The Inescapable Love of God: Was St Paul a Universalist?

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The universalist confessor faces what appears to be an insurmountable challenge—reconciling his convictions with the plain and obvious testimony of the Holy Scriptures. Traditional Christians have long believed in the real possibility of everlasting damnation because this is, so they have long believed, what the Scriptures teach. Jesus taught eternal hell. The Apostles taught eternal hell. It’s all there in the Bible. Yet this plain teaching was not so plain in the early centuries of the Church. When Origen, perhaps the greatest biblical exegete of the patristic period, unrolled the sacred scrolls, he read them as declaring apokatastasis; nor was his an idiosyncratic opinion.1 Well over a century after the death of Origen, St Augustine of Hippo found it necessary to subject the universalist hope to lengthy criticism. He called the proponents of this hope nostri misericordes, “our party of pity,” and numbered them as “indeed very many.”2 Because of their sentimentality and false sense of compassion, the misericordes evade the plain, and harsh, meaning of the biblical texts. This judgment has been reiterated down the ages ever since. When Western Christians read the New Testament on everlasting punishment, they read it through the eyes of Augustine.

Thomas Talbott devotes two chapters of The Inescapable Love of God to direct engagement with the New Testament and its commentators. He believes that the universalist hope is so plainly expressed in the New Testament, and particularly in the writings of St Paul, that we must wonder “why so many Christian theologians have struggled heroically to explain it away.3 The brevity of a blog article does not permit me to survey and summarize his exegesis of the important texts nor his critical analysis of various commentators. Consider, for example, this well-known verse from the Epistle to the Romans:

Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. (Rom 5:18)

At face value the text plainly supports a strong universalist hope; but the important question arises: does “all” mean the same thing in the first clause as it does in the second? If one is committed to the doctrine of eternal reprobation, then the answer to this question must be no. Yet consider similar constructions found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus:

For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. (Rom 11:32)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:22)

Given the parallelism of the two clauses in each sentence, one would expect each “all” to refer to the same class, namely, all human beings. Talbott comments:

In each of these texts, we encounter a contrast between two universal statements, and in each case the first “all” determines the scope of the second. Accordingly, when Paul asserted in Romans 5:18 that Christ’s one “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all,” he evidently had in mind every descendant of Adam who stands under the judgment of condemnation; when he insisted in Romans 11:32 that God is merciful to all, he had in mind every human whom God has “shut up to,” or has “imprisoned in,” disobedience; and when he asserted in 1 Corinthians 15:22 that “all will be made alive in Christ,” he had in mind everyone who dies in the first Adam. The grammatical evidence here seems utterly decisive; you can reject it only if you are prepared to reject what is right there before your eyes. And though there seems to be no shortage of those who are prepared to do just that, the arguments one actually encounters have every appearance, it seems to me, of a grasping at straws.4

These are strong words. “All” means all.5 Talbott, of course, is well aware that a single verse does not prove Christian doctrine; but after surveying some of the modern Reformed and evangelical commentary tradition, he questions whether those who reject the universalist reading of Romans 5:18 have legitimate exegetical reasons for doing so. Is it not possible that antecedent doctrinal or philosophical commitments are driving the exegesis?

While reading this chapter I kept wondering, what would the New Perspective folk think about this. How do they interpret Romans 5:18? Well, it just so happens that I have the commentaries of N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn sitting on my bookshelf. First, Wright:

The balance he [i.e., Paul] is asserting, after all the imbalances of the previous verses, lies in the universality. Adam brings condemnation for all; Christ, justification for all. Our minds instantly raise the question of numerically universal salvation, but this is not in Paul’s mind. His universalism is of the sort that holds to Christ as the way for all. . . . Paul here, as usual, refers to the final coming judgment, the time when there will be wrath for some and life for others (2:5-11). The theme remains central in the coming chapters, reaching its dramatic climax in 8:1 (“there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”) and 8:33-34 (“it is God who justifies; who will condemn?”). By referring to Jesus’ messianic action on the cross (this, of course, is what the second half of the comparison in each verse has been about) in terms of an “act of righteousness” or “act of acquittal” (the word is dikaiōma, as in v.16), Paul again draws on the thought of 3:21-26 and 5:9-10. Christ’s dikaiōma in the middle of history leads to God’s dikaiōsis on the last day. What was accomplished on the cross will be effective at the final judgment.6

Not a strong argument against the universalist interpretation, if I do say so myself. On the basis of Paul’s earlier discussion of judgment by works in 2:5-11, Wright infers that Paul cannot strictly mean what he appears to say in 5:18. I wonder what would happen if he were to read 2:5-10 in light of 5:18, instead of the reverse. If we are justified by the atoning work of the cross, as Wright insists, what role, if any, do works really play in our justifi­ca­tion by and in Christ? And why is it not possible that the justification by works of Rom 2 includes the “works” of repentance and faith brought about in the hearts of the wicked in the purgative fire of God’s uncreated light?

Now Dunn:

With [Romans 5] v 18 Paul at least feels able to round off the comparison between Adam and Christ left incomplete in v 12. But it is now a more carefully phrased comparison with major elements of the contrast drawn from vv 15-17. The correspondence has already become plain and Paul is in some danger of merely repeating himself. It lies in that fact that the act of one has determined the destiny of all, humankind in the mass—a typo­log­ical correspondence of epochal figures in that the first man introduced the original and present epoch, while the other has introduced the ultimate and future epoch. The contrast lies in the nature of the one act and in its effect in each case: Adam’s trespass, Christ’s righteous deed; the result of the first, condemnation (as in v 16); of the second, acquittal which brings life (a combination of vv 16 and 17). Or in the terms of v 19, the contrast between Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience, resulting in the many being made sinners in the first case, and being made righteous in the second. . . .

Here too the degree to which the two verses have been structured to bring out the parallelism between the two men raises the question of whether Paul has sacrificed precision of language for rhetorical effect. How close is the actual parallel in each case? The question arises with particular ref­er­­ence to the parallelism of the “all men” in v 18 and “the many” in v 19. Does the language of v 18 mean that Paul looked for everyone without exception to share in the life of the new age (“universalism”)? Even if Paul had not intended to raise this question, he could hardly deny that it nevertheless arises from the phrasing of his argument. How he would have responded to the question is a good deal less clear. On the one hand, he has already hinted that there is at least an element of human responsibility in the actual receiving of the grace which marks out the members of the new epoch (v 17), with the implication that membership of the new epoch is neither automatic nor conferred without the individual’s consent. (It is hard to imagine Paul or his readers envisaging reception of the gift of righteous­ness apart form the conversion they had all undergone with the concomi­tant exercise of faith on the part of the convert—as defined for Paul in Hab 2:4 and illustrated by Abraham in Gen 15:6). So Paul may well have meant “all men” in the sense of everyone belonging to that epoch. On the other hand, he could hardly have complained if his Roman (or subsequent) readership took the “all men” as embracing the totality of the human race in each case. Nor should we exclude the possibility that Paul, enthused by the epochal sweep of his vision, cherished the hope of such a universal salvation, however much a more hard-headed analysis may have persuaded him otherwise in another context (2:8-9). How, after all, can grace be “so much more” in its effect if it is less universal than the effect of death? In Paul as in other Christians the logic of love may well have coexisted uneasily with the simpler logic of systematic consistency; according to Jonah it was not otherwise with God!7

Dunn here offers a far superior exegesis of the text than Wright. He is taking Paul’s language seriously and therefore has to wonder whether the Apostle has stretched his language for rhetorical effect. At the same time, Dunn acknowledges the possibility that Paul may well have entertained a universalist vision. That at least is what the verse seems to directly state. But Dunn is cautious. He does not see how one can reconcile such a vision with the evangelical demand for faith and repentance. Note how he, like Wright, also appeals to Romans 2. Again I ask, how can we exclude the conversion and transformation of the wicked in Gehenna? Paul hints at this possibility in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 1If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3:13-15)

Perhaps in this text Paul is thinking of believers, yet he also indicates the possibility of rectification apart from works, which have been burned away by the eschatological fire. The grace of Christ knows no limits! It extends even to the worst of sinners. The Lord justifies the ungodly!

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5:6-10)

It is not at all obvious that when Paul speaks of the day of wrath, he is thinking of everlasting retributive punishment. Talbott refers us to another “all” text, already cited above: “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32). He then comments:

But where is the biblical warrant, I would ask, for thinking that divine justice requires something that divine mercy does not, or that divine mercy permits something that divine justice does not? At this point, I fear, we sometimes read our own ideas (and philosophical preconceptions) into the Bible. We think that mercy is one attribute and justice another, so we read this into the Bible; we think that God’s love is an attitude of one kind and his wrath an attitude of an opposite kind, so we also read this into the Bible; we think that God punishes for one kind of a reason and forgives for another, and we tend to picture God as a schizophrenic whose justice pushes him in one direction and whose love pushes him in another; so we again read all of this into the Bible. When we turn to St. Paul, however, we encounter a profound and vigorous challenge to this whole way of thinking. . . .

Paul expressed his challenge most clearly in the eleventh chapter of Romans, where he explicitly stated that God’s severity towards the diso­be­dient, his judgment of sin, even his willingness to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the disobedient, are expressions of a more funda­men­tal quality, namely that of mercy, which is itself an expression of his purifying love. . . .

According to Paul, therefore, God is always and everywhere merciful, but we sometimes experience his mercy (or purifying love) as severity, judgment, punishment. When we live a life of obedience, we experience it as kindness; when we live a life of disobedience, we experience it as severity (see [Rom] 11:22). Paul himself called this a mystery (11:25) and admitted that God’s ways are, in just this respect, “inscrutable” and “unsearchable” (11:33), but nothing could be clearer than his own glorious summation of the whole thing in 11:32. If the first “all” of 11:32 refers distributively to all the merely human descendants of Adam, if all are “imprisoned” in disobedience, then so also does the second; they are all objects of divine mercy as well. And if one should insist, as some have in a seemingly desperate effort to escape universalism, that neither “all” literally means “all without exception,” the obvious rejoinder is that here, no less than in Romans 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:22, the parallelism is even more important than the scope of “all.” According to Paul, the very ones whom God “shuts up” to disobedience—whom he blinds, or hardens, or cuts off for a season—are those to whom he is merciful; his former act is but the first expression of the latter, and the latter is the goal of the former. God hardens a heart in order to produce a contrite spirit in the end, blinds those who are unready for the truth in order to bring them ultimately to the truth, “imprisons all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to [them] all.”8

Though not a professional biblical scholar, Talbott brings to his reading of the Scriptures a philosopher’s acuity and a precision of analysis. Ultimately he invites us to look at St Paul and the other books of the New Testament with fresh eyes and a renewed heart.

(18 February 2015; rev.)

Footnotes

[1] See the two important works by Ilaria Ramelli: The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis (2013), and A Larger Hope? (2019). Also see John Sachs, “Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology,Theological Studies, 54 (1993): 617-640.

[2] Augustine, Enchiridion 112. Also see “St Augustine and the Misericordes.”

[3] Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, 2nd ed., p. 49. See Talbott’s article “How to Read the Bible From a Universalist Perspective.”

[4] Ibid., p. 55.

[5] “Hence it is entirely possible that Paul may have had a basic idea that some “eschatological” events, e.g. apparently consigning some people to what might otherwise appear to be final and definitive rejection or destruction is not the final word, or the final event, in the eschatological drama to unfold at the End. As with, say, 1 Cor 15.22a alongside v. 22b, it might be better to take all that Paul says seriously, and moreover to give him the courtesy of granting that he may mean exactly what he says (or not presuming that we know him better than he knows himself and claiming that he does not mean what he appears to say). With this approach, the universalist claims of Paul can then be accommodated within an overall (apocalyptic) picture of the ultimate End for all human beings: it may be that, at present, some can be described as “perishing,” “condemned,” “lost,” or whatever. But this is not God’s final word. The ultimate
hope is that, in the end, all will indeed be saved and that God will be all in all.” Christopher Tuckett, “Paul and Universalism,” in Revealed Wisdom, ed. John Ashton (2014), pp. 168-169.

[6] N. T. Wright, New Interpreter’s Bible (2002), X:529. It needs to be stated that all exegetes struggle with the problem posed by Rom 2:5-10 within the context of Paul’s positive presentation of justification in Romans. An easy reconciliation seems to be impossible. Douglas Campbell has controversially proposed that the entirety of Romans 1:18-3:20 is a diatribe in which Paul engages in conversation with his opponents. If true, then Rom 2:5-10 does not express Paul’s opinion: see “Was Paul a Diatribalist?” Cf. my article “Justification as Apocalyptic Liberation.”

[7] James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 (1988), 38A: 296-297. For a general discussion of the universal versus particular salvation question in the writings of Paul, see Eugene Boring, “The Language of Universal Salvation in Paul,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 105 (June 1986): 269-292.

[8] Talbott, pp. 67-69.

(Go to “The Aionion Punishment of Gehenna”)

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41 Responses to The Inescapable Love of God: Was St Paul a Universalist?

  1. This is a thread that is strung throughout the Bible. God is called Love – he is never called Wrath. Yes, he is called a Purifying Fire, and in that context, think through all the uses of the word Fire, and recall how much in the Old Testament he is compared to a metalworker refining gold.

    It is the Wrath of the Love of God. Western Christians would do well to return to an understanding of the Divine Simplicity – the last thing God is is a schizophrenic balancing two sides, and if it looks that way to us, it because we have misunderstood. There is no antinomy in the line, “So that He might be Just and the Justifier of the Wicked,” for there is no injustice in making the wicked to be just. Rather, that is supreme justice: that all shall be just. All shall be what it must be.

    If anything, that was my own personal experience in coming to the place where I am now: Hell, as in the sense of eternal damnation, without repentance, without forgiveness, without redemption, is an affront to Justice, not in that it is an injustice to man, but in that it is an injustice to the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom says:

    Dunn: How…can grace be “so much more” in its effect if it is less universal than the effect of death?

    ———

    Indeed. Dunn does a far better job than Wright.

    Wright attempts to establish the comparison (“just as…so also”) as obtaining between the merely potential effects of the two acts, not their ‘actual effect’. And that’s the problem. First, it seems extremely difficult (impossible?) to suppose Paul has in mind only the potential effects of Adam’s act since the former (those of Adam’s disobedience) obtain matter of factly in us. And secondly, on Wright’s reading the “just as…so also” is weakened unto pointlessness. Thirdly, there’s often a translation involving adding a verb “to lead” which inclines in favor of Wright’s reading – i.e., Adam did something “that led to” our condemnation, and so also Christ doesn’t something that only “leads to” justification. But the Greek doesn’t make this point explicitly at all. The Greek is quite literally and tersely (DBH’s translation): “So then, just as by one trespass unto condemnation for all human beings, so also by one act of righteousness unto rectification of life for all human beings.” No verb at all.

    JUST AS:
    – by (dia) one trespass
    – unto (eis) condemnation
    – for (eis) all
    SO ALSO:
    – By (dia) one act of righteousness
    – unto (eis) rectification
    – for (eis) all

    The two sides of the comparison are isomorphic.

    Hart’s footnote on this verse:

    “This is one of those many verses in Paul more honored in the paraphrase than in the literal rendering. From the context, one can tell what he is saying: that just as one transgression (or the transgression of one man) brought condemnation to all human beings, so by one rectifying act (or the rectifying act of one man) all human beings receive a rectification of life (meaning either a rectification of their lives or a rectification imparted by the life of the risen Christ). The actual Greek text, however, is not only so terse as to be practically a shorthand jotting, but ungrammatical as well; if anything, my translation here somewhat veils the rushed brokenness of the original. The strict proportionality of the formulation, however, is quite clear, here and in the surrounding verses: just as the first sin brought condemnation and death to absolutely everyone, so Christ’s act of righteousness brings righteousness and life to absolutely everyone. Whether intentional or not, the plain meaning of the verse is that of universal condemnation annulled by universal salvation.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Tom says:

      If DBH is around, I wonder if he’d share some of this thought on his translation of the two “eis” phrases – in the first case of each as “unto” and in the 2nd of each as “for.” Both are eis+accusative, and he takes them as signifying slightly different relations: “unto” introducing the primary effect of the cause in each case, and “for” introducing, indirectly, those upon/for whom this effect comes. Is that it? I also wonder how common it is to see these ‘stacked’ consecutively like this. Just a thought.

      JUST AS:
      – by (dia) one trespass
      – unto (eis) condemnation
      – for (eis) all
      SO ALSO:
      – By (dia) one act of righteousness
      – unto (eis) rectification
      – for (eis) all

      Like

      • DBH says:

        I don’t see any important distinction between “unto”and “for.” I might just as well have reversed them “for rectification to all” or used the same translation for both. I was just trying to make it sound idiomatically clearer; but Paul’s Greek is…Paul’s Greek.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Chris says:

    Father, I’m a Roman Catholic who appreciates your work and has read Hart. Thank you. I would like to ask, how might you reconcile church approved visions of hell, such as Our Lady of Fatima showed the children in Portugal, or Saint Faustina saw? I’m of sound mind, but I have panic attacks over these horrifying warnings. They disgust me to the point that I hate the God I’m trying to love. They are akin to me warning my 3 year old that monsters will climb in his window and eat him and steal him away from mommy and daddy for the rest of his life if he doesn’t eat his vegetables. What a sick jerk I would have to be to make that threat. The same church that approves these visions permits me to hope that all may be saved. I can’t make sense of this! I’ve read Balthazar, hart, you, and Talbot, and it make sense! I would be grateful for your perspective. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Chris, I have to presume that the visions you mention were not truly sent by God.

      Like

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Perhaps – but we get these type of dark visions about the nature of hell from the biblical accounts as well. Most universalists do not deny the existence of hell, nor that it is a dark and terrible place. I take such visions to convey what is at stake here, the seriousness of the matter. However in the never-ending eternal account of hell, it is darkness that holds the ultimate trump card and thus overcomes the light, and this is precisely what is explicitly denied by universalists. There is no trump card, there is nothing that can overcome and outlast the relentless, never-ending love and mercy of God. These visions of hell then need to be understood in the light of the character of God, his kindness, his beauty, his goodness.

        Away with you pitiful demons and repent for there’s One greater than you that has come to claim His own!

        Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          Actually, there are no such depictions of “Hell” anywhere in scripture. In Luke there’s a description of Hades, borrowed from Enoch probably, which includes both places of darkness and places of light and refreshment. But a Hell is never described at all.

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I am referring, of course, to passages which describe fiery furnaces, outer darkness, gnashing of teeth, endless weeping, mourning, unquenchable flames, and such.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Well, the “outer darkness” and “gnashing of teeth” are problems of translation. The actual picture is of people outside at night grinding their teeth in complaint at not being allowed into the party. The “inextinguishable” fire is just an image of rubbish and carrion disposal, not of torture; as is also the case with the furnaces. And none of it is an image of Hell, as unpleasant as it may sound.

            Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Indeed, you make two very important points. While one can find plenty of passages of unpleasantries many are mistranslated out of context and do not describe hell as such. Expectation skews judgment: if we are told to look for an everlasting hell, sure enough we will find one.

            Like

    • Grant says:

      Perhaps the visions were true, perhaps not. But lets assume they a geninue mystic experiences, and any kind of deceptions, all mystic experiences are mediated via the mind, spirit and understanding of the persons, their society, culture, views and worldview, having them.

      Nothing explains itself or intpreprets themselves, but is understood via the understanding and hermeneutic of the persons involved. This is clear throughout the development of what we know as the OT Scriptures, there are much that are simply irreconcilable with other books within it, let alone the NT taken as a plain reading (denial of ressurection, views of God, afterlife, spirits etc), original sources coming from very different times and places. It’s also why no one recongised Jesus for who He is, and the disciples only understood after the Resurrection when they understood everything through Him and about Him, was the veil as St Paul puts it, lifted from their eyes.

      So with visions, people understood them through a matrix of taking infernalism for granted, and understood what they experienced, even if true through that.

      It is perfectly legitmate, in my opinion, if you think there is something in a vision to be listened to, to not have to accept elements of the recievers interpretation that cannot be true to God, such as infernalism. In fact, it would be imperative to do so, if it were a true vision, then intrepreting it correctly would be something important for all believers to strive for (and not simply take one intrpretation, even from those having them, as written in stone).

      Even some of the most terrible views of the past, can sometimes be understood in a way that can change everything. For example, the view that the saved will have their joy increased in watching the damnation of the lost, if understood and re-interpreted from a universalist perspective as the salvation and freedom of all people from their false shadow selves, and the all suffering and loss that comes from it, that do not exist, it can be understood as the delight of all in the freedom to their true selves and from death into life. That in the distorted and very damaged understanding of those persons saying such things, this is a truth they could only dimly grasp, and only understood it through the distortions cast by the shadows of death, twisting a joyous truth into a macabre and terrifying horror.

      And, of course, besides this, as I understand it, you are not required to accept either visions as geninue, so if they do not conform to who God is then you can just safely ignore them. This is probably a safer path with visions anyway, easy to get yourself lost, worried and confused uncessarily by it all, when it’s better to pay attention Christ and who He reveals God to be.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Well said Grant, a good word of caution to take visions loosely, as “with a grain of salt.”

        Like

      • Robert F says:

        What you’ve said here applies also for many texts in the Bible, regarding the will of God as expressed through the writers of scripture, for instance God’s command to conduct herem, along with all the other texts of terror. They should be interpreted just the way you rightly say visions should be.

        Like

    • DBH says:

      Fatima is one of the great examples of religious fraud inducing mass hysteria. God is not an idiot, and only an idiot would have issued the ridiculously vacuous “prophecies” of the peasant girls who faked the visions. There is a reason why peasant girls, with no prospects in life except hard work, marriage to an undesirable man, occasional beatings, and death in childbed, make up stories to elevate themselves out of their conditions. Something similar happened at La Salette.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        By the way, I know there was a boy involved in both cases. But the girls took the lead.

        Like

      • Calvin says:

        So what’s your explanation a couple thousand people, including convinced atheists, reporting similar bizarre phenomena at the same time? Not trying to be snide, genuinely curious.

        Like

        • sdparker47 says:

          Likewise Calvin, although I am not Catholic, something compelling seems to have happened at Fatima. The explanation of mass hysteria is, to my mind, unsatisfactory and is something that’s best left in the pages of publications like Skeptic magazine.

          Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Thousands did not. That was a claim made after the fact. In reality, it was almost impossible to find people who described the supposed vision. It’s a case of a legend about a mass experience taking shape after the crowd had long dispersed. Similarly the reports of convinced atheists seeing miracles. Actual reconstructions of reports after the fact revealed a lot of claims that were never substantiated. A few pious souls expecting a promised vision saw or thought they saw something, except their accounts were inconsistent. It’s nonsense. It never happened. It’s precisely the sort of mass “sighting” that takes place in all religious traditions at moments of mass fervor.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Though I will admit that, after the rain, there might have been a parhelic iridescence caused by ice crystals. I’ve seen that happen once myself. But only a few could be found who claimed to have seen it, so even that is doubtful.

            Like

          • Calvin says:

            Interesting. Could you direct me to those reconstructions you’re talking about?

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            I don’t recall any particular authors. It’s been a while.

            For a long time it’s been known that, while thousands of people were present, only a handful reported seeing anything special. About seven in all, to go by the accounts of the time. Then the tale grew in the telling. Scientists who were present, including believers, saw nothing. Other legendary material soon accrued to the tale, such as the claim of driving rain all day beforehand that soaked the ground, and then the ground miraculously became dry…. All rubbish. Pictures of the crowd gathering for hours beforehand showed a clear dry day. One newspaper reported a small drizzle earlier in the day, and then that too was exaggerated.

            Look, think about it. If thousands claimed to have a vision, where are their testimonies? Why do no contemporary reports make such claims? It has become common to claim thousands had a vision, but the claim is based on nothing.

            This is a common crowd phenomenon, especially where religion is involved.

            But it’s been decades since I last read up on this. You can probably find it online somewhere.

            Like

          • arthurjaco says:

            Just my two cents, but I also think it’s interesting how alleged visions of the Virgin almost always happen in Catholic countries and almost never occur in Orthodox nations in spite of the fact that the Orthodox revere Mary just as much as the Catholics – and also, they’re about 300 million worldwide (all Orthodox believers combined, both Eastern and Oriental), which is roughly the equivalent of 90% of the population of the US.
            And the Virgin never seems to reveal herself to Protestant Christians (guess she really hates their guts for failing to worship her) or to non-denominational Christians either…
            I guess all these people really have to do in order to have a shot at being visited by the Holy Virgin is believe in the “One True Church”…
            …Which is, of course, the one Church that promoted blatantly false doctrines based on early mistranslations from Greek to Latin to the rank of actual infallible dogmas (among them, the Catholic-Protestant conception of Original Sin, with its attached notion of inherited guilt, which is at once nonsensical, unbiblical, and unworthy of God – what a rare feat).

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Actually there have been quite a few Marian apparitions in Eastern Christian countries.

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          • arthurjaco says:

            Yes, but were the alleged witnesses Orthodox themselves?
            For example, I can think of at least one alleged Marian apparition that occurred several decades ago (at some point during the last decades of the 20th century, if memory serves me well) in Ukraine, obviously an Orthodox-majority country…
            …But they occurred in a mostly *Catholic* region of the country (in one of Ukraine’s westernmost raions) and the alleged seers (or seer, I can’t remember) was/were at least one young girl that just “happened” to be Catholic (she might have been a member of the Polish minority or perhaps an Eastern Catholic ethnic Ukrainian).
            I’d be interested to learn more, though… Maybe I overestimated my knowledge, that wouldn’t be the first time.
            Do you have any *relatively* recent examples in mind?

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          • DBH says:

            Well, all that occurs to me at the moment is Our Lady of Zeitoun, the visions being seen chiefly by Coptic Orthodox believers.

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          • arthurjaco says:

            Ah, yes, correct, there’s that one (even though Egypt is of course predominantly Sunni Muslim rather than Christian Orthodox).
            Now that you remind me of it, there have been at least 2 or 3 *other* alleged Marian apparitions in Egypt, including in Shoubra, which is also in Cairo, and in Assiut, another Egyptian city.

            Still, in comparison to the incredible number of alleged Marian apparitions that have supposedly occurred across Catholic lands throughout the centuries (thousands upon thousands of alleged apparitions, that is), the number of apparitions that have supposedly occurred in the Orthodox world… Seems to have been *almost* negligible, as far as I know.

            By the way, do you have *any* opinion at all about the alleged apparitions at Zeitoun?
            I can recall the phenomena that occurred there but I never knew what to make of them, personally… Any idea?

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          • DBH says:

            I’ve never really looked into them.

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          • arthurjaco says:

            Okay.
            Not really surprised, given the number of subjects you’ve evidently studied in depth… No one can know everything.

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have added a new footnote. Check out #5.

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  5. Since DBH seems to be responding, I have an interesting (I think question) via a quote from Pseudo-Dionysius and really just in general I guess about the road that his Neo-Platonism runs into via a quote he makes himself. And do we just kind of chalk it up to the time, or does he genuinely think this or would he kind of be like Maximus in that if you look at it in toto, it could only lead to an actualized universalist position?

    In the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (III.3.11, 440C-441) He makes mention of the “fall” and says that human nature/soul “fell in to danger of non-existence and destruction.” Is this a danger to which ultimately was a possibility from which one is saved, or is this merely logically pushing a conversation in which one was never in any real danger because when you couple it with the fact that any existent intelligibility must me oriented to the good, and thus, since we continue to exist we would never be in any danger of non-existence/destruction at all?

    Or is he surmising that essentially you strip away yourself in to non-being/lack of existence the further removed you become? So that in a sense, you almost become Plotinian matter, and you are non-being that contributes merely to someone else’s good to be removed in the end?

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    • Iainlovejoy says:

      As I understand it, a decline to non-existence / destruction is the inevitable consequence of sin, and one from which, having fallen into sin, we cannot extract ourselves unaided. Once fallen sufficiently into sin our orientation is towards what we, through sin, mistakenly perceive as the good, not the true good itself, and all our efforts towards it just dig us in deeper. We are not in truth in danger of final destruction, but only because despite our best efforts, God refuses to abandon us to it.

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      • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

        I agree with you in what the conclusion should be. I’m just wondering why, if the system holds fully, we’d even be in danger of that as a threat? If that makes sense. I find it sometimes in Maximus, as well, across Ad Thal and the Ambigua… this kind of Nazianzen nod to the univeralist position but still the rhetoric of a potential ontic collapse via the self’s stripping away by irrationality. So in a weird sense, all could be all, but in the sense for what solely would be retained and is. At best, infernalism fails the test fully, but there are these strange notions of annihilationism that are somewhat alluded to, even if not fully agreed to in spirit. I could be wrong, but even PD, as quoted above, seems to allude to it and no one is more Neo-Platonic than he.

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        • Iainlovejoy says:

          I can’t speak for everyone but on the whole the basic premise on which universalism is based is the goodness of God rather than any inherent impossibility in itself of damnation. Certainly I think few universalists would assert that absent God’s intervention in Christ we would or could save ourselves anyway, or that anything other than God’s own inherent loving nature would require God to save us. In the last few weeks there has been a Fr Rooney championing the infernalist cause on this site, and, while he has been, at best, confused and a bit incoherent, he was right that asserting damnation inherently impossible by humankind’s own nature regardless of God is pelagianism, and to say that God is obliged to save us because he needs to do so for his own sake is akin to pantheism, which is why universalists usually don’t assert this.

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          • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

            Well I think that the Pelagian controversy is one of our greatest curses that in a dialectical way has become one of our greatest gifts. I’m glad Julian and Pelagius pinpointed the holes in Augustine and pushed him to vocally state the logical ends of his bias and presuppositions. Maybe we are just now cleaning up the “mess,” so to speak, but I’m thankful it happened. I also think, much like Origen, just to assent to certain points doesn’t make one a Pelagian anymore than liking Origen and assenting to aspects of this theology makes one an Origenist. One must remember, it was to the arms of Theodore of Mopsuestia they ran, and while in the end, he disagreed with Pelagius and Julian, it wasn’t for the same reasons as Augustine and found far more in common with them than he ever would Augustine, and on top of that, he himself would be ostracized similarly in the end by similar voices from the West….and also fwiw….was a universalist himself particularly, because of all places, the Psalms.

            I am also not afraid of the metaphysics of need. There is a mysterious need for us all that love created us. It isn’t necessarily a lack, but a need to exercise love as love is construed to be shown. Monism all the way down if you ask me. Theos Kai Pan.

            I also think that whole Pelagian controversy stems from a false dilemma, but that is neither here nor there, and if Pelagius is wrong, then so is Origen in his Commentary to the Romans, and his Commentary on John.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Logan: “potential ontic collapse” – potency assumes a prior actuality without which it is no actual thing. So yes, without actuality it is non-being and demonstrates creation’s precarious situation of contingency: it does not hold the principle of life.

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          • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

            Oh I totally understand that. I’m just more asking for an articulation of how some of these voices find annihilation rhetoric within a concept that logically shouldn’t hold. That’s all. Like I said, Plotinus sees matter as evil and essentially being destroyed for the Soul’s good that is in the process of ascending so it is merely a nothing that helps bring about something but isn’t factored in the finality of it all. Proclus and PD would differ, but yet PD finds that statement and makes it in a way that I didn’t expect.

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  6. The claim that Origen taught universal salvation in a similar manner to how the doctrine has been presented in the English speaking world since the 19th Century is irksome. I can’t comment on Origen’s corpus as a whole, but I have read his comments on apokatastasis in John Behr’s translation of De Principiis. Origen organizes De Principiis into three categories of Christian thought: apostolic teaching, ecclesiastical teaching, and finally, his own musings. Apokatastasis appears in the third category, which seems rather modest to me. Origen does not seem to claim that the apostles taught apokatastasis, but he does propose that it would be entailed by 1 Corinthians 15:28’s beautifully evocative phrase, “all in all.” I also recall Origen suggesting that the punishments envisaged by Isaiah and the prophets might be purely remedial for the wicked. I would characterize this passage in Origen as extremely tentative and modest. It is certainly nothing like what one finds in Talbott or Hart.

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