I have not read everything on the universalist hope, nor have I read all of the books and articles that others deem essential. But I thought it might be helpful to others to share the essential stuff that I have read and found helpful:
Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian
I am recommending this book for its chapter on St Isaac’s eschatology. More than a few Orthodox priests have whispered to me: “I am a universalist at heart, but I can’t tell anyone. St Isaac convinced me.” Why the power of St Isaac’s writings? Because he knew the power and unconditionality of God’s love–hence his confidence that God will eventually win over the heart and mind of every human being and every demon.
_____, Christ the Conqueror of Hell
Unlike the Latin Fathers, many of the Eastern Fathers believed that when Christ descended to hades, he saved all of its inhabitants. This universality of the Lord’s paschal work is also reflected in the Orthodox Church’s hymnody. This is one reason why the greater hope simply will not go away in Orthodoxy.
Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant
Thomas Allin, D.D., lived at a time when it was not unusual for an Anglican parish priest to also be an eminent scholar. He also lived at a time when a growing number of British Protestants were challenging the received doctrine of everlasting damnation. Christ Triumphant is a classic work of this period and is noteworthy for its presentation of the patristic witness to the larger hope, as well as its strong theological case for the greater hope. Highly recommended.
Ambrose Andreano, “Patristic Universalism”
Andreano identifies the misconceptions many people have about what universalists believe and answers the common objections advanced against the greater hope.
_____, “The True Fate of ‘the So-called Devil’ in Origen”
Andreano explores what Origen really taught about the eternal destiny of Satan. Some fascinating material here. After you’ve read this, read Bulgakov’s essay “On the Question of the Apocatastasis of the Fallen Spirits.” Makes for an interesting comparison.
Andreas Andreapoulos, “Eschatology and final restoration (apokatastasis) in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor”
The universalist views of Origen and St Gregory Nyssen are well known, but what about St Maximus the Confessor. Andreapoulos believes that strands of Maximus’s eschatology intimate an openness to the universalist vision, despite the damnation passages that can be found in the Maximian corpus. Andreapoulos points to Maximus’s conviction that every human being will experience an eschatological healing of his gnomic will. When the Good is fully manifested in the parousia of Christ, why would anyone reject the Good?
_____, “Eschatology in Maximus the Confessor,” in The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor
Written a decade after his Theandros essay, and taking into account more recent scholarship, Andreapoulos elaborates on the eschatological perspectives of St Maximus. As in his earlier essay, he believes that the logic of Maximus’s ontological and anthropological reflections leave open the possibility of universal salvation. Regarding apokatastasis Andreapoulos concludes:
“On the one hand, Maximus foresees the restoration of the natural will and speaks of the purifying fire of the Second Coming, something that implies an end to the purification process, but, on the other hand, he emphasizes the final rest. Perhaps the answer can be found in a comment from the Q.Thal. 22 (Laga–Steel 1980: 139. 66–141. 80) where Maximus draws a distinction between the present age, the ‘age of the flesh’, which is characterized by doing, and the age of the Spirit that will be characterized by ‘undergoing’. This suggests that the final rest will not be a static rest, but that some kind of activity is conceivable. In addition, it is not specified if the activity of that age is limited to the righteous only: the analogy to the age of doing suggests the opposite. Is it possible, then, that with the mysterious phrase ‘ever-moving rest’ (ἀεικίνητος στάσις), the Confessor envisioned a rest similar to the unification of the soul with God, as described by Gregory of Nyssa, where the soul moves infinitely towards God without ever being able to reach the end of infinity, but experiencing and participating increasingly in the divine energies? The ‘undergoing’ of the sinful souls might then be translated into the contrition and repentance they never had in life, which could perhaps even then bring them closer to God, while the righteous advance in their blissful participation of the divine. Something like that would be consistent with the possibility of a final restoration of all and with Maximus’ views on the rest. This active rest would have to be understood as an unchangeable condition, in spite of the movement or undergoing of the souls, something that would satisfy its position at the end of the Maximian cosmological triad as the conclusion. It would also mean that it is not necessary to envision an ontological difference between the righteous and the wicked, as there is not one now.”
Paul Blowers has advanced a similar judgment in his recently published book Maximus the Confessor.
David Artman, Grace Saves All
I have not read this book yet, but Tom Belt assures us that it is an excellent primer on the topic of universal salvation. See Tom’s EO review.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”?
Standing under the judgment of the Cross (and bound by Catholic dogma), we may not assert apokatastasis, says Balthasar; but we may—and indeed must—pray for the salvation of all. Universal restoration in Christ is a possibility for which we may hope, but can never be a certainty we may proclaim.
Balthasar did not convert me to the universalist hope. The seeds for that hope were planted back in the early 80s when Thomas Torrance and Robert Jenson taught me the unconditionality of the divine love. But Balthasar watered those seeds. Faith in the absolute love of God slowly began to grow into hope for a universalist Future. Eventually, though, I realized that I needed to proclaim a more confident, greater hope than Balthasar allows.
Tom Belt, “St Maximus the Confessor, Hell, and the Final Consummation”
Belt is not a patristic scholar and certainly not an expert on St Maximus (who is?), but he is a thoughtful reader and theologian. In this article he reflects on Maximus’s Ambiguum 7 and wonders whether Maximus’ metaphysics and understanding of God logically leads to universal salvation, even if the great Church Father never connected the dots.
Richard Bernier, “Where is Everybody? Apokatastasis, Divine Charity and Human Freedom”
Bernier is a Byzantine Catholic theologian. In this thoughtful piece, he asks the question why should we question the doctrine of everlasting damnation. His answer is blunt: we must question it because it is “monstrous, plain and simple.”
Sebastian Brock, “St Isaac the Syrian and his Understanding of Universal Salvation”
Sebastian Brock is one of the foremost scholars in the world on Syriac Christianity. This essay is particularly valuable for the copious quotations from St Isaac on the theme of apokatastasis. If you are unable to purchase the Second Part of St Isaac’s discourses (in which his eschatological homilies are contained), then you definitely want to read this paper.
Sergius Bulgakov, “On the Question of the Apocatastasis of the Fallen Spirits”
Bulgakov’s famous essay in which he argues for the final redemption of the fallen angels. His argument is similar to that the argument he presents for the universal salvation of humanity in Bride of the Lamb, yet he also recognizes that it will be accomplished differently because of the differences between angelic spirits and embodied human beings made in the Imago Dei. The salvation story of Satan can only begin when he has been cast out of the world into the void.
_____, The Bride of the Lamb
Bulgakov was perhaps the most creative, daring, profound—and also most controversial—Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. Those of us who are unacquainted with Russian philosophy, as I am, will probably find this a difficult book to read; yet it is illuminating in ways that most works of theology are not. Bulgakov’s mind and heart were alive with the Holy Spirit. He was a true priest and theologian of the Church.
Section III of Bride of the Lamb is devoted to the topic of eschatology. This section can be read to great benefit just by itself. Bulgakov’s universalism is neither sentimental nor trite. He does not envision salvation apart from repentance and ascetical sacrifice. We should fear hell and its torment, but we should trust God more. “The torments of hell are a longing for God caused by the love of God,” he states. It is blasphemy to think that evil will triumph over the the risen Lord. Bulgakov emphatically rejects any violation of the human person. No one can or should be coerced into the kingdom. The divine judgment is nothing less than the full revelation of the Christ, in whose image every human being is made: “Every human being sees himself in Christ and measures the extent of his difference from this proto-image. A human being cannot fail to love the Christ who is revealed in him, and he cannot fail to love himself revealed in Christ.” (See Roberto de la Noval’s article on Bulgakov, listed below.)
Bulgakov’s is the most profound vision of the greater hope that I have read.
_____, The Sophiology of Death
This recently published volume contains several essays by Bulgakov devoted to eschatological and universalist themes. Many believe that this may be the best introduction to Bulgakov’s theological vision.
Jeremiah Carey, “Universal Salvation and Free Will: A Response to Fr James Dominic Rooney”
Mark Chenoweth, “St Maximus the Universalist?”
Chenoweth surveys the key texts in St Maximus’s writings and concludes that if he was not an outright universalist, he was certainly sympathetic to it. Superficially Maximus appears to have affirmed universal damnation, yet there are many elements in his theology that point to apokatastasis.
_____, “Was St Maximus Merely a Hopeful Universalist?”
_____, “The Deep Patristic Roots of Hart’s Universalism”
Keith DeRose, “Universalism and the Bible”
Keith DeRose is not a biblical scholar. He is a philosopher at Yale University. Like Tom Talbott, he believes that the Apostle Paul ultimately taught a doctrine of universal salvation. He begins his article with this judgment: “Contrary to what many would suppose, universalism … receives strong scriptural support in the New Testament. Indeed, I judge the support strong enough that if I had to choose between universalism and anti-universalism as the ‘position of Scripture,’ I’d pick universalism as the fairly clear winner.” I certainly would not say a “clear winner,” but the case is stronger than many believe.
_____, “The Incredibility of Free Will Defenses of Hell”
DeRose asks the free-will defenders of hell: if God cannot save all, why at least does he not save more than he does? DeRose distinguishes himself from David Hart in that he cannot affirm that all, without exception, will indubitably be saved; but he thinks it very, very, very likely.
Paul Gavrilyuk, “Universal Salvation in the Eschatology of Sergius Bulgakov”
Gavrilyuk offers a helpful introduction to Bulgakov’s eschatology. He is ultimately critical of Bulgakov’s universalist convictions: he thinks that the great theologian slides into a metaphysical necessitarianism, just as Origen did. I disagree. Bulgakov is too concerned to preserve the synergistic freedom of the creature to allow any kind of necessity to govern his eschatological convictions.
Chris Green, “The Problem of Hell and Free Will”
“We need to understand human being and agency not as a limit to God—created by and as God’s act of self-limitation—but as existing within God’s freedom and because of it, in absolute dependence on God’s supremacy. We need a way of saying that God wills our free response and that our response is truly free just because God wills it.”
John Wesley Hanson, Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years
Since its publication in 1899, this book has been the standard historical work on the universalist sympathies of the Church Fathers. Its scholarship is dated—it should be read alongside Ramelli’s The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis—but it remains a useful resource. An online version can be found at Tentmaker.org.
Steven R. Harmon, Every Knee Should Bow
Harmon examines how Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and St Gregory of Nyssa sought to ground their hope for universal salvation in the biblical story and their reading of Holy Scripture.
Addison Hart, “Robert Buchanan and ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’”
The figure of Judas Iscariot has long captured the imagination of Christians, even begetting poems and songs. Hart reflects on one forgotten poem by a forgotten English poet, Robert Buchanan. If Jesus is love, is he not awaiting the return of his friend and disciple at the messianic banquet?
David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved
If human beings are made by God and for God, if the Holy Trinity is their ultimate Good, only in whom they may find the happiness they desire toward whom their consciousness is teleologically directed, then we may not entertain the possibility that they could irrevocably close themselves off to Love. God’s salvific will cannot be eternally stymied. That All Shall Be Saved has brought apokatastasis back to the catholic table. See my series which seeks to explicate Hart’s arguments: “Apprehending Apokatastasis.”
That All Shall Be Saved is profitably read alongside the metaphysical essays contained in The Hidden and the Manifest, especially “Impassibility as Transcendence.”
_____, “God, Creation, and Evil”
This is an important essay (also included in revised form in That All Shall Be Saved). Hart discusses the question of eternal damnation and theodicy and comes down firmly in favor of the universalist vision of St Gregory of Nyssa. Hart boldly declares that the Christian confession that God is absolute Love and Goodness, when combined with the equally Christian confession that God has freely created the world from nothingness, excludes the traditional expousal of the eternal damnation of the wicked. If God is truly good, then he would never accept the risk that even one of his beloved would be eternally lost. Humanity has been made by God for God: “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.”
_____, “What is a Truly Free Will?”
_____, “What God Wills and What God Permits”
_____, “Can Persons Be Saved?”
_____, “In Defense of a Certain Tone of Voice”
_____, “When Only Bad Arguments Are Possible”
_____, “The Obscenity of Belief in an Eternal Hell”
Christopher Howell, “The Path Upward: Liturgy, Universalism, and George Sefiris”
First read Brad Jersak’s article “Apocatastatic Hymnody” and then follow up with this article. In addition to noting the universalist-orientation of Orthodox hymnody, Howell also discusses the Last Judgment hymns, often cited as testimony for the everlasting damnation position. His conclusion: when we read, hear, and sing the hymns of the Orthodox Church, “we realize that the universalist hope never did disappear” in the life of the Church.
Wacław Hryniewicz, “Universal Salvation: Questions on Soteriological Universalism”
A courageous essay by a Polish Catholic theologian. Hryniewicz directly challenges centuries of the pedagogy of fear. The section “Is God Helpless in the Face of the Gift of Freedom?” is particularly illuminating. “God himself is the greatest hope for all His creatures,” Hryniewicz writes. “He penetrates even the infernal depths of the human heart. He can lead out of the depths of Gehenna. He does not destroy the freedom of rational beings, but respects human choice. However, he has his truly divine way of persuading the freedom of the beings most in revolt. He attracts and transforms them from the inside through His goodness, beauty and boundless love manifested above all in the voluntary kenosis of Christ.”
_____, “Universalism of Salvation: St Isaac the Syrian”
A helpful summary of the eschatological views of St Isaac of Nineveh. Hryniewicz concludes his article with these words: “Today, after the twelve centuries which have elapsed since the times of Isaac the Syrian, one reads his texts with deep affection and sincere admiration. His universal hope makes him one of the greatest guides and teachers, especially in theological thinking about the world to come.”
Brad Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut
This may be the first book I would recommend to someone who desires to explore the biblical basis for the universalist hope. Written for a popular audience, Jersak invites his readers to bracket their dogmatic systems and listen to the Scriptures afresh, in all of their irreducible diversity and complexity. “Our obsessive attempts,” he writes, “to harmonize the Scriptures into artificially coherent, stackable propositions—as if they required us to contend for their reliability or authority—actually do violence to their richness.” One finds within the Bible specific texts that may be reasonably interpreted to support each of the three major construals of eschatological destiny—infernalist, annihilationist, and universalist. Perhaps we need to hear all three voices.
_____, “Permit Me to Hope”
A fine article that Jersak wrote for Eclectic Orthodoxy. He maintains that the universalist hope remains a legitimate option within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Do not let others tell you otherwise.
_____, “Apocatastatic Hymnody in Orthodox Worship”
Jersak surveys the hymns of the Orthodox liturgies and offers this conclusion: “Our kontakia and troparia, our typika and canons, are a continuous bold declaration that what Christ accomplished through the Cross, his conquest into hades and his glorious resurrection, was for all humanity, affects all humanity and calls all humanity. They comprise the gospel announcement that Christ is victorious over death and has raised up humanity with himself.”
After reading Jersak’s article, then turn to Howell’s contribution: “The Path Upward.”
Alvin Kimel, Destined for Joy (2022)
This book contains most, though not all, of my articles (now revised) on universal salvation. Enjoy!
_____, “Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?”
“But the the Church dogmatically denounced all expressions of apokatastasis,” the critic confidently declares, pointing to the anathemas allegedly pronounced by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. But matters are not so simple. The anathemas in question were (1) never formally approved by the Council, (2) are directed against the strange and esoteric teachings of the 6th century Origenists, and (3) do not condemn the construals of apokatastasis advanced by St Gregory of Nyssa, St Isaac of Nineveh, and contemporary proponents of the greater hope.
_____, “Orthodoxy, Dogma, and the Neuralgic Question of Doctrinal Development”
It is generally assumed by Orthodox believers that the doctrine of everlasting damnation enjoys the status of irreformable or infallible dogma. It is therefore necessary to examine the nature of dogma and what it means, at least for the Orthodox, to characterize a dogmatic statement as irreformable. As we see in this article, matters are more complex than popularly taught, especially when it comes to eschatological questions.
_____, “Dogma, Damnation, and the Eucatastrophe of the Jesus Story”
The question of everlasting damnation does not possess the status of infallibility because it directly contradicts the revealed truth of divine love and goodness and the “happy ending” promised by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
_____, “Divine Retribution, Hell, and the Development of Doctrine”
It is often not noticed that a significant doctrinal correction has occurred in Christian theology. For 1500 years hell has been thought as everlasting retributive punishment. This is no longer the case. Over the past 75 years Western philosophers and theologians have rejected the punitive model of hell and have proposed what is a free-will model. Quite independently, Orthodox theologians have advanced the “river of fire” model. Universal salvation is but the logical conclusion of the free-will and river of fire models. God is love, and he will not be satisfied until all have been converted to him in love.
_____, “St Augustine of Hippo and the Misericordes”
In his great work The City of God, St Augustine identifies seven universalist and semi-universalist positions that were prevalent in his day (early 400s). Though he disagreed with all of them, he only judged one of them as heretical—specifically, the assertion that Satan and the demons will be saved. Note: he did not consider the claim that all humanity will be saved as heretical.
_____, “Apokastastasis and the Theodicy Objection”
Origen did NOT invent the doctrine of universal salvation. Going back to the second century there existed a position that may be described as “intercessory universalism.”
_____, “Apokatastasis and the Radical Vision of Unconditional Divine Love”
The greater hope is ultimately grounded in a vision of God as absolute, unconditional Love. If this vision is true, then the doctrine of everlasting damnation becomes both incomprehensible and morally intolerable.
_____, “Hell as Universal Purgatory”
I am convinced that a failure of imagination partly underlies the resistance to the greater hope. If a person dies hating and rejecting God, how can God possibly deliver him or her from that rejection? The medicinal understanding of purgatory comes to the rescue. That there is a hell for the impenitent, all universalists affirm. But it is not an everlasting punishment but the painful redemptive process by which the risen Christ liberates us from our delusions and addictions and brings us to clear vision of that Love for which each of us desires.
_____, “Preaching the Astonishing Love of God with St Isaac the Syrian”
This six-article series on St Isaac the Syrian might be considered as a systematic mini-presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, concluding in the eschatological reconciliation of sinful humanity and fallen angels with their eternal Creator. Please read the series in order. But if are too impatient to read the entire series, I give you permission to skip to the end: “The Triumph of the Kingdom Over Gehenna” and “The Demonic Void and the Apokatastasis of Satan.”
_____, “Preaching Apokatastasis: St Isaac the Syrian and the Grammar of the Kingdom”
The gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a message of triumph and unconquerable hope: God will reconcile all sinners to himself in the eschatological transfiguration of the cosmos. This hope therefore authorizes preachers to proclaim the gospel in the performative mode of unconditional promise. This paper was delivered at a conference in Cardiff, Wales in 2014 and subsequently published in the journal Logos (2017).
_____, “Preaching Good Good Very Good News: St Isaac the Syrian and Universal Salvation”
This 3-article series represents a recently revised and expanded blog version of the above Cardiff lecture. How does apokatastasis shape and inform our preaching of the gospel? How does it fit in with the Orthodox understanding of Church as manifestation of the Kingdom?
_____, “All shall be well … but how well is hell?”
Dame Julian of Norwich was probably not a universalist, not explicitly so, but her visions of Christ provide a strong case for the salvation of all. Clearly the greater hope dwelt deep in her heart. “All shall be well.”
_____, “Pascha and the Apokatastasis of Judas Iscariot”
“But what about Judas? the universalist is always asked. Judas is the test case of the Savior’s love. Will Christ, can Christ, save his fallen apostle?
_____, “Apprehending Apokatastasis”
This is my multi-article commentary on David Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved. My hope is that others will find it helpful in grasping David’s key arguments. Together these articles present what I believe is a compelling argument that God will restore all sinners to himself in his Kingdom.
_____, “Afterlife Possibilities: Is There Repentance After Death?”
The traditional view says no. Death finalizes the sinner’s orientation to God. But why believe this is so? All explanations seem fatuous and unconvincing. They presuppose the doctrine of everlasting damnation. In this piece I summarize the view of the great Sergius Bulgakov. Bulgakov dismisses the school opinion that death freezes the human person: “the disincarnation in death does not suppress the activity of the spirit.” The afterlife presents new possibilities!
_____, “The Irresistible Truth of Final Judgment”
This article is one of a series on the eschatology of Sergius Bulgakov. He contends that in the final judgment, all will see the risen Christ and in their hearts will know the One in whose image they were made and know, by comparison, how far they have fallen from the Image. “It is impossible,” declares Bulgakov, to appear before Christ and to see Him without loving him.”
_____, “Seeking Theodicy: Sergius Bulgakov and the Apokatastasis”
Universal salvation is the only “tolerable” answer to evil and suffering in the world.
_____, “Is Post-mortem Repentance Possible for Mortal Sinners?”
For almost a millennia the Latin Church has taught that at the moment of death the eternal destiny of the individual is definitively and irrevocably settled. This doctrine is known as the particular judgment. But the Eastern Church has retained the older belief that the destiny of the damned is not settled until the final judgment. Until then, salvation is still possible through the prayers of the Church for the departed.
_____, “Dwarfs for the Dwarfs: Can Aslan Pierce Our Infernal Darkness?”
The Apostle Peter teaches that after his death, the Lord descended into hades and preached the good news to the departed. In her hymnody the Eastern Church sings that the result of this harrowing was the rescue of all.
_____, “Universal Salvation: What Are the Odds?”
Even if there is no such thing as efficacious grace by which God can unilaterally convert the wicked, philosopher Eric Reitan argues that their salvation is statistically certain, as long as God continues to offer his forgiveness after death.
_____, “Hell and the Solidarity of Love”
With reference to C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, I reflect on the possibility of heavenly happiness when one knows that one or more loved ones are suffering everlasting torment.
_____, “Eternal Damnation and the Argument From God’s Love for the Blessed”
I review the argument of Kronen and Reitan that the Blessed cannot enjoy perfect happiness if the lost suffer everlastingly.
_____, “Heavenly Amnesia”
William Lane Craig has sought to rebut the claim that the Blessed cannot enjoy perfect happiness if there is a hell by suggesting that they will be so enraptured by their vision of God that they will not give the damned a second thought. But how is this not a failure to love?
_____, “Goddammit, Who Damns Whom?”
Some thoughts on Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment.
_____, “Hell, Prison, or Nothingness?”
To definitively reject God is to choose the nothingness of evil. Some thoughts on the free-will defense of hell, with special reference to Jonathan Kvanvig and Eleonore Stump.
_____, “Rational Freedom and the Incoherence of Satan”
What are the conditions of rational freedom, and does the choice to reject God definitively fulfill them?
_____, “The Secret of the Universalist Hope”
Human beings are not created in a neutral state vis-à-vis their Creator. They are created with a natural desire for union with him.
_____, “Universalism and the Vision of the Good”
God can guarantee the conversion of the wicked by bestowing upon them a perfect vision of himself as the Good.
_____, “Hell, Freedom, and the Predestinating Gospel”
At the end of his life, the notable Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson came to affirm universal salvation. For those acquainted with his theology, this was not a surprise. The entirety of his project inevitably points to this conclusion.
_____, “The Hermeneutics of Perdition”
The New Testament only seems to clearly teach eternal damnation if it is read through a hermeneutic of perdition. Its witness looks very different when read through the paschal victory of Jesus Christ.
_____, “The Greater Hope: How do I find a God who triumphs over evil and death”
This is a long-ranging article in which I respond to a piece by the Catholic theologian and Balthasar expert Dr Larry Chapp. Following Balthasar, Chapp confesses a hopeful, but non-necessary, universalism: God may save all, we should pray that he will save all, but in the end he may not. What is this “may not” but an admission that God may turn out not to be as good as we hoped he would be?
_____, “The Nothing of Grace and the Apokatastasis of Justification”
Justification by faith proclaims the utter freeness of the grace of God, gratuitously bestowed on all through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. Apokatastasis is but the gospel of Christ’s absolute and unconditional love sung in an eschatological key.
_____, “The Caponian Vision of (Almost) Apokatastasis”
The radical unconditionality of divine grace is the evangelical heart of the theological writings of Robert Farrar Capon. So why isn’t he proponent of universal salvation?
_____, “Doomed, Doomed … Doomed to Happiness”
_____, “The Irrationality of Hopeful Universalism”
_____, “Do Universalists Dream of Eclectic Hells”
In this two-part series I summarize philosopher Michael Rea’s article “Hopeful Universalism,” in which he argues that the “hopeful universalism” position is inherently unstable and irrational.
_____, “Universal Salvation: Love Is Its Own Necessity”
My response to James Dominic Rooney’s charge that universal salvation is dependent on a deterministic metaphysic. God does not save all because he is compelled to do so. He saves all because he loves all.
Andrew Klager, “Orthodox Eschatology and St Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis”
In this fine piece, Klager articulates a cosmic eschatology grounded in humanity’s ontological union with the Incarnate Word. He features St Gregory of Nyssa, but he also draws on the Divine Liturgy and the ascetical tradition on theosis. He concludes by affirming a universalist hope along the lines advocated by Ware and Evdokimov.
John Kronen and Eric Reitan, God’s Final Victory
If you are looking for a philosophically sophisticated defense of the universalist hope, this is the book for you. Kronen and Reitan are both trained philosophers. They are well acquainted with the philosophical literature on universalism, as well as with the scholastic tradition. They critically analyze the classical and modern doctrines of hell, present the arguments they deem most convincing in support of universal salvation, and respond to various objections. Anyone who wants to argue against universalism first needs to read God’s Final Victory and address its arguments.
_____, “Annihilation or Salvation?”
Kronen & Reitan analyze the philosophical case for annihilationism in light of the arguments advanced in their book. Bottomline: annihilationism suffers from many of the same flaws as does infernalism.
_____, “Talbott’s Universalism, Divine Justice, and the Atonement”
Morwenna Ludlow, Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner
Ludlow examines the eschatological convictions of St Gregory Nyssen in detail. “Whoever considers the divine power,” Gregory writes, “will plainly perceive that it is able at length to restore by means of the aionion purging and atoning sufferings, those who have gone even to this extremity of wickedness.” Hell is purgation that culminates in salvation. Gregory’s views on the apocatastasis were not condemned by the Church at the 5th Ecumenical Council and would later profoundly influence the eschatological reflection of Sergius Bulgakov.
George MacDonald, “The Consuming Fire,” “The Last Farthing,” “Justice”
To a large extent, opposition to the greater hope is governed by a failure of imagination: we cannot imagine how God can save all if human beings are truly free. The logic of eternal damnation binds our minds. In these homilies MacDonald liberates our imagination and invites us into a vision of the Father who loves infinitely and eternally. “Nothing is inexorable but love,” he declares. The Father will never abandon his children.
For a helpful exposition of MacDonald’s views, see Thomas Talbott, “Universal Salvation in the Theology of George MacDonald.” Regarding MacDonald’s speculations on how God might convert the wicked after death, see my article “The Hell of Self and the Redemption of the Outer Darkness.”
Gregory MacDonald (aka Robin Parry–see below), The Evangelical Universalist
Gregory MacDonald is the pseudonym for Robin Parry, who has a Ph.D. in Old Testament studies. Parry looks at the primary New Testament texts that are typically invoked in the eternal hell vs. universalism debate. You may be surprised by how well the new Testament reads when liberated from a prior dogmatic commitment to the classical doctrine of hell. Parry’s exegesis is thoughtful, careful, and imaginative. He does not claim more for his interpretation of a given text than it can bear; but he does invite us to a fresh re-reading of the Bible through a hermeneutic of love.
Brian C. Moore, “Sin, Hell, and the Victory of Pascha”
Brian Moore–theologian, philosopher, poet, storyteller–has been a gift to Eclectic Orthodoxy. He has a unique gift to bring to light dimensions of reality that we usually miss. This article on the greater hope is one of the finest pieces published on my blog.
_____, “The Flourishing of Apokatastasis”
Steven Nemes, “Praying Confidently for the Salvation of All”
Nemes argues that despite the passages in the New Testament that threaten eternal damnation, we do not in fact know whether hell will be eternally populated. Hence we may confidently pray for the salvation of all.
_____, “Christian Apokatastasis: Two Paradigmatic Objections”
Nemes critically analyzes two classical objections against the universalist hope, one from the Augustianian-Reformed tradition and the other from the Arminian-Wesleyan tradition: (1) The divine goodness does not require that God save anyone. (2) If human beings are genuinely free, then they must be able to eternally and irrevocably reject God and thus separate themselves from his love and mercy.
Roberto De La Noval, “We Shall See Him As He Is: Bulgakov On Eschatological Conversion.”
A brilliant exposition of the critical assertion in Sergius Bulgakov’s universalist eschatology that at the Second Coming all will love Christ.
_____, “Anselmian Apokatastasis: The Fitting Necessity of Universal Salvation in St Anselms Cur Deus Homo”
Robin A. Parry, Four Views on Hell
Dr Parry’s contribution to this volume is one of the single best introductions to universal salvation. Highly recommended.
_____, “7 Myths About Universalism”
_____, (editor), All Shall Be Well
A collection of essays discussing the universalist hope articulated by various theologians in the history of the Church, from Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa to Sergius Bulgakov, and Karl Barth. Tom Talbott’s piece on George MacDonald is of particular interest. A helpful and instructive volume.
Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge (editors), Universal Salvation? The Current Debate
This book contains three essays by Talbott, followed mainly by critical evaluations of Talbott’s writings from evangelical biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, as well as two essays on the history of universalism in the Church. The book concludes with a response from Talbott to his critics. This is an excellent book and well worth adding to one’s library.
Jedidiah Paschall, “A Reformed Case for Universalism”
Drawing on Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance, Paschall proposes that universal salvation appropriately follows from God’s election of humanity in Jesus Christ.
C. A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan”
A helpful summary of how the question of Satan’s ultimate salvation has been addressed by Christian theologians down through the centuries. “From the outset,” Patrides writes, “one element clearly emerges: the conviction that God’s love is all-inclusive and irresistible. The crucial issue, which orthodox theologians repeatedly failed to grasp, was never whether Satan should be, or could be, redeemed, but whether Divine Love may be limited in any way, even to the extent of Satan’s exclusion from Grace.”
Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis
Weighing in at over 900 pages, this is a massive work of first-rate scholarship on the theme of universal salvation in the first millennium Christian Church. This book is now mandatory reading for anyone who wishes to advance an opinion about what the Church Fathers believed and taught. You will be surprised. The universalist hope was far more prevalent than I ever knew. It was not restricted to Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa. Even St Augustine apparently believed in a form of apocatastasis early in his episcopal career. Tragically, thanks in large part to Augustine in the West and the Emperor Justinian in the East, the universalist hope was suppressed and the standard teaching of everlasting perdition became the teaching of the Church.
_____, “Christian Soteriology and Christian Platonism”
Ramelli explores Origen’s and St Gregory Nyssen’s integration of philosophy and biblical exegesis in their reflections on apokatastasis. If you can’t afford her monograph (who can?), then by all means take a look at this essay. Ramelli believes that Origen (and by implication Gregory) has been misunderstood and misrepresented by the ecclesiastical tradition. He certainly was no Origenist.
_____, A Larger Hope?
Finally! In this affordable volume Ramelli distills her years of research on apokatastasis in the first- and early second-millennium into an accessible format. During the first six centuries, the greater hope was alive and well in many quarters of the Church. Must-buy, must-read.
Josh Rasmussen, “Could Everyone Eventually Be Saved?”
Eric Reitan, “A Guarantee of Salvation?”
_____, “Universalism and Autonomy”
_____, “Eternal Damnation and Blessed Ignorance”
Taylor Ross, “The Severity of Universal Salvation”
Bringing together Origen, St Gregory Nyssen, and George MacDonald, Ross argues that universal salvation “entails a concept of judgment just as exacting, just as rigorous, and every bit as righteous as the sort of purely punitive punishment on offer in any version of the doctrine of eternal damnation.”
John R. Sachs, “Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology”
A helpful introduction to universalist reflection in the patristic Church, with special focus on Origen, St Gregory of Nazianzus, and St Gregory of Nyssa.
Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (2nd edition)
If I was only allowed to recommend one book on universalism, this is probably the one I would choose. Talbott writes clearly and well, and he is sharp as a tack. The book is intended for a primarily evangelical-Protestant audience. Orthodox and Catholics will be put off by some of his ecclesiological convictions; but it’s easy enough to bracket them and simply focus on his biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments. Talbott has a keen eye for nonsense. He addresses the biblical testimony head-on. Of particular importance are the chapters are those in which Talbott discusses human freedom and the nature of justice. The chapter on predestination is particularly illuminating.
Also see my ten-part review of the second edition.
This article may be the best introduction to Talbott’s approach to universal salvation. Start here! After you have read this, you should have a good idea whether you want to read anymore of Talbott’s work.
_____, “Misery and Freedom”
Is it coherent and rational to think that a fully informed and free person–i.e., someone who both fully understands that God is his supreme good and is free from delusion and bondage to disordered desires–would irrevocably reject absolute Love? Talbott doesn’t think so.
_____, “Providence, Freedom, and Human Destiny”
The relation of divine providence and divine foreknowledge is a difficult, perhaps intractable, problem, especially for classical theists but also for modern theists who desire to remain within the mainstream Christian tradition. This is not an easy piece, but it does shed light and is well worth the read. At the very least it demonstrates how difficult it is to reconcile eternal damnation with a God who is benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient.
_____, “How to Read the Bible from a Universalist Perspective”
Focusing on St Paul, Talbott invites us to read the Scriptures afresh, temporarily bracketing our infernalist suppositions. We might be surprised by what we find.
_____, “James Dominic Rooney’s Critique of Universalism”
Kallistos Ware, “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All”
Think of Ware as the Orthodox counterpart to Balthasar on the topic of the universalist hope. Like Balthasar, he does not believe we can affirm anything stronger than a hope. In Ware’s judgment there is no way to rationally resolve the irresolvable conflict between divine love and human freedom. All we can do is to firmly hold them together in tension, “while admitting that the manner of their ultimate harmonization remains a mystery beyond our present comprehension.”
Jordan Daniel Wood, “George MacDonald against Hans Urs von Balthasar on Universal Salvation”
Balthasar is well known for his advocacy of a non-necessary universalist hope: we may and should hope that God will save all, but we must not presume that he will. Wood finds Balthasar’s position unsatisfactory and commends as an alternative the bold and confident hope of George MacDonald.
Reviews of That All Shall Be Saved
The publication of That All Shall Be Saved in 2019 was a major event. It pushed the question of universal salvation to the theological front-burner. The majority of online reviews, though, suggest that the brethren would rather dismiss the universalist thesis as outright heresy rather than engage it constructively and substantively. Fortunately all is not lost.
Roberto De La Noval, “The Only Theodicy?”
Larry Chapp, “David Bentley Hart’s Universalism”
Mark Chenoweth, “The Deep Patristic Roots of Hart’s Universalism”
Justin Coyle, “May Catholics Endorse Universalism?”
Chris Green, “God is Heaven, God is Hell”
Paul J. Griffiths, “Universalism’s Convenientia”
Alvin Kimel, “Apprehending Apokatastasis” (ten parts)
_____, “A Review of a Review of a Review”
_____, “When Hell Becomes Dogma: The Closing of the Catholic Mind”
_____, “When Hell Becomes Dogma: Freedom for Perdition”
_____, “When Hell Becomes Dogma: Damning to Nothingness”
Karen Kirby, “Against the Infernalists”
Andrew Louth, Journal of Orthodox Christian Studies 3 (2020): 232-235
Brian Moore, “A Most Peculiar Story” (five parts)
Ty Monroe, “Faith, Reason, and Moral Sensibility”
Taylor Nutter, “The Possibility of a Thomistic Universalism”
David Opderbeck, “Why I’m a Fan of DBH–But …” (three parts)
Trent Pomplun, “Heat and Light” Modern Theology (2020): https://doi.org/10.1111/moth.12650
Thomas Talbott, “Tom Talbott Reviews That All Shall Be Saved” (four parts)
Jordan Wood, “The Remarkable Unity of Rhetoric and Dialectic in That All Shall Be Saved”
Heaven and Hell
Joel Buenting (ed.), The Problem of Hell
Do you enjoy analytic philosophical reflection on the hell? You’ll find a number of interesting essays in this volume, including a piece by Talbott on free will and character formation and a piece by Jerry Walls on annihilationism. Check out the table of contents on the Amazon page.
Brian E. Daley, The Hope of the Early Church
Unfortunately, we lack an in-depth treatment of patristic eschatology available in English. Perhaps such a work would be too much for any single scholar; or perhaps someone has written such a volume, and it just hasn’t been translated. Fortunately, we do have Brian Daley’s “handbook,” as he calls it. Published in 2002, it remains the go-to book on the eschatological views of the Church Fathers. It does need to be updated, though, in light of the recent scholarly contributions of Ilaria Ramelli.
Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes
The classic evangelical work on retributive annihilationism. Not a position with which I am particularly sympathetic—the hermeneutics that grounds the project is all wrong, but it contains a lot of useful information.
Paul J. Griffiths, Decreation
In this sophisticted work Griffiths argues for a free-will annihilationism: human beings are ultimately free to embrace sin and pass into the nothingness from which they were created. What makes his arguments particularly interesting—and surprising—is that he is a Roman Catholic who seeks to norm his reflections by the infallible pronouncements of the Magisterium. With Balthasar, Griffiths believes that we must pray for the salvation of all, though he deems the prospect unlikely, although not impossible. He agrees with the universalist that the traditional claim that God would resurrect the dead in order to condemn them to everlasting perdition violates the revealed character of God as infinite and absolute Love.
Zachary Hayes, Visions of a Future
Hayes synthesizes Catholic reflection on the last things over the past 50-60 years. This book is helpfully read alongside Ratzinger’s Eschatology.
Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven
This has been one of my favorites since it was first published in 1990. The influence of C. S. Lewis upon Kreeft is manifest. It was here that I first encountered the view that purgatory is an anteroom of heaven.
Andrew Louth, “Eastern Orthodox Eschatology”
Andrew Louth is a patristic scholar and one of the foremost Orthodox theologians in the world. Louth grounds Orthodox reflection on the Last Things in the Divine Liturgy. Louth notes that “in Orthodox theology a hope of universal salvation, based on a conviction of the boundlessness of God’s love, has never gone away.”
Zachary Manis, Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God
For the past century the two principal models of eternal damnation have been the retributivist and free will. Manis now introduces a third which he believes expresses the best of both approaches—the divine presence model: God eternally and only intends the salvation of every human being, but human beings remain free to definitively reject his gracious gift. “The eternal suffering of hell,” Manis contends, “is not the result of any divine act that aims to inflict it, but rather the way that a sinful creature necessarily experiences the unmitigated presence of a holy God.” Also see my four-part review of the book.
Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life
This is a classic in Roman Catholic literature on the subject. Here we see the decisive break in post-Vatican II Catholicism from retributivist models of both purgatory and hell.
Preston Sprinkle (ed.), Four Views on Hell
If you’re just beginning to reflect on eternal damnation, this may be the book with which to begin. Four Protestant scholars present the retributive, annihilationist, free will, and universalist positions and respond to the contributions of the others. Robin Parry’s essay on universalism is particularly fine.
Thomas Talbott, “Heaven and Hell in Christian Thought”
Talbott was asked to write a new essay for the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This article provides a helpful review of recent philosophical discussion of hell. Talbott does not hide his universalist sympathies. For a different perspective, see the article by Jonathan Kvanvig that Talbott’s piece replaced.
Alexandre Turincev, “An Approach to Orthodox Eschatology”
The eschatology of the Orthodox Church is notably underdetermined, in contrast to that of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result diverse understandings exist within her precincts. Turincev’s essay represents an excellent introduction to the eschatology developed by the “Parisian school” of Orthodoxy in the 20th century, as expressed in this quotation:
“The moral conscience may accept hell, understood in the sense of a state of purification of the soul – lasting, perhaps, but not perpetual. But here is what matters: hell can be vanquished, and it is already vanquished. This is the central affirmation of our Faith. To believe in Christ is to believe in His victory over hell. He is the vanquisher of death and of hell. He is our Deliverer. He alone can liberate us from hell, even now or in the next life. It should be added that the Orthodox Church disregards the Latin distinction of hell and purgatory. She prays for all the dead and does not accept that there are any who are already damned forever. The existence beyond the grave is nothing but the continuation of the deceased’s destiny, with its progressive purifying and liberating action – a healing, a maturation and a creative expectation.”
Jerry Walls, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory
Much of Walls’s philosophical career has been devoted to matters eschatological. In this 2015 book he pulls together his reflections for a popular audience. It is clearly written, accessible, and affordable—highly recommended. Also see my multi-part review. For more in-depth treatment, read Walls scholarly trinity (below).
_____, Hell: The Logic of Damnation
_____, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation
_____, Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy
Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
Before a person can seriously entertain the universalist hope, he must become persuaded that the the Father of Jesus Christ loves sinners absolutely, unconditionally, nontransactionally. I can think of no better theologian to assist us in grasping this truth than Robert Capon—not because Capon is a theologian of the first-rank (he doesn’t even belong to the second-rank), but because he has an uncanny ability to think outside the conditionalist box. Such an ability is necessary when interpreting the New Testament as eschatological discourse. Capon also has a whimsical writing style that often makes me chuckle (and sometimes cringe).
This book shares Capon’s reflections on the parables of Jesus. Each parable, Capon believes, witnesses to the kingdom now present in Christ, a kingdom that Jesus gifts to his hearers. Even the parables of judgment witness to the unconditional love of Christ and his Father. Yes, his exegesis is sometimes off-the-wall and unconvincing, yet that is what can be so helpful to us. We need to have our expectations turned upside-down and inside-out.
Also see my multi-article series on Capon’s exegesis of the psalms
_____, Between Noon and Three (1997 ed.)
Capon described the writing of this book a “watershed experience” and considered it his most important book. It’s difficult to describe. The first part is a parable of two adulterous lovers, Paul and Laura, with Caponic commentary. Many will find the parable scandalous, because the two lovers do not repent of their sin. Capon, of course, is not endorsing sin (despite appearances, he is not an antinomian); but he wants us to see that unconditional love (represented by Laura) transcends moralism. The second part is an imaginary coffee house Q&A between Capon and his parishioners. The third part is another parable—this time a parable about the gangster-style execution of a New Jersey mobster. Is it possible for God to forgive murder, redeem murder? Yes, Capon boldly asserts. Evil is eternally enveloped, judged, and redeemed within the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Oh, by the way, Capon was not a universalist. He believes that it is possible for the sinner, like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son, to stand outside the festivities of the kingdom. Like C. S. Lewis, Capon advocates a free-will model of damnation. Might it be possible for the damned to repent of their rejection of the divine mercy? Perhaps. All moments in time are eternally held within the spear wound of Christ and thus eternally available to the damned for their exploration and reassessment.
I will update this list as I continue to read on this subject.
Patristic Universalism: An Alternative to the Traditional View of Divine Judgment by David Burnfield
Flames of Love: Hell and Universal Salvation by Heath Bradley
The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment by Jan Bonda
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I’m sure Ilaria Ramelli’s recent tome “The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis” will become an essential standard.
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I agree. I just wish it wasn’t so outrageously expensive!!!
Thanks for this list Fr. Aidan. I am firmly into the concept that Met. Ware has expressed. I hope for the salvation of all mankind. However, I believe that Satan and the demons have already been judged and condemned to annihilation in the Lake of Fire which is prepared for them. God has waited to carry out their execution because he wants to save all humanity if possible. The Church Fathers who believed that Satan and the demons would be saved have no basis in Holy Scripture and the acts of Satan and the demons to base their teaching on. Where there is no repentance, there is not life.
You may be right, Marc. I am agnostic when it comes to the demonic powers, as it seems to me that all of our speculation about them is precisely that–speculation. We do know anything about their nature and existence. All we know is their enmity toward God and toward us. Satan is our enemy. Hence I am content to remain agnostic. Perhaps they are beyond repentance and thus beyond salvation.
But I cannot put dismiss Sergius Bulgakov’s suggestion that it is the world that allows Satan to entertain his delusion that God is not his true good. But eventually he will be expelled from the world and deprived of the world. He will no longer have the world to “feed” on. At this point “Satan’s duel with God begins,” Bulgavkov writes. “Can we, human beings, know anything about this duel?”
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Macrina seems rather hopeful, even for the demons [whatever they are]. And this not without some warrant from Colossians 1, where even that which is invisible is reconciled by his blood (and what might that be?) … and yet Hebrews says that Christ came for the help of humans and specifically not angels. And anyway, by the time we get to the desert fathers, ‘demons’ starts taking on less of a ‘fallen angels’ backstory and sounds a lot more like what alcoholics say when they describe ‘wrestling with their demons.’ (Anthony excepted). So what to make of it?
I heard a funny story by Kallistos Ware. He was embarking on a long drive with another hierarch. He thought to pass the time he would bring this up. Will even the demons be saved? To which the hierarch boomed, ‘None of your business,’ and that was that for that topic. 🙂
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Excellent list. Don’t forget Julian of Norwich! I got started on the path to full-blown universalism through her, especially in chapter 32 when the Lord said, “I will preserve My word at every point, and I will make everything well that is not well.” The fact that He refused to disclose the Great Deed that He shall do on the Last Day to make all things well inspires us to love, pray, and hope with complete trust and confidence.
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Greetings, Stanford. Thanks for the suggestion about Dame Julian. I intentionally omitted her from my list because I have come across two Julian scholars who deny her universalism. Most recently, see Denys Turner’s book Julian of Norwich, Theologian. I tend to trust Turner’s judgment–hence my reluctance to include Julian in my list. What do you think?
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To the list of “Julian was NOT a universalist” scholars you may add Fr. John Julian, OJN, whose translation and commentary are published by Paraclete Press under the title “The Complete Julian of Norwich”. Among other things, he points out that she frequently used the phrase “all who shall be saved”, implying that not all will be saved. Certainly she was not an avowed universalist as were Saints Gregory of Nyssa of Isaac the Syrian. However, I think she was so in pectore, but given the doctrinal and ecclesiastical climate of Fourteenth Century England, she could only lead her reader to that truth inferentially. And I think she does so beautifully.
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What about The Problem of Hell by Joel Buenting.
A collection of essays dealing with the issues of Hell and identifying pros and cons in the various views from universalism to acknowledging Hell’s reality.
Thank you for bringing my attention to this book. I’m going to have to borrow it through ILL.
LOL. I’m going to need to get a job before getting this book but it does look interesting and weighty.
Thanks for the recommendation on Sergius Bulgakov from this blog. He looks pretty clean as well.
You may be interested to know that I was a typical Evangelical, believing that either heaven or hell was the destination of every human being, but came to believe that everyone is going to heaven strictly by reading the Bible. That is, I have never read a book on Universalism – either before or after I came to this conclusion.
Here is my book-length treatment of the subject: The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven
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Whether Universalism is correct or not, isn’t believing in Universalism inherently dangerous, since you include yourself? Isn’t safe route is to believe like St. Anthony the Great that “all will be saved, only I will perish”?
Wonderful question, Yaakov.
May I turn the question back upon yourself? If God were to say to one of two things to you, either “My dear Yaakov, I love you ultimately and absolutely and I will always find a way to turn your heart to me, no matter what” or “Yaakov, you are right, only you will perish and there’s nothing I can do to save you,” which word would you find most encouraging, most transformative?
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Yaakov, I cannot imagine myself commending to parishioners, either in a homily or by way of spiritual counsel, that they adopt St Antony’s prayer “All will be saved except I.” Perhaps certain ascetics can safely adopt such a prayer, but I do not think that most ordinary believers can. It seems to violate the gospel-word of unconditional love and would too easily generate despair and scrupulosity.
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That it may generate despair and scrupulosity, I’ll give you that. But that it violates unconditional love? I don’t understand that. If anything, it generates and exhibits a spirit of humility, love, and forgiveness.
On reflection, I think the first. However, I think that the first statement is kind of a given, even in St. Anthony’s statement. It’s not that God will not find a way to turn our heart to him, but that we don’t accept his invitation.
Now, if God were to say, “My dear Yaakov, no matter what you do or desire, even against your strongest wish, I will turn your heart to me” – then I’d say that statement would be more of a turn off than “only you will perish and there’s nothing I can do to save you”.
Can you divorce Universalism from pre-destination? I’m not saying it’s wrong.
Yakoov, St Isaac the Syrian certainly thought so. See my series on Isaac and universalism.
For a philosophical argument based on a libertarian understanding of free will, see “What Are the Odds?”
Let me know what you think.
Regarding your series on St Isaac, which was englightening, I don’t see where it shows that the two ideas are separated. You do say that St. Isaac doesn’t go into God’s method for effecting everyone’s eventual choosing of Him, but that doesn’t rule out pre-destination.
Having read your series, it seems like St. Isaac believes in pre-destination. I wonder how he would have reacted to the conversation between Ivan and Alyosha in Brothers K?
Have you read “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives”? In it, Elder Thaddeus presents an image of heaven/hell that I don’t think fits into the “River of Fire” or Divine Retribution categories.
Awesome resource, nice job!
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Miscellanies, Book VII by Clement of Alexandria http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02.vi.iv.vii.ii.html
On the Soul and the Resurrection by Gregory of Nyssa http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf205.x.iii.i.html
The Great Catechism by Gregory of Nyssa
The Restoration of All Things by Jeremiah White https://archive.org/stream/restorationofall00whit#page/n3/mode/2up
An Humble, Earnest, and Affectionate Address to the Clergy by William Law
Calvinism Improved by Joseph Huntington https://archive.org/stream/calvinismimprove00hunt#page/n3/mode/2up
The Second Death and the Restitution of All Things https://archive.org/stream/universalismasse00alli#page/n3/mode/2up
The Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen https://archive.org/stream/lettersofth0ersk#page/n7/mode/2up
The Consuming Fire by George MacDonald
Eternal Hope by Frederic Farrar https://archive.org/stream/eternalhopefive05farrgoog#page/n8/mode/2up
Salvator Mundi by Samuel Cox https://archive.org/stream/salvatormundi00unkngoog#page/n8/mode/2up
Universalism Asserted by Thomas Allin https://archive.org/stream/universalismasse00alli#page/n3/mode/2up
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Pingback: Confessing a Hopeful Universalism | The Mystical Axis
May I identify myself as a former evangelical denominational pastor, executive officer and Bible College president. I’ve been in active Christian ministry for 64 years and continue a preaching assignment every Sunday. I embraced the truth of universal salvation after many years of biblical study, research and prayer. With this revelation my entire concept of God’s loving relationship to humanity has been revolutionized.
I am convinced that this wonderful truth is knocking on the door of Christ’s church and that we’re on the verge of a reformation of grace that will ultimately eclipse the one introduced by Martin Luther. Consequently, I have written and published a book, Dropping Hell and Embracing Grace, by Ivan A. Rogers, available from Amazon.com, also on Kindle. The book has been well-received; a welcome addition to the exciting discussion of universalism.
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Who would most agree with the following:
I had a professor in seminary that spoke of one theory that arises from the question, “What about the salvation of God’s chosen people the Jews? (for the evangelicals) Those before Jesus that it was and could have been credited to them salvation by faith). And the theory went something like this: When Jesus returns EVERYONE is resurrected and every tongue confessing and every knee bowing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, Lord, and King. And it would be at that point that the Jews would see the messiah coming in the way that they have always been expecting. And everyone would be able to either recognize the one and true God and choose to continue to be in relationship with the God, or they would be wooed by the Holy Spirit to desire to start that relationship beyond this life. And of course, for anyone that chooses to not be in relationship with our three-fold Godhead, then there would be a place for them that would not be in the presence and relationship with God, and that would be like eternal torment to choose to not be in a relationship with the Trinity that they were create to be in.
The benefit of this view is that it still agrees with Jesus’ saying of, “No one comes to the Father except through me” and allows for a Christian world view when it comes to the potential of universalism. It’s not that all faiths and religions lead to the same God, but that they could bring up different aspects of Christianity that when Christ does return, they could recognize the Jesus was the one all along, and the Holy Spirit has been wooing them all along, and the Creator Covenant God does desire to be in relationship with us all.
(and then you could go into Revelation with the gates in the Holy City as being open and not gated… but it could be argued that that was a representation of the current realities of those that belong to the Kingdom and the holy city is a representation of the Christian faith at the time when John the Revelator wrote the book on the island.)
OK with all that said…. Which authors or theologians in your reading have you come across that would agree or created this thought? Thank you so much for your help!
Somewhere in my library I have a mid-19thC volume of interest: “The Ancient History of Universalism”, by Hosea Ballou. Ballou was a consistent Calvinist who came to modify his position by a belief in universal election, and went on to found the Universalist Church, which, regrettably developed to an extreme liberalism and has merged with the Unitarians. His book is interesting, adding to a Scriptural exposition a surprising knowledge of patristics. I’ve read it through more than once, and find myself not convinced of universalism as a doctrine. I don’t think we can go that far. But it did leave me ready to hold a universalist hope similar to many of those you quote.
“Tragically, thanks in large part to Augustine in the West and the Emperor Justinian in the East, the universalist hope was suppressed and the teaching of eternal perdition became the teaching of the Church.”
The 5th Ecumenical Council rejected universalism. Dare we think we know better than the 5th Ecumenical Council? No.
Discussion of the 5th Ecumenical Council is scattered throughout the blog, but see especially my comments in this interview. Short answer: (1) it is doubtful that the council itself dogmatized on the matter, and (2) the version of apokatastasis addressed by the anti-Origenist anathemas (whatever their dogmatic status may be) touches the universalist hope as presented by, say, St Gregory of Nyssa or St Isaac of Nineveh.
It’s not doubtful in the Orthodox Church — it is only very recently that you could cite any Orthodox writers who have espoused universalism. The only reason St. Gregory of Nyssa’s teachings on this subject (if in fact he ever taught such a thing) were not condemned by that council was because it was argued that the quotes you refer to were origenistic interpolations. There is a similar argument that the quotes from St. Isaac of Syria you refer to are not his genuine writings. However, even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that these quotes are authentically the work of those saints, there is zero evidence that the Church ever embraced those ideas, and mountains of evidence that they rejected them. The odd opinion of one saint or another does not trump an ecumenical council. One need only read the patristic commentaries on Matthew 25:45 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” to see whether the Church thinks that when our Lord speaks of everlasting punishment, he really mean everlasting punishment.
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Dear me, you really think those are interpolations? That is something of a joke in scholarly circles. Especially since it would basically mean that Gregory’s whole theology, from the ground up, as unfolded in De anima et resurrectione and De hominis opificio and the Great Oration and the Psalms commentary is an interpolation. Maybe Gregory never really wrote anything (rather like the Oxfordian hyposthesis about Shakespeare). Something similar is true in Isaac’s case. And those two are far from being the only patristic universalists; both of the very distinct Alexandrian (including Cappadocian) and Antiochene tradition are full of them, from the days of Pantaenus to the 13th century writings of Solomon of Bostra. Goodness, there are almost overwhelming reasons to believe Gregory Nazianzen, and even Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, were so disposed (Gregory unquestionably, really).
And, had our our Lord spoken of everlasting punishment, that would be an interesting argument. But he did not speak English, and in fact did not speak Greek; and the Greek text of Matthew 25:46 (which is the only one you can have in mind) has been read by a great many Greek-speaking and Syriac-speaking fathers, from the earliest days, as saying nothing of the sort.
As it happens, I number among my friends and acquaintances some of the greatest scholars of Orthodox canons and councils and history in the world; and to a man they would assert that the Orthodox Church–no matter what the inclinations of its catechists and prelates may have been down the ages–has never definitively condemned universalism as such, or even addressed it under any synodical or conciliar conditions of special import. It has condemned some teachings that are also, as it happens, universalist. But the sort of universalism found in Gregory and Isaac, which fully acknowledges the reality of judgment and hell, has never even been addressed.
But let’s not pursue the issue. Be wrong in good conscience, and by that you shall be saved.
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David, may I ask for your thoughts about the dogmatic authority with Orthodoxy of the Synodikon. It is sometimes invoked as a decisive authority against the universalist hope. This anathema in particular is cited:
“To those who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to those who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others,
Anathema, Anathema, Anathema! [my emphasis].”
The Synodikon is just a compendium, and at times a converses, and possesses only as much authority as what it is quoting at any point. In itself it is no more binding on the conscience of an Orthodox than the Baltimore Catechism or a Thomist manual is on the conscience of a Catholic.
In modern times some Orthodox have begun to claim that all local synods and councils are doctrinal authoritative and so Orthodoxy has just as many exact doctrinal formulae as Rome. Call it magisterium-envy. But in fact the ancient canonical view is that only an ecumenical council can ratify a synod as doctrinally binding. And it’s been a while, you know.
Simply said, if it isn’t one of the promulgations of the seven councils, then it’s nothing but the record of how certain clergymen at a certain time and place understood the tradition (usually over against those blasted monks). And then there is the question of what certain councils–the 5th of course–really said.
You mentioned the toll houses, a curious bit of semi-gnostic bric-a-brac. Fr John might be interested to know that many monks who embraced that teaching did so because they were universalists.
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The word that my autocorrect turned into “converses” was supposed to be “congeries.”
Ramelli’s Book on Apokatastasis
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Have you come across “All Shall Be Well – Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology from Origen to Moltmann” edited by (you-know-who) Gregory MacDonald?
Among others it contains Origen (obviously), Schleiermacher, P. T. Forsyth, Barth, Ellul, T
Robinson, Balthasar and Moltmann. It is an excellent addition to your already excellent list.
Yes, I own it, and I agree–it should be on the list. I’ll add it. Thanks.
I have been enjoying greatly David Bentley Hart’s thinking on this matter. He is wrestling with this in translating the New Testament, and is coming to some fascinating conclusions. We spoke of the two words for (eternal) punishment, with one kolasis-punishment for a time, for correction; and timoria-punishment of vengeance. Next he noted that there are forty or so passages in the NT about universal Salvation, and only one meaning eternal punishment. The strongest adversary is St. Augustine, not working from Greek but Latin, and his emendations of the language in Romans 5:18 (which in Greek has neither subject, nor verb, nor object), and I Corinthians 15:22. And, Augustine is particularly strident in his polemic against Julian, who riled him as no other did in Augustine’s late age. (Ep. 101, 4). See Augustine’s Contra Jul. 4, and 24.
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Fr Coleman, that is fascinating news! I had heard that Hart had been commissioned to translate the NT (or the entire Bible?). I hope that Hart will eventually share with the rest of us the conclusions of his study.
Dale, which text does Hart identify as signifying eternal punishment?
Dale directed me here to see if his recollections of our conversations were accurate. They are not quite…
There is no verse in the New Testament that unambiguously threatens eternal punishment. There are three that are regularly invoked by the Hellfire Club (my fond name for those who have some emotional commitment to the idea of a hell of eternal torment), but none of them really says what they imagine it says. Conversely, the seemingly very clear statements of universal salvation number quite high (47 at my last casual count).
I am not really wrestling with the text, at least not in a moral or intellectual or existential sense. My only struggles are finding the mot juste (so to speak). I am, and have never concealed that I am, a complete and unreserved universalist, and believe no other interpretation of Paul’s theology is coherent. Geoffrey Wainwright’s review of my first book noted it, for instance. Gregory of Nyssa, after all, succeeded where Augustine failed: his eschatology incorporates the whole of the New Testament witness (sans Revelation, which he did not regard as canonical) in a seamless synthesis, without truncation, equivocation, or attempts to explain away the plain meaning of crucial texts.
As it happens, the next work of technical theology I plan to write is on precisely that topic. Unfortunately, I have been very ill these past 15 months, so I do not know when or if I shall write it. But my translation, I hope, will come to be thought of as The Apokatastatic Standard Version.
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David, I had heard from Addison that you have been quite ill. May the Lord grant you a speedy recovery–and if not a speedy recovery, then at least a full recovery.
My blog has become somewhat “infamous” for its promulgation of the universalist hope. You may find of interest my series on St Isaac the Syrian and Sergius Bulgakov. They aren’t scholarly pieces. If you have a chance to glance at them, I’d welcome your feedback.
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If you happen to visit these comments again, I am curious to know your response to those who claim that the belief in universalism is a heresy since it was (supposedly) condemned by the fifth ecumenical council.
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If you consult the (very dubious) records of the council, you will find something called Origenism condemned. But no authentic finding of the council condemns universalism as such.
Not that I would care if it did. That very imperial “ecumenical ” council is an embarrassment in Christian history, and I sometimes think it a mercy that such a hash was made of its promulgation that we literally do not know what was truly determined there. For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles. And the contrary claims made by a brutish imbecile Emperor are of no consequence.
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What a delight to see David Bentley Hart’s thoughts. My own notes were that two of the texts commonly viewed as signalling eternal punishment were based on mis-readings by St. Augustine: namely the Romans 5:18, and the I Corinthians 15:22, as suggested to me by David. I added the specific references from St. Augustine’s Epistles, and his Contra Jul., again having pointed in those directions by David. I hope I have the transliterated Greek accurate.
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Dale, you may find my multi-article review of Tom Talbott’s book The Inescapable Love of God of interest. Several of these articles address New Testament texts. The results are often surprising. And the comment threads are quite interesting, too! https://goo.gl/BrsRp9
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Those two verses are actually universalist verses. Augustine’s curious treatment of them was frequently to quote the first half of each (affirming the universality of the Fall) but almost never the second (affirming the universality of redemption).
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Thank you, David. I first became interested in this view from reading Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s “F. D. Maurice and the Conflicts of Modern Theology”, (CUP, 1951) which explored the reasons for Maurice being expelled from King’s College, London, for “unsound views and teachings about the doctrine of eternal punishment”. In his Theological Essays, Maurice discussed the use of “aionios” meaning eternal or everlasting, and outside “time”. Barth writes at length about this- is there anything he doesn’t write at length? maybe the Kennedy assassination- and Aidan’s note of von Balthasar’s, “Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved” I found deeply impressive. T
he last time I saw Ramsey in 1986, he was reading this and “The Glory of the Lord”, vol. something.
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David’s article in First Things on Augustine’s misread of Rom. 9-11 was especially helpful.
I would see a distinction between the hopeful inclusivism of Ware and Balthasar and the ultimate redemption of which Gregory (and Macrina) were so confident. It seems to me that there are two types of hopeful inclusivism that stop short of Gregory. First, those like Ware and Balthasar who insist on the possibility (in principle, even if ‘infinitely improbable’) that some might, in the end, resist divine love because of ‘free will.’ Another version, somewhat softer, and perhaps in both Origen and Barth, that might say, ‘We believe is as mystery, but cannot teach it as doctrine,’
Some other universalist voices: St. Silouan the Athonite and (according to Fr. Cyril Hovorun and Balthasar) probably Maximus the Confessor.
I’ll presume to suggest my own work, ‘Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem,’ (Wipf and Stock, 2009), which offers a chapter on Jesus in the Jeremiah tradition, where he consciously quotes or alludes to every chapter of Jeremiah where ‘the Valley of Hinnom’ is mentioned (and is symbolic of the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon – i.e. literal destruction) … surely this plays into Jesus’ use of gehenna in conjunction with the forthcoming siege in 70. (in part).
Finally, of course, Ramelli’s ‘Christian Doctrine of Apok.’
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Hi, Brad. Welcome to Eclectic Orthodoxy. I have your book sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t read it yet. One of these days … 🙂
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Brad’s book is perhaps the best book on hell that I have read
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Saint Silouan was famous for saying, “all will be saved, and I alone will perish”. That is not Universalism, it’s humility.
Fr. Aiden, and perhaps even David Hart, if one or both would do me the honor of helping me with a confusion I am having in regards to apokatastasis.
First, an little background, I have not been received in the church, am merely a pilgrim searching for truth, but the E.O. church saved my faith a few years ago and has enlightened much of my theology since then, But I haven’t been able to make the leap yet, which allows me a large berth in my eclecticness, but the idea of joining is always in the back of my mind, and so I am always trying to align myself, the best I can to the church, and so with that, in regards to this, I thought the church condemned this at the 5th ecumenical council if I may copy and paste from orthodoxwiki:
– If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema. (First anathema against Origen)
-If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the γνῶσις and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema. (Fourteenth anathema against Origen)2
But also, and perhaps a bigger misunderstanding for me, is, isn’t universalism deterministic, does it not require one to be mongerstic, where does free agency come in, if we can boldly say that all WILL be saved, rather than reserving judgment and saying all MAY be saved, for if even only one is allowed his freedom and chooses to shrink away from the humanity and divinity he was created for, in essence, in hell, moving in the opposite direction of theosis. Would this not then render universalism false? This of course presupposing synergism, whereas if we say all WILL be, then are we not mongerist? Is it not simple the moral form of determinism?
Hi, Eric. For my own thoughts about the Fifth Ecumenical Council, see “The Heresy That Never Was.”
I am not good at web-exchanges, since I don’t like being on the computer, and these days I don’t have much energy. So you may have to wait for my next book for my answer. But two quick answers:
First, note that what is being rejected in those two anathemas is not universalism. The first rejects pre-existence of souls without bodies, in a primal and undifferentiated community of monads. The second rejects an ultimate disappearance both of bodies and of individual identity in a unity rather of the sort asserted by bar Sudhaili, where gnosis (the single shared knowledge of God and souls) is indistinguishable from the hypostasis (the substance) of souls. Neither was a teaching of Origen’s, actually (Origen taught pre-existence, but not actual bodilessness).
Second, freedom as defined in a purely voluntarist, spontaneous, atelic movement of the will–pure libertarian freedom–might be denied by the doctrine of apokatastasis. But that is a logically incoherent model of freedom in any event. The classical Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian understanding of freedom is one in which the rational will of necessity, when set free from ignorance, wills the good end of its own nature; and perfect freedom is the power to achieve that end without hindrance. Thus God is perfectly free precisely because he cannot work evil, which is to say nothing can prevent him from realizing his nature as the infinite Good. Similarly, for Gregory of Nyssa or Gregory of Nazianzus, perfect freedom is liberation from the fetters of ignorance that constrain the rational will from seeing the Good as what it is. For Augustine, the highest freedom is the perfection of human nature in a condition of “non posse peccare.” For Maximus, the natural will is free because it tends inexorably towards God, and the gnomic will is free precisely to the degree that it comes into harmony with the natural will. And so on. Since, after all, all employments of the will are teleological–necessarily intentionally directed towards an end, either clearly or obscurely known by the intellect–and since the Good is the final cause of all movements of the will, no choice of evil can be free in a meaningful sense. For evil is not an end, and so can be chosen under the delusion that it is in some sense a good in respect of the soul (even if, in moral terms, one is aware that one is choosing what is conventionally regarded as “evil”); and no choice made in ignorance can be a free choice.
In simple terms, if a deranged man chooses to slash himself with a knife or set fire to himself, you would not be interfering with his “freedom” by preventing him from doing so. You would be rescuing him from his slavery to madness. This is why the free-will defense of the idea of an eternal hell is essentially gibberish.
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Which, incidentally, does not break from the “synergist” view. It is merely to say that the cooperation of the created will with God’s is still a cooperation–if needs be by terrible purgation–in restoring a human soul to its natural state. I think of Gregory of Nyssa deals with this quite delightfully and cogently in De anima et resurrectione.
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Sorry so brief. Sent by thumb from my iPhone. 🙂
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Oh, I should have noted: the first anathema of “Origen” is clearly phrased: what is rejected is a restoration whose premise is the pre-existent state of souls, such that all things must return to the original state, without personal or natural differentiation of souls. That is why it speaks of the restoration “that follows from” or is “consequent upon” that pre-existence. I think we often fail to appreciate that, even as late as the fifth council, there were still too many of the “holy fathers” and too many participants in the council who, at least sub rosa reservationis, held to an eventual salvation of all for an outright and unambiguous condemnation of universal salvation to have been possible.
For someone who protested fatigue, I am going on. Excuse me.
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“The classical Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian understanding of freedom is one in which the rational will of necessity, when set free from ignorance, wills the good end of its own nature; and perfect freedom is the power to achieve that end without hindrance. ”
This, in a nutshell, is the reason it is hard for me NOT to be a universalist. How could true freedom result in anything but one’s salvation? The alternative would be a god who allows certain beings to remain damned by their ignorance.
Brad J: As it happens, I ordered your book from amazon just yesterday. Looking forward to getting it and reading it. I enjoyed a blog post of yours from some time ago about (among other things) the two Gregorys.
Eric C.: I think that even among those who believe in libertarian free will (no determinism), many, perhaps most, still believe that God can foreknow what we will freely do (even if God can’t cause us to do what we do, if we’re to be free). If you think universalism is revealed in inspired scripture, you needn’t buy into determinism, but just divine foreknowledge.
(Actually for me, that doesn’t help, because I’m among the minority who think God cannot even foreknow, at least with absolute certainty, what we will freely do. But I still count myself a universalist. I think that so long as you accept that it’s overwhelmingly probable that all will be saved, you should count. I also have another scheme by which the salvation of all might be absolutely certain, but won’t go into that here.)
D.B.H.: “Hellfire Club” is good. I kinda like “Team Hell.”
Ummm… and I don’t mean to upset David, who is a friend and wonderful theologian and philosopher (and thank God for that- I go mad wishing to help Polkinghorne with some understanding of epistemology) but he writes splendidly with his futuristic computer thing!
My over all problem with all will be saved, is that the agape we know in God the Holy Trinity is not coercive.
I now see that David responded to that in his comments above. Thank you.
Totally agree with DBH’s point that our truest freedom is a will at rest in God as its telos—where God is desired and intended in all things. And of course I’d agree that wrestling someone to the ground who intends to set themselves afire is not an intervention in their freedom.
However, it does seem to me that God’s dealings with us (postmortem) cannot reduce to his simply overwhelming us with truth to the degree that our saying “no” to God is rendered impossible. So while it’s true that no choice made in ignorance can be ‘free’ in the fullest sense, it’s also true that the sort of ‘becoming’ that moves us into participation in God can only be made within a context of the right kind of epistemic distance (i.e., a context in which we both know enough to choose rightly and are ignorant enough to manufacture a false narrative in choosing wrongly—that this ‘distance’ defines the synergy we value). But if epistemic distance is reduced to zero, does not synergy reduce to determinism? I am inclined to universalism, but I think configuring the human response to God in a way that guarantees it will be ‘yes’ is problematic. So I tend just to say that God will pursue us as long as it takes without positing a terminus ad quem.
Ah, yes, I like this:
“Perhaps God pursue us ‘as long as it takes’?”
For many decades I have inclined toward a universalist view, pretty much since reading Hosea Ballou’s “Ancient History of Universalism” (a mid-19th century volume that I still have, buried somewhere in my library). “Inclined” as I do not believe there is adequate conclusive evidence, either in Scripture or Tradition, that any of us are qualified to claim knowledge of what is the reality of “the other side”. I do believe in Hell, but I don’t know what I believe about it. I do believe in the possibility of a permanent rejection of God, but find it very difficult to believe that anyone (even including him that once was Lucifer) can hold out against increasing knowledge through all eternity,
and I have become convinced that something resembling Purgatory has a far greater likelihood than does an eternal hell. God’s mercy is infinite, He desireth not the death of a sinner, but that all men should live. All that being said, the operative thought is that we simply cannot know, not having been conclusively told, but that we can certainly trust and hope in that boundless mercy. It is not so much what we do with our free will, but what Jesus has done on the Cross that matters. If He has declared us saved, so we are, but if our flawed and twisted will has not accepted that, perhaps his call and his teaching will ultimately bring us to a place of healing. There is time enough and more. Perhaps it’s like what my Dad always said about how he came to be married: “She kept on chasing me … until I caught her.”
cf. Francis Thomson’s. “Hound of Heaven”>
Fr Aidan call tell you how long I’ve complained about the idea that postmortem salvation proceeds via an overwhelming revelation of truth that effectively determines our ‘yes’ for God. ;o
But I don’t want to be understood as suggesting that epistemic distance in hell is just this world’s context reconstructed in which we comfortably continue to pursue our careers. I think if we take the sufferings of hell to be commensurate with “will’s” depth of solidification in evil and our coming to terms with this, then we don’t have to affirm UR at the expense of free agency. That is, if the ‘will’ has a share (by either persisting in its ‘no’ and thus suffering OR embracing the truth of its history with a ‘yes’) in the uncovering of the truth about God and ourselves that steadily renders our saying ‘no’ to God finally impossible, then I’m OK with that. That is, hell confronts us, truth by truth, with our whole history which we are free to accept or reject. And the death of every false self will be unspeakable torment as we are left to experience the truth of our choices. Ouch. But as we choose to embrace the truth, we become more free. Eventually we are wholly and completely God’s. And the journey from one to the other will be the journey from experiencing the truth of ourselves in God’s presence as torment to experiencing the truth of ourselves in God’s presence as beatitude. The difference between heaven and hell isn’t geography, it’s perspective. The truth that once tormented us becomes the truth that glorifies us.
My point is just that this journey, this movement toward our telos in God, requires a synergy in which the specific human ‘yes’ and ‘no’ we render are not guarantees entailed God’s actions in/toward us (which I tend to see universalists appeal to in order get a clear terminus ad quem). Thus my concern with ‘epistemic distance’. Some ignorance is a ‘good’ thing, because it makes creaturely becoming in the Good possible.
“Some ignorance is a good thing …”
I’m not sure I’d word it that way, but what I would say is that some ignorance is inevitable. Infinite knowledge is not a possibility for a finite being. I like to say that my head just isn’t big enough to stuff the whole universe and its God inside. There will always be more questions unanswered than those to which we have answers, and a discussion of this sort simply cannot have a terminus ad quem, for inevitably there will be more to know. We can only guess, with greater or lesser probability. But I can only suspect that God, given an infinity of time in which to show infinite mercy will ultimately teach us enough to incline us to acceptance of the Cross and Resurrection, of the ultimate gift of Christ.
Right. There’s no value in ignorance per se. I’m only suggesting that the ‘becoming’ of human beings toward their final telos in God be characterized by choosing which is a choice between alternatives, and not a single inevitable choice given to them by God (which, I confess, is how I read some construals of universalism). Does that help at all?
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Well, honestly, I know of no universalist of the classical variety who suggests anything other than that purgative regeneration of the will. I am not sure what the issue is.
But I would still say that the final formulation about epistemic ignorance is defective. Taken to its logical terminus it would mean that we are free to the degree that we are ignorant, whereas the point is that we become more free as we progress away from illusion towards the Good as such and the fulfillment of our nature. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. Etc. And the highest freedom is achieved when we at last see so clearly that there is no need for choice, because union in love has been reached.
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The truth shall set you free! It is our ignorance that leaves us to make inferior choices.
Thank you David.
Let me try to clarify. Let’s reserve ‘freedom’ for that mode of human agency fulfilled and glorified in God, our truest freedom in Christ. Let ‘agency’ describe that mode of the will en route to such freedom. I’m suggesting only that the latter be characterized by a certain epistemic distance/space and that this distance serves a good purpose, namely, it’s an essential part of what makes it possible for finite created beings such as ourselves to come to be free (in the former sense) in God. So ‘freedom’ is the result of a particular exercise of an ‘agency’ that is sufficiently informed but not overwhelmed as such.
I wouldn’t suggest that the more ignorant we are the more free we are. Epistemic distance is qualified on both ends. It can’t be maximized, for then we would be absolutely ignorant and incapable of choosing God. We have to be sufficiently informed, obviously. But can the distance be reduced to zero, in which case we would be so informed, so overwhelmed by the truth, that no possible means of constructing a ‘no’ to God would be possible?
Perhaps my fears are inspired by versions of universalism I’ve encountered in which people imagine God instantaneously kicking the doors of our hearts open and blasting all falsehood away, essentially leaving us no other option but God, in which circumstance we ‘make the right choice’. I confess I find it difficult to believe God would be very interested in our coming to conclude he is our only option under such conditions. But that doesn’t seem to be anybody’s position here.
Thanks for helping me think it through. Very grateful!
It may be that I simply have not come across universalists of that variety. I am familiar with patristic universalists, with a variety of mediaeval and modern figures, I revere George MacDonald especially…but I probably am entirely unaware of a great deal of popular universalism.
Even so, I still cannot grant the liceity of the way you formulate freedom. Part of it is that there is a difference between being “informed” in the modern sense (possessing “information” and then, in a second movement of deliberation, deciding upon it based upon some distinct set of criteria) and being truly “in-formed” in the classical sense of being reshaped by the glory of God. God is not a species of cognitive information in the former sense, some finite object available to my judicious gaze. To know God is to be transfigured into what is revealed. At that point of truest liberty, freedom and necessity are no longer distinguished, any more than they are in the Father’s own love of his own essence in the Son and Spirit. Remember, the only thing to which Paul says we are predestined (well, marked out for in advance, really) is to be conformed to the image of Christ. No less austerely apophatic thinker than Maximus says that we achieve freedom (and are perfect as Christ’s Father is perfect) when all distance (diastema) disappears and we rush into the embrace of love.
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I’ll start my confessions now. I had to look up “liceity.”
Good points too. I certainly don’t want to boil theosis down to an exchange of bits of information. So I’ll work on fine-tuning the distinction I’m aiming at here. My gut tells me there’s a legit (liceitous? Adjective please?) concern about created agency here (that it not be overwhelmed unto determinism). But as I’m reading you, you’re not simply positing in a postmortem context the kind of, say, compatibilist determination of human choice you reject presently, supposing that God resorts to perfecting human beings postmortem in a fundamentally different way than at present.
I’ll buy a bigger dictionary while I’m at it too.
Thank you David, and blessed health to you!
Again, I think compatibilism and determinism are both inapposite to the question of freedom; they concern a libertarian model of free acts that I believe logically vacuous. But my hostility towards analytic philosophy and its native categories occasionally verges on the unreasonable. Simply said, all things are determined to an end, a final cause, and will reach that end, and hence fulfillment, unless some unnatural interruption prevents them; but rational nature is capable of interrupting itself. Still, willy-nilly, all natural wills return to God, and know the fire of glory as bliss or torment, but even that torment is a knowledge of truth that cannot not convert the will, however gradually, to its true end. Otherwise God will never be all in all and creation will never be completed. That teleological understanding of the will, and of its relation to nature, simply cannot be forced into the categories of libertarian or determinist thinking, and I honestly wish Christian theologians would stop using the Analytic categories for that reason.
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Allow me one final question, David. Sorry.
You’re basically talking about the elimination of the gnomic will, right?
Well, its perfect harmonization with, restoration to, and ultimate indistinction from the natural will. But, then, that is not elimination, but rather salvation.
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What I hear DBH and Fr. Aiden saying is that ultimate redemption need not be seen as coercive if once the natural will is freed to pursue its natural desire for God. It seems to me that the gnomic will is actually a dysfunction of the will (and not the will per se) which must be either healed in order for us to follow the desire of our natural wills for God … it also seems to me that this cannot or will not happen for many or even most until we ‘see Christ face to face.’ To punish someone for all eternity without the benefit of this healing vision of the ‘serpent on the pole’ would seem very unjust. Hence my hope in the mercy of Christ at the end.
That said, it also seems to me that in light of this, ‘will’ may not be the locus of salvation in the first place, but rather the ‘nous.’ Briefly, worries about coercion (the will of God imposed) or ‘free’ vs. ‘bondage’ of the human will are all still fixated on the primacy of the will in salvation (whether God’s or our own). However, what I in Scripture is that the divine Nous both creates and enlightens the God-given human ‘nous’ (the eyes of the heart/mind, poorly translated ‘intellect’) in order to ‘see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4) … something we cannot see as long as we’re blinded by the god of this age. For whatever reason, some see in this age and some do not (where ‘see’ is also a metaphor for love). Paul says that apart from this ‘seeing,’ we cannot respond. And yet if we do ‘see,’ we are capacitated for an uncoerced response.
But in any case, if we take Saul of Tarsus as an example, when Christ appeared to him, was he coerced into salvation by the will of God? I don’t think so. Or did he himself choose or will his response to Christ? I don’t think so. I just don’t see ‘will’ being the primary faculty involved. Rather, he ‘saw’ and then *naturally* repented and believed. His ‘nous’ was enlightened which then activated his natural will. If there is anything to this, then what great hope we might derive from the promise, ‘And every eye I shall see him’ … after which ‘and every knee shall bow’ would make perfect sense.
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Of course, one can then get into the old wrangles between Thomists and Scotists over the priority of intellect or will in knowing God. And the Scotists are routinely misrepresented in that regard, since for them intellect is not the same as reason and will is not the same as spontaneous arbitrium; both are rational movements of the soul. And really, after all, both are really one and the same movement; they are not genuinely separable faculties. Intellect is informed because it is intentional, and therefore has a natural velleity towards the world and towards the transcendental horizon of truth. Will is a rational movement towards a perceived end, and therefore naturally follows (as best it can) the light of intellect. There really is no need here to assign priority: the final end is a kingdom of love and knowledge, the two proving to be infinitely identical
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I think I’m tracking with you … so might we say that the showing and seeing is what heals (rather than coerces) the gnomic will such that neither God’s self-revelation nor our natural response (of both nous in seeing and will in following) can be charged with voluntarism?
Ita, magister. Which is to say, ναι, δάσκαλος.
Make that a vocative…
Forgive my incessant probing, but I have to ask you about something (related to created agency) which I’ve had on my mind since reading your book ‘The Beauty of the Infinite’.
On p. 320, with reference to Michel de Certeau’s “Authorités Chrétiennes et Structures Sociales,” you concede the possibility that in our final fulfilled form Christ offers (in Certeau’s words) “a style of existence that ‘allows’ for a certain kind of creativity and that opens a new series of experiences” as opposed to, say, Christ specifying every particular of our continuing existence without remainder (even if, as you say, Christ comprises the fullness of every contingent expression).
My question (possibly related to your comment above on the gnomic will and its ultimate indistinction from the natural will) has to do with created agency as fulfilled in Christ and enjoying a ‘scope of loving possibilities’ within which to freely/creatively determine how it shall reflect divine beauties. Going with Certeau’s suggestion, might we imagine the logoi of created beings as embodying or specifying a “range” or “scope” (a pallet?) of beautiful expression and not the particular of every form? The divine will (or logoi) would terminate not in the final form of creaturely expression but in the range of creative possibilities offered to creatures to uniquely shape their expressive form (unique not in the creation of beauties not already comprised in Christ as the summum bonum, but simply as the creature’s contribution to the consummate beauty of ends synergistically achieved). Would the gnomic will retain a unique function in this case?
Sure, works for me.
I know that Maximus often speaks of the gnomic will as simply the sinful and deviating will. Something tells me–more a phenomenology of consciousness than a moral metaphysics–that it might be better to think of it as the “third moment” of the conscious act, so to speak, the first two being the primordial intention of the natural will and the power of intellect (both being rational). Then the gnomic will is that supremely rational moment of (ideally) assent or love or creative liberty that completes the “trinitarian” movement of the mind and makes it genuinely rationally free.
That is obscure. Sorry. But, yes, I prefer to think that, healed, it remains, and that it makes each soul’s reflection of and participation in divine beauty a unique inflection or modulation of the whole. Which makes each individual indispensable, of course, to that glory.
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*Palette. How embarrassing.
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I wasn’t going to mention that. Always blame such things on autocorrect.
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Following Louth’s lead, it seems like early Maximos assigns a gnomic will to Christ (since, if we have one, Christ must have a gnomic will, lest what is not assumed is not healed) and then later, denies it (because he sees it as a dysfunction). But in positing the gnomic will as a ‘third moment,’ you not only take the conversation a good leap forward, but also open up our imaginations to revisit Gethsemane, where ‘Not my will, but thine,’ reveals that third moment in Christ. Non? Oui?
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Wonderful article and comments. Mr Hart, I’ve ordered your book. One thing I’d like to add: the idea of ignorance vs knowledge, the force of the final [or not] ‘No’: this is not always or only ignorance, but pathology. No one violates free will by healing; the Gospel accounts of, eg, the demoniacs or paralytics stand for this principle. If a man be healed of the mental/spiritual pathology that lead him to ‘no’, surely he will say Yes. This avoids the trap of loss of epistemic distance, I think, because you can posit resistance to everything except the final force majeure.
True. But which of my books, I ask myself, do you mean? Buy them all, I say.
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Thank you Prof Hart for taking the time. I’m very grateful. Truly.
I’m already on thin ice, but heck, why not? If your reply shatters the ice beneath my feet and I disappear into the watery darkness below, I’ll see you all on the other side anyway because universalism is true!
In replying above to my inquiry about human agency (framed in terms of the concerns at play between determinists and indeterminists/libertarians), you replied:
“Simply said, all things are determined to an end, a final cause, and will reach that end, and hence fulfillment, unless some unnatural interruption prevents them; but rational nature is capable of interrupting itself. Still, willy-nilly, all natural wills return to God, and know the fire of glory as bliss or torment, but even that torment is a knowledge of truth that cannot not convert the will, however gradually, to its true end. Otherwise God will never be all in all and creation will never be completed. That teleological understanding of the will, and of its relation to nature, simply cannot be forced into the categories of libertarian or determinist thinking, and I honestly wish Christian theologians would stop using the Analytic categories for that reason.”
I’m not a trained philosopher (which you know by now), and if the Analytic tradition inherently violates some law of transcendence, then OK. Obviously that tradition has been employed to deny transcendence. But analytic thinkers can employ the standard categories to affirm transcendence as well, no? (Denys Turner perhaps?) But, as far your comments in the quote go, it looks to me like you employ the categories you want equally to dismiss—i.e., all things are “determined” to a “final cause,” “rational nature” can interrupt itself, and “teleology” drives the process. Are not these terms standard analytic-talk?
That said, consider the pair you introduce:
– On the one hand, “rational nature is capable of interrupting itself” of preventing its movement toward its natural end in God.
– On the other hand, that nature “cannot not convert…to its true end.”
I take it the first just means the will is empowered by God (given God’s purposes for its final end, mind you) to say ‘no’ (as well as ‘yes’) to embracing God as its final end. I’m not sure what you mean by the second claim. If you mean only that the will can never finally rest in anything other than God, that God is the only thing it can finally convert to, then yes. But if you mean that under the right circumstances (say, final judgment) our God-given power to say ‘no’ can be converted irrespective of its exercise as a power to interrupt itself, then I’m inclined to disagree…
…as the ice cracks beneath my feet.
‘Divine’ agency can’t be reduced to the traditional terms (determinism, libertarianism, etc.), but do we need to (indeed, can we?) step altogether outside these categories to imagine ‘human’ transformation or to agree both that we possess a God-given power to “interrupt” (to say ‘no’ to) our movement toward God and that we are “determined” for God as our final end (i.e., cannot conceivably rest finally in any other end)? I’m curious to know if part of the answer lies in your “however gradually.” If we’re abandoning the categories of determinism and libertarianism as a valid way to conceive of the will’s role in human transformation, why should it take God any time at all to effect the desired end? It would seem, if we suppose the transformation occurs “however gradually,” that we’re assuming humans retain (even in our state of final judgment) something of their power to interrupt the natural movement Godward.
What to do? Can we bring your two phrases together in supposing that it is the very power to interrupt which must embrace God as its end? God saves ‘that’ power, i.e., our will in its God-given power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And it rests when, as a God-given power to interrupt itself, it gives itself to God. Maybe that’s your position. Sorry if I’ve misunderstood. But that does look minimally libertarian to me (not a crude claim to a power to self-determine free from all context and natural constraints).
Too long a question. I think I have been pretty clear in saying that the conversion in question is necessarily a conversion of the will through its own free (and progressively freer) act. Even the will’s power to say no, however, is animated by its primordial hunger for the Good and, as Gregory and others argue, to that it cannot say no, except by ceasing to exist. That is the act of all its acts. So, in time, over the ages perhaps, it continues to seek its rest in God, freely but, for that reason, inevitably.
Analytic philosophy does not own words like “determined,” incidentally. My problem is specifically with the current analytic categories of determinism, compatibilism, libertarian freedom, etc., because they all presume an originally voluntarist understanding of free will, which is simply incoherent. When I use “determined” in that sentence, I am just speaking of final causality, primary causality.
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The question was a bit long, but thank you David for clarifying! Excellent.
I don’t know if this analogy will help, but I think modern, voluntarist notions of freedom are akin to the way scientism approaches the existence of reality. Scientism never really asks the question of why there is something rather than nothing. It can’t understand that an infinite series of finite causes still can’t address origins — or even feel the need for such, apparently. Similarly, voluntarism is fixated on finite, concrete situations and never sees that the source of freedom is prior and other.
William Desmond draws a distinction between the conatus essendi (the striving, struggle for living) and the passio essendi (the pure giftedness of our being which is the prior foundation upon which the latter derives.) Modernity is largely blind to the passio essendi and it would not see it as freedom. Instead, it identifies freedom with something that is derivative, secondary, and not really a metaphysically coherent concept of liberty. True freedom as the perfected flourishing of one’s being is an eschatological fruition that can be anticipated insofar as one’s actions bring one closer to the unique gift of one’s being/vocation granted by the creator God.
One might conceivably see passio essendi as being lacking will, but I think it is better to see it as a compact, elemental gift from which all other powers derive. It is not so much a lack of freedom as a richness that includes a joyous reception of being that grounds reason and will. I take it that the libertarian objection is that somehow authentic freedom would require, contradictorily, a lack of metaphysical freedom or some quality of the indeterminate in order to remain free, but this is just to posit freedom wrongly to begin with.
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Pass me a pint gentlemen! Brian, very helpful. Thank you. I’ll look up William D as well.
Honestly, what you describe expresses where I’m at (though my questions might suggest otherwise). As you say, “True freedom as the perfected flourishing of one’s being is an eschatological fruition that can be anticipated insofar as one’s actions bring one closer to the unique gift of one’s being/vocation granted by the creator God.” No objection here. I’m perfectly happy viewing “freedom” as you describe and for the reasons you give.
I don’t dispute our groundedness in God, nor the undeniable primordial God-given desire that animates the will (as David’s described), the act of every act, nor that the end of whatever sort of agency/action it is by which means we resolve ourselves shall finally end in a perfect and irrevocable harmony with God.
If I have questions, they are not about “freedom” as you’ve described it. They are about the nature of the words “insofar as one’s actions bring one closer to….” Is there not a conversation to be had here, i.e., about what sort of agency or action it is which is the means by which we are to become free? That’s what I’ve been inquiring after, and it’s only with respect to this that I’d cautiously employ a term like “libertarian”; not to describe a proper final mode or resting place for the will, but only to understand the nature of the agency or action by which means we become free (and thus free of ‘libertarian’ becoming).
You know, I’ve tried to talk about all this before and I never feel I quite communicate what I hope to — or perhaps I am simply not as persuasive as I would like to be. Here’s another attempt.
Transformation in the eschaton necessarily exceeds our imaginative capacities. I have no doubt synergy is involved. No one will be coerced into beatitude. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that what you may really be after is a deeper reflection upon the connection between our temporal becoming and eternal identity. You won’t be able to shoehorn that into a clear and concise conceptualization. Poets may elucidate a suggestive image. I suspect art, at any rate, while it must fail as well, will probably fail less than the language of concepts.
Part of the difficulty is that one should not isolate freedom and identity as if one could focus purely on the individual. There’s the story in the Brother’s Karamazov about the old woman in hell who once gave an onion to a beggar. An angel tries to pull her out from infernal chains by the strength of that single act of charity. Other souls try to cling to her and gain release as well, and the old woman shouts, “it’s mine, mine” — and tumbles back into the flames, of course. There is also Father Zossima’s mysterious claim that “each is responsible for all.” This can only be an irrational puzzle for those who have imbibed the ethos of modern, western individualism. But if the Triune God is the exemplar of what it means to be a person, our creaturely experience is analogous and only partially, incompletely, imperfectly approaches genuine personhood.
Personhood is not simply a given, but a task. At minimum, we should recognize that the relational dimension of the person is just as constitutive of identity as what one might think of as a “substantial core.” Or, if I can cite Desmond once more, there is a porosity to personal being both in terms of the deep structure of the soul and our natural openness to the exterior other. We are “wholes” in our irreplaceable singularity that paradoxically realize our integrity through dyanamic, dramatic interaction with the Other (an interaction with the infinite capacity for novelty — the eternal is not synonymous with closure or some kind of totalizing completion.)
In short, the realization of metaphysical freedom is not simply the product of individual choice. Indeed, the person as a center of volition and knowing is always already not a pure autonomous center of freedom, but a nurtured product of heteronomy. We come to awareness, desire, knowledge and love because our existence is gifted, our development nurtured, our very consciousness as personal called into being by God and world. Without the world, we would not even acquire the reflectivity that indirectly shows the soul to itself. This also implies, I think, that a universal making new is consistent with a proper notion of the person. It is only those who think salvation along the lines of an atomized individualism that dissent.
So, rounding back to your question — while one can perhaps find some value in a kind of renewed virtue ethics (Alasdair MacIntyre) or a sense of developed habit as carrying forward the realized flourishing of identity, I am skeptical that such notions will carry us as far as you may want in clarifying how our actions help bring about destiny. I maintain that the original gift of being involves a unique, singular telos that we are able to intuit at some level, but that calling is deeply placed and more apt to be touched in dream, play, wonder, creativity and loving encounter. It’s hard to talk about and impossible to comprehend. I take it that all our acts of compassion, of delight, discovery, and insight are those which bring us closer to who we are meant to be. Also, doubtless, we all fail to attain this calling. Some fail miserably. I understand the parable of the sheep and goats to be largely intrapersonal in nature.
How all that sorts out is ultimately a matter of trust and seeing in a mirror darkly.
P.S. I like Guinness, porters, and Belhaven.
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I absolutely agree with all you’ve said. I’d love to admire several comments in particular, but I’ve hogged enough of the convo. So just one quick comment, on this:
“Rounding back to your question — while one can perhaps find some value in a kind of renewed virtue ethics (Alasdair MacIntyre) or a sense of developed habit as carrying forward the realized flourishing of identity, I am skeptical that such notions will carry us as far as you may want in clarifying how our actions help bring about destiny.”
I confess I do press hard, but only to see how much is discoverable; to test-drive theories. But I’d be happy with the mere affirmation THAT our actions contribute (in ways that do not reduce to mere secondary causation). If that’s affirmed, I can tolerate any amount of mystery.
Guinness it is. My treat. I’m not a fan of beer though. A chilled Pinot Grigio will do, if David Hart will join.
(Fr Aidan will remove my email if he doesn’t allow personal info, but I’d love to chat offline now and then if you’re open to it, Brian. You can help me with Desmond. Drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Are you sure that you’re not my secret Doppelgaenger, and that soon I’m going to wake up and realize I’m not I at all but someone you dreamed (in a Guinness-induced delirium)? I’m pleased you had the wisdom to avoid the academic world once you got doctored, but I would like to know what you do, where you are, and whether you write anywhere. And, if not, there’s a journal I’m associated with…
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“Grigio” is a euphemism for “blush.” I’m a noir man all the way, if it’s good.
Seriously, though, when Brian writes: “I maintain that the original gift of being involves a unique, singular telos that we are able to intuit at some level, but that calling is deeply placed and more apt to be touched in dream, play, wonder, creativity and loving encounter,” it is rather as if I am reading someone else laying out my own sensibility. But I think there is a deep theological insight here that is too easily ignored as something vague, gauzy, or sentimental, because we are all so prone to thinking in the rather arid categories of (for want of a better word) analytic correspondence that we regard the entire tacit dimension of knowledge (which is the foundation of all knowledge) as somehow either merely inchoate or merely emotional. If one is not careful, one ends up with the barren dialectic of “rationalism” or “fideism,” and one ends up like a certain popular Thomist I know of, unable to think in any other terms than that.
What that has to do with universalism is that, if it as persons that we are saved, having achieved personhood through communion, rather than as abstract essences, then the notion of an eternal hell becomes not only a problem for, but an absolute barrier to, a coherent concept of salvation. But my dog needs to be walked, so I can’t explain that now.
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What he said.
Desmond is a friend of mine, incidentally, and I do not know if I have ever found cause to disagree with him on anything.
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Yes, you, John Milbank, William Desmond.
When I’m in the mood for a little light reading . . .
Quis es? Si te placet teipsum revelare…
Or, who are you? “Brian” isn’t that uncommon a name. Tell me, are you Brian Blessed (my favorite living Brian)?
The actor? No. Brian Moore, an obscure non-academic with a PhD.
He’s ever so much more than an actor. He’s a natural phenomenon as grand, in his way, as Niagara Falls or Mt Fuji.
I have always liked Mr. Blessed’s work. It cheers my heart to hear this.
This is entirely the wrong place to do it, but since I don’t know when I’ll be within shouting distance of Dr. Hart again, I want to say that the moment in “The Devil and Pierre Gernet” when Pierre’s soul is taken to heaven and the demon bewails the “gross liberality of interpretation” with which God judges man… well, that whole passage deserves to rank among the best universalist texts of the last thousand years or so.
Oh, you’ve read my fiction. You are a saint among men.
As long as the subject of Dr Hart’s fiction has come up, I’d like to express how truly outstanding that collection is.
Dr Hart, is there any more where that came from? You’d be doing English Letters a great service by publishing more of your short fiction. Truly, these are some of the most exquisitely written, moving stories I’ve ever read.
Oh, so kind. Again, health is the issue. I began a collection of 25 “parables,,” the first of which appeared as a Back Page column called The True Helen. I hope to return to that book when I feel well enough. And the. There is a good deal more fiction I want to write. That was originally what I planned to do with my life.
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I thought the same thing about the entirety of “A Voice from the Emerald World.” Surely you were a fan?
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Dr. Hart, Fr. Kimel, the recent comments here have received a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Here is some negative attention, wherein you are referred to as no less than heretics. Unfortunately, it seems that the author of this blog doesn’t allow comments on his posts.
Well, had a look. Not terrifically compelling, however angry. But this Fr John fellow seems rather unaware of the full Greek and Syriac traditions of reading the cardinal texts. Someone send him the last chapter of Solomon’s Book of the Bee. (yes, a Chaldean, but with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Syrian fathers.) Or Ilaria Ramelli’s latest book, which–for all its flaws–is full of good citations and references. Or send him to fathers like Gregory of Nyssa or Isaac of Ninevah, who fully reveal how they understand such terms as “αιωνιος” or “le-alma” in the course of their expositions. Fr Aidan says Fr John is a good man. Perhaps. But peremptory certitude allied with broad ignorance is not piety, but mere fanaticism; and, whatever his personal virtues, this Fr John fellow simply exhibits neither much scholarly range nor much theological depth. The thing to recall is that, outside the Seven Councils, the licit range of theological opinion is far larger than these self-appointed rigorists know. They do not get to say whether, for instance, Evdokimov, or Olivier Clement, or Bulgakov (etc.) are less truly Orthodox than they. (Or, to cite the more moderate, “hopeful” universalists, Alfeyev or Ware.) They believe their Orthodoxy IS Orthodoxy ( though inevitably they seem to cling to clearly extra-canonical superstitions like the doctrine of the Tollhouses or bizarre late 19th century Greek figures like Makrakis, and so on). They also seem to think the Synodikon and the opinions of certain bishops have an authority that they clearly do not. Even holy bishops (saints are frequently bad thinkers). It would be so much easier for them if Orthodoxy had a pope, I suppose, and a magisterium, and some organ for declaring opinions heresy even on matters not determined by the ecumenical councils. Alas, it is not so. And, unless another council is convoked, I fear that merely reciting the opinions (which is all they are) of certain “holy men” or “holy texts” (rather than others) is not the same thing as making a good argument. (Oh, but I’ll play along: the doctrine of the Tollhouses is a crypto-gnostic heresy and those who hold to it are not TRULY TRULY Orthodox. I make this pronouncement entirely upon the basis of my own personal predilections and my own unauthorized but very deeply felt sense of what I have decided to believe is TRUE Orthodoxy, drawn from sources I have endued with ultimate authority.)
I should have some coffee. Ss Macrina, Gregory Nyssen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Isaac Syrus pray for us all. St George MacDonald of Aberdeenshire too.
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Oh, I forgot, he quotes a bad translation of Gregory’s De infantibus too. Fr John, read the Greek, in the Gregorii Nysseni Opera of Jaeger et al. On Cyril and Athanasius, the arguments of various scholars on ther “disposition” is a subtle but fascinating one, and Ramelli is actually quite good on that.
As for quoting the anathemas of the 5th Council: again, the council never really had anything to do with them, they are a separate and irregular set of condemnations, and even so they do not condemn universalism as such, and if one cannot see that clearly then one is not reading the text, but only one’s prejudices through the text.
And–one more thing–I should have included Silouan and Sophrony somewhere on that list.
I see St. Silouan being cited all over the place as a Universalist. I’m confused. Based on my reading (some time ago), his famous prayer was “all creation will be saved, and I alone will perish”. I just don’t see how this is espousing Unversalism – he is exluding himself.
Can you shed some light on this for me?
And do you believe he really believed he was headed for eternal perdition? It is a wonderful statement of humility and hope, not a prophecy.
Obviously I don’t believe that, and nothing I said suggested it.
However, saying, “I alone will perish” is not a Universalist statement. Are there other statements that he made suggesting that he was a Universalist?
From what I have read, I personally would not describe either St Silouan or Elder Sophrony as explicit universalists; rather, they appear to leave open the possibility of universal salvation.
Thus Silouan’s famous rebuke of the hermit who gleefully rejoiced in the eternal punishment of atheists: “Love could not bear that. We must pray for all.” Similarly, when asked by Olivier Clement what would happen if a person does not agree to open his or her heart and accept the love of God, Sophrony replied: “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”
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Silouan did Not dogmatically assert apokatastasis. He certainly held to more than a mere hope. Sophrony too. This is not something they hid. Merely read them.
DBH: Sophrony replied: “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”
This is powerfully imaged in the play, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.” Spoiler alert: The version I saw ends with Judas condemned to hell, Christ pleading with him even as Judas fades into a catatonic state, and Christ remains with him. The lights dim as Jesus washes his feet.
Thank you for writing this response, Dr. Hart.
For my own part, it does not bother me that Fr. John holds the opinions he does, but rather that he wishes to exalt his personal theologumena to doctrine to which all Orthodox Christians ought to adhere. He wishes for Orthodoxy to preach doctrine that, in all honesty, would likely have kept me from ever converting to the faith.
I hope that you, Fr. Kimel, and the many other universalists and hopeful universalists out there continue to engage in the conversation.
P.S. What are the chances that you will be coming to Princeton in the next two years?
Presumably you live in Princeton?
My wife and I will be moving there in September for her postdoc. I’ve contacted the local Orthodox parish here in Doha (and the Archbishop in a chance encounter; he deflected my inquiry) in order to begin conversion to Orthodoxy, but it has been of no avail. Anyway, my wife and I will be travelling throughout the region and coordinating our move back to the States this summer so I will unfortunately not be able to begin the initiation (that is, if it resembles the duration of RCIA) until we’re settled in Princeton. In light of Fr. John discouraging universal salvation, I’m hesitant to explain to an unsympathetic priest that it is largely St. Isaac’s writings on the atonement and our ultimate reconciliation with God that has drawn me to the Church. Can you recommend a parish in Princeton where that will not automatically exclude me from entering the Church?
Thank you and God bless you!
You will have a few great options in the Princeton area. There are services held every Sunday on campus. I myself attend Mother of God parish, which is a few miles away from the university. It is a great parish that will soon be moving into its new building. Here are the websites for both:
There is also a Russian and a Greek parish in the Princeton area, but they have very few converts.
Like you, St. Isaac had a huge influence on me, hence my baptismal name. Nobody here will turn you away for that. It is a great, thoughtful and welcoming community that will be happy to have you.
Come to think of it, even the priests I know who reject universalism have still been very welcoming. For instance, my priest back home (I’m from the Northwest U.S.) was a fan of Fr. John, but he never saw my inclination towards universalism as something that should exclude me.
I suppose we all for that. But, really, no citing if crucial texts in dubious translations–that must be a rule. If Gregory of Nyssa talks of Judas suffering “eis ton aiona,” then quote him as doing so, as well as the many instances where he makes clear how he understands that biblical phrase. “Unto infinity” forsooth. One of the first things to learn about Gregory is that every version of “infinite” in Greek–apeiron, aperilepton, eyc–is a privileged name for the divine nature. Die Unendlichkeit Gottes bei Gregor von Nyssa (E. Mühlenberg) might have been one of the earliest books I read on Gregory’s metaphysics, flawed though that book is.
Anyway, let Fr John believe as he believes. I have encountered that sort of Orthodox or Catholic before. They are often the most vigorous in good works too (being far nicer, it seems, than the God their theology describes).
As for Princeton, it is all a matter of health. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the next two years. Kind of you to ask, though.
As a former Protestant, I can testify to the radical difference (at least existentially) between living in the cacophony of the confessions, which distinguished and perpetrated divisions and prescribed bounded sets as to what we had to believe (including infernalism) … vis-a-vis my Orthodox experience of the creeds as centered sets around which we unify, which also limit what we may impose on others and allow for a freedom of theological thought and discourse (that I see here).
I think the most important phrase of those anathemas is from 1. “which follows from it,” identifying, as DBH has said earlier, the problem is only a particular version of apokatastasis that ‘follows from’ the broader (and immediate) problematic worldview — one which Gregory of Nyssa had explicitly repudiated, thereby not only allowing for his own version, but also rehabilitating Origen’s? (well in advance of the 5th council).
That Nazianzus gathers and affirms the philocalia of Origen seems a part of the same project. It would have saved us some pain if they had formally declared Origen a father at their council. However, it is not without import that Benedict XVI numbered Origen as one of the fathers in his book on the Fathers.
I am pretty sure that if this was a dream I would be married to Kate Upton.
I live in Atlanta, have for many years, but my heart is in Western New York where I grew up.
Academia avoided me as much as I avoided it, though I was never really keen to participate.
Petty, corrupt, earnest about the wrong things, if it’s ever right to be earnest, and uninterested in what really matters. The only actual career I can ever remember wanting doesn’t really qualify, I suppose. At some point early in my youth I wanted to be Capt. Kirk. Not an astronaut, mind you, just Captain Kirk. (I am a year older than you, btw.) I work as a drudge grading SAT essays for a national tutoring company. This allows me to eat and to feed my old Persian cat and the many ferals that I somehow became benefactor to. I write on Father Kimel’s blog, because he is a terrific priest and I rarely find a place with an atmosphere congenial to my tastes. I have not attempted to be published anywhere. When I can find the energy, I work on fiction, because I think what the world needs is better images to nurture a more true understanding. I don’t generally get too far with it, but it keeps me relatively sane.
I am truly gratified you think well of my writing. Certainly, I would welcome a venue to share my thoughts.
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I wanted to be Captain Kirk too, around 1975. L’hommes d’un certain age.
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Resistance was futile. I’ve just been compelled (in Borg-like fashion) to purchase the Devil and Pierre. 3 pages in … Screwtape on crack?
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A different kind of devil altogether. If you like “The House of Apollo,” incidentally, by that alone you can gain entrance to paradise–without even having to go through the Tollhouses.
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I’m curious as to why you say that?
Umm, well, not in earnest, you know. But, in retrospect, it might be my favorite in the collection.
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I must confess, it’s the only one I’ve yet to read. Perhaps I should fear for my soul.
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To our list of Orthodox universalist authors, I would like to add Fr. Alexandre Turnicev, who wrote Alexandre Turincev (1966) “Une approche de l’eschatologie orthodoxe,” Contacts 18, no. 54. The article also appeared in part in Olivier Clément, ‘Dieu est Vivant: catéchisme pour les familles par une équipe de Chrétiens Orthodoxes’ (Editions du Cerf, 1979), which was the original French edition of ‘The Living God: A Catechism for the Christian Faith’, 2 Vols. Trans. by Olga
Dunlop (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988) but that chapter was omitted in the English
translation. So Father Michael Gillis and the monks from Holy Transfiguration Hermitage (Gibsons, BC Canada) helped me translate it into English. You can see it in the Canadian Journal of Orthodox Christianity here: http://www.cjoc.ca/pdf/Vol_9_1_1_Eschatology.pdf
He loves Silouan. Here is my favorite section:
In the general eschatological context, how must we consider these wildly categorical affirmations of St. John Chrysostom concerning the chaining, humiliation and death of hell – its annihilation? Let us state frankly – the idea of eternal hell and eternal suffering for some and eternal bliss (indifferent to suffering) for others, can no longer remain in the living and renewed Christian conscience as it was formerly presented in our catechisms and our official theology courses. This archaic conception which claims to be based on the Gospel texts, understands them in a literal, coarse and material sense, without penetrating the hidden spiritual meaning of the images and symbols. This conception is increasingly showing itself to be an intolerable violation of Christian conscience, thought and faith. We cannot accept that the sacrifice of Golgotha has revealed itself to be powerless to redeem the world and conquer hell. Otherwise we should say: creation is a failure, and Redemption is also a failure. It is high time for all Christians to witness in common and reveal their mystical experience – intimate in this area – as well as their spiritual expectations, and perhaps also their revolt and horror before materialistic, anthropomorphic representations of hell and the Last Judgment, and of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is high time to be done with all these monstrosities – doctrinal or not – often blasphemous, from ages past, which make of our God of Love that which He is not: an ‘external’ God, who is merely an “allegory of earthly kings and nothing else.” The pedagogy of intimidation and terror is no longer effective. On the contrary, it blocks entry into the Church to many who are seeking a God of Love “who loves mankind” (the “Philanthropos” of the Orthodox liturgy).
A holy monk of Mount Athos,20 a staretz who was almost our contemporary wrote the following, addressed to every Christian: “If the Lord saved you along with the entire multitude of your brethren, and one of the enemies of Christ and the Church remained in the outer darkness, would you not, along with all the others, set yourself to imploring the Lord to save this one unrepentant brother? If you would not beseech Him day and night, then your heart is of iron – but there is no
need for iron in paradise.”
And St. Paul, who was so truly united to Christ that he was able to affirm: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” – did he not say that he was ready to be “separated from Christ for his brothers?”
Must not each of us plead with the Lord in the same way: May all my brothers be saved along with me! Or otherwise, may I also be damned along with them! Does not our Lord also wait for us to pray such a prayer? And would not this prayer also be the solution to the ‘problem’ of hell and damnation?
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George MacDonald’s sermon “Love Thy Neighbour” has a passage so reminiscent of Silouan’s remark that it is almost difficult to keep them distinct in one’s memory.
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Will read that sermon between chapters of the Devil and Pierre! I like the subtle threat of hell to those alone who would use it to terrorize — no need for iron in paradise — the kind of rhetorical reversal we see in Christ’s parables.
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Brad, I presume that “holy monk of Mt. Athos” who is quoted is St. Silouan? Thanks. I needed to read that after reading Fr. John’s posts on this subject. It is that precise agony of prayer in my own experience, a deep grief that any should miss Christ and be lost, that I believe prompted the Lord in His mercy to open my eyes to the Orthodox Church. Without at least a hope that all might be saved–without a genuinely Orthodox Paschal vision–I don’t see how I would be able to go on getting up again after I fall down in my walk with Christ. I live in dread that Fr. John’s interpretation of the Tradition of the Church might be correct. This fallen world is already more a hell to me than I can handle–watching cultures coarsen, crash and burn, knowing how people suffer and being mostly powerless to help any of them. St. Silouan’s vision is the prayer that keeps me going.
I am far more conscious of the many people who have apostasized of any form of traditional Christian faith or who despair of God’s help because of the unnuanced preaching of everlasting damnation coupled with the awareness, in this age of mass media, of all the evil and suffering perpetrated in the world (a lot of it these days in the name of superior fidelity to the supreme “God”!) than I do any Christians who do not take the working out of their salvation seriously because of a cavalier universalist hope in the scope of Christ’s defeat of the powers of hell. I am blessedly reminded by St. Silouan’s words here of Christ’s parable of the Lost Sheep, how for the sake of the one lost, the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 in the fold to go seeking the one that remains lost. . . . This alone gives hope to my breaking heart. It is only when I dare to hope that the Lord might really be this relentless and victorious in His love, that I feel sin begin to loosen its grip on me.
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Yes, Karen, that was indeed St. Silouan.
And tonight I read the parallel passage in MacDonald’s sermon, “Love your neighbor,” that DBH referred us to. It sounds so similar to your heart and got me thinking, too, that if Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and FOREVER, then the parable of the lost sheep is a potent universalist passage! So MacDonald:
“When once to a man the human face is the human face divine, and the hand of his neighbor is the hand of a brother, then will he understand what St. Paul meant when he said, “I wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” But he will no longer understand those who, so far from feeling the love of their neighbor an essential of their being, expect to be set free from its law in the world to come. There, at least, for the glory of God, they may limit its expansive tendencies to the narrow circle of their heaven. On its battlements of safety, they will regard hell from afar, and say to each other, “Hark! Listen to their moans. But do not weep, for they are our neighbors no more.”
“St. Paul would be wretched before the throne of God, if he thought there was one man beyond the pale of His mercy, and that as much for God’s glory as for the man’s sake. And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven?
“But it is a wild question. God is, and shall be, All in all. Father of our brothers and sisters! You will not be less glorious than we, taught of Christ, are able to think You. When You go into the wilderness and seek, You will not come home until you have found. It is because we hope not for them in You, not knowing Your love, that we are so hard and so heartless to the brothers and sisters You have given us.”
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Fr. Aiden, if I might also include this beautiful quote from Catholic theologian, Gustave Martelet, at the end of his article on hell in the ECT:
Gustave Martelet “Hell,” Encyclopedia of Christian Theology, Vol. 1, edited by Jean-Yves Lacoste, (New York: Routledge, 2005), 693.
Our creation in Christ has made us, by vocation, into beings to whom the Father is as essential as he is, by paternity, to the Son himself. But we should not forget the other face of this mystery, whereby we appear, in Christ, as eternally irreplaceable to the Father as the Son is to him. Confronted with the suicidal decision to reverse into hatred the love for which we have all been created and which makes us, in the Father’s eyes, inseparable from the person of his Son, could God, even out of respect for our freedom, abandon forever the person who destroys himself in the self-torture of his aberration? How could he do so, this God who, in Christ wishes to raise us by pure grace to his likeness, and promises to share with us the life of his uncreated Son? Such is the choice of the unfathomable depth of his love for us. Henceforth there is no human rule, no safeguard of morality that can prohibit God from loving madly the madman who believes that in order to exist he must refrain from loving him who is love itself! God’s remedy for madness consists then in bringing into play all the resources of his love to help the rebel overcome his insane refusal to love. For what kind of God would he be who, despite being declared all-powerful, was forever incapable of releasing from his mortal spell a freedom that was received without being requested, and that could become a snare of pain and hatred to its recipient, for all eternity?
Faced with the lights of the Kingdom of heaven in the night (in itself hopeless) of hell, we are therefore empowered by faith to throw ourselves naked into the love of God. As worthy descendants of Abraham—“In hope he believed against hope” (Rom 4:18)—we hope that the bottomless depths of God’s fatherhood, of Christ’s Passion, and of the resources of the Holy Spirit will allow us to escape from the fiery prison that is hell. We can say nothing of how this might be; but we must trust absolutely in the reserves of love, grace, and glory, whose only measure is God’s love for the Son in the Holy Spirit, a love in which we are forever included. Moreover, since God has revealed to us in his Son that we are saved and saveable by pure grace, and never by our works (Rom 1–4), how could it be otherwise when the eschatology of every creature is decided, at the crowning moment when the mystery of grace, in which we have been established for all time by God himself, will be fulfilled? In this light, hell becomes, with regard to a boundless faith, the location of choice for God’s victory over the most incomprehensible rejection—victory that could be called humanly unexpected and that is for the prayer of the spiritual and for the thought of the theologian “able to be hoped for.”
Wonderful quotation, Brad. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks for the link to the Turnicev article.
Pingback: Freedom of the will | The Anglican Breviary
Hi, everyone. I’m stepping in here and asking everyone to return to the theme of the page–the hope of universal salvation. Thank you.
I’m fascinated by the force of fiction to open a way to such hope: Would CS Lewis, Great Divorce count, as least as the first step across the bridge?
Sorry so brief. Sent by thumb from my iPhone. 🙂
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I still question the logic of a teleological approach leading inescapably to universalism. Why is it not possible that some persons will never come to regard God as their final Good and, thus, never freely choose Him? I agree that true freedom is found in the true worship and service of God, but I do not understand why some could not remain forever in the delusion that something (or more likely someone?) other than God is their final Good. Am I missing an element in the argument?
Thanks. I have found the discussion very interesting.
Potentially, every source of delusion would be removed or healed when we ‘see him face to face’ … the telos would be an experience of pure clarity to a graciously restored mind and will.
I agree with the effects of seeing God ‘face to face.’ I question, though, whether all will ever come to such a state. Is it possible to see God ‘face to face’ if great delusions remain?
Thanks for the response.
The question is based on an ontological confusion, and a naive anthropomorphism. Sorry to sound arch, but you are not thinking of God as God. Because God is not a finite object over against you as a subject, you cannot simply turn away towards “something else.” He is the ground and end of all desire and knowledge as such, the Good in itself. You cannot choose or not choose God the way you would choose or not choose a cup of coffee. You desire anything because of your original desire for God as the transcendental Good and Beautiful; you know anything because of your original intellectual appetite for God as the transcendental Truth as such. Even in desiring to flee God, you are desiring God as the “good end” you seek in godlessness. He is inescapable because all being, goodness, unity, truth, and beauty simply are God in their transcendent truth, and because a rational nature is nothing but an infinite dynamic orientation towards that transcendent end. The natural will, as Maximus says, can will only God. Don’t think of God as a candidate in a political race, whom you could simply reject and be done with; he is the original and final act of your every discrete act of desire. And, in the ages, since God is all and there is literally nothing beyond him, the natural will is always seeking its natural supernatural end. Simply said, God is not an object of desire; he is the end that makes desire.
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I paused to worship after this one.
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I guess my question is – if this is true, then why do communicating members of the Church fall into greivous sin and error? Further, how does this relate to the pre and post communion prayers which suggest that the effect of God’s presence can be damaging to those who are unprepared or unrepentant?
I don’t follow. Is belonging to the Church the same thing as being rendered magically sinless? And who denies that one can suffer spiritual harm? I am sorry, but your question does not seem to have any relation to the claim being made ( which, incidentally, is exactly the same claim as Maximus the Confessor makes about freedom).
Thanks for the response, Mr. Hart. I do think it’s a helpful clarification about God, and I think I agree with your basic description of God as man’s final end.
Also, let me confess that I am not well-read in universalism, so my responses can’t be entirely fair to y’all as I’m not working from a lot of the common source material. That being said, I find this conversation very interesting and will continue to read up on the question.
My struggle in understanding the inescapable conclusion of universalism still rests in not understanding why a human person is not capable of continually refusing to accept God’s salvific offer of Himself in Christ. So I have a couple questions which might help further clarify the argument.
1) Do you think it is possible for a human person to either accept or refuse God’s gift of salvation in Christ?
2) If it is possible for a human person to refuse God’s gift throughout their whole life in this world, why is it not possible for a human person to continue to do so after he or she has has died? I suppose, ultimately, I don’t understand why, if it is possible for a human person to refuse God’s offer once, it is not possible for them to refuse it on and on for the rest of their existence. I don’t in anyway think that people must do that. I don’t see why it’s not a possibility though.
Thanks again for taking the time to clarify. You have said that what you are arguing is essentially communicated in the works of Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac, Maximus, and George MacDonald; so it may be that I should read them first and then return to comment.
Lastly, let me say in case I don’t get another chance, I have really benefited from your writing and lectures. Particularly, I really enjoyed your article on baseball. But, more seriously, I’ve been working through Beauty of the Infinite and being challenged throughout. So thank you, and I pray you’ll be afforded the health to continue writing.
Yes, in a word, grace.
Also it seems to me what you are saying is logically confused. Given certain assumptions about God (the ones being made in this thread), either God is the final Good (Good in itself) or he is not. This means that the argument you cannot avail yourself of is God is the final Good and something else is the final Good as well. It amounts to saying there are two Gods. But if that is right, then, strangely enough, there are no Gods, because something cannot be God, as we understand him, and something else also be God. It amounts to saying A and ~A which is logically contradictory. Moreover, if both are the Good in itself, then it seems reasonable to suppose that they are essentially identical which, according to a decent metaphysical principle, means there is one final Good, not two.
Both “never” and “forever” are awfully big words. Could a finite and imperfect being be envisioned as having the constancy to refuse through an infinity of time? Scripture seems to describe the sinful man as wavering. I shortcircuits my thinking to try to posit such an infinite and firmly consistent refusal on the part of a finite, flawed, and inconstant being such as we all are.
That’s an interesting question. I don’t quite understand why a finite and imperfect being might be capable of achieving everlasting blessedness but not capable of enacting an everlasting tragedy. In addition, I don’t see why an ever increased pursuit by God must result in the eventual conversion of the pursued as opposed to the possibility of an everlasting evasion by the pursued. I am inclined to think that it becomes harder, not easier, to turn to God the more a person rejects God. But, like I said, I might be missing something in the argument, or I might be questioning with unconscious and false presuppositions about the nature of human being.
Anyways, thanks for the response.
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I think I see where you’re coming from Shane. For my part, this is where I imagine (with Paul, I think, in 1 Cor. 15) that omnipotent love graciously initiates the parousia in all its efficacy, and everlasting blessedness is not something we can either achieve by our goodness or sabotage by our delusions … Rather, when the True Light shines, the darkness of delusion will be dispelled and healing love will do its work on our hearts … the synergism of this, I hope, will be the genuine, willing response of someone being brought back from the dead (DBH’s ‘third moment’). In other words, we’re counting on a love greater in its illuminating power than the blindness of whatever veils of unbelief and defiance we’ve pulled over our own eyes.
I might say here that even hopeful inclusivists so far unable to dogmatize this universal hope are nevertheless obligated by love to hope and pray for it, to the degree that the supposed alternatives (infernalism, conditional immortality or annihilationism) are in principle untenable.
A very interesting discussion…On reading the posts, some quite technical and others quite poetic and evocative, I could not help but think of the need for this type of conversation to be more broad in that such a topic has also been addressed in other religious traditions. I think, for instance, of the Buddhist tradition, ( Mahayana), of the Bodhisattvas who refuse entering total enlightenment until all beings are also saved, enlightened.
On ignorance and enlightenment, Dogen Zenji is quite adamant that enlightenment occurs in the midst of ignorance. He upholds a paradoxical way, one that I find challenging to our usual black/white, binary logic.
At any rate, I find the discussion to have been, for me, quite fruitful and encouraging. I hope the participants, all of them, find the goal they are earnestly striving for.
The example of the Bodhisattva is always in the back of my mind. Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara should be required reading for all Christian theologians. Technically, in the Mahayana–of any inflection (my favorite being Yogacara or Citta matra, but that’s neither here nor there), the Bodhisattva does not refuse enlightenment. He is, in fact, fully awakened. But, out of the superabundance of his metta (compassionate love) and karuna (mercy), he vows not to “pass over” into Nibbana until all other sentient beings are ushered in. And this very act is the supreme enlightenment, because in being set free from tanha absolutely by his compassion he learns that “Samsara and Nibbana are one”–for, in the eyes of charity, paradise is the compassion that prompts the great vow.
It used to trouble me, as a young aspiring student of Asian religions, that the typical way in which the work of Christ was preached from pulpits made it seem not only that our God is morally inferior to the bodhisattva, but that in fact Christianity was burdened by a thwarted moral imagination, and that the Mahayana made this obvious. Gregory of Nyssa and George MacDonald and Isaac of Ninevah (etc.) prevented me from abandoning the faith as an ungainly alloy of the ennobling and the barbaric.
As for Dogen, the issue of enlightenment (or, technically, awakening) is a somewhat different issue. But, of course, you are right that knowledge of anything is not merely a discursive mastery of its attributes, but an encounter, an intellectual intuition, in which there must be a surfeit of mystery, or in which the intellect falls silent in being subsumed into…well, ideally love. That is the yield of apophatic discipline in Maximus, after all.
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Fear not. Fr John is wrong–absolutely and lamentably wrong. God actually is better than we, not the contemptible tyrant of the servile religious imagination. Read Isaac. Read George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons, the finest works of theology in the English language.
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It seems the heresy of apokatastasis presented here isn’t really molesting Orthodox eschatology or soteriology as much as it cuts asunder the dogma of Orthodox anthropology that says that baptized human persons have free will.
Either we have free will now with the ability to permanently and eternally reject God, and God efficaciously and therefore irresistibly changes the human will in the eschaton to choose God permanently, *OR* we don’t have free will now, and the change that God does upon us in the eschaton gives us will that is truly free and we thus choose God freely for eternally.
Both of these fly in the face of the faith delivered once and for all that says that a baptized human person has free will now, *AND* will have free will in the eschaton.
Do the Fathers differ on how free will and providence interact? Absolutely. Do they differ on how grace and free will relates to “nature” of a person? Absolutely. Are there various interpretations about how the post-lapsarian will is wounded? Absolutely. Various interpretations about how a free will really operates in the eschaton? Absolutely.
But what is crystal clear is that the will of a baptized person is free, and that freedom is ontologically a property of the will. And it is also crystal clear that as our will is sanctified, glorified, deified–whatever term you want to use–in Glory–and that it nevertheless is in the ontological sense, *FREE*.
I can’t believe that two heroes of mine (Fr Aidan) and Dr Hart) are denying it. Christ have mercy… on us all.
Daniel, have you considered the possibility that you are confusing creaturely causality and divine causality? As I have expressed in a couple of my past postings, popular understandings of synergism appear to put God in the same metaphysical level (just as so many analytic philosophers do today). Hence they present human freedom and divine action as mutually competitive. But this simply cannot be the right way to think about the relationship between the Transcendence and human beings. Take a look at these past articles of mine:
“Rowboating with God”
“Divine Agency and Human Freedom”
“Tom Talbott and Tom Aquinas”
“Thomas Talbott and the Outer Darkness”
“Is Sergius Bulgakov an Augustinian”
“The Grammar of Agency”
Now I may be very wrong in my attempts to speak of what Austin Farrer calls “double agency,” but it is also very wrong to call it heresy. The Orthodox Church hasn’t even considered this difficult question at the depth it needs to be considered before any such judgment can be made. But let’s assume the libertarians are right. We can still proclaim the universalist hope: see “What are the Odds?” Hope this helps.
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But no one denies free will. Everything here is an affirmation of it. It is the “voluntarist” view of freedom, paradoxically, that would make the will incapable of freedom. Do you, as a Christian, believe you are free just because you make choices, or that you are ever freer the better the choices you make are? Because they correspond to the truth that is God, I mean? Forgive me, but you simply need to think the matter through with greater attention to the logic of freedom and the logic of what metaphysical and modal attributes are entailed in the word “God.” No Church Father ever had a keener and fuller and more sophisticated understanding of free will than did Gregory of Nyssa. None was a more adamant and unhesitating universalist. The two things are not in tension in his thought; they are necessarily logically implied in one another.
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Oh, and there is no “heresy of apokatastasis.” Unless you know of an ecumenical council that, unlike the 5th, really proclaimed there is. If you won’t call it a heresy, I won’t say anything similar of those whose theology is so clearly a rejection of 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 11, not to mention all of 1 Timothy.
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By the way, the picture of free will advanced here is essentially that of Maximus the Confessor.
If man was created perfect and free in this way, why did the Fall occur then? If man (freely and) necessarily chooses good in prelapsarian state, how is the Fall even possible?
Man was not created perfect. Man was created innocent and according to Gregory, I think, as moral toddlers. This makes the fall inevitable and therefore, mercy is ultimately God’s only just response. (riffing off Dr Andrew Klager, an Orthodox universalist). Perfection is the telos of theosis rather than the first state.
Sorry so brief. Sent by thumb from my iPhone. 🙂
That the natural will has only one transcendental end is logically necessary. That is not even debatable because it is written In the very definition of the will as intentional. Please understand that this is different from saying that the finite deliberative will or finite mind always wills the truly good as the Good. You are confusing issues.
As for how the fall occurred, no theologian has ever given a satisfactory theory. But that word “perfect” is misplaced. By definition, nothing temporal is “perfect” in its origin (unless by origin one means the divine intention for that being).
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I understand (and accept) Plato’s view that all willing is ultimately desire for the Good in itself. That is a question about the final cause of the will. But I’m curious: to be truly free does the will necessarily have some kind of an ‘arbitrary spontaneity’ as an efficient cause?
Is the “freedom” to sell yourself into slavery or lock yourself in a cage actual freedom? It seems more like a limitation of the will to me.
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You are free to go home after work today, you are free to drink whiskey once home, you are free to be selfish or unselfish, mean or nice, and so on. But your free choices have nothing whatsoever to do with choosing between hell or heaven. Your ultimate destiny is a matter of God’s grace, I would think. But of course your choices can help decide how you go about getting there. That is, how God is going to reconcile you to himself, how difficult or easy that process is is going to depend on your free choices, to some at least limited extent, I think, choices have consequences after all. Simply put, free will is not in tension with universal salvation, and I don’t see how one can read Paul any other way and get it to make sense.
So true. Romans 3:18. 1 Corinthians 15:22. και τα λοιπα.
I know you said και τα λοιπα. But I’ll add, just for diligence sake, Rom. 9.16, 5.20.
This discussion should go down in the annals of the blogosphere as the most intellectually complex discussion ever to be pursued in the commentary section of a blog. Thank you all very much!
Unfortunately, I don’t have sufficient knowledge to participate in the discussion. That is, I am too ignorant or, as most of you would probably put it, I am too much lacking freedom.
But perhaps that’s just because I’m catholic…
Please keep discussing, so that we all can benefit from it!
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A bit of Ratzinger (Eschatology, pp. 215ff.) to add to the discussion:
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To be honest, the rhetoric is stirring, but I find the reasoning a little banal, for the reasons I have already enunciated. And exegetically poor. It reduces freedom to mere libertarian optionalism (to use some jargon) and God to an option among options (a thing among things). It is a defense of an indefensible doctrinal tradition, heroic but hopeless.
But here I’ll withdraw from the conversation. I will lay out my reasoning in the book, if my health allows. God bless everyone (and I do mean everyone).
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Hi, everyone. I am temporarily closing the comments on this page. It really is not intended for extended discussion, but I allowed it to continue because we often do not get a visitor of the intellectual caliber of David Hart. My special thanks to David for addressing our many questions.
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