by Roberto J. De La Noval, Ph.D.
“It is impossible to appear before Christ and to see Him without loving Him.”
~ Sergius Bulgakov ~
Universalists and infernalists argue.1 In the course of their arguments over the past decades, a few key points of disagreement have come to the fore. Bracketing the methodological issues, such as the normative status of ecclesiastical councils that have (or perhaps have not) spoken on the afterlife, and the exegetical questions concerning Scripture pertaining to hell, there are aspects of the debate that are strictly speaking theological—meaning, about God—and those that are anthropological, which concern the nature of human persons and their choices. Universalists and infernalists alike disagree on what the doctrine of God and God’s divine attributes entails with respect to the final outcome of history: if God is goodness itself, and justice, and love, how can we understand these diverse manifestations of the divine nature in in a coherent, and not schizophrenic or contradictory, fashion when thinking about God’s actions at the Last Judgment? Similarly, infernalists and universalists disagree about what the anthropological data, especially with respect to human freedom, indicates about the possibility of post-mortem repentance, even if the doctrine of God we hold should imply that God could never refuse the sinner the opportunity to repent. There are quite fascinating and intricate discussions to be had about what kind of argument should secure rational assent one way or another (again, bracketing the more determinative questions about how we should relate to what sacred tradition teaches, if it teaches anything at all definitively, on this question), and whether the anthropological or the theological argument by itself should be enough to carry the day. As I see it, universalists have tended to argue on the theological side, while infernalists of the last century or so, especially those who are Protestant, have landed on the anthropological as the preferred site of argumentation. (I suspect this has something to do with the primacy of the free will argument in 20th century discussions of theodicy, especially in the American analytic tradition that is dominated by Protestant philosophers.) In any case, a full argumentation for either side must address both facets of this question, for in the end it is indeed God who saves, but it is we who are the saved, and so no infernalist or universalist account is complete without addressing both the theological and anthropological questions.
Sergius Bulgakov’s case for universal salvation accomplishes this two-fold task over the course of his many eschatological writings, but especially in the essays collected in The Sophiology of Death, in his commentary on the Apocalypse of John, and in the final volume of his “major trilogy,” The Bride of the Lamb (henceforth BOTL]). The theological side of the argument is well known, I think, and need not be rehearsed at length. In its main points it claims what all universalist theologies do: that God’s very essence is love; that the nature of love is to stop at nothing in the work of bringing the beloved to its ultimate good; and that in Christ, God has demonstrated that untiring love in flesh and in action. There is more to it, of course, but that is not the purpose of this brief essay. Instead, I want to focus on the anthropological side of Bulgakov’s arguments for universal salvation.
Bulgakov makes the striking claim that at the Parousia, all of humanity will be clothed in Christ by the Holy Spirit (BOTL, 456). The effect of this clothing is to trigger the Dread Judgment, the final separation of the sheep and the goats. Or rather, this clothing in Christ is the judgment, because in that most unique of moments, every human spirit will simultaneously see Christ as He is and also see themselves as they are, when the Spirit illuminates the image of Christ to the point of universal visibility. It is this illumination that is identical with the judgment and the separation of the wheat from the chaff. But, and significantly, this final judgment is a self-judgment; it is we who will judge ourselves and our lives through the Spirit, in the light of Christ. Christ will impose no external sentence on us to which we do not ourselves assent.
While the imagistic language of Scripture suggests a truly heteronomous judgment in the eschaton, this language cannot be taken at face value. This would be unfitting for human personhood, which in its essence is self-positing freedom and is thereby constituted as an already accomplished assent to be God’s creature (BOTL, 114-115). If “a free spirit cannot be created by a one-sided act of God’s omnipotence as the entire visible world was created, that is, as a thing (in the ontological sense), for the spirit is personhood, possessing freedom and self-consciousness in this freedom,”2 then a fortiori a free spirit cannot be judged as a thing whose measure is defined by some standard utterly foreign to itself.
And so Christ’s role at the Dread Judgment is not hypostatic but sophianic. What this means is that the Parousianic manifestation of the meek and humble Christ (for he is the same yesterday, today, and forever), humanity will finally see, at last, its own true nature, and that vision will be a remembering, the “ontological anamnesis” of the apocatastasis.3 The human person will know her divine image by gazing on Christ’s perfected, human-divine likeness; and in that moment the person will grasp the meaning of her individual life in the pincer movement of knowing God and knowing herself. St. Augustine’s cry, “May I know You! May I know myself!”4 is fulfilled in that eschatological vision, in which every spirit will judge itself (in both the juridical and epistemological sense) by knowing God’s divine-humanity and thereby understanding the ratio between the Proto-image and the image of Christ that we are—or better, have failed to be. “This proto-image is Christ. Every human being sees himself in Christ and measures the extent of his difference from this proto-image” (BOTL, 459). This is why, for Bulgakov, the final judgment cannot be extrinsic, or transcendent, to employ the word he prefers; it is consummately immanent, though of course initiated and conditioned by the Parousianic and Spirit-perfected revelation of Christ as true God and true man.
I lean heavily here on the epistemological register to describe judgment because it helps us make sense of why Bulgakov thinks this self-judgment will be automatic, inevitable. Any act of self-judgment is fundamentally an act of insight: the coming together of what was previously disparate, opaque, and unintelligible, into the blinding light of clarity and self-evidentness. Once an insight is had, and once it becomes part of the texture of one’s thinking and living, it is difficult to even to remember what it was like before one understood a particular truth. The same is true at the eschaton, when the Spirit descends with illumination and fire to cleanse the eyes of all who have darkened themselves with sin. And the insight the Spirit brings concerns our success (or failure more likely) at living out the vocation to be God’s created image. As Bulgakov wrote in a 1924 diary entry, “What a heavy thing this is–to see oneself. Truly, one cannot bear this for long, he seeks to forget, to turn his back to himself; only ascetics, men of strength, have endured this unremitting vision of their sins, this unremitting repentance.”5 Such perspicacity of judgment about ourselves is a rare thing, not often experienced in this life, precisely due to the pain of such a self-encounter. We resist it. When we manage not to, it is a gift of grace, whose natural fruit should be repentance.
What occurs at the eschaton, and what distinguishes it from every other outpouring of the Spirit in history, is that in this moment when the Spirit clothes all humanity in Christ, humanity’s own Proto-image, the Spirit’s kenosis has ceased. No longer does the Spirit restrain its illumination of darkened minds so that fallen humanity may continue to exercise its deliberative liberty in the relative domain of creaturely freedom, to the degree that Providence’s currently inscrutable cunning desires. Whatever God’s reasons for unleashing the Spirit in history to a greater or lesser degree in the life of this individual or of this people (or whatever God’s reasons for apparently not doing so—divine grace remains a mystery), those reasons come to an end in the universal Pentecost.
The power of this illumination is seen precisely in the fact that, in Bulgakov’s account, it alone can provoke the universal resurrection, when the redemption of the cosmos unfurls as a result of the glorious liberation—from sin, ignorance, and darkness—of the sons of God. Spirit has always been the reality that sublates and determines nature, and so it is inevitable that when the human spirit at last knows God and therefore knows itself, all of nature, including spirit’s own material body, must make visible this invisible (eu)catastrophe by raising itself from the dead. The Spirit comes down here as it did on Mary, as it does in the epiclesis, to manifest Christ in flesh, and this is the divine side of the universal resurrection. But there is also the ex opere operantis aspect of the sacrament of resurrection (BOTL, 457), wherein we are raised precisely in raising ourselves with the body that most perfectly corresponds to the substance of our living: either straw, or hay, or wood, or costly stones, or silver or gold. The miracles of holy relics show us that the saints “already possess, even if only embryonically, the body of resurrection prior to the universal resurrection” (Relics and Miracles, 29): their bodies are sites of manifestation of what is true of their invisible spirit, namely holiness and grace. So too with the resurrection, which becomes the moment of final and total manifestation: there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.
Why Bulgakov thinks that this eschatological theophany—which is a complex Christophany, pneumatophony, and anthropophany in one—ushers in the final judgment and resurrection should now be clear. What remains to be explained is why Bulgakov thinks this revelation of Christ will make all of humanity, even the damned, love Christ, and love Him inexorably, with no exceptions: “It is impossible to appear before Christ and to see Him without loving Him” (BOTL, 459). This becomes more perplexing when we read that, “for many, this [resurrection] will be an unexpected and undesired transformation of their being” (BOTL, 455). How can this transfiguration be both undesired as well as moment of deep love towards the one who brings judgment, that is, Christ in his perfect humanity?
What follows immediately in this essay goes beyond anything Bulgakov himself says.6 But I think it helps illuminate Bulgakov’s idea, to give some experiential correlate to Bulgakov’s rather speculative claim that at the eschaton the damned will inevitably love Christ to the point of conversion. To make sense of this facet of Bulgakov’s eschatology, then, it will be helpful to consider the phenomenon of conscience.
Certainly it makes sense to think of conscience as the voice of God, and Bulgakov on occasion says even this.7 But we must be careful here, for conscience is not uniform, either in peoples or in individuals, and neither is it consistent throughout history, whether on the global or on the personal scale. And God does not lie. So if conscience is truly God’s voice, and these voices are not in harmony but in discord, this diversity must be accounted for.8 The manner in which God speaks in conscience should therefore be more precisely defined. I suggest the following definition: conscience is the unremitting and unflagging demand that reason lays upon us when it asks us whether our doing is in fact the appropriate response to our knowing. Example: I encounter a homeless person who asks me for money, and I know that I have the money, and that this person is indeed destitute, and that I find it valuable to help those in need; and yet I withhold. My conscience that tells me afterwards, “You should have given money,” is in fact simply transforming the question, “Would helping now be valuable?”—which arose within me upon grasping the facts of this person’s need—into a judgment of fact; it condemns me for not acting in accord with my knowing. And because human knowing differs vastly at different times in the lives of individuals and peoples, the dictates of conscience will vary too.
But what will not vary is the following fact: it is a law written into the very structure of our being that the human person in his or her conscious performance strives for consistency.9 It’s not just that we spontaneously repudiate contradiction when we encounter it, seeking to resolve the problem or to sublate it within a higher viewpoint that distinguishes what was at first taken to be a direct contradiction.10 We also spontaneously aim for coherence between our knowing and doing; this is another contradiction that we cannot abide whenever it enters our consciousness. Indeed, that self-evidentness of the contradiction, whether merely possible in a future action we are contemplating or a contradiction brought into being through a past choice we’ve made, is just what we mean by conscience: simply the innate and unavoidable question within us that asks whether our knowing and our doing are in accord. Just as we spontaneously ask ourselves, “Is it true?” when we are confronted with something dubious, so too do we ask, “Should I? Is it valuable?” when we grasp the intelligibility of a certain situation.11 The options that present themselves to us in those moments are varied, and some correspond more closely to what we have understood to be the case than others. Conscience as a phenomenon encapsulates the entirety of that act, with its many stages, that aims to answer the question “Is it valuable?”
When violated, conscience—which just is the self in a particular kind of inner and conscious performance—presents the self with two options: repent, and make my doing consistent with my knowing; or reject the insight of incoherence, and begin a spiral of moral perversion. This choice cannot be long delayed, because the repeated rejection of the judgments my conscience issues leads to an unbearable inner tension, such that either my knowing or my doing will have to be transformed so as to achieve psychic homeostasis once again; the seesaw of the self must attain balance in order to continue living. This is because the desire to know, as fundamental as it is in human consciousness, is always enveloped within the desire to be happy,12 and it is this failure of the self to will both truth and happiness as ultimate values that leads to the possibility of the self-deception. Repeated sin leads to the perversion of conscience, the silencing of God’s inner voice that is our very nature as rational. Hence the fact that our habitual sins becomes easier with time. Accordingly, many traditions of moral reasoning have judged that the addict is no longer morally culpable, since the fault is now to a large degree simply identical with the self that chooses it. God’s intention that with our freedom we should mold our conscience in the light of further questions and further good choices, the epektasis of growth in virtue, is derailed as critical questions dry up in the mind of the one committed to overriding conscience. Truly, and often tragically, our conscience remains under the control of our desire and freedom, and we can muffle it until it no longer remembers how to speak what it once declaimed.
And yet for all that, the quest for consistency will not end, and when faced with intellectual or effectual resistance against our choices, we will begin the equally endless task of the rationalization of our evil; reason and its imperious demand for a coherent self will not finally be mocked. We will justify our perverse choices, our center of conscious attention (call it the “censor”) will ignore data that fits poorly with our self-conception as good and reasonable people, and so the feedback loop is strengthened, until conscience has been soothed because it has been transformed. Our doing is now in line with our knowing, because we have changed our knowing: we have seared the conscience, stiffened our necks, hardened our hearts. The epoch of fallen freedom is the time of rationalizations, of propaganda, of the tyrant’s self-soothing fictions. For reasons that cannot be fully disclosed to us now, Providence permits this, permits the abuse of conscience, permits—to borrow an image from Maximus the Confessor—that the Logos not be properly incarnated in this moment, here and now, and instead be made only flesh instead of true Body and Blood. Yet this flesh can never be flesh without spirit, for it is defined in relation to spirit, in relation to the Logos our sinful reason fails to incarnate in a spiritual body; in this way vice pays its tribute to virtue, our rationalizations themselves obliquely confess the Good we would inevitably choose were we to have an unobstructed vision of it, for we cannot help but desire to act consistently, reasonably, even if our deliberated choices are in fact not such as to lead us to our true Good. Goodness, Truth: what is most primordial in human knowing and choosing is that fundamental appetite for these transcendental ends in whose ambit and for whose attainment we inevitably perform our conscious acts.
Maximus called that appetite the natural will, and it is the condition for the possibility of conscience itself. It is what explains the structure of conscience. For note that in any instance that conscience speaks, a bifurcation necessarily occurs. I am the one who speaks, and yet I am the one who is spoken to. “You should have done this or that” is uttered by myself, about myself. If there is an inner conflict in this moment, and I do not readily desire to yield to the imperative summons of reason and its demand for coherence in my living, then I feel this bifurcation as a rending. To choose consistency in this instance is to choose the cross, to put the undesiring “me” to death. And yet it I who am the executioner. Who is this higher “I” who authoritatively commands, judges, and at other times coaxes and invites?
We are prone to identify this with the Holy Spirit whose unique hypostatic quality is to convict the world of sin. There is truth to this. And yet how can we understand the fact that the Spirit, when it does convict, appears to speak as me? Phenomenologically, there is no apprehension of the Spirit’s convicting action in me that is not a judgment (both juridically and epistemologically) of my own sin. If the Spirit works here—and Christians affirm without hesitation that the Spirit does—then that operation reaches a point of indistinction with the operation of our own spirit. More clear would be to say that the Spirit’s act of convicting sin is known by its effects, in the fact that now, after the Spirit’s illumination, we can see ourselves clearly enough to convict ourselves of sin. In other words, the Spirit does not accomplish this conviction of sin in conscience as a deus ex machina. The matter for this act of grace must be disposed, to borrow a scholastic idiom. And that matter is rational nature, consciousness itself. To exist as a rational nature is to intend truth and goodness, and insofar as that intending is not already a possession, to exist as rational nature is therefore to exist as a question, a desire for what is not yet attained and not yet made identical with the self in the act of knowing. The Spirit’s conviction of sin, therefore, must be understood as the Spirit’s liberation of rational nature to be what it already is, a participation in the Logos that actualizes all that is intelligible and reasonable in this world. And this the Spirit accomplishes through the removal of impediments to judgments of Truth that would overflow into the attainment of the Good.
Conscience, then—the me that utters the judgment against myself in the conviction of sin—just is the human spirit in its divinely intended operation, the spirit as pure and unadulterated desire for God, unmixed but also undivided from the Logos and the Spirit whose eternal activity make me what I am at my core. Even more, this spirit that insatiably desires God constitutes, in Bulgakov’s terms, a finite divine procession, God existing in the mode of desire for God.13 This higher me that speaks in conscience’s unflagging demands would thus be me in my divine origin—call it the transcendental self—joined to that empirical or psychological ego which in this world constantly faces the choice of good or evil, which has already tasted of the forbidden fruit and which must now live outside of Eden in a state of fallen freedom.14 This is the me that conscience judges, the one who was free to go left or right, the one who made the concrete choice; Maximus calls the capacity for such choices the gnomic will. But note that there is a fundamental asymmetry between these two wills, for it is the natural will or the transcendental self with its unrestricted desires that makes gnomic choosing possible for me in a fallen world, that makes the empirical ego become a psychological fact constituted by innumerable choices over the course of a lifetime. This asymmetry and distinction within what we normally call a self allows for the possibility of that feedback loop noted above, which in turn allows for the empirical ego to grasp the transcendental self as always operative, as what is most fundamental its existence. And this, finally, opens up the possibility of self-appropriation: choosing to identify with the dictates of that higher self which unfailingly raises the question of true value with respect to all our choices. The I can self-transcend.
When I obey reason in its utterances of what is true, and of what is valuable to do, I thereby choose to submit the psychological or empirical ego to what is higher in me, to bring my image closer to my “Proto-image,” the Good that I cannot help but desire. Only the unalterable and inviolable desire for Good can inspire the ego to make itself more like God, and only that same desire for God can judge the vacillations of the empirical self with its failures of knowledge and choice. When I find it difficult to align these two selves, but I also see the goodness of such an alignment and feel the pain of my own incoherence, then the uneasy conscience is already a self-judgment. “The wretched sinner is judged not by an external judge, not by a dictate from God, but by sin itself, by his very self.”15 And yet this self-judgment is ultimately the result of love, namely the love of Truth and Goodness that is my spirit as desire for God, the love that motivated the questions by which conscience operates: “Is it truly right? Is it valuable?” This desire for and therefore love of the Good is operative in every human act, even in those that constitute sin, insofar as sinful acts, in Bulgakov’s words, are always “accomplished in the name of an imaginary good” (BOTL, 462). The Good is always the intention of the human act, however deluded the psychological ego might be about the true value of the means it has chosen to find that Good. That the empirical self can fail to judge truly with respect to the goodness of its actions makes room for self-deception; that the empirical self cannot fail but obey the transcendental self in its fundamental desire for God as the Good and Truth makes possible self-judgment.
To return to Bulgakov’s eschatology. The foregoing explains how Bulgakov can coherently say both that the final transfiguration is not desired by the sinner and that the sinner will ineluctably judge himself precisely in loving himself, that is, in loving Christ. The desire for truth and goodness that was transcendent, ‘behind the scenes’ in every act of self-judgment in conscience, or in every lie we told ourselves to quash the same, is the truest part of our humanity. According to Bulgakov, it is our divine origin. And it is this that will become manifest and inescapable at the judgment when the divine desire that we are will be satiated at last, when the obscure object of our search is made manifestly and luminously apparent. “Theomachy, blasphemy, and demonic possession no longer have a home in man. There is no place for the revolt against God, for, in the parousia, He is revealed as triumphant truth” (BOTL, 491). The reign of rationalization will end when the empirical ego is “clothed in Christ” by losing the ability to clothe itself with anything else. Then, the gnomic and natural will be one. Then, the love for the Good that motivated every action, that simply is us in our transcendent and innermost core, will allow the empirical self to look on its past with clean eyes, without no fog of dissimulation obstructing the view, and in this insight we will understand how every concrete choice of our psychological self either brought us closer to or drew us further from our true home.
“Love is the Holy Spirit, who sets the heart afire with this love” (BOTL, 459). All love is desire, and so we must affirm that the Spirit is the one who propels human desire, who is human desire in its transcendence as it operates in human spirits who constitute the “the progression of the Holy Trinity itself into the domain of the creaturely-hypostatic being of the ‘fourth,’ creaturely hypostases” (BOTL, 93), who are the “call of His breath to hypostatic being,” the “hyposta[tatization of] the rays of His own glory” (The Lamb of God, 92). At the final judgment, we cannot help but love Christ because the love of Christ that we are in our innermost being—albeit only obscurely now—will be set free of all constraints to its love, and it will render judgment on the incomplete or failed incarnation of Christ, of the Divine-Humanity, that our earthly lives represent. For most this will be torment, as it is the empirical ego, who has built up a husk of sin and flesh about him, who gives the name “Dread” to the Dread Judgment. But that ego is not the one who judges, but instead the one who is judged. For that One who judges, “there is no place for fear of [Christ] as the Judge terrible in His omnipotence and the fury of His wrath” (BOTL, 459)—how, after all, could love for Christ—could Christ in sophianicity—fear Christ’s own judgment? For no one hates his own flesh, and so “a human being cannot fail to love the Christ who is revealed in him, and he cannot fail to love himself revealed in Christ” (BOTL, 459), because that Christ is “all conquering love, irresistibly attractive and salvific beauty” (BOTL, 492).
In this seeming paradox, Bulgakov has disclosed the transcendental heart of the eschatological judgment precisely in immanentizing it, for what is truly transcendent is never divorced from the immanent. He has given us a theoretical account of that vivid image from St. Isaac the Syrian, the image of the torments of hell as the scourge of the sinner’s own love, not of the deity’s external wrath. “[H]aving come to know himself in his sophianic form, the glorified human being will thereby also know himself in his deformity, will be horrified by himself. And this deformation of his likeness in relation to his proto-image is for him the scourge of love, the burning fire of love” (BOTL, 487). Only love can light the fires of hell, since for the ego that is deceived and still living in the domain of darkness and self-deception, there simply is no experience of hell. This point—momentous in its theological significance but also open to verification simply by attending to our own experiences of self-deception and the pain that follows deception’s collapse—indicates the profound incoherence at the heart of a free will defense of hell that can speak of the sinner “keeping the door of hell locked from the inside.” There is no experience of hell that is not already a transcending of it, for only the transcendent desire for Good, when it is allowed its free and unclouded operation, can make the psychological ego mourn its failure to incarnate God here below. At the Parousia, at the glorious manifestation of Christ our Proto-image, “[t]he dispute between the Creator and creation inevitably ends for creation when it recognizes that it is defeated” (BOTL, 492): like Jacob who concedes his loss to the angel he will never overpower, we limp our way out of hell, forever marked but eternally blessed.
It cannot, therefore, coherently be claimed that God’s eschatological grace abolishes human freedom, for it is we in our divine aspect who communicate grace to our nature when the Spirit brings into alignment the empirical ego, which makes the daily decisions for good or evil, with the transcendental desire for Good that is human spirit, God’s co-spirit. And the Spirit accomplishes this by removing the roadblock that renders the gnomic and natural wills two and not one. Yet eschatological grace does abolish deliberative liberty. If we ask why God allows for such a division between the wills to exist, between liberty and freedom, we are simply asking why God chose to create an ‘other’ at all. For on Bulgakov’s account, the human person is nothing other and nothing less than Father’s immersion of his nature, the Divine Sophia, the Sophianic (but not hypostatic) Christ, into nothingness, upon which the Spirit hovers as its creaturely hypostases. And it is this “nothing” that makes the creature created with relation to its divine source. Creaturely freedom, the potential to conform to the Proto-image or not, is simply the “inertia of the nonbeing, the nothing ‘out of’ which human beings (and angels) are created” (BOTL, 151); when this freedom is consummated at the eschaton through the elimination of creaturely ignorance of God, nothingness comes to an end. God is “then” all in all, in the multiplicity of his finite manifestation that has turned the meonic potential of “Sophia plus nothing” into the eschatological body of the totus Christus, head and members forever conjoined.
Several conclusions should be drawn from this exposition. First, for all his indebtedness to the German idealist tradition and its diverse accounts of the nature of freedom, Bulgakov remains committed to the classical intellectualist account of human freedom, in which the will has as its formal object the Good, which Bulgakov takes to be identical with God. Without this piece, his vision of universal eschatological conversion cannot be made comprehensible. Indeed, and this is the second conclusion, such a picture cannot make sense unless we take that intellectualist account seriously and begin to inquire into how the transcendental desires that constitute human spirit are essential to the temporal construction of the empirical ego. The condition for the possibility of an empirical ego is precisely a transcendent desire plus “matter,” the material that becomes the bridge that our transcendent desire—here below at some “distance” from its ultimate object—traverses to discover its home and thereby to uncover itself in its true nature. God is Spirit, but spirit that is not God in se is always spirit ensouled and, in our case, enfleshed, or worlded; Bulgakov’s insistence that his anthropology is anti-Origenistic is not mere lip service.16 All these are diverse ways of saying that we are spirit that must know itself through making itself a body—“a body hast thou prepared for me.”
Thirdly, it should also be noted that only such an account of the relationship between the transcendent or the empirical self, or between the natural and gnomic wills, can explain why the Parousia does not constitute a cruel interruption of the time God grants for repentance (2 Peter 3:8-10), any more than God’s taking an individual soul in death—our personal Parousia—is a violation of God’s mercy in giving days for repentance. For if it is not human freedom that will judge itself, then God’s interruption of the individual and world-historical process must be seen as the vicious retraction of His patience that might have, with more time, led to conversion; instead, Christ comes to externally impose a judgment to which fallen humanity cannot consent. Yet Bulgakov’s understanding of the Final Judgment as Spirit-inspired self-judgment in Christ resolves this difficulty. Bulgakov’s understanding of the immanent and universal judgment does not, of course, explain why the eschaton will take place at the “moment” that it does. No account could do that, for that is a mystery hidden with the Father, and it remains for us to understand its wisdom at the end of days, together with the wisdom of the limited Pentecosts of the Spirit that Christ sent in history upon those whom he converted, whether publicly or in the depths of their hearts. But Bulgakov’s understanding at least lets us see how created liberty and freedom are to be distinguished and yet not opposed, for the latter brings an end to the era of the former.
Yet this point depends, crucially, on Bulgakov’s Christian panentheism. His theology of the origin of creaturely spirit is not incidental to his universalism, even if universalists who wish to argue for universal reconciliation on the basis of theology proper, on the character of God, may draw much from Bulgakov without also importing his anthropology. But the sophiological system hangs together on this point. It is within this matrix that Bulgakov achieves what every anthropological universalist argument must: explaining how universal reconciliation is not a violent coercion of freedom. To be sure, explanatory frameworks other than Bulgakov’s can accomplish this, but within sophiology, this only makes sense in light of the ultimate identity that generates the difference between Absolute Spirit and created spirit.
Furthermore, Bulgakov’s notion of eschatological conversion makes the body visible as the glorified matter that the divine assumes in God’s complex incarnation, both for the divine hypostasis of the Logos and for the myriad human hypostases that proceed from the Father. The diversity of eschatological states—infinite kinds degrees of damnation and beatitude in individual empirical egos that are being transformed from glory to glory17—shines resplendently in a providentially ordered Body fit for Divine Wisdom’s finite manifestation. Each part of that Body has its limits, its border, and what each one has made of herself in her life is revealed in that moment of self-evaluation, when the human spirit embodies that self-judgment by reconfiguring its matter, either as mere flesh or as truly spiritual Body and Blood. We do not know exactly what from our empirical selves will be carried over into that final Body of Christ, but we know that it was precisely to make of that self an image of Christ that God first poured out his Spirit into finitude and nothingness.
Finally, Bulgakov’s theology of the judgment makes sense both of patristic testimony of self-judgment and of our own experience of conscience as the scourge of love for God as the Good. It brilliantly elucidates the eschatological meaning in Irenaeus’ distinction between the divine image and the divine likeness. What is more, in the Christological and Pneumatological configuration of his sophiological universalism, Bulgakov brings together in a synthetic stroke a multitude of doctrines into one coherent and stunning vision of God’s exitus and reditus that, in temporal becoming, brings the whole body of Christ into the full life of the Most Holy Trinity,through the Divine-Human judgment of humanity at the end of time.
 And annihilationists too, but this argument is not directly relevant to the question of conditional immortality.
 “The Problem of ‘Conditional Immortality,” The Sophiology of Death, 68.
 “On the Question of the Fallen Spirits in Connection with the Teaching of Gregory of Nyssa,” in The Sophiology of Death, 90.
 Soliloquies 2.1.1.
 Spiritual Diary, 1924-1925. Entry: 27.IX/10.X.1925. Translated by Mark Roosien and Roberto J. De La Noval.
 And in a few instances goes against some of Bulgakov’s own ideas, specifically with respect to the universal validity of the principle of non-contradiction. But those aspects in which I differ from Bulgakov are not integral to the broader point of the phenomenological excursus that follows, which does in fact accord with Bulgakov’s ideas about human desire.
 “Conscience is the voice of God in the human heart. How subtle it is, how it denounces falsehood and sin, tears off masks, strikes at vices. It cannot be bought, and it cannot be fooled. But when there is confusion in the soul, and when the soul itself lacks the strength to sort itself out in a sea of contradictions, then ask the Lord to pour His light into the darkness of ignorance and to show the right path.” Spiritual Diary, 1924-1925. Entry: 23.VI/6.VII.1924. Translated by Mark Roosien and Roberto J. De La Noval. Here Bulgakov implicitly distinguishes between conscience in its proper function, when the soul is in order, and conscience as defective, when ignorance blocks it proper operation.
 It is precisely this diversity of moral judgments that provokes such scandal in young people today who are thoroughly initiated into the historical turn by growing up in a post-modern culture. Having a clear account of the structure of conscience is necessary to answer these concerns about pluralism that so often devolve into an affirmation of relativism.
 See Mark Morelli’s Self-Possession.
 “By that coherent presence to self is meant no more than the conscious experiential fact that, when faced with what we know to be a contradiction, we repudiate it. We spontaneously reject the proposition ‘Ireland is both and island and not an island.’ That spontaneous rejection is ourselves intelligently and rationally at work. That is why I wrote that we are the principle of [non]-contradiction.” Garrett Barden, After Principle, 66.
 This is the answer, incidentally, to Hume’s concerns about drawing out an ought from an is. It is true that, speaking logically, no ‘ought’ can be drawn from a series of ‘is’ statements. But human deliberation is not a system of logical deduction but a system of insight founded on the spontaneous and ordered questions that drive conscious intentionality to higher, sublating viewpoints. Hume, after all, drew the conclusion that one ought not pull an ought from an is because it is logically impossible; but how did he make that judgment reasonably and responsibly if there is no connection in our cognition between what we judge to be the case and what suggests itself to us that we should do about the facts of the case? His spontaneous performance indicates the incoherence of his stated view, because Hume had failed to attend to the self in its conscious performance of intellectual and moral inquiry.
 We can coherently ask the question, “Why do you want to know that?” and end up eventually in the answer, “Because (I think) it would make me happy.” But there is no coherence in asking the question, “Why do you want to be happy?”, because the desire for happiness is the why that answers all questions about our choices; it is its own why.
 For a brilliant exposition of this idea in a grammar distinct from but deeply inspired by Bulgakov’s sophiology, see David Bentley Hart’s forthcoming You are Gods: On Nature and Supernature (University of Notre Dame Press).
 See Nikolai Berdyaev’s illuminating reflections on fallen freedom in The Destiny of Man.
 Spiritual Diary, 1924-1925. Entry: 17/30.IV.1925. Translated by Mark Roosien and Roberto J. De La Noval.
 Taking “Origenistic” in the traditionally understood sense, not in light of new interpretations of the sort offered by John Behr, for example.
 “Both life and death are intensive values possessing an infinite quantity of diverse, complex, and fluctuating spectra—from a fading extinguishing (which is not, however, equal to non-existence) up to new birth (which does not, however, violate the continuity and identity of personality).” “The Problem of ‘Conditional Immortality,'” The Sophiology of Death, 64.
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Roberto J. De La Noval is a translator and systematic theologian, specializing in the thought of Sergius Bulgakov and Bernard Lonergan. He teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame. You can find more of his writings at robertojdelanoval.com.