by Thomas Talbott, Ph.D.
In an article entitled “The Incoherencies of Hard Universalism,” recently published in Church Life Journal (18 October 2022), James Dominic Rooney argues that universalism is a serious heresy that Christians should clearly reject. He begins his article by mentioning the controversy over whether the Second Council of Constantinople (more generally known as the Fifth Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church in 553) really did condemn universalism along with other doctrines, such as the pre-existence of the soul. But concerning that controversy, he suggests that even if “universalism might not have been condemned by that council,” this would constitute “nothing more than an interesting historical tidbit for orthodox Christians.” I tend to agree with him here. For the controversy over whether St. Paul himself delivered a universalist message and was therefore a heretic, given Rooney’s view that such a message is itself heretical, seems to me far more pertinent and far more important than the controversy over the rulings of a single council. So if I may be forgiven an extraneous remark here at the outset, I have yet to see a single cogent argument against the claim that St. Paul was himself a universalist.1
My principle concern here, however, is with Rooney’s philosophical case against hard universalism, as he calls it, which he identifies as the view that “it is not possible for anyone to end up in hell for eternity.” And when he speaks of someone ending “up in hell for eternity,” he has in mind, I presume, someone’s going to hell and then remaining there for an unending period of time. I emphasize this point because of several imprecisions in his basic argument against universalism, which runs as follows:
If it is a necessary truth that all will be saved, something makes it so. The only way it would be impossible for anyone to go to hell is,
1. that God could not do otherwise than cause human beings to love him or
2. that human beings could not do otherwise than love God.
3. There is no third option.
Note first the apparent assumption in the first two sentences of this quotation that if “it is a necessary truth that all will [eventually] be saved,” then “it would be impossible for anyone to go to hell.” But as it stands, that is a simple non sequitur. If hell itself, however else we might understand its nature, serves a corrective purpose in the divine scheme of things or even serves as a means of bringing sinners back to Christ, as many Christian universalists believe it does, then it hardly follows that no sinners will ever go there. So the claim that no one will remain in hell forever must obviously be distinguished from the claim that no one will ever go there in the first place.
The Second Option
Consider next the second option that Rooney offers above: the option “that human beings could not do otherwise than love God.” Is this supposed to imply that newborn babies come into their earthly lives already loving God? If so, then no universalist should concede the relevance of such an absurdity as that; and if this second option does not carry such an absurd implication, then how are we to understand it? Again, it is certainly true that we humans normally emerge and mature into adults in a context of considerable ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception. So any implication that we “could not do otherwise than love God” during our earthly lives would likewise be both absurd and clearly irrelevant to the claim that God will save everyone in the end. So again, just how are we to understand this second option? Because Rooney offers nary a clue concerning a more precise formulation of it, one that avoids the obviously absurd implications just mentioned, I shall here propose, as an alternative to his second option, what I take to be the sober truth of this matter.
But first some preliminary thoughts by way of preparation. Few Christians would reject the idea that the perfected saints in heaven have indeed reached a point where they could not do otherwise than obey the will of God and, similarly, “could not do otherwise than love God.” They have achieved, after all, a full clarity of vision concerning who God is, why he is the ultimate source of human happiness, and why acting otherwise in such matters would be utterly irrational and stupid. So is it Rooney’s view that the perfected saints in heaven no longer obey God freely? If so, then many of those who worry about heresy, as I do not, will no doubt regard him as a heretic; and if not, then acting freely in a specific situation does not always require that one could have acted otherwise in that very same situation. As for those on either side of the grave who are not yet perfected saints in heaven, the more controversial issue, I suppose, is whether there could be a guarantee of some kind that they will eventually become such? My own conviction that there is indeed such a guarantee rests upon two assumptions: first, that moral freedom requires a minimal degree of rationality, and second, that, for this very reason, the idea of a free and fully informed decision to reject God and his love for us represents a metaphysical impossibility.
With respect to the first assumption, an obvious question arises. Just how should we understand the minimal degree of rationality that moral freedom requires? Although people use such terms as “freedom” and “free will” in a variety of different ways, virtually everyone seems to agree that we should exclude lower animals, newborn babies, the severely brain damaged, the seriously demented, and perhaps even paranoid schizophrenics from the precise kind of freedom that moral responsibility requires. That’s because the relevant freedom requires an ability to reflect upon and to evaluate one’s own actions, to draw inferences with some degree of accuracy from one’s own experience and from the consequences of one’s actions, and to learn important lessons, as the evidence continues to pile up, concerning the conditions of one’s own happiness. But as with borderline cases in general, it is probably impossible to say exactly when a maturing child, let us say, becomes rational enough to advance above the relevant threshold or when someone suffering from age-related dementia sinks below that threshold. In the case of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, for example, there need be no exact instant at which her ever-diminishing rationality removes the last shred of her remaining freedom; it is enough that at some point she has clearly lost the ability to make minimally rational judgments and has therefore lost the ability to act freely.
So that brings us to my second assumption above. Are there cogent reasons for believing that a free and fully informed decision to reject God forever represents a metaphysical impossibility? Of course there are. Even C. S. Lewis, despite his own defense of a free-will theodicy of hell, once offered support for this assumption, perhaps unknowingly, when he wrote concerning the divine nature that “union with that Nature is bliss and separation from it [an objective] horror.”2 Suppose, then, that we think of the outer darkness as a biblical image of separation from the divine nature as far as this is possible short of annihilation; suppose further that we think of such separation from every implicit experience of God as something akin to a soul suspended alone in sheer nothingness, without even a physical order to experience. If that would be an objective horror, as Lewis insisted, then it would explain why no minimally rational person could both experience this objective horror and continue to embrace it freely. It would also explains how God could shatter all of the illusions and self-deceptions that might make a life apart from God seem desirable and how he could do so without in any way interfering with our freedom to separate ourselves from him. For it is precisely when we exercise that very freedom and when God permits us to experience the very life we have confusedly chosen for ourselves that we begin to experience, and finally to discover, its horrific nature. Just as no one (with a normal nervous system) who is rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent could both shove an unprotected arm into a hot fire and retain an illusion that this fire causes sensations of intense pleasure, neither could such a person both experience the outer darkness and retain forever the illusion that some other imagined condition, such as submission to God, would be even worse than this.
In any case, here is a revision of Rooney’s second option, the truth of which I am prepared to defend:
2* No one who experiences the bliss of union with the divine nature can “do otherwise than love God,” and no one who freely refuses the offer of such a union and then experiences the full horror of being separated from the divine nature as far as this is possible short of one’s own annihilation can continue to embrace that separation freely.
Part of the issue here is whether there are limits of any kind to the range of possible free choice. Although Rooney seems to identify moral freedom with the power to act otherwise, as we have seen, it is easy enough to imagine cases where someone has such a power and yet remains too irrational to qualify as being morally responsible for his or her actions. Suppose, by way of illustration, that a schizophrenic young man should kill his loving mother, believing her to be a sinister space alien who has devoured his real mother, and suppose further that he does so in a context in which he categorically could have chosen otherwise (in part, perhaps, because he worries about possible retaliation from other sinister space aliens). Why should such an irrational choice, even if not causally determined, be any more compatible with genuine moral freedom than a rigorous determinism would be? Either our seriously deluded beliefs, particularly those with destructive consequences in our own lives, are in principle correctable by some degree of powerful evidence against them, or the choices that rest upon them are simply too irrational to qualify as free moral choices.
Similar remarks apply to the view of Lewis, with which Rooney concurs, that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” Given the traditional view of hell as an externally imposed punishment for sin, one that includes everlasting conscious torment, we can at least make coherent sense of why no one would ever exit from a hell of that kind; it would simply not be permitted. But Lewis imagines hell to be a freely embraced condition rather than an externally imposed punishment; that is the whole point of declaring that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” And that also raises again the obvious question of how someone who is rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent could both experience the sheer horror of separation from the divine nature (or the misery of hell, if you prefer) and continue freely to embrace it forever.
The First Option
According to Rooney’s first option, as he originally formulated it, “God could not do otherwise than cause human beings to love him.” As Jeremiah Carey points out in a previous response to Rooney on this blog, the term “cause” is simply too vague in the present context and clearly needs further clarification. But I shall concentrate here on the expression “could not do otherwise” and the role it plays in Rooney’s understanding of divine freedom. “What is necessary” for divine freedom, Rooney insists, “is that God could have done otherwise”—in other words, that “God is free of necessity in what he chooses to do.” Rooney thus contends that “what it is to be free (for both God and humans) is that one’s actions are not necessary” in that one acts freely only when one could have acted otherwise.
So is this an adequate understanding of divine freedom? Not in my opinion. Set aside the great questions (that occupy so much of Rooney’s attention) concerning the possibility that God might not have created anything at all or might not have entered into his own creation by way of an Incarnation. Is it not a necessary truth, according to traditional Christian theology (not to mention Titus 1:2), that God never lies? And is it not likewise a necessary truth that God never chooses to break a promise? If these are indeed logical necessities, it looks as if, according to Rooney, God never speaks the truth freely and never keeps his promises freely. In his dispute with David Bentley Hart, Rooney thus writes: “Being free [always?] involves being such that one can act on other reasons; necessitation looks strictly incompatible with [divine] freedom for that reason.” But again, isn’t that just obviously false, given a Christian understanding of the divine perfections? For even if God could have acted on “other reasons” and have refrained from making any promises at all, there are surely no possible reasons upon which he might conceivably act for the purpose of breaking a promise. Neither are there any possible reasons upon which he might conceivably act for the purpose of issuing certain kinds of commands. To give just one example, it is logically impossible, surely, that a God whose very essence is perfect love should issue a command that we torture babies for our own sadistic pleasure. So given such a logical impossibility as that, does it not follow, given Rooney’s conception of divine freedom, that God is not really free in this matter? Like Hart, I would argue instead that God’s freedom consists simply in his being true to himself, whether or not he could have done otherwise with respect to some specific action; and in a similar vein, C. S. Lewis, whom Rooney appears to revere, once put it this way:
Whatever human freedom means, Divine freedom cannot mean indeterminacy between alternatives and choice of one of them. Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate over the means most suited to achieve it. The freedom of God consists in the fact that no cause other than Himself produces His acts and no external obstacle impedes them—that His own goodness is the root from which they all grow and His own omnipotence is the air in which they all flower.3
Now against this understanding of divine freedom, which Lewis appears to share with Hart, Rooney argues as follows:
What is necessary [for divine freedom] is that God could have done otherwise . . . If God were required to act only on the “best” reasons available to him, as Hart implies, God would be dependent on those reasons. Necessitating God’s choices is problematic because it implies that God’s goodness is dependent on creation or what he does. But God’s goodness is not dependent on creation.
I must confess that these remarks make no sense to me at all. If it is a logical (or metaphysical) necessity that God keeps whatever promises he makes, then it is also a logical necessity that his reasons for keeping a given promise (assuming he makes one) will always outweigh whatever reasons may exist for breaking it. But how on earth does that make God’s goodness dependent on the very reasons for which his own moral perfection is responsible?—and how on earth does it make his goodness “dependent on creation”? What, in other words, is the relevant conception of dependence here? According to the traditional doctrine of divine aseity, neither God’s necessary existence nor his essential goodness is causally dependent upon (or a causal effect of) anything that happens in his creation; all relations of causal dependence go in the opposite direction. But whatever one might otherwise think of this doctrine, in no way is it inconsistent with there being a host of logical (or metaphysical) necessities and impossibilities, grounded in God’s self-sufficiency and essential perfections, concerning how he would providentially care for any created loved ones, if there should be any. When Rooney declares, “Necessitating God’s choices is problematic because it implies that God’s goodness is dependent on creation or what he does,” he therefore owes us something more than a bald assertion at this point. For as any perfect being theist would insist, he has it exactly backwards here. It is precisely the necessity of God’s goodness that actually determines some of his actions in creation—that he never breaks a promise, for example—so that his actions in relation to his creation are themselves dependent upon the nature of his goodness, not vice versa.
Rooney also owes us some additional clarity on his own understanding of such concepts as that of freedom, free choice, and free will. In the first sentence of the above quotation as well as elsewhere, he at least appears, once again, to identify doing something freely with a power to act otherwise. He then declares, “Universalism would not be true without denying either human freedom in salvation or divine freedom in creation or redemption.” But so what? All I ask for at this point is a bit of clarity from Rooney concerning his own use of the term “freedom” and its implications. If he wants to use this term in such a way that one acts freely only when, at the time of acting, one also has a power to act otherwise, then I will gladly accept this as a stipulation. For we are all free to stipulate a specific meaning for some technical term we are using, although we must also be clear about its implications. One implication of Rooney’s apparent stipulation is this: if a young mother, filled with love for her newborn baby, finds it utterly unthinkable (and therefore psychologically impossible) to abandon her baby and not to take care for it, then she does not take care of her baby freely in the above stipulated sense. But again I ask, “So what?” There are many other conceptions of freedom—including libertarian conceptions, I might add4—according to which our young mother does indeed take care of her baby freely. So to repeat the point, all we need here is a bit of clarity concerning the meaning and the implications of the basic terms we are using.
It seems likely, moreover, that neither God nor we humans typically make our most important decisions in a context in which we could have acted otherwise. As an illustration that takes us back to the issue of human freedom, consider how C. S. Lewis described his own conversion to Christianity when he wrote:
I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England . . . a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape. The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. . . . His compulsion is our liberation.5
Does this not sound more like Hart’s conception of human freedom than it does Rooney’s conception of it? Consider how carefully Lewis chose his words in the larger context leading up to the above quotation. He observed first that “before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice.” But lest this remark should be misunderstood, he immediately added the following clarification: “I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite [or to do otherwise]. . . . You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not [always] be the opposite of freedom . . .” So here Lewis explicitly contradicts Rooney’s apparent assumption that necessity always is the opposite of freedom, and he thus illustrates the usefulness of a more subtle account of freedom, one that does not simply identify freedom with the power to do otherwise. And as I have already suggested in the previous section, a more subtle account should include these two ideas: first, that moral freedom requires that one has surpassed a certain threshold of rationality, and, second, that an utterly irrational choice cannot possibly qualify as a choice for which one is morally responsible.
The Inclusive Nature of Love
Now finally, Rooney interprets one of Hart’s arguments against an everlasting hell, perhaps the most persuasive one of them all in my opinion, as follows:
[T]here can be no eternal or perfect happiness if even one person is lost to damnation. In sum, ‘true spiritual love could never abide the sight of souls suffering in hell’ . . . Hart’s point is simply that the existence of [an everlasting] hell would make it impossible for anyone, let alone God, to be eternally happy. True love of others could not co-exist with even the possibility that anyone could be damned [with no further hope of salvation].
A point that Rooney fails to clarify here concerns the way in which love—that is, love in the sense of willing the very best for another—ties the interests of people together. We see this most clearly, perhaps, in the case of our own family and close friends, where we may find it somewhat easier to obey the second of the great commandments (see Matt. 22:39). For according to this commandment, we are to love others even as we love ourselves. If I truly love my own daughter and love her even as I love myself, then her interests and my own are so tightly interwoven as to be logically inseparable: any good that befalls her is then a good that befalls me, and any evil that befalls her is likewise an evil that befalls me. Or as Jesus himself once expressed a similar point: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [i.e., performed acts of kindness] to one of the least of these my brethren [or loved ones], you did it to me . . . [and] as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Matt. 25:40 & 45).
So is my claim here that any temporary harm or hardship that befalls one of my own loved ones would inevitably undermine my own happiness? Of course not! I would at least hope that I could experience directly many instances of temporary harm and hardship without losing a more basic sense of serenity. But even if I should fail in this regard, many of the saints among us would not; and the real issue comes down to whether one can sincerely believe that all will be well in the end. So let us now suppose that I should discover that some version of the doctrine of everlasting conscious torment should actually be true and that my own daughter was destined for such an end. Even if such a supposition expresses a logical impossibility, as I believe it does, we can at least imagine it being true. Suppose, then, that I should discover, to my horror, that my daughter had indeed come to such a terrible end. Even if I were to discover that, by her own will, she had made herself intolerably evil, I would still experience this as a terrible tragedy and an unacceptable loss, one for which no compensation is even conceivable. Is it any wonder, then, that Paul could say concerning his unbelieving kin whom he loved so dearly, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people” (Romans 9:3)? From the perspective of his love, in other words, Paul’s own damnation would be no worse an evil, and no greater threat to his own happiness, than the eternal damnation of his loved ones would be.
I have no doubt, by the way, that God could, if he chose to do so, wipe all knowledge of such tragedies from our minds, although I doubt he could do so effectively without destroying a lot more of our minds than we might imagine. But blissful ignorance is a far cry from the most worthwhile forms of happiness, and it has, in any case, no relevance at all to God’s own happiness. So does God’s love for us likewise tie his interests together with our own? If it does—and I see no way it could fail to do so—then God’s own happiness surely is logically inconsistent with certain kinds of things happening to us. Or, to put it another way, God’s own happiness could not possibly be consistent with just anything we might imagine happening in his creation. Nor does it follow that actual events in the creation causally determine God’s happiness or could otherwise threaten it. Accordingly, a bit of clarity on this matter is essential to a proper evaluation of the following objection that Rooney raises against Hart: “Now, strictly speaking, we know it must be false in at least one instance that every person’s happiness depends on every other. God’s happiness exists in communion with that of the other Trinitarian persons; God’s happiness does not depend on his creatures.”
So just how should we understand Rooney’s claim here? Is he claiming that God’s eternal happiness is logically consistent with just anything that someone might imagine happening to his creatures? Suppose that a religious alien from Alpha Centauri should declare that all Christians, including Rooney, will burn eternally in hell for their blasphemy in accepting the Christian faith; and suppose further that our alien “friend” should then remind us that God’s own happiness does not depend causally on anything that actually happens in his creation. This might seem like a neat trick if it could fool some into believing, contrary to numerous biblical texts, that God cares nothing about what actually happens to his creatures. But that would also be sheer confusion. For once again, it is precisely God’s eternal happiness together with his essential goodness that determines the very nature of his providential control over his creation. And this explains, in particular, why God would never permit irreparable harm—that is, harm that not even omnipotence could repair at some future time—to befall one of his own loved ones. It also explains why certain conceptions of hell, including that of our imagined alien, would be logically inconsistent with God’s own happiness and essential goodness.
We thus confront a choice between two very different explanations concerning why nothing in creation could ever threaten God’s own happiness. We might imagine, first of all, that God should be utterly indifferent and couldn’t care less about the ultimate fate of created persons. But of course indifference is just the opposite of any genuine love for another. So even though I would never attribute to Rooney, without clearer evidence, the view that God is utterly indifferent concerning the ultimate fate of human beings, I would like to understand better his remark concerning communion within the divine Trinity. For this remark could easily be interpreted as implying that God’s happiness is logically consistent with just anything we might imagine happening outside the sphere of that special communion. Anyway, an alternative explanation of why nothing in creation could ever threaten God’s own happiness does not reject the idea that he cares deeply about the ultimate fate of those whom he has loved into existence in the first place. A Christian universalist may thus hold that the God “who desires everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and “is not willing that any should perish but [wills instead] that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) never has the slightest doubt concerning his ability to satisfy his own will or desire in this matter. For has he not already arranged things so that “one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people” (Rom. 5:18b)?
Finally, against any suggestion that communion within the Trinity could render God indifferent to the fate of those others whom he has loved into existence, I would argue that the truth is just the opposite of that. The following analogy is no doubt flawed in many ways, but it nonetheless points in the direction of an important truth. Suppose that a young married couple have an absolutely fulfilling love relationship with each other, and suppose further that their relationship would remain altogether fulfilling even if they never have children together. They enjoy hiking together in the mountains, joking around with each other and their friends, and just being in each other’s presence. Still, if they do have a child together and continue to love that child with all their heart, then their happiness cannot remain consistent with just anything that might happen to that child. Similarly, even if God’s happiness is consistent with his choosing not to create anything at all, his decision to create additional persons to love automatically changes the situation he faces in this respect: his supreme happiness is no longer consistent with just anything we might imagine happening in his creation. Yes, there is an important disanalogy in the present context between our example of loving parents and the Trinitarian God of Christianity. For however loving a pair of human parents may be, they will have far less control over the ultimate fate of their child than an omnipotent and omniscient God would have over the ultimate fate of his creation. But that merely underscores the point that, unlike a pair of human parents, God’s own happiness is never vulnerable to conditions over which he has no control at all.
Perhaps I can do no better, by way of a conclusion, than to reproduce a paragraph from a section entitled “The Essential Role of Human Freedom in Universal Reconciliation” from my book The Inescapable Love of God (pp. 123-124):
Essential to the whole [redemptive] process, then, is that we exercise our moral freedom—not that we choose rightly rather than wrongly, but that we choose freely one way or the other. We can choose today to live selfishly or unselfishly, faithfully or unfaithfully, obediently or disobediently. But our choices, especially the bad ones, will also have unintended and unforeseen consequences in our lives; as the proverb says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (Prov. 16:9). A man who commits robbery may set off a chain of events that, contrary to his own intention, lands him in jail; and a woman who enters into an adulterous affair may discover that, even though her husband remains oblivious to it, the affair has a host of unforeseen and destructive consequences in her life. In fact, our bad choices almost never get us what we really want; that is part of what makes them bad and also one reason why God is able to bring redemptive goods out of them. When we make a mess of our lives and our misery becomes more and more unbearable, the hell we thereby create for ourselves will in the end resolve the very ambiguity and shatter the very illusions that made the bad choices possible in the first place. That is how God works with us as created rational agents. He permits us to choose freely in the ambiguous contexts in which we first emerge as self-aware beings, and he then requires us to learn from experience the hard lessons we sometimes need to learn. So in that way, the consequences of our free choices, both the good ones and the bad ones, are a source of revelation; they reveal sooner or later—in the next life, if not in this one—both the horror of separation from God and the bliss of union with him. And that is why the end is foreordained: all paths finally lead to the same destination, the end of reconciliation, though some are longer, windier, and a lot more painful than others.
 I defend this claim in a presentation I made at the Door Standing Open Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, on April 28, 2018. The presentation was entitled “How to Read the Bible from a Universalist Perspective,” and it is available at the following URL: http://www.willamette.edu/~ttalbott/Reading%20the%20Bible.pdf
 C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955), p. 232.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1944), p. 23.
 See, for example, my explanation of the source libertarian view in my book Understanding the Free Will Controversy: Thinking through a Philosophical Quagmire (Eugene, OR; Cascade Books, 2022), pp. 15-17.
 Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp. 228-229.
* * *
Thomas Talbott is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He is best known for his advocacy of trinitarian universalism. Due to his book The Inescapable Love of God and other works, he is one of the most prominent Protestant voices today supporting the doctrine of universal salvation. The 2003 book Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate presents Talbott’s “rigorous defense of universalism” together with responses from various fields theologians, philosophers, church historians and other religious scholars supporting or opposing Talbott’s universalism. Talbott contributed the chapter on “Universalism” for The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology. A list of his peer-reviewed articles can be found on his webpage. This past summer Wipf & Stock published his book Understanding the Free-Will Controversy. Over the years Dr Talbott has contributed several articles to Eclectic Orthodoxy, including “Free Will Theodicies of Hell,” and a four-part review of That All Shall Be Saved.
My response to Talbott’s article is live over at Facebook.
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Here is the FB link to Fr Rooney’s response:
“On the contrary, NINF is supposed to hold in regard to what God does outside of His own life—such as create the universe or redeem humanity—because these are objects of His free choice. [God here does not act by deliberating, but He nevertheless could have done otherwise than He did, and nothing about these choices are such that God had to choose to do one or the other . . .”
Rooney avoids one of Talbott’s prominent examples: God keeping his promises. Presumably, Rooney thinks that, e.g., God keeping his promises to Abraham is ‘outside’ of His own life and hence an object of His free choice. Presumably, he also thinks that it is impossible for God to break His promises rather than keep them. The conclusion is not hard to draw.
“The kind of ignorance that undermines my culpability is only that ignorance which violates NINF: ignorance such that my choice was such that I could not have done anything to rectify that ignorance.”
Though Rooney claims that a libertarian understanding of freedom is not required for his view, without such an understanding, the word ‘could’ can’t do the work he needs it to. Consider: ‘Could’ Rooney have different beliefs than the ones he has now? Yes, if, over the course of his life, the formation of his rational capacities had gone differently—something that ‘could’ have happened—he would now believe, say, that universalism is true. But no, he ‘could not’ simply choose—contrary to that formation—to change his belief. Such a change would have to be prompted, e.g., by encountering persuasive arguments against his position on the internet, assuming his prior formation would enable him to be persuaded by the persuasive.
“The worst possible state of a person is non-existence, not hell . . . [T]he possibility that some be damned is not an irredeemable tragedy from God’s point of view. Why? Because He will still continue to do what is best for those persons in hell. Thus, hell is not the worst state of a person, since it is a place where God’s love is present and God is doing what is best for someone, insofar as it is in God’s power to do so, given what He wills for the universe and the rest of humanity.”
This is patently absurd. No one would choose eternal suffering over annihilation. The former is obviously worse, so the notion that, by permitting their eternal suffering, God is doing what’s best for them ‘given the circumstances’ is sheer nonsense.
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“Presumably, Rooney thinks that, e.g., God keeping his promises to Abraham is ‘outside’ of His own life and hence an object of His free choice.”
No, I do not think God keeping His promises is an object of free choice; what God freely chooses is to make a promise with Abraham.
As to the claim about ‘libertarian’ free choice, my arguments have nothing to do with it and ‘could’ has no bearing on the matter thus far. I proposed claims about culpability that match exactly what you are saying here. If my state were such that I could not (simply) have done otherwise than believe X, and I do Y on the basis of my belief X, then my action Y could not have been otherwise. Imagining that Y is a bad action (say, believing in universalism, despite universalism being false), I would not be morally culpable for failing to believe the truth – i.e., I would be invincibly ignorant that Christian orthodoxy concerning the everlasting nature of hell is the truth. As I noted, this view of culpability does not contradict, but is a consequence of, NINF.
Finally, we need to distinguish. Nobody chooses eternal suffering for its own sake, including people in hell. They choose what they believe will make them happy – even though it, in fact, will bring them eternal suffering because what they love is incompatible with love of God. Suffering is thus, as it were, accidental to and not essential to the object of their love. But there is no reason that they cannot continue to love that thing which brings them pain indefinitely, precisely because they love it. And I would suggest desire to be annihilated rather than exist is the same kind of failure to love appropriately which characterizes despair – a kind of pride or inappropriate love of self – rather than love of God. God does not agree, as I see it, that it would be better to let anyone commit suicide. Thus, their failure is not on God’s part, since He has not done anything to hurt them, and He remains with and beside them even in the midst of their despair. This is the way in which God does what is best for them even when they turn against His love.
Fr Rooney: “They choose what they believe will make them happy – even though it, in fact, will bring them eternal suffering…”
Are they in error?
Since they chose what they believed would make them happy but instead brought the opposite and worst possible result, their choice didn’t bring what they thought it would bring them. Clearly, they are mistaken.
So, God sends them to a permanent, irreparable state of suffering for what is quite literally a mistaken choice predicated on a mistaken belief. Wow, what a God!
“He remains with and beside them even in the midst of their despair. This is the way in which God does what is best for them even when they turn against His love.”
Aww, that’s so sweet.
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“No, I do not think God keeping His promises is an object of free choice; what God freely chooses is to make a promise with Abraham.”
So, God’s keeping His promises to Abraham is not a free act? That can’t be right. But even if your odd use of ‘free’ is granted, your admission about promises to Abraham undermines your position. God, having freely chosen to make a promise, must, because of who He is, keep it .Likewise, God, having freely chosen to make creatures for the sake of union with Him, must, because of who He is, bring about their union with Him.
“If my state were such that I could not (simply) have done otherwise than believe X, and I do Y on the basis of my belief X, then my action Y could not have been otherwise. Imagining that Y is a bad action . . . , I would not be morally culpable for [Y].”
That was my point. For any false belief X, the believer of X, given their formation, could not have done otherwise than believe X. Put another way, no one believes a falsehood willingly. And any bad action Y is done on the basis of some false belief. Does it follow that no one is culpable for Y? It certainly does, if we understand culpability the way you do. To be culpable is to be deserving of ‘punishment’, and on the infernalist idea of punishment, to be culpable is to be deserving of retribution, i.e. harm for the sake of harm. But this notion of punishment requires that Y be done with full freedom, which in turn requires full knowledge (cf. Section 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church), and therefore a rejection of X as false. But if X were rejected, then Y would not be done. Thus, the same point is made from the other direction.
“God does not agree, as I see it, that it would be better to let anyone commit suicide.”
A strange way to put it. Nevertheless, that god is a monster.
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God is the summum bonum, the rational end of every rational will, for every rational will aims toward what it apprehends as good, and none is good but He. There is nothing God himself needs. To say he creates because of ‘Love’ seems to mean that his love, while self-sufficiently selfish, also embraces every potential being whose rational will is consonant with God’s will for them, viz. they would prefer to exist. To the extent that is true, they are and ‘inevitably’ must be within, encompassed, by God’s will. That is, he creates them. And this entails universalism.
Is there a flaw in this postulate?
“Universalism has been marginal in Christian history, even when it was purportedly a more widespread view.”
Now of course, a 21st century Catholic priest knows more about early universalism than St Augustine, St Jerome and St Basil of Caesarea.
Yes, yes… Makes perfect sense.
“The Fathers who purportedly taught universalism, such as Gregory of Nyssa, do not represent the consensus of the Fathers”.
Ah, the famous “consensus” of the Fathers… That which explains why the Fathers could not agree on whether everyone will be saved or not, could not agree on the Original Sin VS Ancestral Sin debate, could not agree on Augustinian Predestination, could not agree on whether Hell is an actual place or a state of the soul, could not agree on…
Yes, yes, that famous “consensus”, indeed, we remember now…
Hi, sorry for the ignorance, but I have a question about how the consensus is meant yo work: if one Father disagreed with the others, how could there be a consensus? Is consensus more like democratic election? (such that what is the object of the consensus is what the majority of the Fathers took to be true)
Consensus, like history, was written by the victors.
“If one Father disagreed with the others, how could there be a consensus”.
Since we do normally speak of a consensus of scientists agreeing on evolution (for instance) even though there’s a few (very few) scientists that don’t believe in it (the vast majority of whom are fundamentalists), my guess is that if one or two Fathers disagree with all the others on something, we can still speak of a consensus.
I imagine that what those who invoke the authority of the “consensus of the Fathers” mean by that little expression is “what the VAST majority of the Fathers agreed on”, which is… Not that many things, apparently.
The attributes of God.
A couple more things here and there.
They also happened to disagree on MANY things too, as I pointed out, so that granting too much importance on the “consensus” of the Fathers as if it were infallible or anything close to this… Makes very little sense.
But I think there is a disanalogy here with the consensus in a scientific community. The reason being that in this case whoever disagreed with the consensus would be a heretic.
It would then follow that:
(1) either whoever disagrees with the consensum patrum could not be a Father, so that the consensus would have to be totally unanimous by definition (contrary to our assumption),
(2) or the Church can still deem a person worthy of the title “Father of the Church”, even though the same Church has condemned him as an heretic…
Is there something I am not seeing here?
Regarding (2), while most Orthodox priests believe that it is the *real* Origen that was condemned during the Fifth Ecumenical Council (mostly because they’ve been taught so, because this is the official narrative of what supposedly happened even though it might very well be a false one), most of them still consider him to have been a Church Father – and a particularly important one to boot.
While Marcellus of Ancyra and Theodore of Mopsuestia were condemned (for different reasons, see the Three Chapters Controversy regarding Theodore), it is also my understanding that both (or at least Theodore) are *nevertheless* regarded as Church Fathers by most scholars and clergymen.
Thus, I would say that the Church might indeed deem a person worthy of the title of Church Father or Church Mother even though it has previously condemned him/her as a heretic, though it would only do so reluctantly and not without any dissent among its own devout and clergymen.
A Church Father or Mother might very well be extremely influential upon many generations of later Christian teachers as well as impeccably proto-orthodox for a long time (even for their whole life), but then fall *post-mortem* into heterodoxy (at least allegedly) because Christian teachings have evolved a lot since their passing, and… And then they might get *condemned* for having failed to be *perfectly* in line with an orthodoxy that didn’t even exist while they were still alive (makes perfect sense, I know).
It is therefore my understanding that a Christian teacher really becomes a Church Father or Mother *mostly* insofar as they have exerted a great influence on the development of Christianity, their *potential* condemnation (whether real or imagined) not withstanding.
As far as I can tell, this also answers (1), actually : as long as a Christian teacher exerts quite a lot of influence on the theology of at least several important contemporaries that will *later* be considered to have been orthodox (and/or on the theology of *later* important teachers of the Church), or as long as an early Christian has significantly influenced/shaped the course of Christianity in a way that is thought to have been mostly positive by *most* later “orthodox” theologians… This seems to me to be enough to make that teacher a Church Father or a Church Mother, their potential disagreements with fellow great teachers of the Church (who would also have to be Church Fathers and Mothers, by definition), no matter *what* they are… Not truly withstanding.
Maybe others here will disagree with me (at least to some extent) on what it is exactly that makes a Christian a Church Father or Mother.
That’s somehow really helpful! Thanks a lot! 🙂 (even though I wonder if things work in the same way also for Catholics…)
“That’s somehow really helpful! Thanks a lot!”
“I wonder if things work in the same way also for Catholics…”
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers have exactly the same Church Fathers and Mothers *up until the middle of the 8th century*, with Saint Bede and a couple others usually taken to have been the *last* Church Fathers that both Churches have in common.
Furthermore, both Churches are very much in agreement on the matter of *what* exactly makes a Christian a Church Father or Mother.
Contrarily to the Catholic Church, however, the Orthodox Church is inclined to consider *all* of its greatest Saints and teachers as Church Fathers and Mothers, no matter *when* they lived… Thus, in the eyes of many committed Orthodox believers, the actual list of Church Fathers and Mothers is *much* longer than the Catholics’ one and it *keeps* getting bigger century after century : it simply *never* stopped in the middle of the 8th century.
The Eastern Orthodox list of Church Fathers and Mothers can basically be divided into several parts, each one corresponding to a distinct era : there is the “Early Church Fathers & Mothers” part of the list, there’s what can be called the “Late Church Fathers and Mothers” part… And then, there’s the “Modern Church Fathers and Mothers” part.
Spiritual teachers such as St Silouan the Athonite, St Sophrony of Essex (one of his students as well as his biographer), St Paisios of Mount Athos and St Porphyrios, are often considered to be *modern* Church Fathers by Eastern Orthodox believers, to give you just a couple examples.
Although all of these have been canonised, it should also be noted that *not* all Church Fathers have been officially declared Saints : Pierius of Alexandria, Theognostus of Alexandria, Tertullian, Lactantius, and (last but certainly not least) Origen, are some of those Fathers that were never canonised, at least not by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (even though it is very hard to find anyone who would’ve deserved it more than Origen, actually).
Your question (again, “I wonder if things work in the same way also for Catholics”) also seems to me to imply that you do not know yet that there’s an important difference between “orthodox” (small o) and “Orthodox” (capital O).
Basically, someone is (small o) orthodox if his beliefs are considered to be mainstream, normal, accepted by *most*.
In this case, he professes (small o) orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that can be religious, political, scientific, historical, etc.
Thus, you can call a socialist politician a (small o) “orthodox socialist” if the socialism that he promotes is the one flavour of socialism that *most* of his fellow socialists believe in, while an “orthodox” biologist is (among other things) convinced that Evolution is an indubitable scientific fact for which there is overwhelming evidence (like the vast majority of his colleagues).
In the sphere of religion, though, things become a bit trickier : there’s *both* “orthodoxy” and “Orthodoxy”, with the latter term referring either to a specific Christian Church (or rather Churches, since there’s the *Oriental* Orthodox Church and the *Eastern* Orthodox Church), or to a specific brand of Judaism (Orthodox Judaism).
Hence, when I wrote about the “proto-orthodox” and the “orthodox” teachers of the Church, I actually had in mind *all* the “mainstream” Christian teachers (Church Fathers and Mothers in particular), not just those who are venerated in the Orthodox Church.
So, to answer your question : yes, things do work in the same way also for Catholics, it’s just that the Orthodox usually recognise *many more* Fathers and Mothers than the Catholics.
Consensus is hardly the way that truth is decided. After all, the Western (Roman Catholic) Church came to the consensus that the Filioque Clause to the Creed is acceptable (despite the warnings of anathema against tampering with the canonical decisions of councils), that Augustine’s erroneous idea of “Original Sin” and the guilt of Adam being owned by all human beings, that Mary was immaculately conceived in the womb of Anna, that there is a “Treasury of Merit” from which one might draw favor and thus avoid the wrath of God, etc,. etc., etc.
All the above and more all held as consensus in the Roman Catholic Church – while we Orthodox look askance at their strange ideas which have neither support from Scripture, nor the Fathers, nor Holy Tradition.
Consensus is truth — Pfffffffffffffffffffffffft!
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“Strange ideas which have neither support from Scripture, nor the Fathers, nor Holy Tradition”.
That actually sums up several vitally important Roman Catholic ideas pretty well (Papal Infallibility and all that).
The Church Fathers and Mothers are “just” teachers that serious Christians ought to *draw inspiration from* and whose *character* they should seek to emulate – and even then, there are quite a few exceptions such as Jerome, who appears to have been quite a PEST, as well as Pope Theophilus of Alexandria and Emperor Justinian.
That is “all”… And yet, in a very real sense, that is *already a lot*.
You are a better person than I am, and obviously have more patience than I do. I commend you on your equable tone, whose only moments of severity have to do with clarifying obscurities. I have given into emotional fatigue in this debate. That admitted, I have to say that Rooney’s arguments are obviously so confused on so many issues–not least in trying to harmonize his brand of libertarianism with Thomas’s rigorous intellectualism on most matters–that one has to assume he is motivated not by reason, but by what he regards as fidelity to true doctrine. At least, I assume he would not make such odd and circular arguments if he were not convinced he must, and that therefore he must be right.
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Don’t discount that as a Roman Catholic, he is obliged to believe in the monster God who creates, ex nihlo and with foreknowledge, sentient creatures who He knows will fall and thus condemn themselves of their own “free-will” to an eternity of suffering. What must be in the back of his mind when defending this Zeus-like Being is the threat that if he dares to go against the absolute truths of Roman Catholic dogma, he himself will be cast headlong into the fires.
That is a pretty heavy intellectual burden to overcome.
That is a vicious misrepresentation of Catholicism, which is completely unsupportable from any reading of magisterial Catholic sources — papal or patristic or curial or conciliar documents, catechisms, approved theological texts, scriptural commentary, any of the orthodox theologians from any era, or any where else.
I challenge you to support your grotesque caricature with even one source that is identifiably Catholic.
Slander is very heavy, indeed a mortal, moral burden for you to bear.
So you would say God did NOT know from the beginning that most of his creatures will go to hell?
If anyone believes that God has “foreknowledge” of everything, which is necessarily the case if He is omniscient and if He eternally exists in the *present*, meaning that there isn’t even a *future* for Him so we can’t even speak of “foreknowledge” in His case (and this is what most Christians are supposed to believe, including most Catholics), and that God also *knew* He was creating the pre-conditions that can lead souls to Hell (whether it is temporary or eternal) when He precisely decided to create them, something that He *obviously* would’ve known, being again omniscient… Then, that “anyone” must also believe that God just *knew* all along that SOME souls would indeed go to Hell, and even WHO would actually go there…
…And yet, He created these people anyways, knowing all along what their fate would be beyond this life.
As for God creating everything *ex-nihilo*, this is merely what *both* the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches officially teach, nothing more, nothing less.
This isn’t a “vicious misrepresentation of Catholicism” and this is no “slander” at all : this is the uncomfortable truth about what Catholics are supposed to believe according to the official teachings of their own Church.
The fact that the RC Church is very careful not to *put* things this way in its official Catechism does not actually change anything because this conclusion is a *logically inevitable* one for anyone that takes what it teaches in this garbage of a book too seriously.
It’s not only the uncomfortable truth for Catholics but for ALL classical theists in the usual sense …
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It’s not only the uncomfortable truth for Catholics but for ALL classical theists who embrace infernalism.
True… It’s just infinitely worse when you imagine that Hell is actually eternal.
Ah, I see you beat me to it…
“if He eternally exists in the present”
I realise now that this was poorly phrased…
Anyways, classical theists will still understand what I meant, of course.
Even one? Give me a hard challenge. Here are two that represent the worst of Roman Catholic thinking:
“How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation? — as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ.”
Which sight gives me joy? Really? Is the the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the One who said “Father, forgive them . . . after they had just driven nails into His hands and feet? I think not!
In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. So that they may be urged the more to praise God. The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens to the damned. [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article, “Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned?”]
People who are made happy by the suffering of others are called sadists.
And just so that you know that I am an equal opportunity insulter, here’s a Protestant minister exalting in the fiery torment of the sinners:
The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss. [“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]
I am sure I could find more in the writings of some of the Fathers. There is a stream of consciousness in the Western mind that was formed in the Roman Empire and has lasted to this day in the Western theological arena. Simply put, Western soteriology is concerned with sinners getting a beating – forever! This is not the mind of the Eastern Church.
When Western Christians see the word “judgment” in the Scriptures, they immediately see God as the Fearsome Judge and Mighty Smiter (tip of the hat to Brad Jersak for that term) who is sitting in judgment to PUNISH. But judgment could have an entirely different meaning, you know. A doctor, when looking at a very ill patient, has to make a judgment. He judges the condition and the patient in order to come up with the proper cure. Why could not judgment be to the healing of the soul instead of to condemnation.
In fact, if you compare Western translations of the Greek with the actual meanings of the words, you will see this tendency to make everything about legal jurisprudence and punishment instead of healing.
Forgive me for the offense. It was not intended as such, but meant simply as a statement of the deep difference between how the West and the East view God and His relationship to His creatures. This is why Apokatastasis was predominantly taught in the East, while the one theological school in the Early Church that taught ECT was in the Roman West.
None of those quotes support your contention that the Catholic Church teaches that God is a “monster God who creates, ex nihlo and with foreknowledge, sentient creatures who He knows will fall and thus condemn themselves of their own “free-will” to an eternity of suffering. … Zeus-like Being.”
You are way too wrapped up in whatever led you to your position (I read for instance your Little Jimmy story, which is on the literary and theological level of Jack Chick), to have any sense of balance in interpreting Catholicism. I take it you’re an ex-Catholic and somehow you’re working through what you self describe as “Having been terrorized by such teaching for over 50 years, I am fed up with the angry God of Roman Catholicism”? I’m deeply sorry for whatever you’ve been through, and can only wish you peace and healing. But you have not supported your accusations with any evidence as to what the Catholic Church teaches about God.
First, thank- you to Thomas Talbott for his many contributions over many years to our collective understanding of the love of God. For many of us, he has been the forerunner in the resurgence of evangelical universalism in our lifetimes.
There is much that could be commented on in Fr Rooney’s response to this article https://tinyurl.com/ycxyh2uc but the following stood out to me…
Fr. Rooney contends that…
“…acting as a responsible and rational person does not require having perfect knowledge of what is in my best interest. One does not need ‘good reason’…to act in a way for which one is morally responsible. Human moral responsibility only requires knowing ‘well-enough.’ …The kind of ignorance that undermines my culpability is only that ignorance…such that my choice was such that I could not have done anything to rectify that ignorance.”
Fr. Rooney then concludes his article with this …
“This (Christian) story does not require that any human being ends up in hell forever, but it clearly requires the possibility of free and fully informed rejection of God’s love, and thus the possibility of hell, even if nobody ends up there.”
It seems to me that Fr. Rooney defeats his own argument by maintaining that the rejection of God’s love in the Christian story must be fully informed.
To paraphrase David Bentley Hart…
“To fully see God’s love is to desire it insatiably, not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never have been free to choose it.”
If, – the self-proclaimed worst of sinners – Saul, on the Damascus road freely embraced the full revelation of the love of Christ, will not each one of us do the same either now or on the other side of the veil.
Fr. Rooney would have us believe that…
“the suffering in hell is caused by the damned perceiving God’s love for them.”
So, even as Fr. Rooney contends that God wants all to be saved, God seems powerless to do so and His love becomes his conflicted device of eternal torture.
Fr. Rooney’s God isn’t so much a moral monster, but rather an impotent deity whose intentions are forever thwarted by mere mortals.
“Thus, hell is not the worst state of a person, since it is a place where God’s love is present and God is doing what is best for someone, insofar as it is in God’s power to do so, given what He wills for the universe and the rest of humanity.”
Fr. Rooney, here it seems to me that you are simply lying about what you believe. I have seen for myself the Twitter thread wherein you say that you believe that God can cause someone to inevitably come to him without doing violence to their freedom. Unless this has changed, then God torturing anyone forever is by no means “the best” that he could be doing for them.
And also the assertion that eternal damnation would not constitute a tragedy from God’s point of view is not only absurd, it is also blatantly unbiblical. “Have I any pleasure that the wicked should die?”
You know, no matter how often Thomists repeat this ridiculous and horrifying claim, I can’t make myself believe that they can make themselves believe it. An eternity of suffering is better than nonexistence?
Of course, it is impossible to wrong someone who does not exist. There is no such thing as the injustice of nonexistence. But what the hell? Any argument, no matter how absurd, is better than admitting how evil and incoherent the infernalist teaching is.
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And what a weird pitiable god this confused monster is.
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You are missing two things I said.
First, what I said is that hell is not the worst state of a person absolutely and, even within the world we live in where God permits mortal sin, what God does is do what is best for that person despite their rejection of His love. So, I rejected that we need to think God needs to do what is best for each individual absolutely – as there is no uniquely ‘best state’ for any individual, just as there is no uniquely ‘best’ world God could create. I take it instead that the fact God could have created a world where God predestines all does not show us that God does not do what is best for each person within the world we actually inhabit – the world where God permits mortal sin and resistance to His love. God could absolutely have predestined each person, but, given His conditional limitation to create a world where He does not do so (where grace can be resisted and He did not confirm all persons in grace from the first moment of their existence), God possibly allows some persons to resist His grace forever. Within these limits, God still would be doing what is best even for the damned, insofar as it is within His power to do what is best for them despite their everlasting resistance to His love.
Thus, second, my claim was not that sin does not constitute a tragedy, which would be absurd. My claim was specifically that God’s permitting the damnation of some does not constitute an *irredeemable* tragedy. This is to say that God allows sin and damnation because He can redeem it. That redemption, however, -on the orthodox Christian story- does not require universal salvation.
“So, I rejected that we need to think God needs to do what is best for each individual absolutely – as there is no uniquely ‘best state’ for any individual, just as there is no uniquely ‘best’ world God could create.”
What in the world is this nonsense? Of course there is a best state for any individual, are you lying or have you simply forgotten the basic premises of your own religion? That which is the best is the state which is united with the Good. So obviously there is indeed such a best state for any individual, or for all of creation.
“Within these limits, God still would be doing what is best even for the damned, insofar as it is within His power to do what is best for them despite their everlasting resistance to His love.”
These “limits” you posit are wholly arbitrary, moreover they are completely incompatible with the idea of predestination at all. God is not limiting anything, he is actively and maliciously choosing to to ship people on a conveyor belt to hell for literally no reason before they were born.
“This is to say that God allows sin and damnation because He can redeem it. That redemption, however, -on the orthodox Christian story- does not require universal salvation.”
Redeem it? Are you incapable of cognitive dissonance? On your belief he *caused it*. Apropos of, quite literally, nothing. Just, bam, gonna create a few billion people to scream in agony forever for no particular reason. This is neither love nor is it anything discernable as justice, it is cruel insanity. To worship it is nihilism, plain and simple.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if this is what is meant to be orthodox Catholicism, then your church deserves to swept into the dustbin of history.
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You’re arguing with someone incapable of moral reasoning, Calvin. It’s just going to infuriate you. He actually thinks he’s making sense. He’s been so thoroughly indoctrinated in nihilistic evil that the absurdity of the god he believes in is wholly invisible. Pity him, but pity yourself also. To beat your head against a seared conscience is self-torture.
Moreover, when someone makes arguments so twisted that they’re self-refuting, let him go.
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I am not unaware that union with God through grace is a great good, but even this union comes in degrees. The Blessed Virgin shares far greater in the grace of Christ than I or you possibly could. There is no uniquely greatest or best degree of union with God, and so God does not ‘fail’ a person by not elevating them to the degree of glory of the BVM, for example. Similarly for creation. God could always create a better world. Both of these principles are important because there are what we might call ‘kinds’ of worlds in which Gods everything that is best for those in each world, but none of which is uniquely the only best one. I am arguing that we have no reason to believe that a world in which God has chosen to permit people to resist His love forever and so permit hell – what I take to be the actual world – is not among those worlds in which God is not doing what is best for those in the world. This is just another way of saying God can have a good reason to permit hell. So, in sum, I and the classical Christian tradition do not hold that God permits hell “for no particular reason.” We instead think that God permits hell for only the best sorts of reasons. And I’ve seen no valid and sound argument that it is impossible for God to have such a good reason.
Instead, I think your follow-up comments about predestination show that you are operating in a false dilemma. For example, you allege that in a world where God permits hell He would be “actively and maliciously choosing to to ship people on a conveyor belt to hell for literally no reason before they were born.” But, as you might recall from my CLJ article, I explicitly and repeatedly argue that this assumption is false or at least can be rejected by defenders of the orthodox picture of hell. On that picture (held by the Catholic and Orthodox tradition), Calvinistic theological determinism is false, and God does nothing to make it the case that anyone goes to hell, neither causing them to resist His love eternally nor denying them something without which they could not avoid ending up in hell. I do not need to give any reason for which God does allow hell in order for it to be clear, logically, that if theological determinism were false, your claim that God would be ‘actively and maliciously’ causing people to go to hell in every world where He permitted hell would also be false.
Sorry, a mix-up on the negations: “is not among those worlds in which God is doing what is best for those in the world.”
“I am not unaware that union with God through grace is a great good, but even this union comes in degrees. The Blessed Virgin shares far greater in the grace of Christ than I or you possibly could. There is no uniquely greatest or best degree of union with God, and so God does not ‘fail’ a person by not elevating them to the degree of glory of the BVM, for example.”
Catholic efforts to turn Mary into the fourth person of the Trinity aside, no she doesn’t. If Mary is in fact a human woman with a human nature, then there is no degree of grace in principle attainable to her that would not also be attainable to others. Also the idea that there could be “degrees” to that which is by its nature infinite is risible.
“Similarly for creation. God could always create a better world. Both of these principles are important because there are what we might call ‘kinds’ of worlds in which Gods everything that is best for those in each world, but none of which is uniquely the only best one.”
No, this is absolute nonsense. There is the Good and that which is united to the Good and therefore perfect, and therefore not admitting of any better world. There is a best world, your attempts to selectively spew relativistic squid ink aside.
“I am arguing that we have no reason to believe that a world in which God has chosen to permit people to resist His love forever and so permit hell – what I take to be the actual world – is not among those worlds in which God is not doing what is best for those in the world.”
…Yes we do. That reason is THE ETERNAL TORMENT PERPETULLY BLIGHTING THE COSMOS! The hell kind of reasoning interprets literally the worst possible thing that could happen as evidence that the best is being done?
“But, as you might recall from my CLJ article, I explicitly and repeatedly argue that this assumption is false or at least can be rejected by defenders of the orthodox picture of hell. On that picture (held by the Catholic and Orthodox tradition), Calvinistic theological determinism is false, and God does nothing to make it the case that anyone goes to hell, neither causing them to resist His love eternally nor denying them something without which they could not avoid ending up in hell.”
In what universe are you living? On the premise that God can predestine anyone he feels like to invariably come to him without thereby doing violence to their freedom, libertarian freedom is false and theological determinism is a logical necessity. Thomists often feel the need to pretend otherwise, but really Calvin was just far more honest about things than they. To have an infallible method to pull someone from the water and pass them by is to sentence them to drown. This is done knowingly, willingly, maliciously by the God of your picture.
“I do not need to give any reason for which God does allow hell in order for it to be clear, logically, that if theological determinism were false, your claim that God would be ‘actively and maliciously’ causing people to go to hell in every world where He permitted hell would also be false.”
Theological determinism is a logical necessity of the propositions you have already accepted. That you don’t wish to acknowledge that is not my problem.
“We instead think that God permits hell for only the best sorts of reasons. And I’ve seen no valid and sound argument that it is impossible for God to have such a good reason.”
Oh, and that tears it, DBH is right. There is something deeply wrong with you, and with any faith in which this could be considered an orthodox position. It is impossible for God to have a good reason to will such an evil because God is the Good and so can will only the Good for everything and everyone by his very nature.
I’m going to give myself high blood pressure if I keep this up. It’s like debating the merits of getting your brain sucked out for Lord Azathoth – the mere idea that anyone could put forth the affirmative shows something profoundly inhuman about them. I’m out.
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Calvin: “ There is something deeply wrong with you, and with any faith in which this could be considered an orthodox position.”
Seeing as this despicable belief is profoundly irrational and that propagating it constitutes nothing short of the most vile psychological abuse, I can only assume that Fr Rooney doesn’t realize what he is doing.
He is under the sway of a false belief, exactly what he accuses of the denizens of hell. But his is not just any false belief, but the most deplorable false belief that a person is capable of forming: he has mistaken the God of love for a malevolent devil. His inability, at present, to recognize his error is unfortunate, considering that he promulgates this delusional, abusive belief.
But thankfully, error can always be dispelled, and he cannot become locked in a false belief forever. And God will forgive him for spreading the most atrocious lies about Him.
Hi Father Rooney. It’s always interesting to read your reflections and understand your position better, so thank you for recording your thoughts here.
You suggest that an eternity in hell is not the absolute worst state for a creature to be in, and that it is at any rate preferable to absolute non-existence.
Could I therefore please ask you:
1) If you were offered the choice between either suffering an eternity of pain in hell – or alternatively, to pass into non-existence – which would you choose? And could you please explain your reasoning?
2) If you infallibly knew that only oblivion awaited us after death, would you advise that hospices should shut down in order to be replaced by centres that pursued the most aggressive and painful treatments for all, even if this rendered them miserable for months merely to purchase a single extra hour of unliveable life?
3) If you infallibly knew that your family were due to die today and only oblivion would await them after death, but if you wished you could choose to make them life forever – but you also knew that their home from then on would be inside a brutal medieval torture chamber – what would you do? Which do you think would be the more loving choice? (as a bonus question, you can consider the same scenario but imagine that they only get tortured if they had failed to repent of a single mortal sin beforehand).
I hope those are helpful questions to ponder on – I imagine your responses would help us better understand the roots of your position.
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You have misunderstood the point. I claimed that being in “hell is not the worst state of a person, since it is a place where God’s love is present and God is doing what is best for someone, insofar as it is in God’s power to do so….” So this was merely a comparative claim that the situation where someone is suffering forever because of rejecting God, and where God is with them and doing what He can for their good despite their rejecting that love, is better than some other state. For example, I can imagine a state where God abandons someone for eternity would be worse than the state I described. There might be even worse states. We ought to be careful with claims that one or another state is the worst or best. Similarly, my claim about the “worst possible state” being non-existence was not to claim that this was *preferable* to being in suffering, but merely to correct that non-existence is when nothing is good or bad for you, and that seems the worst on a typical metaphysical scale of evils as lacks or privations. But I am not thereby saying that suffering forever is a great or stupendous sort of state, or that it is preferable to non-existing.
My argument has conceded consistently that, yes, the state of souls in hell is very bad, and that, yes, we should not rejoice in it, and that, yes, even God does not rejoice in it. I am not arguing hell is desirable in itself. Rather, I am arguing that the universalist has not consistently demonstrated that God might not legitimately or justifiably permit people to be in this very bad state, and that the arguments that God cannot permit this state often involve controversial assumptions that involve misunderstanding what that bad state consists in. That is why I am pointing out that God continues to do what is best for the people in hell, as far as it within His power, in order to try to make clear that God’s reasons for permitting hell are not merely reasons for Him to do whatever He wants to human beings, but are good reasons even for the damned. So too when I say that hell is not the worst state of a person, I am attempting to highlight that hell is not positively willed by God, but rather only tolerated.
Thanks for your engagement.
Forgive me for my confusion but I do not see how you can both claim that the “worst possible state” of the human being is non-existence, while simultaneously denying that an alternative state (eternal punishment) must necessarily be “‘preferable” to non-existence.
Logically, if the “worst possible state” for a given substance is X, then literally any other state must – by definition – be a preferable state of affairs to X for that substance.
Therefore – while I understand you originally raised the point to highlight God does not positively will hell – it does seem that the logical implication of your position must be that eternal suffering is a preferable state of affairs to non-existence (unless you are using the term ‘preferable’ equivocally).
Again, it would probably be very helpful if you could answer my original questions, as these may touch on the underlying logic and motivation for your thinking in these matters.
If non-existence is the greatest evil for every substance, the logical conclusion is that God creates everything he possibly could, no?
There is so much confusion and illicit claims of logical inference in Fr. Rooney’s various proclamations that one despairs of countering what is in effect a Hydra head of errors serenely unaware and perfectly satisfied that the truth is secured by the deposit of faith and Tradition, so even if a defense is obtuse, what does it matter? Thomas Talbott writes a clarifying article to stipulate details insufficiently addressed in Fr. Rooney’s initial premises and Fr. Rooney concludes that all representatives of apokatastasis agree to the two forks of his argument. If Talbott fully agreed, he would not have been compelled to write an article explaining what was inadequate in Fr. Rooney’s statements. Nor can Talbott’s agreement or disagreement in any fashion be taken as proof of what all universalists think or grant. So, on a very basic level, Fr. Rooney exhibits a characteristic lack of precision.
Father Rooney claims that his argument has nothing to do with any particular metaphysics of freedom, though in the same breath he adds in the caveat of “apart from” for elements of choice and decision associated with NINF. While he may consider his assertions patently obvious and therefore uncontroversial, they do in fact presume aspects that determine how one understands the nature of freedom. Lots of folks pointed out how freedom as the flourishing of well-being does not reduce to choice. Indeed, thinking of parental care and compassion for the beloved as a decision is rather monstrous and existentially false to human experience. One is simply not free to choose in the manner proposed by NINF on matters of the most elemental intimacy. Loving action is freedom. To choose contrary actions is irrational and an exercise in slavery to delusion, disordered passion, etc. What it certainly is not is a licit exercise of freedom. David Bentley Hart recently reprised Maximus the Confessor’s view that Christ lacked a gnomic will. Perfected humanity does not deliberate upon the Good. The horizon that makes our willing potentially rational is completed by loving assent, not an endless choice of options that might be otherwise. So, Fr. Rooney’s claims are question begging and far from a benign expression of the obvious. Socratic method and the pedagogy of Platonic dialogues is designed to point out aporias and undo the very complacency that Fr. Rooney’s definition exemplifies.
Fr. Rooney appears to prize coherency, but it is evident he has given an idiosyncratic meaning to the term. What he really values is agreement with his understanding of Catholic orthodoxy and the consensus of the tradition. He declares that the meaning of the gospel cannot be determined purely by an accumulation of proof texts, but rather by a holistic understanding that could then properly adjudicate the relative meaning of disparate texts. (Well, he doesn’t say this, but were he capable of a just expression of what he says he intends, it would come to something like that.) However, that mode of interpretation is exactly what universalists employ. And if competing interpretations both lay claim to such a hermeneutic, how is one to adjudicate? As I have often written before, there are metaphysical consequences to creatio ex nihilo, to the plenitude of Triune aseity, to Personhood in light of Trinity and Incarnation. For instance, does a soteriology that treats persons as nominalist individuals or Divine favor as voluntarist freedom match up with the best metaphysical understanding derived from what is implicit in the gospel? That is where genuine coherence is to be discovered or found lacking.
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“a Hydra head of errors.”
When you claim “freedom as the flourishing of well-being does not reduce to choice,” you are already misunderstanding the scope of my claim about NINF. It’s just a claim about a necessary condition for being free, not a sufficient one for having freedom of flourishing. When I later talk about culpability, however, I am addressing your concern that to choose to do things that are sinful are not free. In one sense, it is quite true that sin is a kind of slavery. But it is, on the other hand, a freely chosen slavery. As Anselm put it, free will is the capacity to preserve rectitude of the will for rectitude’s own sake. One loses rectitude in sinning, but one does not thereby lose that capacity for preserving rectitude, nor does it mean that one was incapable of preserving rectitude of will when one sinned. In short, the only way to make yourself a slave of sin is to do so willingly and culpably, that is, freely.
If you agree with that claim, you would affirm – with me, against Talbott – that it is possible to make yourself a slave to sin. If you hold Talbott’s position, it is metaphysically impossible for someone to make themselves slaves to sin.
Unfortunately, all of the imprecisions, as I view them, in Rooney’s original article seem to remain in his latest response to me. Here are a few examples:
(1) Rooney writes, “Talbott and many others reject the charge of heresy . . .” But in fact I do not reject that charge, given Rooney’s own conception of what counts as heresy. Indeed, my most relevant comment about heresy in my original piece was that “many of those who worry about heresy, as I do not . . .” So in case that wasn’t clear enough, let me here concede that I am no doubt a heretic, given Rooney’s understanding of that term. But so what? I would argue that St. Paul clearly delivered a universalist message and was therefore a heretic in Rooney’s sense of the term; and Rooney himself may also be a heretic, given some other understanding of that term. So again I ask, “Why should anyone care about that?
(2) Rooney writes: “Talbott explicitly accepts the second fork of my dilemma: arguing that failing to love God, i.e., to make ‘a free and fully informed decision to reject God and his love’ – call this ‘a mortal sin’ – ‘represents a metaphysical impossibility’ for human beings.” Of course, one could just as easily claim that Rooney also accepts that second fork if he concedes that all people fail to love God at some time during their earthly lives. For during our earthly lives, we all emerge and begin making choices in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception. Now Rooney rightly concedes the following point: “People who go to heaven cannot – while in heaven – commit a sin.” But he never addresses the question of whether the saints in heaven continue to act freely even in a context where they are unable to do otherwise. Instead, he suggests that “their choosing to love God, and so be in a state where they cannot sin, is a product of those choices they made in life”—choices made, in other words, at a time when they remain in a state of relative ignorance and are therefore not yet fully informed. So if we take this seriously, we must conclude that no one ever makes a fully informed decision either to accept or to reject God. Because no one in this life is yet in a position to make such a fully informed decision, moreover, neither is anyone in this life in a position to commit a mortal sin in the sense defined in the above quotation.
(3) Rooney also claims that I accept “the first fork: arguing that God’s decision to save all human beings is a necessary fact about God’s nature, so that God could not choose to do otherwise.” But this is just one more imprecision. If it is not a “necessary fact about God’s nature” that he creates human beings in the first place, as Rooney himself insists and I am willing to concede for the sake of argument, then neither is it a “necessary fact about God’s nature” that he saves non-existent humans from non-existent sins.
(4) In a similar vein Rooney writes: “But, if God’s happiness essentially is such that He cannot be happy without the happiness of the persons He creates, God Himself essentially is such that His essence requires the existence of those persons: i.e., God would not be God without me existing.” But this, quite frankly, strikes me as just silly. The whole point of my analogy of the young married couple choosing to have a child was that, for human beings, having a child can change the conditions of their own happiness. Similarly, God’s decision to create Rooney carries implications for how God will providentially control his creation. One such implication is that God could never both create Rooney and cause Rooney to experience excruciating and debilitating pain throughout every moment of his earthly life plus every moment of an everlasting existence in an afterlife. Yes, there is also an important disanalogy here. For even though the parents of a child may sometimes have no control over what may or may not happen to their child, God has an absolute control over what he will permit happening to created persons; and that is precisely why nothing that actually happens in creation could ever threaten God’s own happiness.
But enough of that. After several long-winded responses back and forth, further responses of that kind tend to be more and more unfruitful. So at this point I prefer to slow down and focus on a single issue, taking one tiny baby step at a time. I had thought that the question of whether God freely keeps his promises would be a good starting point. But Rooney answered this question when he wrote: “No, I do not think God keeping His promises is an object of free choice; what God freely chooses is to make a promise with Abraham.” That’s because God’s breaking a promise would be a logical impossibility. So here is the first question I would put to Rooney—not for the purpose of controversy, but merely for the sake of clarity. Given your own conception of divine freedom, would you say that the God who cannot lie never tells the truth freely?—and that he never freely acts in a just way?—and that he never freely acts in a loving way toward his creatures? I presume you would agree that these are very important matters. Would you therefore agree that many of God’s most important actions, as you understand them, do not qualify as genuinely free actions?
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I agree a quick response is easiest.
2. I’ve already presented my reasoning why the arguments that nobody is truly culpable are unsound, so I simply do not concede that the context of the present life renders it impossible to commit a mortal sin. There are lots of people, for all I know, who do not love God and are living in mortal sin at the present.
As for the saints, I think their loving God is invariant, or not going to change, but argue that this does not undermine their freely engaging in that love (in light of reasons I already mentioned). I do think that the saints have free will in other respects, such as choosing to pray for someone in particular, or shift their attention, or whatever. These other choices involve no necessitation whatsoever, aside from the limits on what they choose that result from their continuously loving God and the limits of actions open to them existing as separated souls, so I don’t see that discussing these other actions is relevant.
3. By ‘accepting the first fork,’ I refer to what you seemed to accept in the claims about God’s interests being tied to those of His creatures, discussed in 4.
4. If you do not really think God’s happiness depends on the happiness of His creation, then the relation is not literally that one’s interests are tied together, but some other kind of relation, such as being committed to act in a certain way. And I concede that God makes nothing in vain, so we can envision that there are certain expectations in regard to God’s conduct on the basis of His decision to create something of a given kind. Now, I already denied that God is committed to ensuring that every particular thing He creates actually flourishes, as sometimes God has good reasons to allow things like an evolutionary process which benefits a species but permits the non-flourishing of individuals. So I think we can conclude, roughly, that God is committed to ensuring conditions for a given kind to flourish. And on my account of God’s permission of hell, I already affirmed that God ensures conditions hold in light of which each individual human being can flourish supernaturally. That is why an individual human failing to flourish supernaturally is entirely the fault of that person. But, as the claim God needs to ensure each individual plant and animal flourishes would be too strong (as ruling out all natural evils), so too God need not have any obligation to prevent this harm from occurring – a failure of some individual person to supernaturally flourish – if God has good justifying reasons to permit it.
5. “Would you say that the God who cannot lie never tells the truth freely?—and that he never freely acts in a just way?—and that he never freely acts in a loving way toward his creatures?” I think these questions are ambiguous. Clearly, God choosing to speak is a free action. But God is not free to lie, as this is a result of His nature. So God does not freely choose ‘not to lie,’ which is one interpretation of ‘never tells the truth freely’. The same applies to the rest. God is not free to choose ‘not to be loving,’ but He is free in His choice to love some creatures into being (with the natures that they have), among all the other possible ones He could have created, as well as in any subsequent commitments to act in a certain way toward those creatures. God is free in terms of not being necessitated in choice among the alternatives open to Him.
“God is not free to choose ‘not to be loving,’ but He is free in His choice to love some creatures into being (with the natures that they have), among all the other possible ones He could have created, as well as in any subsequent commitments to act in a certain way toward those creatures.”
Adopting, for the sake of argument, your use of ‘free’ . . . God freely loves John into being, but then must love John, i.e. He is not free to choose to not love John.
Let us, again for the sake of argument, assume that John dies an unrepentant mortal sinner and so goes into a state of eternal suffering.
So, on your view, God loves John and God allows John to suffer eternally.
I wonder if you would accept the following claims. In the next life, it remains possible for God to convince John of the error of his ways. Because He loves John, God will continue trying to convince John of the error of his ways. If John were convinced, his post-mortem suffering would end.
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“God is free in terms of not being necessitated in choice among the alternatives open to Him”
In the past you have already argued that freedom doesn´t require alternative possibilities, so why the double standard here? I won´t even press the PSR on you here; there will be no way for you to explain how the two different options in speaking or not speaking to Abraham will be related to the necessary nature of the divine without introducing contingency into God. But still, the double standards are baffling. On your account the loving of creation would be due to his nature. Creation can´t be though, because you want to preserve the possibility of there being no creation at all. The creation follows from God´s intention/reasons/desires. But if they´re able to be changed, then what is their relation to God in the first place? They must be completely unrelated to his necessary nature, which would explain God intending/desiring/being impressed of the reasons for X. But this would once again necessitate them. The inference is so obvious, that only blind adherence to dogma explains why you´re not following the obvious logical conclusion. God knows willing, but no choice, for these exact reasons.
“And on my account of God’s permission of hell, I already affirmed that God ensures conditions hold in light of which each individual human being can flourish supernaturally. That is why an individual human failing to flourish supernaturally is entirely the fault of that person.”
This doesn´t work though, especially given that the beings in hell made a rational decision against that particular creature you´re describing here. A rational decision is always dependent on the type of information available, weight in such a way that we can deduce which options leads us to the Good. Once again, past remarks of yours have lead us to the same route, your conception prevents the identification of “God” with the Good, making “God” irrelevant in our spiritual quest. An act with the explicit desire for the greatest own good, which, given our natural will is always directed towards the Good, can hardly be sinful, let alone be a mortal sin, even if its against God. If God is the Good, that would be his fault then, in the case of a completely rational soul. If it were to see the Good completely, it´s impossible for it to not be drawn to it.
” I do think that the saints have free will in other respects, such as choosing to pray for someone in particular, or shift their attention, or whatever. These other choices involve no necessitation whatsoever, aside from the limits on what they choose that result from their continuously loving God and the limits of actions open to them existing as separated souls, so I don’t see that discussing these other actions is relevant.”
It is highly relevant actually and exposes the incoherencies of your view. It is truly wondrous how God would respect the free will of his creatures in hell, but determine us once in heaven. Got us in his mousetrap there, I assume. The way better answer is that once in the presence of God, the soul is incapable of drawing away from him. After all, it is the fulfillment ouf the deepest desires of our nature which we find in him. The problem for you is of course, the obvious universalist implications of that view, because once the gnomic and natural will get aligned in purgatory, it naturally follows that in a limited time the soul will be drawn to God, even the most twisted ones will be eventually.
Also, please enlighten us what God´s reasons could be in not securing the good end for everyone. Is it the delight of the Saints in watching the tortured souls? Up until this point the most I see from you are skeptical theist thesis “God may have reasons for that”, but I´d be really interested in what you think these reasons might be. And, more importantly, which reasons would convince you in seeing that being still being worthy of worship?
“There are lots of people, for all I know, who do not love God and are living in mortal sin at the present.”
What is God? The way I see it, your usage of that name is hollow, if it isn´t to be identified with the Good. Unfortunately you have already conceded in past comment sections that our desire for the Good must be distinguished from love of God, but now the object of that love is unknowable. It can´t be the figure of Jesus, after all if we´re philosophizing about what God is, Jesus never enters the picture up until the point of revelation, where philosophy has long ended. It would exclude all the other abrahamic religions, but to no fault of their own, of course. There are very rational reasons against Christianity and Catholicism, so we can´t blame anyone for not accepting either, let alone with eternal punishment.
So please enlighten me: What am I supposed to love here? Are you just loving a name? Or a mental image that you developed after decades of dogma? Or is it rather the case, like within Brahmanian schools, that the claim to love him, proves that you haven´t understood what he is?
Thanks for your response. Because I am leaving town for the rest of the week, this quick response of mine will probably be the last post of mine this week. But I would like to acknowledge point 4 of your post above and raise one additional question. Because we should all be free to define the technical terms we are using in any way we see fit, I am quite willing to accept your understanding of divine freedom. Still, I cannot resist the temptation to point out that your claim that my questions are ambiguous rests upon the same points I made when I first raised those questions. Also I don’t see why these points make the questions ambiguous in any case.
But anyway, do you agree that many of God’s most important actions do not count as free actions in your sense? Would you also agree that many of our most important human choices are not free in your sense either? For my own part, I suspect that most conversions to Christianity, for example, occur in a context, such as C. S. Lewis described (see my original post), in which the converts could not have chosen otherwise. Do you disagree with that?
I find it interesting, by the way, how many of the early libertarian philosophers who, like you, identified moral freedom with the power of contrary choice —everyone from C. A. Campbell to Peter van Inwagen—winded up concluding that we humans have precious little freedom of the will.
Incidentally, I would love to see your response to Brad’s question above as well as to the questions that I have raised here.
I don’t see that I am saying anything that affects whether God’s ‘most important actions’ are free. All I deny is that God is freely good, not that the actions He performs which are good are less free. To put it simply, God is not free to perform an evil action, because those alternatives do not exist for Him. He does not ‘freely’ not do evil. Conversely, the alternatives open to God are all good (and He has no uniquely compelling reasons to cause Him to perform one of these actions over another, since all are good). Any action God performs, then, is supremely free.
And, no, I deny that our actions under grace, including conversion, are unfree. It is false that someone acting under grace, including that which causes them to convert, simply cannot do otherwise. (I’d point out that this claim about being able to resist God’s grace, even when being moved by God to convert, is Catholic doctrine defined at Trent and that Thomist Banezians always affirmed this too, precisely to safeguard that doctrine). Similarly, this is not a ‘libertarian’ claim that moral freedom is the power of ‘contrary choice.’ I merely affirmed that a choice is not free if it could not have been otherwise simply speaking, since I already denied in some cases – such as the saints in heaven – that one needs alternative possibilities open to one at all times in order for a choice to be free. ‘NINF’ was a necessary condition, not a sufficient one.
As to Brad’s questions: “God freely loves John into being, but then must love John, i.e. He is not free to choose to not love John.”
I distinguish: if God chooses to create John, that is an act of love, and God cannot simultaneously fail to will to create John at the same time He does so will, on pain of logical contradiction. But God is not thereby committed to will any and all goods for John.
“assume that John dies an unrepentant mortal sinner and so goes into a state of eternal suffering…So, on your view, God loves John and God allows John to suffer eternally.”
Yes, on my view, both can be true. Obviously, God loves those who are in hell; otherwise, they wouldn’t even exist. But, more importantly, I believe God only permits hell insofar as the world in which hell exists is good *for John* to be in. That’s not to say hell is good for John, just to say that God’s permission of what happens to John could not be disconnected from His love of John.
“In the next life, it remains possible for God to convince John of the error of his ways. Because He loves John, God will continue trying to convince John of the error of his ways. If John were convinced, his post-mortem suffering would end.”
Again, I distinguish: it remains possible in God’s absolute power to do many things. It would have been absolutely possible for God to create John and confirm John in grace with no action on John’s part, causing John to love God without any prior possibility of resistance. But, given God’s decision to create John within a world in which God chooses to allow creatures to resist His grace, it is not possible within that scope of God’s intentions that God merely cause John to love Him in such a way that John was unable to have done otherwise. All God’s grace is given such that creatures could have resisted that grace and failed to love Him. In this sense, it is also not possible for God to convince John of the error of his ways, if John does not want to be convinced.
In my article, I explicitly argued that God does act upon John in the afterlife in aiming to bring John into contact with the truth about God’s love for John. John does not respond to this love forever, given the state of John’s will, and so this love causes John pain. This is, I’ve proposed, what the ‘fire’ of hell consists in. On the one hand, it is true that John remains free in hell and could have done otherwise than be in this state where his will is resistant to God’s love; on the other hand, it is also true that (given John’s state) nothing about God’s love is such as to efficaciously move John’s will and so John will never leave that state.
I forgot to address the claim about ambiguity. Consider ‘John freely chooses to be a human being.’ If this means that John chose to be a human being, then it would be nonsense. John’s choice would not have mattered one way or another; it was not an object of John’s choice to be human or not. If this means that John chose to act as a human being should, e.g., ‘humanely’ or ‘well’, or that John willingly wants to be a human being (rather than, e.g., commit suicide), then the phrase makes sense. I am applying a similar distinction with God. If ‘God freely chooses not to lie to Abraham’ means that God chose to be the kind of thing that does not lie, and to be the kind of thing that keeps His promises, then the claim is nonsense. God’s choice is not what makes the divine nature unable to lie. If ‘God freely chooses not to lie to Abraham’ means that God chose to swear an oath to Abraham even though He could have done otherwise, or kept His word willingly (not, as if, by force), then of course such a claim is true.
James (if I may),
Thanks for your responses. Before I head off to enjoy a day of turkey, pie, football and thanksgiving, I have a further question about one of your answers.
You write, “it is also not possible for God to convince John of the error of his ways, if John does not want to be convinced.”
On your view, is it *possible*, while he is in Hell, for John’s desire to change, i.e. *could* he subsequently want to be convinced of the error of his ways?
“In this sense, it is also not possible for God to convince John of the error of his ways, if John does not want to be convinced.”
This is in direct contradiction to your professed belief that God in fact can infallibly predestine anyone to come at any time.
I wonder whether your not replying to my follow-up question is incidental.
If you answer that it is possible for John to change his mind, then universal salvation follows. For God can certainly accomplish the possible.
If you answer that it is not possible for John to change his mind, then (by your own definition of freedom) his remaining in hell is not the result of his free choice. Thus, you would have to part company with Lewis’s ‘locked from the inside’ view and take Hell to be an externally imposed punishment.
Which do you prefer?
Hello again, James:
I’m back in town again and have read your response to my latest post here. I also sense that if I could better understand your opening sentences, then I might better understand your overall position as well. You wrote: “I don’t see that I am saying anything that affects whether God’s ‘most important actions’ are free. All I deny is that God is freely good, not that the actions He performs which are good are less free.”
Now I certainly understand why you deny that God is freely good. As I said before, you are entitled to define the term “freedom” as you see fit, provided that you continue to use this term consistently. But how can you not also deny, if you want to remain consistent, that some of God’s good actions are less than perfectly free? God was no doubt free (in your sense) not to promise a son to Abraham and Sarah. But having made that promise, in what sense was he then free not to provide the promised son? If you say, as you do, “God is not free to perform an evil action, because those alternatives do not exist for Him”; and if you also say that breaking his promise by not providing the promised son would have been an evil act, then in what sense was God free with respect to the good act of keeping his promise and providing the promised son?
In keeping with my intention to proceed more slowly, taking one baby step at a time, I’ll await your response to this question before proceeding any farther at this point, such as addressing the issue of importance.
Thanks for your latest response.
> But as it stands, that is a simple non sequitur. If hell itself, however else we might understand its nature, serves a corrective purpose in the divine scheme of things or even serves as a means of bringing sinners back to Christ, as many Christian universalists believe it does, then it hardly follows that no sinners will ever go there.
You’re making a fallacy of equivocation. “Hell” in classical orthodox theology is eternal. It is permanent state of separation from God, what else it’s nature might be. It is unjust to redefine Fr Rooney’s plain and obvious term, claim hell might be something else, and then accuse him of a non sequitur.
Fr. Rooney is putatively engaged in debate with Christian universalists. Talbott’s use of the subjunctive is the proper means for indicating one is talking about a matter where one specifies a particular stance that is not uniformly held. Naturally, the classic infernalist understanding of hell as permanent separation from God precludes apokatastasis, but Fr. Rooney cannot begin an argument by requiring everyone to agree with precisely what is in question.
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One must always take an interlocutor on his own terms, and then seek to redefine toward common understanding.
Presumptuously rejecting an obviously held understanding, changing the meaning, and then accusing him of a fallacy, is among the most discrediting rhetorical tactics. It is completely out of bounds for any serious discussion, let alone a criticism of an argument.
Talbott is seeking clarification and precision. There was nothing in his tone or nature of his argument that appears dismissive in my judgement. He is not writing polemic. Regardless, if you presume ahead of time the traditional “Catholic” view of hell, what’s the point of dialectical inquiry with those who assert otherwise? In any event, I surmise Talbott is trying to open up space that might make “redefinition towards common understanding” at least plausible. Otherwise, your “serious discussion” rules out the opposing view from the start by definition so that the exercise will never get beyond initial premises.
I am all in favor of “redefinition toward a common understand” which amplifies and deepens, but does not contradict, the received understanding.
There might, however, be no space to open up if one is arguing against the received orthodox apostolic understanding. Universalism might be irreconcilable with the theology of the institutional apostolic Church(es).
It seems the onus resides with those claiming a new interpretation against a massive, constant, internally consistent, and historical body of theology and liturgical praxis which does not accept that all people, as well as Satan and the demons, will finally be reconciled in the love and adoration of the Blessed Trinity in the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The universalist should be ok with this, and not demand to be received as orthodox. There have always been heterodox theologies, forcefully and intelligently and competently argued for, which the institutional Church(es) have rejected. We’ll see clearly in the final consummation: for now we see darkly, as through a glass.
This is a common challenge for us all — how ought a universalist know if he is really seeing clearly? I cannot answer how it is that I see clearly either, but I submit to the apostolic Church which I believe was founded by Christ on the apostles and their successors, and was institutionally graced with the Holy Spirit to safeguard the Gospel and the sacraments and to lead the Church into the fullness of truth. Clarity does not reside in my brain, but in the *mens ecclesiae* faithfully defending and promoting the *depositum fidei*. I believe that this is the only grasp any of us can have for any epistemic certitude.
I hope that is a fair response to your point.
Steve, I take your point; but philosophers live by precision, and I think Talbott was in his rights to point out that Rooney’s argument regarding who goes to “hell” suffers from a fatal ambiguity, given that universalists often speak of the wicked as going to hell (understood as temporary purification). Rooney should have been more careful in the formulation of his argument.
For this reason I have proposed that we universalists should avoid the word “hell” when describing our position. Personally, I prefer the term “Gehenna” or “purgatory” in order to avoid confusion. A similar problem occurs when we Orthodox discuss the Last Things with Western Christians. We often use the word “hell” as the post-mortem “place” of the wicked, even though the more accurate word would be “hades,” given that we do not believe that those in hades are beyond God’s mercy. Through the prayers of the Church, the wicked may still be delivered by God from hell into Paradise. The real hell does not begin until the Final Judgment.
Anyway, not a big deal. All that is required is clarification of the meaning of the word “hell.”
I fully agree with your point about language. A universalist seems to be talking more about something like “purgatory”, which is not an eternal condition. I’ve read some of your and others writings on Gehenna, and while I don’t find it compelling (and indeed problematic that the Lord was only speaking prophetically of some historical event concerning Jerusalem), I think I understand your attempt at resolving the tensions in both scripture and some of the Church Fathers on the question of aion.
Also, “that Rooney’s argument regarding who goes to “hell” suffers from a fatal ambiguity” — I don’t think Fr. Rooney claims anyone in particular goes to hell (as he uses the term in the conventional permanent sense). This seems to be a basic gap in understanding with Fr Rooney’s critics, if I am reading him accurately.
Regarding your second paragraph: I was referring to this sentence from Talbott’s article: “If it is a necessary truth that all will be saved, something makes it so. The only way it would be impossible for anyone to go to hell is.”
‘Hell’ is ordinarily used in the way that it refers to everlasting punishment, and it was immediately apparent in the context of my article what way I was using the word. I think it makes no difference and it is certainly not a ‘fatal ambiguity,’ given it is a semantic point of no consequence for any of these arguments. Call your meaning of hell, ‘hell*’ and mine, ‘hell’ and re-read my characterization of hard universalism in light of this distinction as the view that it were impossible for anyone to go to hell, and we’re done – all my arguments still stand exactly as they were before.
I concede that “fatal” was too strong, and I do not doubt that given the Catholic audience of your article, there was/is no misunderstanding. But philosophers live and die by clear definitions, do they not?
“I’ve read some of your and others writings on Gehenna, and while I don’t find it compelling (and indeed problematic that the Lord was only speaking prophetically of some historical event concerning Jerusalem).”
If you’ve read my writings on Gehenna, Steven, then you know that I have never claimed that Jesus was only speaking prophetically of some future event concerning Jerusalem. I think you must be thinking of someone else.
Fr. Aidan, undoubtedly then, I was thinking of someone else’s argument. I’m not trying to put words in your mouth.
Please direct me to your best summary of your own understanding of the language of punishment/correction/mercy/damnation in the afterlife. I will give it careful consideration.
I also want to commend you on your irenic and charitable disposition toward all here, and for facilitating an important if difficult conversation.
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To be honest, Steven, the best summary of my universalist convictions is my book Destined for Joy.
If you’re interested in exploring this topic, I suggest you look through my Recommended Reading List. I recommended especially Tom Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God and Kronen and Reitan’s God’s Final Victory.
I appreciate your rhetoric and good will. Replying here because it was the nearest reply link to your comment — I think the notion of constant, uniform dogmatic agreement is somewhat exaggerated — and innovation over time can become the received opinion. There’s an organic, living creativity that allows for an orthodoxy to perdure across generations. But I don’t think this implies there is no such thing as a Church or that Christendom is absolutely separable from theology or that the latter reduces to a traditional view of hell. Balthasar was looked at askance for even suggesting that all may be saved, but evidently he thought the idea compatible with magisterial teaching. There has been a minority opinion here and there throughout the life of the Church that held to the universalist view, so I don’t accept the notion that it is an alien imposition or an intruder into the life of the faithful. (Elsewhere I replied to your concern that one is faced with an either/or situation with regards to claims that Christ redeems and renews the entire universe and the historical praxis of the Church.)
In any event, with regards to clarity, of course, discernment is a matter of prayer and thought — and thought at its highest level simply is prayer. I think there are consequences to creatio ex nihilo, to the aseity of Divine Plenitude, the implications to our understanding of Person that one can properly recognize from a contemplation of Christology and the perichoresis of Triune bliss. D. C. Schindler’s book The Catholicity of Reason offers a helpful argument for understanding the “ecstatic” nature of rationality. In short, even though we “see through a glass darkly” we are not bereft of the capacity to make logical inferrence based upon revelation. None of this ought to be considered out-of-bounds by any valid understanding of a magisterium.
The problem is that Fr Rooney himself equovocates over both “hell” and “mortal sin” to make his argument. He observes universalists deny “hell” (because they deny it as eternal) and then claims that by denying “hell” (as existing at all) they deny the reality and consequences of sin, glossing over that he has changed the definition of hell in the course of making the argument.
He does the same with “mortal sin”: universalist arguments deny that “mortal sin” as defined by the Catholic church is possible (i.e. deliberate sin despite full understanding) and Fr Rooney “refutes” this by saying “mortal sin” is possible because a degree of culpability is still possible even without full understanding, thus heterodoxically redefining “mortal sin” as any degree of culpability at all, and pretending he has countered the argument that “mortal sin” by the *normal Catholic definition* is impossible.
>”universalist arguments deny that “mortal sin” as defined by the Catholic church is possible (i.e. deliberate sin despite full understanding) and Fr Rooney “refutes” this by saying “mortal sin” is possible because a degree of culpability is still possible even without full understanding, thus heterodoxically redefining “mortal sin” as any degree of culpability at all, and pretending he has countered the argument that “mortal sin” by the *normal Catholic definition* is impossible.”
I am wondering where you find this in Fr. Rooney’s writings, and in the Catholic Church’s teaching on mortal sin.
One does not have to fully understand the implications of a sinful act for it to be mortal and the person to be culpable, and there are various diminishing factors of culpability that might be applied in moral analysis which mitigate but still have caused the loss of sanctifying grace.
One can obviously be a baptized Christian and care nothing for the things of God or *charity* as understood in the light of the Gospel, living a completely selfish, self absorbed life, using people for carnal gratification and self aggrandizement, exploiting others, being fully culpable in freedom while being uncaring of one’s moral obligations to one’s Maker and neighbor. This is a condition of mortal sin, which scripture tells us requires the remediation of the Church through the sacraments for the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of the soul. That forgiveness is dispensed in the language of grace that restores the soul to relationship with God.
This leads to another question (my apologies for my ignorance of the universalist answer) about grace itself: the apostolic orthodox position is that the sacraments provide the soul with sanctifying grace: the sacraments are instituted by Christ to confer sanctifying grace, especially baptism and by extension the sacrament of confession to bring to sanctification and salvation.
But what is left of any of that if there is no such need to bring people to eternal life from the death of sin? Why would anyone celebrate the Holy Mysteries unless they bring us grace, and that grace was actually conducive to our sanctification and salvation? What does *metanioa* (or even *sin*) mean if there is no such thing as sanctifying grace to restore us to relationship to God?
If universalism is true (that not only the supposedly “damned” but Satan and the fallen angels will in the end submit again to the loving service and worship of the Holy Trinity), it seems perverse that Christ really didn’t found a Church to bring salvation to all people throughout all ages, or if he did the Church didn’t get the message (which of course includes ALL the Fathers who hammered out the canon and the meaning of Scripture) which perversely speaks to the incompetency of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church. Especially as that same apostolic Church on which the universalist relies for the correct canon of Scripture has time and again rejected universalism, as if perversely the secret, suppressed “true Gospel” has now been correctively brought to light. The entire record of salvation history from Genesis to Revelation becomes incoherent — there is no meaningful symbolical interpretation of any of it, nor stable symbolic language for theology to operate, and there is no mechanism for any epistemological certainty upon which one can hold “faith”.
The entire “Great and kingly house”, the “Temple of the Holy Spirit”, the “Heavenly City” seems to be just a house of cards that tumbles at the end of the aion. I don’t see how you even save the appearances.
Hi Steven, for what regards the meaning and the meaningfulness of sacraments when looked at from a universalist perspective, bearing in mind that all the sacraments are grounded on the Eucharistic sacrament, I think you might find the following article to be useful:
Thank you for that link. While I am tangentially familiar with Fr Bulgakov, I’m not sure how it touches on my question.
For both the Eastern and Western apostolic traditions, the Eucharist is certainly the perfect and complete sacrament of Christ himself, both priest and victim, body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus who makes himself present under the sacramental signs. All the sacraments are “one” in the sense that it is always Christ acting to bring healing and sanctifying and uniting grace to the soul, and all are true participation in some aspect of his sacrificial, kenotic death and resurrection to overcome sin and death, and to restore the soul to grace.
The Eucharist of course, par excellence, is the “source and summit” of the Christian life (and the Church’s life), and sets the other sacraments in their proper context. But this is precisely why St Paul is so adamant about preparing one’s self to receive the Holy Eucharist, because it requires a concomitant sacrifice of our self in preparing our hearts to receive so great an encounter with the Resurrected Lord. This is the reason one must abstain and first reconcile through Confession if one is aware of grave sins. This is the common Eucharistic discipline in both the East and the West.
Why this, then, if universalism is true? How can one “eat and drink condemnation (κριμα) unto oneself” by receiving the Lord unworthily (αναχιοσ)? In the Eastern and Western apostolic traditions we are always unworthy except for the sanctifying graces of the sacraments. Yet we seek to cooperate with those graces by preparing ourselves through prayer, metanioa and confession, spiritual disciplines, fasting, care for the sacred things, and such.
Why should the universalist Orthodox even think that what the Orthodox Church teaches about the sacrificial meaning of the Eucharist, and the Eucharistic meaning of sacrifice, is true and entails that it should continue to be *offered* at the Divine Liturgy (except for some scriptural and traditional notion that we should come together weekly to break the bread)?
If there is no need for sanctifying grace in the sacraments — baptism, chrismation, confession, Eucharist, Holy Orders, matrimony — because they have no effect on our final reunion with God (perhaps lessen the pain of restoration in the afterlife, which seems to be a rather utilitarian bargain) — then why the Church at all? Why the sacraments? Why the priesthood? Just follow the teachings of Jesus and try to be a good person.
This is what I don’t get about the universalist claim — let’s say it is true: then the past 2000 years appear to have been a rather grave institutional error. Are you ready to admit to that consequence? Or how would you save the apostolic faith and the authority of the apostolic Church without a complete reset?
They might be taken as kisses from the Beloved to His beloveds. The value of those kisses need not be grounded on something else that they might be instrumental for. They might be taken as ways for the Lord to be intimate with us in the damaged world and damaged condition we are in.
The reason why I thought that article to be helpful is because there Bulgakov proposes to ground the meaning of the Eucharist ultimately on the Last Supper itself, in the gratuitous, peaceful and bloodless gift of His Body and Blood offered by the Christ to His disciples in that occasion. It is not the gift in the Last Supper that should be understood in terms of the violent sacrifice of His Death on the Cross, but the gift of His Death on the Cross that should be understood in terms of the peaceful and nonviolent gift offered to His beloveds at the Last Supper for the sake of loving His beloveds.
I thought this way of understanding the Eucharist, the Last Supper and the Cross would be available also for Catholics.
Am I in error about that? If that were the case, please accept my apology.
Hi Stephen. We haven’t spoken before but I hope you are well.
On your first point I’d point out that Adam, Abraham and all the other OT saints never received the sacraments – at least not in any conventional sense – and yet the Church teaches that they are saved.
1) they did not receive the sacraments and yet they are still saved – in which case, there is no problem for universalism after all (at least, if there is a problem, then it’s a problem for all forms of Christianity, not just universalism)
2) they received the sacraments in some ineffable ‘spiritual’ way and/or received them after death – in which case universalists can hold this is what happens to everyone.
In terms of your worries that the Church has been in a “a rather grave institutional error” for the past 2000 years, I’d point out that the mainstream theological position of the Church these days appears to be ‘inclusivism’ – that many outside the visible walls of the Church and who do not know Christ in this lifetime may yet be saved.
It thus seems to me that – if the Church of today is right in opposing exclusivism and endorsing inclusivism – then it has been in just as much a “grave institutional error” for the past 2000 years than it would be if universalism were true.
It may also be worth reflecting on how Jesus’ opponents could have argued that his commandment to “turn the other cheek” must be incorrect else it would mean that God had led Israel into a “grave institutional error” in its teaching of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
I appreciate the tender sense of the Bridegroom’s intimacy with the Bride, indeed this is part of what *communion* means.
The firm Catholic teaching is that the Eucharist manifests the entirety of Christ in his relationship with the Church: the nuptial of the Groom to the Bride in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the sacred meal (Last Supper), the sacrifice of Cavalry, the perfection of the ancient sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek and Abraham and Aaron, the gathering of the ecclesia in worship of the Father through the sacramental signs as the Son offers himself to the Father in one continuous act of love for the salvation of the world, the conquering of sin and death, feeding the soul and restoring us to more perfect union with God, anticipation of the Heavenly City, and so forth.
The Eucharist is indeed the unbloody sacrifice of love — it is offered in a now unbloody manner because there is no symbolic victim (scapegoat or ram or animal offering) but the Lord is the victim and the High Priest. It is indeed a means of peace, once violently and brutally endured by the Lord, and by sacramental signs it is peaceful and nonviolent, transcending the historical and material event of the Lord’s Supper and the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord, and is ordered toward the eschatological horizon, presented in the present moment.
The Church unites — both the ministerial (ordained) priesthood and the baptismal (Royal) priesthood — in thanksgiving (eucharistia), in adoration (latria) of the Blessed Trinity, and in sacrifice under the sacramental signs (doing what Christ commands us in memoriam, and offering our selves conjoined to the Sacrifice of Christ through the ministerial priesthood offering the gifts) for the salvation of the world and the sanctification of the faithful.
So, if this helps, the problem for me is not that there is any disharmony between what you suggest about the Lord’s Supper and orthodox Catholic sacramental theology. It is more that what is omitted is important: without the notion that the Eucharist is *also* the continued offering of the Lord under the sacrament signs, and which sacrifice provides sanctifying grace conducive to our sanctification and salvation; that it is not just food for the journey, or a moment of spiritual intimacy with the Lord, but actually a *sacerdotal act* of the Lord as the High Priest for the forgiveness of sins, then the Liturgy is impoverished.
Perhaps you can explain what would differentiate a “universalist” liturgy from any pious and devout Presbyterian or Lutheran or Baptist communion service, which holds to a purely symbolic, non sacramental occasion of celebrating the Lord and praising God by breaking bread and sharing the cup “in memory of Me”? IOW, what is Christ *doing* at the universalist liturgy that demands the liturgy itself if there is no forgiveness of sins, or dispensation of actual sanctifying graces that only God can give?
Hi David: Good to meet you too!
For your first point, on the salvation given the Patriarchs and others under the First Covenant, the OT prefigures the perfection of the New Covenant in the Christ’s blood. The signs of the old order of sacrifice are “sacramental” (circumcision, the offerings of Abel, Melchizedek, Abraham, Aaron) in a primal sense of the word. But they are not said to be the same order as the sacraments of the Church which are *acts* of Christ as the High Priest perfecting and fulfilling the Old Law and instituting the New Covenant.
So for your 1), Christ himself is said to have “descended into Hell” (or Hades) to free the souls of the Just who died under the Old Law (alluded to in Eph 4:9 and 1 Pet 3:18-19 and 4:6, and an occasional theme in Eastern patristic and early apocryphal literature). They are saved by Christ (as we all hope to be) as the first act of the New Law in fulfillment of the Old Law. This does not however immediately solve the problem of universalism to conclude that all people (including the unbaptized, along with the demons and Lucifer) will be saved under the New Law.
And for 2) that does some injury to the very teaching of what a “sacrament” is. Water is taught as necessary for baptism, and baptism as necessary for the remission of sins. Bread and wine and necessary for Eucharist, and the Eucharist necessary for obedience to Christ’s mandate unto life eternal (Jn 6: 52-58) . There is necessarily a physical, material basis to “sacrament” as an outward sign of an inward reality. The implication of your position (“some ineffable ‘spiritual’ way and/or received them after death”) is that sacraments are unnecessary.
Now of course Christ can save any and all without the sacraments, but the conventional narrative is that Christ established the Church as a material hierarchical institution to gather the nations under his lordship, which involves the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments for the reconciliation of the world to the Father. The Church is rather firm in upholding that baptism is the necessary and ordinary means for the soul to be cleansed of sin and made worthy of the sacraments, and that the sacraments are ordained for the sanctification and salvation of the faithful.
How does any of that map on to the universalist position? Certainly your position might be how Christ decides to operate, but he doesn’t seem to have told his apostles or his Church in ecumenical councils that this was the way he was going to do. So much for the apostolic traditio…
I don’t agree with your statement that inclusivism is the mainstream position. I would agree that it certainly became more prominent from certain mid 20th century theologians, and perhaps the importance of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue grew after two world wars ripped apart the globe in a unprecedented manner. I think these are generally good responses to find common humanity, and common religious and spiritual motivations and aspirations among all people of good will albeit diverse faiths.
Does your position imply that the institutional Church is no longer necessary? That would be one not unreasonable inference.
But as I don’t agree with your premise, I don’t agree that the apostolic Church(es) are embracing “inclusivism” to the rejection of the need for the person to encounter Christ, to be baptized into the Body of Christ, to be born of the water and the spirit, to repent and believe in the Gospel, to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, to eat of His Body and drink of his Blood, and to confess one’s sins, to serve the poor and the widows and orphans, to clothe the naked and visit the prisoner and feed the hungry, etc. The Church still teaches that Christ is still and forever the way, the truth, and the life: if that is not the limit to “inclusivism” then there is no need for the Church. This seems to be the position of the universalist, no?
This would be a “reset” of the Church. But the Church is not (in any magisterial institutional manner) endorsing “inclusivism” as you seem to understand it to the rejection of the need for the sacraments of salvation.
For your last point, Jesus’s perfection of the Old Law does not mean that “God had led Israel into a grave institutional error”. Israel is not the Body of Christ. God did not lead the Jewish people to have king instead of the Lord (1 Samuel 8:20). In the mystery of divine Providence God used this error of the Jewish people themselves to bring about the Incarnation who would usher in the Kingdom of God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Your parallelism is flawed here. The Church is the Body of Christ in all its fullness, with Christ himself as the Head. Your position in defense of universalism raises even more problems — now Christological and ecclesiological.
It seems to me that universalism calls into doubt, or raises serious complications with Christology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and liturgical theology. It is positing a whole different religion from the conventional reading of apostolic Christianity.
Prescinding from the question of which (if either) is “true”, the rupture or volte-face and its wider implications must be at least acknowledged.
Do you generally agree with that last point?
Thanks for your reply!
I agree with your last point insofar that – if the church were to teach explicit universalism – this would indeed mark a significant historical turning point and should be acknowledged (although I would see this as a deepening and extension of past teachings)
I also understand and agree with your desire for the sacraments to ‘mean’ something – to have real efficacy – but I do not think you have demonstrated that the universalist position implies they do not.
It is perfectly possible to believe that the sacraments are the normative means by which God seeks to save all people, but still hold that God can and does save people in other ways. I think you admit that this is possible, but think it unlikely given it doesn’t appear to be part of the apostolic tradition. But I would dispute this. The story of the harrowing of hell, which we have discussed, is one clear example of God saving souls outside the visible church. Jesus’ promise to the good thief that he would “see him this day in paradise” is another one. The ‘baptism of blood’ tradition in the days of the martyrs is another.
In fact one doesn’t even need to hold that anyone is saved outside the sacraments. The church does not descend into dust in the next world – it too is resurrected – and for all we know it continues to administer the sacraments to the dead as the visible means by which God gives them grace and finally saves them.
And sorry – just realised I’ve done this twice now – Steven, not Stephen! 🙂
My perspective on this is that all the ways God in Christ makes way for grace/salvation are for our sake, not for God. The Church, sacraments, etc., enlarge the opportunity for humans to step into and participate in the Kingdom of God even now – to begin to live the life of grace and redemption now – to act explicitly as the Body of Christ now. But they do not restrict God from acting salvifically outside of these avenues.
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It’s certainly a false dilemma to assert that one must choose between the sacramental life of the Church and the claims of Christian universalism. If the countless millions who live their lives outside the historical reach of the Church are part of God’s salvific care, then explicit participation in the Liturgy is not a prerequisite to eternal life. A better way to think about it, I think, is to recognize that the Church nurtures the lives of saints. The exclusivity of the Eucharist is not an insular movement. We seek to grow more and more into the life of Christ which is intrinsically an impulse towards mission. There is perhaps a frequent tendency to think salvation as forensic forgiveness, so that to say all are saved is equated with indifference towards how people have lived their lives. Of course, this is entirely wrongheaded. Folks who say, “Why bother then?” simply are ignorant of the beauty of Christ. Why bother with Love? Why seek the one thing necessary? The grace of the sacraments is one with the hidden kenosis of the Spirit. The unique life of the Church is always “for the others.” It’s raison d’etre is the fundamental renewal of the Creation through union with God.
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Fr. Rooney is part of a coterie of priests and laity who become apoplectic when they read the idea that God has the salvation of all – indeed, the restoration of all things – as His will and shall accomplish it. Their whole existence seems to be a determination to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that hell exists, it is forever, and it is totally loving and just of God to send souls there, even though He foreknew of the fall of man and the result it would bring.
This idea, and many other odd views of God, is not limited to Roman Catholics. I read articles by Orthodox laity and priests who, when I read them, appear to have blood squirting out of their eyes as they write. I find myself wondering at Pascha, when we sing with gusto “Christ is risen from the dead, BY DEATH HE CONQUERED DEATH. . .” if they really believe it or have even thought of the conflict between that lovely hymn and their intense death grip on the doctrine of eternal conscious torment?
As we have seen from the responses here, both from Fr. Rooney and the corrections given by his interlocutors, the need to be right appears to override the ability to cogently think about the reality of what is actually being defended.
I don’t become apoplectic. I think it is wrong and makes the Christian story of salvation nonsense if one believes that it is necessarily true that ‘all will be saved.’ As part of that story, I deny quite explicitly and repeatedly that God sends anyone to hell. God is the source of all goodness and we (free creatures) are the source of moral evil. You are welcome to engage those arguments and try to tell me where I made a mistake in showing that the results of believing in either of the two forks of my dilemma are not problematic for Christianity. I think our beliefs about God as the source of all being and goodness would be nonsense if God literally cannot be happy without creating or saving us, and that the Cross would be nonsense if human beings were such that they could not do otherwise than love God.
My alternative is not to delight in death and suffering, but to think that what we need is hope in God’s goodness, rather than a further weak and unsound attempts to argue (as ‘hard universalists’ do) that hell is somehow metaphysically impossible.
(And I should add: I think it is perfectly legitimate to hope in God’s goodness that He might save all. All that I object to is the claim that it is necessarily true that He does so, i.e., impossible that it could be otherwise.)
“I think it is perfectly legitimate to hope in God’s goodness that He might save all.”
It is noteworthy that you link the salvation of all with God’s goodness and yet you remain staunchly unconvinced.
Yes, let us hope that God’s goodness is good enough…to do what is clearly within the scope of infinite goodness.
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You object to the claim that it is impossible for the Good to will anything except the Good?
Everyone admits that God can only will the Good. The question is whether God permitting someone to resist His love forever can possibly be for the good. If it were possible for the permission of hell to be part of God’s good plan, then ‘hard universalism’ is false. It would be false that God can do nothing other than save all people, even if it were actually the case that God saves all mankind.
I am only arguing that it is impossible to show that it could not be possible God might have a good reason to allow people to resist His love forever.
It is not only possible, but quite easy. God cannot will anything less than the Good for anyone, therefore he cannot will anything except the fullness of deifying union for all creation. There can be no suboptimal state which God can will as a final end. Nor can there be any “good reason” outside the Good, which is what anyone in hell would be. The Good is all good reasons, hence no good reason can anything else but total union with the good as its outcome.
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Allow me to throw in a quirk of thinking here: From Romans 5:18
Rom 5:18 “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
Could it be that this salvific work is already finished for all mankind? In keeping with the parable of the strong man, who is bound, and his house plundered of its goods, Christ bound the strong man, the Evil One, destroyed death by His death, and has redeemed and rescued all that ever have or shall live. In Orthodoxy, we do not define hell as a place, but as being in the presence of God but not wanting to, while at the same time, suffering for our choices of sin.
In other words, universal salvation is a reality, according to Romans, but those who have refused it here on earth, declining to set out on the journey of prayer, fasting, alms giving, and the Sacraments, shall find that their deeds condemn them in the presence of God. So, the question then becomes, is repentance possible for them after death? Is it possible that after they have seen the Good, seen their own evil for what it is, they shall truly be repentant and turn to God, accepting whatever recompense He demands for their evil deeds? As one who holds to the Universalist hope, I think this is possible and just. No wicked man (or woman) shall escape the promise of both Christ and St. Paul that we shall be rewarded in kind for our deeds here on earth. But the idea of a never-ending punishment not only accomplishes nothing, it flies in the face of the very justice which God Himself told us to have – lex talionis – the punishment fits the offense. This, and a number of other reasons I have pondered upon, are reasons why I find eternal punishment to be unreasonable, illogical, and unworthy of the One who is Love.
Might I ask why you find the idea of Apokatastasis to be impossible? Is it because your Church teaches it as dogma, or are there other reasons which you find compelling?
The question is not whether universal salvation would be possible, but whether it must be the case. I am only denying that it must be the case – that is, that it cannot be otherwise than that all persons eventually love God and experience salvation, i.e., ‘hard universalism.’ I am not arguing against the possibility of God saving all.
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Either our rational telos is directed towards God or it isn´t. If it isn´t, we´ll have to find our destination elsewhere, God punishing us for that would just be him getting in our way to our ultimate fulfillment. That´s hardly a Christian perspective though, and would make God not only quite irrelevant, but also not perfectly good.
If it is, then once we come in contact with him, then theres no rational option for our rational intellect to reject him, after all we´re already at our goal. A rejection couldn´t come from a rational decision, I can´t even describe how that decision against him could come about (can you?), but through a kind of reflex. But this is hardly something we´re culpable for, no? It is similarly not just to judge the madman for his incapacity to think straight.
However if you want to claim that it´s still possible for the intellect to reject him in a culpable way, then it seems that we either have no telos at all or that it´s not directed at God, which brings us back to the first horn. In these cases God would just be an irrelevant intruder on our way to destination. Of course, in these cases, nobody can be held responsible for not loving/worshipping/being drawn to him, because, equally with worship of Zeus, he´d ultimately be irrelevant for what we are and supposed to be. Ideas like sufficient grace would go out the window, too.
You are welcome, dKow, to say where you find my response to these points objectionable. I reject that the fact we are made for God makes it that impossible for us to do anything other than love God. Pineapples are made for growing more pineapples, but they sometimes fail to do it, and do not thereby cease to be pineapples. They just count as defective pineapple plants. So too a person who fails to love God and ends up in everlasting separation from Him falls short of the mark, being a defective human being, but is not thereby any less a rational or responsible person.
The main claim of yours I deny, however, is that God puts Himself in contact with us such that it would be impossible for us to have done otherwise than love Him. God allows us to reject His love. As I noted in my article, you only need three truths to get you to the possibility of hell:
1. People can want things that do not correspond to what they ought to want (and do not necessarily or by nature want to love God).
2. Learning new facts about the world, God, or yourself need not change what you want.
3. God does not need to change what you want.
1. is the possibility of mortal sin, choosing to love something that is not God. 2. includes what I just denied (that God will make Himself so present to you so that it makes it that you could not have done otherwise than love Him). 3. is that God can create a world in which He allows people to resist Him and does not do things such that it would be impossible for us to do otherwise than love Him.
“People can want things that do not correspond to what they ought to want (and do not necessarily or by nature want to love God).”
This is not possible, unless you believe God to be something other than the Good as such. The very nature of what it is to want dictates what you can and cannot want.
“Learning new facts about the world, God, or yourself need not change what you want.”
This posits a will which is random, or which has no telos. If a will has an end then it is in fact necessary that certain information would change what it wants. Or, rather, make it more consciously aware of what it always wanted.
“God does not need to change what you want.”
Of course not, because you already want what only he can give you. But that’s not where you were going with this, you want to posit something much worse than a banal truism.
So, in summation, none of these “truths” stand up to much scrutiny.
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The inference of 1 to the reality of mortal sin is invalid. I don’t believe there’s sin great enough to separate us from an infinitely loving being and accepting that uncontroversial premise (eating sweets while being on a diet is an example of it) doesn’t lead me to having to accept the possibility of that concept unless we invoke a doctrinal background as a hidden premise.
I would tell the pineapple story a different way. If we have a perfect farmer, capable of recognizing the potential of each seed, then he will be able to see what the particular one needs to grow into a pineapple, since every obstacle to that end would be a removable accident. I don’t think I will have to explain what my inference from that would be.
“So too a person who fails to love God and ends up in everlasting separation from Him falls short of the mark, being a defective human being, but is not thereby any less a rational or responsible person.”
This is the first answer to my comments from you that I’m reading so perhaps you’re answering that particular argument of mine in another one, but given that statement I doubt it.
In cases of rational considerations, there is always only one choice of practical relevance; the one we’re acting on. Say we’re capable of saving our spouse from an oncoming car. We got full rational clarity, there’s actually no reason for us not to interfere. I concede that we have two options though, either to interfere or not to. My claim now is that there is no possible world in which we ever let it happen. That possibility is abstract and of no practical relevance; there is no way to act rationally and come to a different conclusion but that we interfere.
And this is exactly where our disagreements are boiling down to and why I find your position incredible. We can both agree that every aspect of a rational human being is naturally drawn to God, in which the aspects of truth, goodness and existence converge. It would be only in God that we would find our ultimate fulfillment. God of course can only blame a being that made a fully informed decision, otherwise it would be taking advantage of a state of ignorance, something unworthy of the highest being. But that fully informed state is comparable to the example with our spouse and the oncoming car. WHAT ON EARTH could ever be the reason to reject God in a fully informed state? Claiming that the rejection makes the human not any less rational seems like a fullfledged contradiction. And in the example it can’t be clouded judgment through any emotional state either, since we’re fully informed, UNLESS God actually managed to create a being whose end is not found in him. But then the punishment for rejection is unjustified. So to end my point here, I’ll do it in the spirit of the maverick philosopher and formulate an aporetic tetrad:
1) It is possible for an individual to reject God
2) If God is rejected, it must be done in a completely rational and culpable state.
3) In God there is the final fulfillment for every possible individual.
“The main claim of yours I deny, however, is that God puts Himself in contact with us such that it would be impossible for us to have done otherwise than love Him. God allows us to reject His love.”
The contrary claim would be that the first sentence describes the state I’d expect in heaven. And the possibility of the second claim I would object that he then hasn’t made his love apparent at all. I can’t be held accountable for not reflecting the love a distant acquaintance has for me, if she never makes me know about it and I don’t know her enough to realize that she’s everything I desire deep down. The possibility of rejecting him seems to require keeping us in the dark. I don’t know which purpose that would serve, especially since that would prevent us from fulfilling ourselves and God plays an active role in that.
“2. Learning new facts about the world, God, or yourself need not change what you want.”
Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I agree with that. Nevertheless, that premise is unacceptable in the relevant case, because I argue that it’s impossible for a completely rational soul to reject God, because the rational intellect recognizes the fulfillment that can be found in him. You still need to provide a way that the intellect might come to the conclusion that it would be preferable to reject God, given the nature of him we agreed on. I still fail to see how you come to the idea that this possibility should be affirmed.
“3. God does not need to change what you want.”
I deny that definition of yours. Once again, I reject the distinction between “love of God” and “desire for the good”, because it hinders the identification of God with the Good. To claim that God can create a world in which people might resist him, either falls into the case of taking advantage of ignorance (the loving, unknown acquaintance) or logical impossibility. You definitely have to explain the thought process that would go through the resisting soul, even if it knows that all it ever strived for is right before its nose. Otherwise that idea is worthless. To my mind, claiming that God can create a being that wouldn’t love him, if it knows him, is like saying God can create a being that isn’t existentially dependent on him.
In conclusion, none of your three statements are acceptable.
Before ya’ll wind down I thought I’d toss in a few thoughts regarding various usages attached to the group of terms ‘free’, ‘freedom’, ‘free will’, even ‘liberty’, etc.
I think everyone would agree ‘freedom’ in its highest, perfected form is the unrestricted expression of a nature’s God-given powers. No deliberation with respect to the good is even possible. DBH makes this point often and successfully.
But the language of freedom also gets used to describe a certain liberty of agency possessed by natures not yet perfected in their final end, natures which are ‘en route’ to that end, whose final ‘freedom’ depends upon the proper use of this ‘en route’ liberty. We are “at liberty to become free” where “liberty” in this sentence refers to that precarious, risky venture of deliberative agency (minimally understood, not an Enlightenment voluntarism) and “freedom” refers to the consummate perfection in love which is that agency’s end.
It would help if folks clarified carefully which sense of free will they had in mind. For example, it’s possible to be free in a libertarian sense regarding amoral choices but not free in this sense regarding moral choices. This confusion attaches to the criticism that if one supposes God is free to do other than ‘create’ he must be free to do other than ‘speak the truth’ or ‘love’ or ‘act justly’. But this equivocates on the sense of ‘freedom’ meant. God (ex hypothesi) may be free with respect to ‘creating or not’ (creating is not a ‘moral’ choice as such) but not free free in this same sense with respect to moral acts such as love, justice, truth, mercy, etc.
While I think there’s a legit concern in counterfactual “power to the contrary” language regarding God’s creating, expressing it is littered left and right with land minds. There’s no way to describe it as ‘libertarian’ in the only sense we know of a counterfactual power to the contrary. But denials of counterfactual claims and assertions that God creates ‘necessarily’ are not without their own land minds.
I don’t know of any way to frame the legit concerns on both sides without endless qualification. Just because God is ‘free’ in the consummate sense of being ‘unconstrained’ in the exercise of the love and goodness he is (and cannot otherwise be) doesn’t itself mean there can be no conceivable occasion wherein the exercise of his will is ‘equally good’ regardless of what he does, and frankly I think his creating is just such an occasion. He can create without opposition or the imposition of any necessity. Absolute dispositive liberty. But absolute dispositive liberty includes the contrary choice too where the exercise is not a moral act. And that the exercise of this liberty is not a temporal event of becoming doesn’t empty the counterfactual ‘mode’ of its relevance. But as always, I could be and probably am wrong.
So I don’t see any loss or failure of goodness in imagining God as ‘not-creating’. What doesn’t exist has no claim upon God in this sense, as we’ve already heard. But I also can’t image God deliberating his way through a menu of libertarian options. Standard counterfactual logic is going to fail here.
Yes, when one asserts that God transcends finite antinomies and therefore freedom and necessity uniquely converge in God (or one may say God is beyond such conceptual boundaries), it more or less forces one to “speak nonsense” as I imagine the three favored apostles did in the penumbra of Taboric light. As probably always, I tend to agree with your “intelligent emotions” Tom, i.e., your intuitive sense of what is properly at stake, as well as your tenacious refusal to let a matter of importance disappear into abstraction. Analogously, I favor Balthasar’s view that Divine Plenitude must not lack the delight and discovery of Event. I don’t assent to the notion that adventure is for creaturely being, while God’s perfection precludes the possibility because such would entail some unrealized potency. Undoubtedly, there are those who will see this as an illicit gnosticism and counter to the univocal meaning of terms. Similarly, I do not think God is motivated by lack. There is no necessity of Creation of that kind. Nonetheless, I agree with Philip Sherrard that God “must” create — something like the way Mozart had to compose music, though, of course, not exactly. It becomes more complicated when one tries to construe how divine Creation happens. Are the logoi of creatures divine ideas? Does every logoi have an angelic being co-relative to earthly creatures. (Bulgakov speculates something along these lines in Jacob’s Ladder.) Are Platonic Essences too abstract? (Edith Stein tries to wed Aquinas and phenomenology in ways that emphasize the uniquely personal.) Should one, rather, think the logoi as derivative of the Logos and thus never distinct from a ground in Incarnation? (This is Jordan Daniel Wood’s thesis in The Whole Mystery of Christ.) I think the Christological is key, for it locates the creative elan within the Trinitarian perfection. Balthasar has some great things to say about the kenosis of the Spirit in our present age — and how the artistry of the Spirit brings about the surprise of eternal beauty from the rubble of earthly lives seemingly lost to dust and ashes.
Finally, I think land minds are an abrogation of the Geneva Convention, but I could be wrong about that, Tom.
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I don’t see much potential for this conversation to be productive so long as responses continue to be saturated in certain doctrinal presumptions, and it seems to me that Rooney’s entire project is severely undermined if implied Catholic precepts are removed and one instead considers basic questions like “If God is wholly good, could God create a reality in which sentient beings are sustained in a final and perpetual state of torment?”
For example, it is fallacious (a sort of appeal to future hope) to posit that, if hell is eternal, it *must* be good for it to be so because God is wholly good. For the sake of intellectual honesty, presuppositions must either be sufficiently demonstrated or agreed upon by all parties involved. Furthermore, unless this argument is about what is dogmatically permissible, signifiers like “heresy” and “orthodoxy” do nothing to advance one’s argument without having been sufficiently demonstrated, so I question why they continue to be included in this debate.
I would like to see this argument continue without unnecessary doctrinal and terminological baggage (e.g., instead of presuming the reality of Mortan Sin, discuss the potential for one to act in manners that would necessarily or justifiably result in their final alienation from God).
The worries about ‘heresy’ are overblown. The term merely means doctrinal error, saying something theologically false, or, as I put it, making nonsense of the Gospel and the Christian story. And I think this is entirely true: if hard universalism were true, the consequences (that God’s choices to cause us to love Him simply could not have been otherwise or that human choices to love God similarly count not have been otherwise) would undermine Christianity and its story of salvation. Specifically, the Cross would be meaningless.
“It is fallacious (a sort of appeal to future hope) to posit that, if hell is eternal, it *must* be good for it to be so because God is wholly good.”
No, it is not an ‘appeal to future hope’ that God does what is good. It is a claim about God’s nature. If God is good, and we learn from Him that He allows hell, we would immediately thereby know that there are eminently good reasons for God to allow people to resist His grace forever. Similarly, when we learned about the fact of animal suffering in evolutionary history, I think we immediately can conclude that there are good reasons for God to allow this. In other words, all I am pointing out is that problems of evil – whether moral or natural – presume that a certain instance of evil cannot be given a justifying reason and therefore that God does not exist (or is not loving, etc.).
This point is not very strange or controversial, I think, as it formalizes the ‘hopeful’ reasoning by which Christians typically respond to evils in their life:
1. This bad thing that happened to me or my loved ones seems as if it is pointless and meaningless.
2. But, I know God is good and is perfectly in control of the universe and wishes nobody any harm.
3. So, I know that whatever happens – even bad things – are only allowed by God because He has eminently good reasons for allowing them.
4. Therefore, I know that this bad thing that happened to me or my loved ones is neither pointless, nor meaningless, but something allowed by God for my or my loved ones’ good.
We can always be more confident, as Christians, that God is Good than of any evidence in favor of any instance of evil we see or experience being pointless or meaningless. So, if evil occurs, we can be confident that God has good reasons for permitting it. I am merely applying this hopeful reasoning to the case where we discover that God made it possible for us to resist His grace forever. Then, I’d think, we come to know that God did this for a good reason and I’d be more confident of that than of any argument to the contrary, even when if I were unable to imagine any possible reason that God had for doing so. This is also, incidentally, why I have no problem with a hope that God might save all – for all we know, He might! The heretical view, I argue, is the claim that we know that God does save all, insofar as it is necessarily true that universal salvation occurs.
Why would the cross be meaningless? Jesus’ death on the cross is a martyrdom in our favor: Jesus remained faithful to his message of an infinitely loving God even unto death, thus making it possible for us to trust in this message. He was killed by those who also scare others with religious ideas in order to rule over them. This by no means excludes that God’s love will have the last word. The whole world has been created from the beginning into the eternal love of God for God, into the love of the Father for the Son, which is the Holy Spirit. Through the incarnation of the Son, this fundamental mystery of faith is revealed.
As believers, we may trust that God will one day separate all people from their sin (cf. Rom 11:25-32). And he can do this without violating the freedom of man. For at the latest by death, all that he has wrongly idolized will be knocked out of man’s hands.
Do you think that, if we learned that God permitted someone to resist loving Him forever, that is, God did not ever eventually cause that person to love Him, should we immediately conclude that God is not all-loving and good? Do you think that, knowing God is Good, there is no possible way for Him to bring good from eternal resistance of some to His love?
Yes, you would obviously conclude that on the grounds that this malicious God decided to force the curse of existence on someone to whom he knew it would prove a unending source of agony. “Loving” is a word that has meaning.
You cannot bring good out of a neverending evil. It is no more possible than a triangular circle.
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God cannot “permit” anything. Everything is totally dependent on God. That’s also the reason why God does not react to something that happens in the world. Your god is too small …
“Do you think that, if we learned that God permitted someone to resist loving Him forever, that is, God did not ever eventually cause that person to love Him, should we immediately conclude that God is not all-good?”
Yes, of course. It either is because the soul is not fully aware of him, in which case God would be taking advantage of non-culpable ignorance or because he actively prevents that to happen. We already agreed that the rational soul is naturally drawn to him, so what else would there be for God to cause? “Love”? You’re introducing unnecessary, additional steps that I don’t understand, since it’s not at all clear to me in which the acts differ.
“Do you think that, knowing God is Good, there is no possible way for Him to bring good from eternal resistance of some to His love?”
Provide explicit ideas which Goods could come from that, otherwise that proposal is worthless fideism.
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The assertion that God has or needs reasons for his acting seems to me to be completely inappropriate and anthropomorphic. God is not dependent on anything, not even on any reasons. In view of God’s absoluteness and incomprehensibility it is impossible to speculate about God’s reasons and to take the point of view of God.
If God needs no reasons, then God would need no reasons to permit hell – that seems odd for a universalist to endorse!
So you think God needs reasons for his acting?
Not really. Plotinus denied of the One, that it is an intellect, since that proposal, as found in Aristotle and Aquinas, leads to complexity, which is why the intellect is located within the demiurge. The One/God is just naturally the Form of the Good and everything is directed to the One. Universalism is a natural complement. Everything God/The One does is because of what it is, no external reasons are needed or metaphysically coherent if introduced
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“If God is good, and we learn from Him that He allows hell, we would immediately thereby know that there are eminently good reasons for God to allow people to resist His grace forever.”
Quite the contrary. If God is good, and we learn that someone said he allows (really directly creates and sustains) hell, then we can know with absolute certainty that that person does not speak for God. Because words like “good” have meanings, and bearing on the character and actions of that which is rightly called by them.
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‘Directly creates and sustains’ seems an odd presumption. On the orthodox picture, God merely permits hell. That’s not to directly create or sustain. But I was talking about learning that hell is really possible, as we might in revelation from God, not merely that someone asserts it does.
That is, not to put too fine a point on it, a load of bull. There is no distinction between creating, uncompelled and ex-nihilo, that which you know will result in a certain outcome and creating that outcome. If you know infallibly “if A then B” and you do A you have also done B. Once you incorporate your own beliefs about predestination into the mix this is even more blatantly false.
Secondly, and again, any “revelation” that contradicts itself has proven that it cannot be of God. So, if a “revelation” claims certain character traits of its purported divinity and then simultaneously claims that he acts opposite to that in the most extreme way possible, the revelation is false. If it says God is good and then attributes him doing what we know to be evil then it is simply a lie, for it cannot be anything else.
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A word to all commentators: Please tone down the polemic. Thank you.
A second word to all commentators: the attacks on the Roman Catholic Church stop now!
I confess that until yesterday evening I have not been following the conversations in this combox. I am disappointed in the level of polemic and ad hominem. Stop it now!
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Understood, as you wish.
My apologies. Having not read to the bottom of the page, I just posted something which may be construed as such an attack. As such, please remove it if you find it beyond the pale of decent and polite disagreement.
I will refrain from any such further commentary.
I also need to apologize to three commentators whom I shall not name. This morning I discovered your comments in the WordPress spam box. This so rarely happens that I have grown slack in checking it. Anyway, your comments have been recovered and approved.
My response to all of this noise:
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Would you agree that, if someone pushes you down the stairs, that your falling down the stairs counts as a free decision of yours? If so, why is that a free decision? If not, why not?
Thanks for the question.
According to the article I shared, having a choice among possibilities is a necessary but not sufficient condition for any theologically adequate understanding of freedom (TAUF).
So if I meaningfully choose to have someone push me down the stairs, among a variety of actually live options, then that is a choice of mine. If I didn’t have a choice then it wasn’t.
To be perfectly clear, my analysis holds yours, but isn’t reducible to yours.
Then it really doesn’t matter. I was not aiming to give sufficient, but only one necessary condition on freedom. It affects my argument not in the least that there might be other conditions, because I showed that universalism requires violating that necessary condition. If that were true, then your own condition is irrelevant, since you admit that mine is a necessary condition – that is, if my arguments that universalism entails you simply cannot do otherwise are correct, then universalism entails that agents lack the freedom you outline too.
To be clear, folks here are not granting your necessary condition. You’ve been given various examples where what you stipulate does not properly apply. Further, you continue to miss or ignore the provisional nature of the freedom you assert. Fully realized freedom actually makes the kind of choice you posit disappear in favor of perfect willing of the Good. You believe that imperfect freedom of individuals as you posit it is dispositive for eternal destinies. Universalists do not agree and they are not required by logic or metaphysical necessity to do so. You’ve also been advised by some that the Person is ultimately a gift of Christology and that relation is just as constitutive as “substance.” Hence, it is incorrect to think the salvation of some and the damnation of others as if one is dealing with atomized individuals. I’ve no doubt, however, that you will continue to assert that universalists are incoherent and that everyone is compelled to presume your view of freedom as axiomatic.
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I’ll say this one last time. You’re arguing with a willfully seared conscience. This poor fellow has made himself believe his position is coherent and made himself believe that he really doesn’t know the position he rejects is obviously true. You can repeat these clear and simple truths to him ten-billion times, and he will continue to make the same confused and deeply evil arguments.
Don’t you have a novel to finish?
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The point of my response (with a link directly to a core relevant part of the article here) is that (1) your argument is easily responded to, and doesn’t hold, and also furthermore (2) in fact, your conception of god is not free.
So this claim has been responded to. Would you like to respond to my response? Because you don’t get to just restate your position when it has been shown to be wrong. What is the counter-argument? And what is your response both to the defense I offer for patristic universalism, and the counter-attack I also go on to offer? Because that’s where the conversation sits, and you don’t just get to reassert your (flawed) thesis and call it a day.
View at Medium.com
Fr Rooney: Do you think that, if we learned that God permitted someone to resist loving Him forever, that is, God did not ever eventually cause that person to love Him, should we immediately conclude that God is not all-loving and good? Do you think that, knowing God is Good, there is no possible way for Him to bring good from eternal resistance of some to His love?
I think this gets at the nature of the moral sensibilities and intuitions that inform Hart’s Moral Argument and Rooney’s rejection of it. In an important sense, one either “sees it” or one doesn’t. Rooney doesn’t. He can imagine a good (not ‘know’ what that good is, just ‘imagine’ that it is) which would justify the free and unnecessary creation of a world that includes the irrevocable loss and suffering of beloved creatures.
For all the reasons Hart lays out in his Moral Argument, I can’t see any way to defend the moral propriety ECT (eternal conscious torment). Moral sensibilities are a kind of aesthetic ‘seeing’, a matter of ‘taste’ (for the Good) that one develops and hones over time unlike purely dispassionate and unambiguous perceptions one awakens to about, say, certain math values or equations like 2+2=4. Granted, that there could be no possible good that would justify the moral propriety of ECT is “as clear to me” now as 2+2’s equaling 4, still I don’t think the conditions under which one comes to “see” this are identical. I’m thinking of how Hart’s case against Nietzsche in BOI in the end comes down to the latter’s have “atrocious taste.”
In the end, Rooney (and other infernalists) can, for various reasons, see (or even imagine) the aesthetic beauty and goodness in (God’s allowing) ECT. For me this cannot but constitute a defect of moral sensibility, and there’s no equation or logic outside the sensibilities themselves that can demonstrate this defect. It’s a matter of taste. I know people who think Grunge is beautiful and Bach uninteresting, and others who prefer Thomas Kinkaid to Vermeer or, for that matter, Turner. You just have to shake your head, but there’s no dispassionate “math” as such, no logic outside the aesthetic, that will prove the former wrong, because they’re aesthetically wrong. That’s not to say there aren’t other sorts of arguments to be had. I’m just considering what is for some the most powerful argument against ECT, the moral argument.
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Yep, nailed it, Tom!
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I concur entirely, Tom, though I still think Nietzsche is one of the few philosophers who manages to write interesting prose. I’d also as corollary return to one of my abiding concerns. I’ve pointed out before how the same folks who complacently assent to a notion of the victory of the gospel that includes ECT tend to easily accept the notion that the suffering of particular animals is justified as a necessary evil that makes possible the overall beauty of the world. Thus, the lion must devour the antelope in order to have such a thing as a lion. This is analogous to Fr. Rooney’s sensibility that says the good of this world simply must allow that some folks will fail to respond to God’s love for all eternity. In either case, a certain amount of “collateral damage” is admitted into the perfection of the eschaton. Hart rightly says that heaven is then built on a foundation of this “residue” of unending suffering — and it doesn’t matter if a damaged soul were to be conceived as “choosing” its own suffering, the objective truth of the person is not mitigated by delusion. Back to animals, who as a misanthrope I find it much easier to worry about — the blithe disregard for the particular suffering of unique creatures is tremendously callous. Beyond its insensitivity, however, it understands Creation as fundamentally oriented towards types rather than uniquely irreplaceable beings. Peruse Virginia’s Woolf’s essay “Death of a Moth” for a moving example of how style and discernment go hand-in-hand.
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I should add that given what we call a human being’s transcendental grounding, there is always some irreducible approximation of the Good in all human desiring and intending. Hart describes this well. Nothing new.
This goes for Grunge music and, though it pains me to say, Kinkaid’s art. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are present, in some measure and approximation, in all human artistic expression. If you try hard and sincerely enough, you can see it in Grunge and Kinkaid.
What I can’t see (no matter how hard I try) is any approximation of the Good in the intending and willing of one irrevocably confirmed in so absolute a rejection of the Good that one’s willing and intending no longer manifest the True, the Good, the Beautiful to *any* degree. One’s existence and experience become pure ‘privation’ as such, like cancer cells that have consumed all the healthy cells of their host and yet go on existing as cancer.
To say God nevertheless derives from so irrevocable a state of evil some good for others, or for creation at large, or even abstractly by virtue of being that unfortunate possibility God must permit to get the good he desires, is precisely the failure of the unconditional and infinite good, love, and beauty which is, in the universalist’s view, the only Christianity worth speaking of. If Rooney is right and Christianity is what he says it is, better it vanish from the world as soon as may be.
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“…the unconditional and infinite good, love, and beauty which *are*…”
As I’ve repeatedly argued, the burden of proof is the other way around: my argument is simply that there is no good reason why God cannot permit people to persist in sin forever. I do not need to outline or imagine any reason God had for permitting it, let alone an ‘aesthetic’ one (which I reject).
But you are quite right that this dispute is largely a question of ‘taste’ insofar as universalists think that they can conclude God could not permit anyone to be lost merely on the basis of their imagination as to what God’s reasons are like. To think one gets that kind of wide-ranging knowledge of all logical possibilities of what God’s reasons could be like (that one needs in order to be a universalist) from your intuition (or sensibility or imagination) is very implausible. I do not think we should accept that the limitations of our imagination are the limitations of the real.
Well, you know I agree. It comes back to your original point about aesthetic taste (yes, Hart wrote an essay about it.) If the metaphysical structure of desire is inescapably oriented towards the horizon of the Good, then there cannot be a form of authentic willing that chooses evil for its own sake. I think MacDonald said that the suicide does not want death, but more life. Self-murder is really an attempt to escape circumstances that appear to foreclose any possible hope. Even the desire for nothingness is the wish to put a negative sign in front of the intolerable, not a refusal of genuine well-being. Despondency is itself a “No” to the fallen world; the resignation of despair a kind of hopeless hope, because the gift of existence is always imbued with hidden grace. In addition to the sensibility factor, however, I would add that if one understand Christ as the ground of Creation, it becomes impossible to think any created being as “separate” from Christ. The teleology of creatures is not only oriented towards the Good, but both protology and eschatology manifest a rootedness in Christ that goes beyond a more general metaphysics of dependence upon the Uncreated. One might further explore the nature of Personhood, which I believe entails relation as much as “substance” when determining what constitutes person. (Cf. Norris Clarke’s brief Person and Being.) In short, why should one take Rooney’s limit of necessary, but not sufficient concept of freedom as the criteria by which one should entertain the proper disposition of souls for all eternity?
Indeed, why should we accept an inchoate and imperfect concept of person as articulating what can only be revealed in the light of Christ’s action? The humanity of Christ is not an aggregate of individuals, some saved and some unfortunately lost to perpetual resistance. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy intimated, all the names are theophoric. Personhood is always Christological, and so willing is never separated from the perfection of Jesus’ high priestly prayer. The I Am is also always a We Are. Even on the plane of historical causation, no one speaks a sentence that is not indebted to an immemorial past. I do not think apart from the bond of language and thoughts of those who came before me. I do not choose merely as an “individual,” but as a person who is inescapably entangled in the thoughts and decisions of the innumerable who are prior to my historical moment, just as my actions contribute to those who come after me. I certainly find particular sinners odious. There are crimes of unimaginable wickedness that rightly call forth the furies. Nonetheless, the pleroma of perfected humanity alone shall reveal the glory of persons. Christ is the Adam that knows the eternal Names. The separation of wheat and tares, the sheep and the goats, all that is intrapersonal, a winnowing of the poison of wicked idols that strut upon the stage of history with names ignorant of the truth of what we shall be and who we truly are.
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I don’t see any logical problem (only one of imagination) that prevents us from affirming that, if God DID permit someone to persist in mortal sin forever, God would only do this for some good reason. Nor do I see that we need to know what that reason would be in order to be confident that good would triumph.
Fr Rooney: “I am only arguing that it is impossible to show that it could not be possible God might have a good reason to allow people to resist His love forever.”
Of course there is never any mention of what this “good reason” might be.
So in essence the argument is: God may permit people to eternal torment and if he does, there must be a good reason because, by definition, everything that God does is good. Therefore, permitting everlasting torture MUST be good, even if the goodness of this can never be demonstrated in any way. And furthermore, its rationality and goodness need not be demonstrated. And all of you people here at EO cannot prove that it is “impossible that this is possible.”
I would state it in this way: It is impossible to show what makes eternal torment possible as a good and reasonable outcome, particularly when the salvation of all is both better and possible.
Since the possibility that all may be saved is uncontroversial, one might ask if this outcome represents a greater manifestation of goodness than its alternative. You write that it is improper to conceive of one outcome as “better” than another, but I find this strange and unpersuasive. Contrary to this odd sentiment, you write, “I think it is perfectly legitimate to hope in God’s goodness that He might save all.”
It wouldn’t be legitimate to hope in this outcome if this outcome wasn’t better than any other. It is not only inarguably better, it is the best outcome. And what makes this outcome self-evidently better? Because it represents a greater outpouring of divine goodness. When this self-evident knowledge (salvation of all as the greatest outcome) is coupled with its possibility, we are left with an outcome of which one can be certain, insofar one can be certain of anything.
If we did have to know all of God’s reasons for permitting every instance of evil in order to be confident He was Good, we would be up sh*t creek, I’d think. So, there are many reasons I am sure God has for various things that happen in history, none of which I think anyone needs to know in order to that God is good. That goes for God’s permission of moral evil, including mortal sin.
Why God allows mortal sin to occur – we can’t be certain.
That, if He allows mortal sin to occur, He would only do so for good reasons – I am entirely certain as a matter of Christian and theological hope.
My normal response to these kind of inquiries is to largely stay out of them. I write fiction and present through image and narrative an exploration of reality. Readers are free to find it intriguing or not. The kind of dialogue engaged here may point out aporias for further inquiry, but both sides typically remained convinced of the rectitude of their existing opinions. And so it is here. I think differently and make quite different conclusions. Hence, I think it is entirely reasonable to expect ordinary use language to have analogous purchase in theology. A voluntarist God who determines the good by fiat, so that ostensibly it might be good to drown children or slug your neighbor if they wear green is an irrational construct. It’s not persuasive to assert that such actions might be good if we only knew more about God. The apophatic check on cataphatic assertions about God is not a warrant to engage in “theological nihilism” as David Hart terms such evasions. Thus, one may licitly assert that God’s goodness transcends the limits of human understanding, but that does not mean that the goodness of God could conceivably be utterly counter to what we legitimately know about the Good. To deny this, one must also deny reason and the capacity to make any determination upon theology beyond a kind of fideist fundamentalism. Origen said that when we read an assertion about God in the Old Testament that asks us to believe that God would act in a manner one would find loathsome in a human being, one should conclude that the literal is untrue because God’s goodness surpasses our moral sense, not abrogates it.
And so, I believe that the universalist understanding is first the logical exposition of a proper consideration of what the gospel reveals about God. I’m sorry to repeat myself, but as “orthodox” defenders almost always simply skip over this material, it is somewhat unavoidable. Certainly, the logic of the Triune God defeats the certitudes and logic of finite being. Yet revelation opens up to philosophy the capacity to think truths in the light of what is revealed. There are consequences to creatio ex nihilo, to the plenitude of Triune Being that excludes lack, etc. Because God exceeds finite thinking does not imply that the Good might be what is evil in other cases. The best version of universalist thought begins with reason and metaphysics and the implications of revelation. When you advert to evils that occur in history as if that is a plausible line of thought for eschatology, you make an illicit move. No one denies that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” That Providence works to heal the wounded, to defeat death, to destroy sin is not in question. As a penultimate chapter in the working out of Creation, one trusts amidst perplexity. It is a dark knowledge that exceeds the human capacity to discern as you correctly understand. However, that does not mean that such indeterminacy extends to the eschaton. One may not know the complex and mysterious path to ultimacy and still rightfully recognize that one view of the Perfected universe is more alligned with the gospel than another.
As you probably know, reason for the medievals had two parts, the ratio and the intellectus. The latter is reason in a poetic mode. Art can degrade into sophistry, but the flourishing excellence of thought is not separate from the imagination. It’s a false dichotomy to posit the aesthetic as a frivolous imposition. The whole point of the Prolegomena to Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics was to clarify the terrible consequences for theology when Beauty is ignored in the supposed name of Truth. Beauty is the radiance of Being. You assert that universalists replace reason with imagination and culpably fail to trust the Goodness of God. I believe you give both reason and imagination short shrift, ignore the most compelling interpretation of scripture which announces a victory over evil that subverts what appears plausible to a merely heroic, epic theology where intransigent evil can only ever be overcome from without, accepting as a necessary consequence that the defeated may persist eternally as an unredeemed residue of the vanquished. Your particular view of authority and tradition, which is common, requires the faithful to accept a conception of divine love that is manifestly inadequate.
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Fr Rooney: “If we did have to know all of God’s reasons for permitting every instance of evil in order to be confident He was Good, we would be up sh*t creek, I’d think.”
I can see how, for you, the reality or unreality of hell is related to the problem of evil, more broadly speaking. If God can allow such protracted and unimaginably profound suffering now, in the present—and presumably for a good reason— well, why might he not allow such suffering eternally…and also not have a good reason?
I would only say that evil and suffering that is temporary is an entirely different species from that which is endless. That should go without saying. I don’t think one can argue that the potential justification for the former leads necessarily to the justification for the latter.
Even though exceedingly difficult, one can at least imagine how temporary evil may have some instrumental allowance, even if the precise details cannot be known. But one can imagine this precisely because such suffering is temporary. Eternal suffering on the other hand can have no instrumental purpose. It is its own end.
I’m glad that you concede that hell would be an instance of God permitting evil. In fact, hell is the epitome of evil. The difference, once again, is that this evil is eternal. This difference is everything.
In this case, obviously, evil is never blotted out but will persist without end. Goodness and evil will co-exist forever.
Would you at least admit that, if this is true, that God is not an absolute victor over evil? I mean, that much is abundantly obvious! Unless, of course, you want to redefine “victorious” in the same manner as “goodness”.
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Fr Rooney: I am only arguing that it is impossible to show that it could not be possible God might have a good reason to allow people to resist His love forever.
Joe: God may permit people to eternal torment and if he does, there must be a good reason because, by definition, everything that God does is good. Therefore, permitting everlasting torture must be good, even if the goodness of this can never be demonstrated in any way
As I said above, I think the arguments for or against this regard the moral sensibilities and thus are aesthetic in nature. There’s no syllogism whose terms are all defined and apprehended with dispassionate logical precisely that clinches the argument this way or that. The Moral Argument is at the heart of all DBH’s other arguments functioning as a kind of ‘mindset’ of ‘value set’ that can’t finally be divorced from the other arguments.
But that there is such a ‘good’, even unknown, that justifies ECT is morally unimaginable – which gets us back into moral sensibilities. And for all the reasons Hart notes in the Moral Argument, there are no reasons, no conceivable goods, that make ECT’s propriety “morally intelligible” (DBH). And remember, Hart’s Moral Argument requires ex nihilo. If Creation follows from God by means of some imposition of necessity (either external or internal), the Moral Argument collapses. Creation must be gratuitous (a term Hart uses a lot to describe Creation in BOI) and unnecessary in sufficient a manner as to collapse his ‘goodness’ into the ‘reasons for which’ he freely creates.
Rooney’s “unknown good” is pure smoke screen. It’s a poker’s bluff. It wouldn’t matter if he were explicit as to what it was, for it is still (on Rooney’s view as well) an ‘unnecessary and gratuitous good’ (Note: a “good,” not just a sterile “logical possibility”) and THAT is the problem.
Fr Rooney addresses this above a bit, which I’ll mention it here:
“As I’ve repeatedly argued, the burden of proof is the other way around: my argument is simply that there is no good reason why God cannot permit people to persist in sin forever. I do not need to outline or imagine any reason God had for permitting it, let alone an ‘aesthetic’ one (which I reject). But you are quite right that this dispute is largely a question of ‘taste’ insofar as universalists think that they can conclude God could not permit anyone to be lost merely on the basis of their imagination as to what God’s reasons are like. To think one gets that kind of wide-ranging knowledge of all logical possibilities of what God’s reasons could be like (that one needs in order to be a universalist) from your intuition (or sensibility or imagination) is very implausible.”
The debate doesn’t impose a burden of proof on either side here.
But there you have it Joe. For Rooney, the “moral sense” is just the “imagination” (flimsy untrustworthy thing; even though it’s by the imagination that he produces his “unknown good” sufficient to morally justify ECT). But the moral sense be damned, all we need to resolve the dispute, according to Rooney, is to posit what is “logically possible,” and since logical possibilities cannot be the subject of moral adjudication, I suppose the debate is over. But the problem here, of course, is that Rooney asks this logical possibility to do the work of ‘morally’ justifying a free and unnecessary act which ends in eternal conscious torment. And I’ll say again, because it’s true, that nothing but one’s moral sensibilities, one’s moral/aesthetic “taste” inclines one to seeing such an act as morally intelligible or unintelligible.
“If we did have to know all of God’s reasons for permitting every instance of evil in order to be confident He was Good, we would be up sh*t creek, I’d think.”
It would all depend on the ‘final end’ in light of which such evils and suffering are judged. To conclude God is Good in spite of temporal evils, even unspeakable temporal horrors encountered ‘en route’ – that’s one thing. There is a “final end” in light of which all ‘en route’ evils are judged. But to conclude God is Good in light ‘eternal’ torment? There is a profound difference. Hart:
“The economics of the exchange is really quite monstrous. We can all appreciate, I imagine, the shattering force of Vanya’s terrible question to Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov: If universal harmony and joy could be secured by the torture and murder of a single innocent child, would you accept that price? But let us say that somehow, mysteriously—in, say, Zosima’s sanctity, Alyosha’s kiss, the million mile march of Vanya’s devil, the callous old woman’s onion—an answer is offered that makes the transient torments of history justifiable in the light of God’s everlasting Kingdom. But eternal torments, final dereliction? Here the price is raised beyond any calculus of relative goods, and into the realm of absolute—of infinite—expenditure.”
(Pardon all the typos)
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That next to last quote (“If we did have to know all of God’s reasons for permitting every instance of evil…”) is Fr Rooney’s. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.
Tom: “It would all depend on the ‘final end’ in light of which such evils and suffering are judged. To conclude God is Good in spite of temporal evils, even unspeakable temporal horrors encountered ‘en route’ – that’s one thing. There is a “final end” in light of which all ‘en route’ evils are judged. But to conclude God is Good in light ‘eternal’ torment? There is a profound difference.”
I wrote my response before I read yours. You said it so much better! You and Brian are brilliant, as usual.
Yeah, I’m tiring of this “debate.” There are so many more interesting topics in Christianity and spirituality in general.
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Brian will say it better! And Hart’s wording is spot on; it just shows Rooney is holding a bluff. But Rooney is right – he doesn’t need to define or explain or outline the “unknown” good. It wouldn’t matter, because it’s the work it’s being asked to do in making ECT morally intelligible that exposes its failure.
If there can be a good reason for permitting endless torment…well then, there can be a good reason for any evil.
Any human-to-human brutality and torture just might be drawing on that same “unknown good” to which Rooney defers. The inquisitors certainly thought so.
Anything can be good; anything can be justified; anything can be Holy. The seemingly most depraved human acts may in fact be exemplary instances of this mysterious “unknown good” in history. Honestly, how could you know? The bedrock of moral action crumbles into dust.
Ridiculous? I would ask Rooney, can he demonstrate that it is “impossible that this is not possible”?
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Joe: If there can be a good reason for permitting endless torment…well then, there can be a good reason for any evil.
Tom: I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if Rooney’s ‘unknown good’ is to do the work of making ‘eternal conscious torment’ something God is supremely good for permitting, that ‘unknown good’ has to be an infinite/eternal good; in this case, an eternal conscious beatitude. I mean, it has to make ‘eternal conscious torment’ mortally intelligible in its light. It can’t be a transient, finite good, or a good which is not an ‘experienced beatitude’. The only option I see is a ‘proportionate’ (equally eternal/infinite experienced) beatitude. One has to argue the ‘possibility’ (Rooney’s ‘unknown good’ is this possibility) that humanity’s eternal participation in divine beatitude could logically ‘require’ the proportionate possibility of eternal experienced negation of this beatitude (i.e., Hell). One would have to defend this particular ‘necessity’ (the necessity of permitting such negation) as the metaphysical price-tag for creation’s eternal participation in divine beatitude. And THAT, I’m fairly certain, is impossible.
That’s not very worked out, but I hope it makes some sense.
In the end, we see that with respect to Universalism and ECT, each logically imposes itself upon us as the ‘only possible’ pathway God could take to create a world intended for union with himself. As far as what the Church may permit or not permit as permissible, that’s different. Let’s say the Church permits both positions. Fine. But that doesn’t mean the believers of either are able to concede the real possibility of the truth of the other position as a possibility inherent in their own position. I think that’s ruled out. I don’t think there’s a way Universalism can be true and God be the sort of God who could risk ECT (but just freely decided not to take that route). No. Likewise, I don’t see how ECT can be true and God be the sort of God whose goodness and love ‘could’ preclude his freely risking ECT but he just freely decided to take the ECT route. Whichever is true, it follows as necessarily true given (a) the nature of divine love, and (b) the truth of creation ex nihilo.
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Me: “it has to make ‘eternal conscious torment’ *morally* (not *mortally*) intelligible in its light.” Sorry.
Me: “As far as what the Church may permit or not permit as permissible, that’s different.” Pretty choppy and unclear. Sorry. Maybe “…what the Church may permit or not permit to be believed…”
I’ll finish with a thought experiment for Fr Rooney.
What if no one was saved? What if the plan of salvation is actually a total failure and God knew that it would be a total failure?
What’s more, what if God, in some alternate universe, freely created billions of creatures directly into a state of eternal torment? With your God, nothing actually precludes this possibility. God has unrestricted “freedom” and everything that God does is, by definition, good.
So we would know that if God did indeed directly create all beings into a state of perpetual torture, that it would be good, as there would be a good reason for it.
Not that you asked me, Joe, and speaking just for myself, but I’ve come to see how ‘logical possibility’ is itself defined God’s moral character. I know this isn’t at all popular today. Philosophers define what’s logically possible as any consistently meaningful state of affairs that does not, so far as we know, generate a contradiction in its terms. So ‘married bachelors’ is out. But ‘unicorns’? Probably not. Eternal conscious torment? Or perhaps a conclusion to God’s creative work in which none at all are finally saved? Not obvious semantic conflicts. No contradiction of terms. And yet I
I think Charles Hartshorne (wonderful American philosopher and Process theist) said metaphysical and logical possibility ultimately converge, and God’s abiding loving nature defined the scope of those possibilities. I always thought this made sense. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to suppose God’s failing to desire or will the highest good of a creature is ‘logically possible’. No meaningful state of affairs is being posited when what one posits would require a failure of God to be God in order to bring it about. Still, philosophers love to talk of ‘possible worlds’ and multiply them without end. But as a believer in a benevolent God whose goodness and benevolent nature cannot fail to be the origin and end of all meaning and all actualizable possibilities, I cannot concede the logical possibility of what is morally unimaginable to ascribe to God.
The whole attempt to defend a purely ‘logical possibility’ of ‘God having a good reason to let some creatures consign themselves to irrevocable torment’ has to be viewed in light of what it would say about God ‘morally’ to suppose he would freely, unnecessarily, and gratuitously create such a world. You can see the issue. When it comes down to THIS simple question – whether one can even imagine of such an act as ‘good’ for some unspecified logically possible reason – it’s nothing but the moral imagination and sense weighing in. Logical possibility is benched at that point.
This is why the moral imagination, or moral sense, is always on the table. There is no establishing Rooney’s “unknown good” on purely logical grounds. If it’s supposed to justify God’s goodness in bringing such a world unnecessarily to be, then it’s a moral claim, not a merely logical one, and it’s resolved within the scope and exercise of our moral imagination and sense. This is why it doesn’t matter that Rooney cannot be explicit about his “unknown good.” It fails on account of the moral character of the final end in light of which it must be measured.
Oh, I completely agree. I was hoping Rooney would see this.
Revisiting Rooney’s argument: “I am only arguing that it is impossible to show that it could not be possible God might have a good reason to allow people to resist His love forever.”
Playing Rooney’s “logic” game, the universalist is apt to counter: “It is impossible to show that it could not be possible God might have a good reason for—and way of—saving all people.”
So, in terms of demonstrable proof of either possibility, phrased awkwardly as the “impossibility of showing that X could not be possible,” we are at a stalemate.
The only thing that breaks the stalemate is the realization that only one of these scenarios aligns with God’s moral character.
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What kind of mother would she be if Our Lady allowed to stand static a situation where she has more grace than her children?
A response to brian above: “…folks here are not granting your necessary condition [on freedom].”
If you do not think it is a necessary condition for freedom that you have the ability to have done otherwise, simply and absolutely, then causal determinism could be true – all of our actions determined by the course of the cosmos, the initial physical conditions and laws, with only one possible unique physical future – and we would still be able to be free. This looks even worse than saying I can still be free when someone pushes me down the stairs and I could have done nothing at all to prevent it.
You don’t have to buy my intuition, though, as here’s an argument this consequence is bad, if you admit that we cannot have controlled the facts of the past or laws of nature (‘the course of the cosmos’):
“No one has power over the facts of the past and the laws of nature.
No one has power over the fact that the facts of the past and the laws of nature entail every fact of the future (i.e., determinism is true)
Therefore, no one has power over the facts of the future.”
“You’ve been given various examples where what you stipulate does not properly apply.”
And I’ve shown that, while they are examples of instances where you cannot do otherwise, they are not counter-examples to a principle like NINF because they are either not free actions where you can’t have done otherwise (as in the Father begetting the Son) or not where you can’t have done otherwise simply (as in the saints). Thus, they do not show that the necessary condition I’m proposing is false.
“you continue to miss or ignore the provisional nature of the freedom you assert. Fully realized freedom actually makes the kind of choice you posit disappear in favor of perfect willing of the Good.”
You assert that. I deny it and have offered arguments that this is false, specifically, because it relies on equivocation. Nobody here denies one is ‘more free’ in loving God, in the telological sense of ‘more’. What I deny is that being a slave to sin is situation you arrive in without having been able to do otherwise and for which you were not morally responsible.
“You believe that imperfect freedom of individuals as you posit it is dispositive for eternal destinies. Universalists do not agree and they are not required by logic or metaphysical necessity to do so.”
I actually don’t quite hold this. My argument is simply that universalists have not shown that it is impossible for God to permit people to reject His love forever – and that proving this is *necessarily* impossible. There is no way to do so.
“You’ve also been advised by some that the Person is ultimately a gift of Christology and that relation is just as constitutive as “substance.” Hence, it is incorrect to think the salvation of some and the damnation of others as if one is dealing with atomized individuals.”
This is a bad argument. Here’s a simple reason to reject it: if God’s relation to the universe is just as constitutive of what He is as His substance, then God could not exist without the universe and the people in it. This is immediately and obviously nonsense about the divine nature (since God is not dependent on anything, by definition as the First Cause of all being, existence, and goodness).
So, I think you might benefit from reading my most recent follow-up: https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/hell-and-the-coherence-of-christian-hope/
This is simply a mare’s nest that masquarades as philosophical theology or apologetics. To reject your NINF does not require determinism unless one equates intellectual freedom as necessarily bound to the Good as a form of determinism. In any concrete situation where deliberation normally applies, of course one is dealing with any number of possible choices, but none of that touches upon the metaphysical ground of freedom that makes choice a meaningful act in the first place.
I don’t believe anyone denies that there is some measure of culpability in the path that leads to enslavement to sin. What one can properly assert is that it is also true that no one acts apart from historical and social influences that shape what appear as possible options for a particular person to deliberate upon. And that, of course, is ultimately something only God can adequately discern. Regardless, folks are responsible for sin. Universalists do not deny this. Do you think they do? Try perusing George MacDonald’s sermon “Justice.” That will disabuse you of any misconceptions on that point. However, granting that the sinner bears responsibility for his condition does not require one to accept that imperfect freedom leading to enslavement requires one to posit grace as ultimately checkmated by the power of ignorant sin to prevail and resist love’s capacity to heal and bind the lost to the kingdom of bliss.
You entirely misinterpret what I am saying about Christology and personhood. I am not asserting a “real relation.” Take a look at Norris Clarke’s various writings. The pithy Person and Being is a helpful brief work. The substance-and-relation constitution of beings is a metaphysics of nature. I think Christology adds insight into protology and eschatology that deepen our understanding of Creation and the intimacy of the divine that transcends the usual metaphysical ponderings, but I surmise that is beyond what can be addressed in this conversation.
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Fr Rooney: A response to Brian above: “…folks here are not granting your necessary condition [on freedom].” If you do not think it is a necessary condition for freedom that you have the ability to have done otherwise, simply and absolutely, then causal determinism…”
Brian, didn’t your comment have to do with divine agency (its determination, freedom, character, etc)? I thought so.
I’m in agreement with you. Just wanted to add a comment. It seems to me that even if such categories can comprehend created agency (I’m a libertarian [not voluntarist] re: some choice, as you know), there’s no way these terms map God’s eternal/immutable self-determination regarding creation. This has been the whole point regarding the attempt to construe God’s freedom vis-a-vis creating as an instance of that deliberation implying a counterfactual (or as an instance of any of the competing accounts of deliberative choice known to us) that defines choice for us. But even if one wanted to approach ‘as libertarian as possible’ a view of God’s freedom vis-a-vis creation, one would still have to qualify away elements essential to such choice, and whatever sort of ‘power to the contrary’ or counterfactual truth regarding God’s determination one ended up with after making the necessary qualifications, it would be so off the map as to be unrecognizably ‘libertarian’ (or ‘compatibilist’ or ‘deterministic’) were it applied to created choices. My point is, so much of Fr Rooney’s comebacks (as in his above response to you) make this very mistake, i.e., fail to take into account the transcendent difference between divine choice (its nature, freedom, necessity, etc) and creaturely choice. God’s choice to create is not an instance of any concept or understanding of choice we have at our disposal. It’s likely that all succeed (and fail) at different points and in different respects at approximating the truth to some extent.
The dialogue is utterly confused, Tom, because the ambiguity of terms is exacerbated by a constant shifting between creaturely freedom in its potency and it’s flourishing perfection, as well as concommitent confusions regarding Divine agency. It’s why I pulled back on Christology because that brings in even more complications regarding analogia entis and the pleromatic fullness of human personhood rooted in Christ. If we are already floundering, to bring up considerations that presuppose a sensibility attuned to the symbolic depths of revelatory being is a bridge too far. I’m likely going to retreat back into my cave and let the rest of you poor lot wrestle with the stalwart defenders of orthodoxy.
“…the ambiguity of terms is exacerbated by a constant shifting between creaturely freedom in its potency and it’s flourishing perfection, as well as concomitant confusions regarding Divine agency.”
My (poorly made) point exactly. Totally agree.
I’m already back in my cave. Chinese food, a glass of Pinot Noir, and Star Trek Voyager cued up for the evening.
Reading through your comments, you consistently distill your line of reasoning as the following…
“My argument is simply that universalists have not shown that it is impossible for God to permit people to reject His love forever – and that proving this is *necessarily* impossible. There is no way to do so.”
This is really just an assertion that universalists cannot prove that God is love. You are essentially challenging universalists to prove that God is truly Good. And I suppose this really is a matter of faith and … in the end God will reveal to all who He truly is.
As David Bentley Hart states…
“It would be impious, I suppose, to suggest that, in his final divine judgment on his creatures, God will judge himself; but one must hold that by that judgment God will truly disclose himself (which, of course, is to say the same thing, in a more hushed and reverential voice).”
But as Hart would hasten to add – if God has created creatures with free wills who will ultimately choose to reject God’s love forever and cast themselves into an eternal hell of unimaginable torments…then He is not Good.
Here is a quote from Hart’s “That All Shall Be Saved” that leapt off the page as I read it…
“Predestination, in fact, need not be invoked here at all. Brush the issue entirely aside. Let us suppose instead that rational creatures possess real autonomy of almost godlike scope, and that no one goes to hell save by his or her own Promethean industry and ingenuity: When we then look at God’s decision to create from that angle, we find, curiously enough, that absolutely nothing changes. Not to wax too anthropomorphizing here, like a poor simpleminded analytic philosopher of religion who thinks of God as some immense finite agent similar to us (if much more imposing), but we really should pause to interrogate the logic of God’s motives in the story as commonly told. Let us, that is, say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and on the chance that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into the fiery abyss forever. This still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price—even if, in the end, no one at all should happen to be damned. The logic is irresistible. God creates. The die is cast. Alea iacta est. But then again, as Mallarmé says, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (A throw of the dice will never abolish the hazard): for what is hazarded has already been surrendered, entirely, no matter how the dice may fall. The outcome of the aleatory venture may be intentionally indeterminate, but the wager itself is an irrevocable intentional decision, wherein every possible cost has already been accepted; the irrecuperable expenditure has been offered even if, happily, it is never actually lost, and so the moral nature of the act is the same in either case. To venture the life of your child for some other end is, morally, already to have killed your child, even if at the last moment Artemis or Heracles or the Angel of the LORD should stay your hand. And so, the revelation of God’s glory in creatures would still always be dependent upon that evil, or that venture beyond good and evil, even if at the last no one should perish. Creation could never then be called “good” in an unconditional sense; nor God the “Good as such,” no matter what conditional goods he might accomplish in creating. And, here too, the losing lot might just as well have fallen to the blessed, given the stochastic vagaries of existence: accidents of birth, congenital qualities of character, natural intellectual endowments, native moral aptitudes, material circumstances, personal powers of resolve, impersonal forces of chance, the grim encumbrances of sin and mortality … The saved might, by this or that small twist of fate or folly, have been the damned, and the damned the saved. Once again then, who would the damned be but the redeemers of the blessed, the price eternally paid by God for the sake of the Kingdom’s felicity?”
I think this debate is really about God’s character. For many years, I was afraid to look at the Deity behind the curtain because He might not only be terrifying but also deeply disappointing. As I have grown in my faith, I believe that the God who will divulge Himself in His final judgment will truly be the Father that Jesus revealed. I believe God is love and His goodness will be apparent to all. Who you believe God is changes everything.
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Kenanada: You [Fr Rooney] are essentially challenging universalists to prove that God is truly Good. And I suppose this really is a matter of faith and … in the end God will reveal to all who He truly is. … I think this debate is really about God’s character.
My guess is Fr Rooney will say he takes God’s goodness as a given as well. What he’s disputing is not God’s goodness, but whether the Good God can have no ‘good reason’ for permitting creatures to freely condemn themselves to an eternal hell.
But at this point too, Kenanada, you seem to be right. It really does come down to one’s moral sense/imagination, something one sees or doesn’t see. I don’t think Fr Rooney really “sees” the goodness of God’s freely creating on the condition that some are eternally lost (by whatever means) to suffer without him. I think he believes he has to believe this, and what imposes that sense of necessity upon him also determines and shapes his own sense of faith and belonging.
But I’m psychoanalyzing, and that’s not fair. Sorry. Anyhow, Fr Rooney is making a ‘moral’ claim, not a purely ‘logical’ one. And being a moral claim, a large part of how that’s resolved really does depend on one’s moral sense or aesthetic ‘taste’.
I think he is making a contradictory pair of claims: a mortal sinner is in Hell ‘freely’ (which he defines as being able to do otherwise) but can’t do otherwise than remain. So, in the broad sense of ‘logical’, he is making a logical claim.
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Perhaps in that sphere — the nature of the choice by which one lands oneself in Hell and how that choice (or that history of choices) ends up foreclosing upon one’s future – sure. Let’s say that’s broadly logical. But as to the morality of God’s determination to create such a world to begin with, that’s a moral judgment. And if one views the divine determination to create such a world as morally unimaginable, any subsequent arguments designed to make sense of the ‘supposed possible world’ don’t have any purchasing power morally speaking. They’re just word games within a fantasized movie.
Plus I’m guessing that by saying the wicked person “is in hell freely” he only means to describe the liberty of choice that got the wicked person there. He doesn’t think the wicked person remains ‘free in hell’ to do other than reject and curse God. Whatever free choice he had was spent and the will is now irreversibly fixed, solidified/habituated in evil.
“I’m guessing . . . he doesn’t think the wicked person remains ‘free in hell’ to do other than reject and curse God.”
It seems to me that such a view is incompatible with Lewis’s ‘locked from the inside’, which I think Rooney endorses.
Oh I see. Well, Rooney can clarify. I don’t think he supposes the capacities for agency/choice of the finally damned remain eternally ‘open’ or ‘at liberty’ to open the door and walk out. I’d be surprised if he thought that. I’m not even sure Lewis thought that. But I think Rooney’s view is that the finally damned lock the door from their own inside throughout their lifetimes, and that once it’s locked, it’s irrevocably locked. But it’d be very interesting if he thought we remained eternally free to rise from the flames and unlock our doors and walk out.
Tom: “My guess is Fr Rooney will say he takes God’s goodness as a given as well. What he’s disputing is not God’s goodness, but whether the Good God can have no ‘good reason’ for permitting creatures to freely condemn themselves to an eternal hell.”
You are right Tom, I am sure that Fr. Rooney believes that God is good. Just as I’m sure that he believes God is love. What I’m struggling with is his definition of good and love.
In trying to defend the possibility that some will choose an eternal hell Fr. Rooney asserts that…
“ Nobody chooses eternal suffering for its own sake, including people in hell. They choose what they believe will make them happy – even though it, in fact, will bring them eternal suffering because what they love is incompatible with love of God. … But there is no reason that they cannot continue to love that thing which brings them pain indefinitely, precisely because they love it.”
Here Fr. Rooney clearly infers that some will mistakenly choose hell as an existence securing their own happiness even though it brings them suffering. Here, Fr. Rooney is clearly contrasting happiness with suffering. (They choose to believe it will make them happy even though it won’t.) However, Fr. Rooney then goes on to assert that those in hell will love the pain because they love pain. This is the same pain which Fr. Rooney has just defined as the antithesis of happiness. But Fr. Rooney contends that they will choose eternal suffering rather than God’s love because their love is incompatible with love of God.
It’s incredibly important at this point that we define what love means in this context.
Fr. Rooney goes on to define God’s love as doing what is best for others.
“God does what is best for them even when they turn against His love.”
What then, does it mean to love oneself? Does it make sense that a rational human being would choose to resist their own happiness and embrace eternal suffering as the price for resisting God’s love? If loving yourself means doing what is best for yourself, then surely it is deranged to believe that rejecting the Father who is the giver of every good and perfect gift will achieve your intended goal. Remember happiness is the reason that Fr. Rooney says people choose hell in the first place only to encounter the stark reality that suffering is their new reality. And yet…Fr. Rooney maintains that those in hell will continue there because they love pain more than God. They have determined that suffering is in their best interest.
It is certainly possible in this life for people to substitute the best – choosing instead temporal pleasures – to pursue the allure of happiness only to find a road that leads to despair. However, it is difficult to imagine that – even in this life – a sane person would choose torment as a perpetual state of existence. Now, consider if anyone would rationally embrace unimaginable suffering vs. pleasure for an eternity.
David Bentley Hart said it best…
“To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it.”
Believing, as Fr. Rooney does, that those in hell will demonstrate love for themselves by eternally rejecting everything man was created to desire is nonsensical.
So now let’s consider whether God might have a good reason for permitting creatures to condemn themselves to an eternity of suffering.
Fr. Rooney suggests that in an eternal hell…
“(God) remains with and beside (people) even in the midst of their despair. This is the way in which God does what is best for them even when they turn against His love.”
So Fr. Rooney asserts that the best God can do for a person in hell is to stay with them while they suffer eternal torment. Apparently, God is out of options. Like a mother who holds the hand of her terminally ill child. There is nothing more He can do. An omnipotent Creator comes face to face with a dilemma of His own making. God’s will is now subjugated to the volition of His child and can now only watch as the loved one He has breathed life into suffers unimaginable pain forever and forever – mirroring the remaining timeline of His own existence. One might imagine such a God suffering from Creation regret. “What have I done?”
Frankly, Fr. Rooney’s conjecture that God may have a good reason to allow His child to suffer eternally seems incongruent with a God who is love, omniscient and omnipotent.
I’ve just read Fr. Kimel’s latest follow up to this blog posting called “Universal Salvation: Love Is Its Own Necessity.”
What struck me was his uncomplicated conclusion.
“So why does the universalist believe that God freely, necessarily, and efficaciously wills the salvation of all? The answer is simple: because God is Love.”
John Milbank uses the same word “simple” to sum up his defense of apokatastasis.
“It’s simple. God is good. Being good he freely creates a good Creation. Inexplicably his Creation turns to evil. Since God is good, he rescues and restores it. Both the creation and the restoration are fusedly gift, sacrifice and manifestation.”
It seems to me that the concepts of God’s love and goodness are not impenetrable. In fact, they might be quite simple.
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I agree. Morally speaking, it couldn’t be any clearer to me. I have no concept of love that includes God’s permitting the irrevocable loss of those he loves.
But I do remember not long ago I did defend ECT, and like Fr Rooney, I defended it for basically the same reasons. I think back on those days and scratch my head.
It wasn’t any shocking experience that jolted me out of believing in ECT. I did very little ‘free thinking’ about it. My faith tradition and church family and ministry colleagues obligated me to believe it, and since I valued those things, and couldn’t imagine giving them up, and would lose them if I challenged ECT, I consented. Eventually I did get around to ‘thinking freely’ about Hell, letting my explore what I really thought and felt about it. I discovered it had zero personal hold on my mind. It’s appeal was entirely the social benefits it provided.
My hunch is virtually all who defend ECT do so for similar reasons. Those reasons constrain, and can even silence, the moral imagination – which just shows how powerful our sense of belonging is when it’s connected to religious identity. And there’s nothing wrong with the power of that combination as such. But it does mean that sometimes immediate existential needs (individual and social) trump moral values. We tend to morally approve of what creates and strengthens our connections and disapprove of what fragments and isolates us.