do, so many pressures, not just physical, but emotional and psychological tortures and attacks are added.

            The situation of course in the novel points to doing so to save others, much puts other dimentions onto the question, rather than just yourself, which makes the situation even more difficult and heart-rending. Each situation can only be looked in in isolation, and certainly it cannot be rooted in some masocistic desire for martyrdom, but that wasn’t the case with the courageous saints and martyrs above, of the pain of Pepetua and Felicity, having to choose to leave their children which at least for the noblewoman Pepetua had the choice of sacrificing to Ceasar to be with her son, she was certainly afraid (there is fair reason to suspect the account is mostly drawn from her diary apart from the last part recounting her martyrdom finished by another hand).

            In their case both had reason to believe their children would be taken care of, and they weren’t seeing people tormented and tortured where renouncing would save them, this does make a very different case.

            I’m not entirely disagreeing with you JBG, and agree love in action and faith is the true confession, I fully agree, but with martyrdom, persecution and callings to renounce Christ in the face of that it becomes more difficult (and of course trying to make someone renounce Christ includes those acting for love even not formally confessing Christ, are also being tortured to renounce Christ). Since we are sheltered from what the vast majority of Christians to vary extents have, but particularly right now are going through, it’s hard to have an easy answer to such questions (and perhaps it’s a little tangential to your point in any case, the main one being something I’m in agreement with 🙂 ).

            Liked by 1 person

          • Grant,
            I agree with everything you just said. You said it better than I. The claims that Krishna makes are interesting, but the interpretation of his claims, as far as I understand, does not hinge on whether or not he actually existed. Scholars of Hinduism debate whether Krishna actually existed or not, and they really don’t seem to be that troubled if he didn’t. Only scholars on the far out fringe argue that Jesus never existed, and their fellow skeptic Bart Ehrman believes their claims to be rubbish, as do most NT scholars, whether atheist, agnostic, or Christian.

            I point this out only to say that seeing the Logos’ historical incarnation in Jesus can be seen as the historical instantiation of these words of Krishna, and other similar words we find throughout other world religions.

            As for Silence, I again agree with what you said. However, in response to JBG, in Scorsese’s masterpiece (by far, one of my favorite films of the last 10 yrs), I don’t think it was the filmmakers’ intent to make it obvious whether the voice of Christ was ACTUALLY the voice of Christ or merely the unconscious giving itself permission to apostatize. It’s definitely a grey area! I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if the book is any more clear in this regard. Did not read it. If Scorsese DID intend to make this clear, I would like the film a whole lot less. I like the ambiguity.


          • JBG says:

            Mark: “I don’t think it was the filmmakers’ intent to make it obvious whether the voice of Christ was ACTUALLY the voice of Christ or merely the unconscious…”

            I’m not sure how one could depict the “voice of God” in a character’s head in an unambiguous way.

            For me, this question must be approached from the perspective of Christ’s selflessness. I don’t see Christ as one that needs or desires symbolic declarations or gestures of affirmation, especially at the cost of real human misery of others. This seems like a clear projection of human egoism onto God—which is, unfortunately, only too common. Truthfully, that kind of singular need for outward loyalty seems rather mob-like.

            “I am a follower of Christ” is not some sort of magical incantation that unlocks doors through flattery of God. The meaning of those words are utterly empty without love—selfless love. What is it to be a follower of Christ without love?

            The way I see it, love for Christ and selfless love for your fellow human beings are not—and cannot be—at variance. They are not in competition. Thus, to give precedence to a symbolic act, over and above that which is symbolized, is to tragically miss the point. I would have grave misgivings about a God that would desire such a display.


  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    While rummaging through Dr Chapp’s blog articles, I came across a comment he made on 29 April 2021:

    But with regard to Hart, I have since then removed my review on Amazon since after a closer reading of his text I found that there is far more in it that I disagree with than I originally thought. I hold completely to Balthasar’s views on these matters. Hart’s views are heretical and non sustainable in the light of the Christian tradition in my view.

    Them’s fightin’ words! And quite the about-face. Now I’m especially eager to read his promised blog article on universalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grant says:

      Sadly he both saw the truth clearer in his review, and saw the failure of any to give an adequate response to Hart, and the fact they were unable too. Here he has given no argument against Hart’s arguement nor for his about-face, other than that Hart’s views are heretical which suggests a retreat into fideism and simpling charging the views heretical and so whatever the truth of the argument it can’t be accepted.

      Of course we’ll have to wait for his article to see if he can substantiate what he already acknowledged everyone else has yet failed to do, attempt to show where Hart’s argument fails, but on this response I’m not holding out much hope (hopefully I’m very wrong and we’ll finally seem so geninue engagement). But from the tenor of this post, I suspect a retreat into his view of Christian tradition and that it’s just not allowed even if it’s true and the argument can’t be answered which to quote Brian above in his great post here would simply mean the understanding of tradition would be faulty:

      ‘If the magisterium ever becomes an intransigent defense of long-standing opinions at odds with the unique logic of the Gospel, it will have proved itself inadequate, not the Gospel.’

      Hopefully as I said I’m wrong, and we see something more in the vein of his first review but with this comment I can’t say I’m hopeful, I’m afraid experience since the book’s release and what this reply aligns with, leads me to expect otherwise.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Glad he says that Hart’s BELIEFS are heretical and not Hart himself. Hart is not Catholic, so technically, he’s not a heretic. Is he an Orthodox heretic? The condemnations in the additions to the original Synodicon come closest but those are not binding like ecumenical councils.

    And if a low church protestant uses the word, all that that means is “I personally hate this view, and I personally think it’s destructive.”

    I do agree however, that Hart’s views do not seem to be sustainable for a modern Roman Catholic. I’m not Catholic, so it doesn’t effect me. But I don’t find Justin Shaun Coyle’s attempt to make it orthodox from a Catholic perspective persuasive. I have an enormous amount of respect for the Catholics that are still hanging on to both their Catholicism and their Hartian universalism, but…Coyle’s attempt seems too similar to me to the far left Episcopalian hermeneutic of reading the Nicene creed as mere metaphor. Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, he wasn’t really God, it’s just a nice symbol, perhaps in a Tillichian sense. This may be selling his approach short. I think his reading of Catholic ecumenical councils is absolutely genius, just not plausible.

    On the other hand, as someone who is Eastern Orthodox, I find that the best scholarship on the councils and fathers strongly supports the idea that from an Orthodox perspective, Hart’s beliefs cannot be officially declared heretical.


  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    On this Vigil of Pentecost, the fourth movement of Eliot’s fourth Quartet, ‘Little Gidding’, springs to mind, with its reference to “The one discharge from sin and error.” What is the theological – and Biblical – and even, in some sense, ‘Comparative Religious’ – history of that distinction?

    Stuart Kenny’s comments, and Grant’s, in dialogue, get me to want to try to formulate some question(s) about ‘Comparative Universalology’ or whatever the proper or best term is, assuming there is some such discipline. If there is ‘error’ in whatever senses or range of sense, it is one of the things delaying or impeding the becoming ‘teleios’ or salvation-and-sanctification or theosis or full beatific ‘illuminatio’ of a human theological person (to neglect attention to, e.g., Tolkien’s Elves, Dwarves, and other theological persons for now 😉 ). Does Stuart Kenny think orthodox Trinitarian Theandrism is one of the things impeding the fulfilment of the ‘universal’ result? I would certainly say ‘Unitarianism’ – as well as, e.g., various other ‘monotheisms’ whether ‘theistic’ or ‘monistic’ – are instances of ‘error’ that lead concrete theological persons to ‘err’ and impede – indeed, indefinitely prevent – their personal ‘teleiotes’. How do competing ‘universalisms’ address the matter of ‘error’ insofar as distinct from ‘sin’?


    • Stuart Kenny says:

      Good questions. Let me answer in what I hope is seen as a friendly and respectful way.

      If Universalism is true, then there is no requirement about how you understand the inspiration of Scripture. You can believe in inerrancy, infallibiity, or simple human artistic inspiration. God doesn’t save you on the basis of what you believe about Scripture. I happen to think the gospel of John is a human document, so I don’t see it as proof of the Trinity or Jesus’ deity..

      If Universalism is true, then there is no requirement about how you understand Jesus. You can believe He is God, some sort of Arian deity, or just a human religious teacher who got really famous. I tend toward seeing Jesus as a great religious teacher.

      If Universalism is true, then God has a relationship with every person He created, and He speaks to everyone. Therefore, we can look to other scriptures and religious traditions for God’s Voice. We are not required by God to limit ourselves to Christianity. If we better perceive God through Islam, Taoism, Hinduism–or if we don’t perceive Him at all through atheism, God will work to speak to us through whatever system makes us the most happy.*

      No beliefs will get you to Heaven any faster or better than any other belief. Therefore, it makes the most sense to believe what makes you happy. The important thing is to learn how to love your neighbor as yourself and do the things which will bring everybody you meet closer to Heaven.

      So–and I hope this answers your question–there is no sin in Universalism–nothing can separate us from God or His plan to bring us to Heaven. There are only bad choices which slow us and others down. The only error you can make is to slow down your or another person’s progress towards their telos, which is a return to God. “Love, and do (and believe) what you will.”

      *This idea that God wants us to be happy comes from the 19th Century founder of the Universalist Church in America, Hosea Ballou. He’s worth looking up. 🙂


      • Stuart Kenny says:

        P. S. The reason I’m a Christian and not a full-on UUA is for these 3 reasons: 1. I believe God was more intentional in His revelation of Himself to Israel than anywhere else; Jesus was the most transparent vehicle for God’s revelation than anyone else; the Resurrection was a sure sign that neither sin, disease, death, nor any evil could defeat God’s plan for Universal Salvation.

        That doesn’t make me exclusivist. I’m a pluralist in the manner of John Hicks–God Has Many Names.

        The fact that I’ve come to these conclusions doesn’t mean anyone else has to–God will even save those who disagree with me! 🙂


      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        You’re partly right and partly wrong in what you’re saying. It’s perfectly true that if universalism is true, then what you believe right this moment will not prevent you from reaching heaven at some point. But it does not follow from this that it makes no difference what you believe in this moment, nor that universalism somehow implies that there are no requirements for salvation. What you believe here and now certainly impacts your future, so that your path to heaven could be long or fast, easy or hard, circuitous or straight. That certain beliefs could still be necessary for salvation even given universalism is pretty easy to demonstrate as well. It’s a bit like saying everyone will leave this room, but they must go through the exit. It would make no sense to try to argue that because we know that everyone will leave the room, that implies that there are many ways out. Now of course, there could be multiple ways out of the room, but the structure of that logic is faulty.


    • Grant says:

      I think we address what see as error or where we think someone is incorrect or not fully correct or so on in the same manner as in wider inter-tradition theological dialogue and discourse. We seek to understand each others traditions on their own terms, and develop true relationships with each other in spirit of love, fraternity and openess and so can better understand where agreement, overlap, shared understandings, practices and views that could seem different might actually be closer then we thought, where the different traditions illuminate each other better (helping us to be better Christians, Jews, Muslims, HIndus etc), much the same as in inter-denominational relationships. I would think it best done in the context of real friendships between different people of the traditions we are in dialogue with (rather than abstract ideas, though that is necessary as well). This can help sort through the fog of where real disagreement lies, particularly on some ulitmate claims, and only apparent disagreement (and of course where we can both be and seek to be enriched in our spiritual lives and jouneys together).

      To use an example of Mr Kenny, his view seems to be towards us Christian universalists that having taken a Christian universalist position, Christ can be removed from that picture without in anyway affecting the universalist conviction. That possibly might be true for some, but as I’ve tried to show, it’s because of many of our understandings of Christ, His Incarnation and what that means, reveals of God etc that gives the conviction of universal salvation (and that that salvation is think worth desiring and not something like damnation). Take Christ the foundation of that conviction and the conviction collapses as well, because as I said to him, to me looking at the universe without the counter revelation of Christ I would believe his views of God and in universalism foolish and plainly wrong. As I would look what God reveals through His creation throughout to be telling a completely different story, and his view just in plain denial of what reality without Christ and the Resurrection reveals to be true (and therefore God’s will and order). I would certainly applaud standing against it, but that is what then to me it would be, standing against God in hopeless and doomed rebellion, and in such a reality we should actively hope there is no after-life to extend the misery but just oblivion.

      Of course he clearly disagrees, but I as I said my reason would inevitably lead me that direction as I couldn’t see how he bases his convictions on it. That said, since because of Christ I do have reasons to believe that this reality is fallen therefore and not as God wills it, that death is His enemy, I;m glad he does have such conviction and drive to live in love and towards God’s will, and firmly encourage it. I imagine there is in fact much we agree upon in life and practice, and think which fruitful engagement and enriching could be had, and the development of strong relationships that help encourage us in our spiritual lives.

      Here at least the univeralist conviction has a distinct superiority over other views (in any tradition) where it is viewed that in some way or other someone will be lost, or fail or not make it etc. If there is a firm conviction all will be saved, delivered from death, gain beauitude and immorality, reach enlightement etc casts aside the anxiety and desperation to need to ‘save’ someone and view conversion soley in terms of getting them to join your club, even more so when you know them and care about them and their family. In Christian terms (and you can frame this in the reverse for other traditions) it would be to encourage their unity in and towards Christ, to know Him and live in and towards His Love, Life and Grace above all (knowing it’s certain victory and His abiding Presence, He is already united and present in all, otherwise verse such as Matthew 25 make no sense), in encourage and be encouraged and challenged to turn and live towards the Kingdom and into a life of love, holiness and forgiveness and love and joy. To help spread that is evanglization and living and preaching the Gospel and equally learning more and seeing Christ more in and under wholly different lenses (and the same would be in reverse for them). The fear and urgency of certain times drives (which I now see as essentially unhealthy and driven to save people from God) allows for more geninue love and engagement and openess, and to more freely live the Gospel. Despite our differences in that I can have much agreement with Mr Keeny, though with differences.

      And part of that is as I said to him, particularly as he seems to have a bit of an evangelical drive here (not that I mind, just pointing it out) in seeking to convert others to his tradition, then it’s all the more important that he, us and everyone be open and honest about the claims they are making, and where they disagree in their beliefs and convictions with those of other traditions, and where aspects of their ideological framework differs. To be honest about what your beliefs and ulitmate convictions on God and reality are and therefore honest with areas of disagreement (as in here over views of Christ, Trinitarian theism and following practices that follow from that). This is true in all things (say you belong to a different political party, and are in friendship without someone of an another view) being honest and clear about your convictions, and to areas of clear disagreements while honestly seeking areas of agreement and co-operation, respecting both them and their views (in most cases, sometimes there are areas where you respect and love the person by strongly opposing thier belief system, such as a neo-Nazi for example). But being honest and clear in your convictions and areas of disagreement and where you different and would view each other as erring, is part of showing geninue consideration, respect and love for the persons and traditions so that you are on an equal footing, even as you seek to find both commonality, and for say us Christians to seek Christ within that tradition. But you would be clear in doing so as a Christian if that makes sense, and your friend would do so likewise from their tradition, that way you give respect to them and their beliefs, and you don’t appear to be condescending and/or subservely attempting to be-friend and dialogue with them just to convert them.

      At least those are some of my thoughts relating to this idea David, hope that helps a litte.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stuart Kenny says:

        You articulate your beliefs well. The point I’m trying to make is that we get into Heaven regardless of our beliefs. My beliefs are probably wrong, but I’ll still be in Heaven with you. The Hindu will be in Heaven with you. The atheist will be in Heaven with you. Rather than focus on beliefs, it seems to make more sense to focus on those actions which will help us all get to Heaven faster.

        The UUA has chosen to organize itself around 7 Principles of behavior rather than a creed. I think that’s closer to the kind of community Jesus wants to build. I don’t think he minds his name not being mentioned! 🙂 He’d rather have actions than worship.


        • Grant says:

          Well I certainly agree with your first point, to encourage and help and be agents of people living evermore free to eternal life, in fearless and reckless love, union and charity centred on on the victory of love and life over death now and absolutely into the future, which has swallowed death and will undo and deliver all creation from it’s hold. To live in the union with God expressed in our union with each other (what I would see as founded and centered in God’s union with us in the Anointed).

          But yes, despite our different views, I think we share much agreement in seeing/being apart of seeing God’s salvation and divinisation of all as well as in those moments receiving that grace ourselves (in that an exchange of charity is to be both God’s Presence and grace to them and them to us, as we are brought into theosis in union with all humanity, and all sentient beings and creation at large, and will not be saved apart from them all, every last person).

          So I definitely support you to keep doing what your doing, we all see through a glass darkly, and even for the ones more right, the reality will exceed and go far beyond any of our current conceptions and necessary somewhat idolatrous ideas. To an eternity of ever greater and dynamic growth into the infinity of God, in love, joy and wonder when this shadow, illusion and brief nightmare rolls back into the true, more solid and real life and reality both ahead and ‘above’.

          God bless you and keep you in all that you do, all you know and love.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Stuart: “If there are no requirements for salvation, then there is no such thing as dogma. There are no required beliefs.”

    Stuart, I believe you are confusing two meanings of “requirement” or “condition.” It is absolutely true that according to the Christian universalist the divine love is absolute, infinite, and unconditional. Christian universalists believe this because they believe God the Holy Trinity has revealed himself as LOVE in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. If I did not believe this to be the case, I would not be a universalist. My above article, as well as the article cited in footnote #1, makes this clear. How unitarians reach the conclusion that God loves unconditionally I do not know. Perhaps you can explain. What I do know is that the two other great unitarian religions, Judaism and Islam, do not believe that God loves unconditionally.

    But the assertion of the unconditional love of God does not entail the belief that we can be saved without repentance and transformation. Salvation is not “getting into heaven.” Salvation is being made into the kind of person that can perfectly enjoy and love God in heaven, and that includes our abandonment of our egotism, repentance for our past sins, the healing and regeneration of our hearts, AND the conformation of our beliefs to REALITY, including DIVINE reality. This means that if Jesus is indeed the second person of the Holy Trinity, as Christians confess, then all who are brought into deifying perfection will eventually come to know the truth of the divnity of Christ and the truth of the Holy Trinity. In the words of the Apostle Paul:

    Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11).

    So while there are no conditions to God’s love—he never stops loving us and seeking us, no matter our disbelief and sin—there is certainly what we may call soteriological conditions to our enjoyment of his love and presence, whether here or in the Kingdom. To be saved, in other words, does not mean getting into heaven; it means healing, transformation, sanctification, deification.

    I strongly urge you to read two of George MacDonald’s unspoken homilies: “The Consuming Fire” and “Justice” (both can be found in the archives of my blog, as well as elsewhere on the web).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Dr Chapp has elaborated his defense of Balthasarian hope in his just-published article “Balthasar’s ‘Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved’: A Defense.” As far as I can determine, it does not touch the arguments of my article, but of course he has a different audience he is addressing.


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