Saturday, October 29, 2016

How to go to hell


How is it that anyone ever goes to hell?  How could a loving and merciful God send anyone there?  How could any sin be grave enough to merit eternal damnation?  How could it be that not merely a handful of people, but a great many people, end up in hell, as most Christian theologians have held historically?

A complete treatment of the subject would be complex, because there are a number of relevant subsidiary issues, some of them complex in themselves.  These issues include: the difference between the supernatural end of the beatific vision and our merely natural end, and hell as the loss of the former; the difference between the sufferings of hell and the state of a soul either in limbo or in purgatory; the precise nature of the sufferings of hell, and the different kinds and degrees of suffering corresponding to different vices; what it is that makes a particular action – including actions modern people tend to regard as merely minor sins or not sins at all – mortally sinful or apt to result in damnation; what can be known by way of purely philosophical analysis and what is known only via special divine revelation; the proper interpretation of various scriptural passages and the authority of the statements of various councils, popes, and saints; what is wrong with various popular misconceptions which cloud the issues (crude images of devils with pitchforks and the like); and so forth.

I’m not going to address all of that here.  What I will address is what I take to be the core issue, in light of which the others must be understood, which is the manner in which hell is something chosen by the one who is damned, where this choice is in the nature of the case irreversible.  In particular, I will approach this issue the way it is approached by Aquinas and other Thomists.  
 
Many misunderstandings arise because people often begin their reflections on this topic at the wrong point.  For example, they begin with the idea that the damned end up in hell because of something God does, or with the idea that there is something in some particular sin (a particular act of theft or of adultery, say) that sends them there.  Now, I would by no means deny that the damned are damned in part because of something God does, and that particular sins can send one to hell.  The point, again, is just that there is something more fundamental going on in light of which these factors have to be understood.

Obstinate angelic wills

It is useful to begin with the way in which, on Aquinas’s analysis, an angel is damned.  (See especially Summa Theologiae I.64.2; De Veritate, Question 24, Article 10; and On Evil, Question XVI, Article 5.)  Here, as with the images of devils with pitchforks, the unsympathetic reader is asked to put out of his mind common crude images, e.g. of creatures with white robes, long golden hair, and harps.  That is not what an angel is.  An angel is instead an incorporeal mind, a creature of pure intellect and will.  It is also worth emphasizing for the skeptical reader that whether or not one believes in angels is not really essential to the subject addressed in this post.  Think, if you must, of what is said in this section as a useful thought experiment. 

On Aquinas’s analysis, angels, like us, necessarily choose what they choose under the guise of the good, i.e. because they take it to be good in some way.  (See my article “Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good,” reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays, for exposition and defense of the Thomistic account of the nature of human action.)  And as with us, an angel’s ultimate good is in fact God.  But, again like us, they can come to be mistaken about what that ultimate good is.  That is to say, like us, an angel can erroneously take something other than God to be its ultimate good.

However, the nature of this error in the case of an angel is somewhat different from the nature of the error we might commit.  In us, a sudden and fleeting passion might distract us from what is truly good for us and lead us to pursue something else instead.  But passions are essentially corporeal, i.e. they exist only in creatures which, like us, have bodies.  Angels do not have bodies, so passions play no role in leading them into error.

A second way we can be led into error is through the influence of a bad habit, which pulls us away from what is truly good for us in a more serious way than a fleeting passion might.  For Aquinas, there is indeed habituation in angels, as there is in us.  However, there is a difference.  In our case, we have several appetites pulling us in different directions because of our corporeal nature.  Because we are rational animals, our will is directed at what the intellect conceives as the good, but because we are rational animals, we also have appetites which move us toward the pursuit of other, sub-intellectual things, such as food, sexual intercourse, and so forth.  These appetites compete for dominance, as it were, which is why in a human being, even a deeply ingrained habit can be overcome if a competing appetite is strong enough to counter it. 

Angels are not like this, because they are incorporeal.  They have only a single appetite – the will as directed toward what the intellect takes to be good.  There is no competing appetite that can pull the angel away from this end once the will is directed toward it.  Once the will is so directed, habituation follows immediately and unchangeably, because of the lack of any other appetite that might pull an angel is some different direction. 

A third way we can be led into error is intellectually, by virtue of simply being factually mistaken about what is in fact good for us.  Here too, angels can make the same sort of error.  But here too, the nature of the error is different in the case of an angel.  The way we come to know things is discursively.  We gather evidence, weigh it, reason from premises to conclusion, and so on.  All of this follows upon our corporeality – in particular, the way we rely upon sensory experience of particular things in order to begin the process of working up to general conclusions, the way we make use of mental imagery as an aid to thought, and so forth.  Error creeps in because passion or habituation interferes with the proper functioning of these cognitive processes, or because we get the facts wrong somewhere in the premises we reason from, or the like.  Further inquiry can correct the error.

There is nothing like this in angels.  For Aquinas, an angel knows what it knows, not discursively, but immediately.  It doesn’t reason from first principles to conclusions, for example, but knows the first principles and what follows from them all at once, in a single act.  Now, because there is no cognitive process by which an angel knows (as there is in us), there is no correction of a cognitive process that has gone wrong, either by gathering new information, resisting passions, or overcoming bad habits.  If an angel goes wrong at all, it is not (as we are) merely moving in an erroneous direction but where this trajectory might be reversed.  It simply is wrong and stays wrong. 

For Aquinas, then, an angel’s basic orientation is set immediately after its creation.  It either rightly takes God for its ultimate end, or wrongly takes something less than God for its ultimate end.  If the former, then it is forever “locked on” to beatitude, and if the latter, it is forever “locked on” to unhappiness.  There is no contrary appetite that can move it away from what it is habituated to, and no cognitive process that can be redirected.  The angel that chooses wrongly is thus fallen or damned, and not even God can change that any more than he can make a round square, for such change is simply metaphysically impossible insofar as it is contrary to the very nature of an angelic intellect.

Obstinate human wills

Again, human beings are different, because they are corporeal.  Or, to be more precise, they are different while they are corporeal.  For a human being has both corporeal and incorporeal faculties.  When the body goes, the corporeal faculties go.  But the incorporeal faculties – intellect and will, the same faculties that an angel has – carry on, and the human being persists as an incomplete substance.  (See my article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” also reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays, for defense of the incorporeality of the intellect.  See chapter 4 of Aquinas for exposition and defense of the Thomistic argument for the immortality of the soul.)

This brings us to Aquinas’s treatment of the changeability or lack thereof of the human will.  (See especially Summa Contra Gentiles Book 4, Chapter 95.)  Prior to death, it is always possible for the human will to correct course, for the reasons described above.  A passion inclining one to evil can be overcome; a bad habit can be counteracted by a contrary appetite; new knowledge might be acquired by which an erroneous judgment can be revised.  Hence, at any time before death, there is at least some hope that damnation can be avoided.

But after death, Aquinas argues, things are different.  At death the soul is separated from the body, a separation which involves the intellect and will – which were never corporeal faculties in the first place – carrying on without the corporeal faculties that influenced their operation during life.  In effect, the soul now operates, in all relevant respects, the way an angelic intellect does.  Just as an angel, immediately after its creation, either takes God as its ultimate end or something less than God as its ultimate end, so too does the disembodied human soul make the same choice immediately upon death.  And just as the angel’s choice is irreversible given that the corporeal preconditions of a change are absent, so too is the newly disembodied soul’s choice irreversible, and for the same reason.  The corporeal preconditions of a change of orientation toward an ultimate good, which were present in life, are now gone.  Hence the soul which opts for God as its ultimate end is “locked on” to that end forever, and the soul which opts instead for something less than God is “locked on” to that forever.  The former soul therefore enjoys eternal beatitude, the latter eternal separation from God or damnation.

The only way a change could be made is if the soul could come to judge something else instead as a higher end or good than what it has opted for.  But it cannot do so.  Being disembodied, it lacks any passions that could sway it away from this choice.  It also, like an angel, now lacks any competing appetite which might pull its will away from the end it has chosen.  Thus it is immediately habituated to aiming toward whatever, following death, it opted for as its highest end or good – whether God or something less than God.  Nor is there any new knowledge which might change its course, since, now lacking sensation and imagination and everything that goes with them, it does not know discursively but rather in an all-at-once way, as an angel does.  There is no longer any cognitive process whose direction might be corrected. 

But might not the resurrection of the body restore the possibility of a course correction?  Aquinas answers in the negative.  The nature of the resurrection body is necessarily tailored to the nature of the soul to which it is conjoined, and that soul is now locked on to whatever end it opted for upon death.  The soul prior to death was capable of change in its basic orientation only because it came into existence with its body and thus never had a chance to “set,” as it were.  One it does “set,” nothing can alter its orientation again. 

An analogy might help.  Consider wet clay which is being molded into a pot.  As long as it remains wet, it can alter its basic shape.  Once it is dried in the furnace, though, it is locked into the shape it had while in the furnace.  Putting it in water once again wouldn’t somehow make it malleable again.  Indeed, the water would be forced to conform itself to the shape of the pot rather than vice versa.

The soul is like that.  While together with the body during life, it is like the wet clay.  Death locks it into one basic orientation or another, just as the furnace locks the clay into a certain definite shape.  The restoration of the body cannot change its basic orientation again any more than wetting down a pot or filling it with water can make it malleable again.

The influence of the passions and appetites

Now, what choice is a soul likely to make immediately upon death?  Obviously, the passions and appetites that dominated it in life are bound to push it very strongly in one direction or another.  For example, a person who at the end of his life is strongly habituated to loving God above all things is very unlikely, in his first choice upon death, to regard something other than God as his ultimate end or good.  A person who at the end of his life is strongly habituated to hating God is very unlikely, in his first choice upon death, to regard God as his ultimate end or good.  A person who, at the end of his life, is strongly habituated to regarding some specific thing other than God as his ultimate good – money, sex, political power, etc. -- is very likely, in his first choice upon death, to regard precisely that thing as his ultimate good or end.  It is very likely, then, that these various souls will be “locked on” forever to whatever it was they were habituated to valuing above all things during life on earth.

Of course, what counts as regarding God as one’s ultimate end requires careful analysis.  Someone might have a deficient conception of God and yet still essentially regard God as his ultimate good or end.  One way to understand how this might go is, in my view, to think of the situation in terms of the doctrine of the transcendentals.  God is Being Itself.  But according to the doctrine of the transcendentals, being – which is one of the transcendentals – is convertible with all the others, such as goodness and truth.  They are really all the same thing looked at from different points of view.  Being Itself is thus Goodness Itself and Truth Itself.  It seems conceivable, then, that someone might take goodness or truth (say) as his ultimate end, and thereby – depending, naturally, on exactly how he conceives of goodness and truth – be taking God as his ultimate end or good, even if he has some erroneous ideas about God and does not realize that what he is devoted to is essentially what classical theists like Aquinas call “God.”  And of course, an uneducated person might wrongly think of God as an old man with a white beard, etc. but still know that God is cause of all things, that he is all good, that he offers salvation to those who sincerely repent, etc.  By contrast, it seems quite ridiculous to suppose that someone obsessed with money or sex or political power (for example) is really somehow taking God as his ultimate end without realizing it. 

In any event, the strength of the passions and appetites is one reason why the sins attached to them are so dangerous, even when they are not as such the worst of sins.  To become deeply habituated to a certain sin associated with a particular appetite or passion is to run grave risk of making of that sin one’s ultimate end, and thus damning oneself.  This is why the seven deadly sins are deadly.   For example, if one is at the time of one’s death deeply habituated to envy or to sins of the flesh, it is naturally going to be difficult for one’s first choice upon death not to be influenced by such habits.

There is this “upside” to a sin like envy, though – it offers the sinner no pleasure but only misery.  That can be a prod, during life, to overcoming it.  Sins of the flesh, however, typically involve very intense pleasure, and for that reason it can be extremely difficult to overcome them, or even to want to overcome them.  In addition, they have as their “daughters” such effects as the darkening of the intellect, self-centeredness, hostility toward spiritual things, and the like.  (I discussed Aquinas’s account of the “daughters of lust” in an earlier post.) 

It is said that at Fatima the Blessed Virgin declared that more souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason.  Whatever a skeptic might think of Fatima, this basic thesis is, if one accepts the general natural law account of sexual morality together with Aquinas’s account of the obstinacy of the soul after death, quite plausible.  That is not because sins of the flesh are the worst sins.  They are not the worst sins.  It is rather because they are very common sins, easy to fall into and often difficult to get out of.  Nor does it help that in recent decades they are, more than any other sins, those that a vast number of people absolutely refuse even to recognize as sins.

A world awash in sexual vice of all kinds and “in denial” about it is a world in which a large number of people are going to be habituated to seeking sexual pleasure above all things, and to become forever “locked on” to this end as their perceived ultimate good.  (It is very foolish, then, for churchmen and other Christians to think it kind or merciful not to talk much about such sins.  That is like refusing to warn joggers of the quicksand they are about to fall into.  And positively downplaying the significance of such sins and even emphasizing instead the positive aspects of relationships (e.g. adulterous relationships) in which the sins are habitually committed is like encouraging the joggers to speed up.  One thinks of Ezekiel 33:8.)

Whatever might be said about sins of the flesh per se, however (and I have said a lot about that subject in other places) the main point is to emphasize how deeply the passions and appetites “prepare” a soul for the decisive choice it is going to make, especially when there is pleasure attached to the indulgence of the passions or appetites.  What is true of illicit sexual indulgence is true also, if often in a less intense way, of the indulgence of other passions and appetites.  There is, for example, the pleasurable frisson of self-righteousness that can accompany the judgment of others or the indulgence of excessive or misdirected anger.  There is the pleasure a sadist might get from dominating or humiliating others.  And so forth.

There can also be a deficiency in the passions and appetites.  For example, one can show insufficient anger at injustice and evil and thus lack any resolve to do something about it.  Or one might be deficient in the amount of sexual desire one has for one’s spouse or in the amount of affection one is inclined to show one’s children.  Deficiencies in passions and appetites can thus keep us from pursuing what is good, just as excesses in passions and appetites can lead us to pursue what is not good.

The passions and appetites are like heat applied to wet clay.  The longer the soul is pushed (or not pushed) by a passion or appetite in a certain direction, the more difficult it is to reorient the soul, just as it is more difficult to alter the shape of wet clay the longer heat is applied and the drier the clay gets. 

Those interested in further reading on this subject are advised to read, in addition to the texts from Aquinas cited above, Abbot Vonier’s The Human Soul, especially chapters 29-33; Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Life Everlasting and the Immensity of the Soul, especially chapters VII-IX; and Cardinal Avery Dulles’s First Things article “The Population of Hell.”  (Most readers will be familiar with Garrigou-Lagrange and Dulles.  If you are not familiar with Vonier, I highly recommend tracking down everything written by him that you can get your hands on.)

207 comments:

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iwpoe said...

This account is strange to me, since it treats the newly acquired incorporeal state as if it's not a radical change.

If you took away my sight, why would you ever suppose that in my new blindness I would seek visual ends? In the same way, how is it coherent that the newly incorporeal dead seek fleshly pleasure? He has no capacity for it. One might suppose a kind of memory for it, but his intellect isn't discursive or bodily, so memory doesn't seem to help.

Or do you merely mean that the soul's intellect is simply deformed by life and whatever he seeks it's unlikely to be God?

Edward Feser said...

iwpoe,

True, you don't experience sexual or other bodily appetites as a disembodied soul but:

(a) in the case in question, your intellect has by the end of your life become fixated on the idea that fleshly pleasure is the highest good, and

(b) the intellect's choice of an ultimate end occurs immediately upon death

So, its choice is likely to be for what it was fixated upon during life. Your objection implicitly presupposes that the soul carries on for some time after death before making the choice in question, loses its fixation because of the absence of the appetites, and thus opts for something else. But the whole point is that that is not how it works. There's no lag during which the loss of the appetites could make a difference.

Also, it's not quite right to say that the soul has no capacity for fleshly pleasure. There is a sense in which it does, namely that it is still the soul of a kind of thing which in its normal and whole state has a body with its usual appetites etc. The appetites are dormant. While disembodied the soul does not experience those appetites, but it can still, intellectually and "bloodlessly" as it were, take the satisfaction of such appetites to be the highest good.

Anonymous said...

If God is infinitely loving and, as trinity, was infinitely content in himself prior to creation - that is, creation didn't add any benefit to God - why would he create human beings in the first place if he knew in advance that at least one of them (even if through his/her own free choices) would suffer an eternity in Hell? It seems to me that God's actions - not ours - is the appropriate starting point for thinking about Hell.

iwpoe said...

Ed,

a. is a fair point, but doesn't b. strike against your point too? The bodily capacities including sensation memory the passions discursivity, etc also terminate/go into dormancy *immediately* upon death. I'm having a hard time seeing what would incline the soul to then immediately aim towards the things it aimed at in life. Such a soul would be as a jogger who has had his legs severed: nothing inclines him forward.

Ann Kellett said...

God is God. We will experience Him either as a fire that cleanses and fortifies, or as eternal torment. We don't go to hell as much as take ourselves there.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

I just want to take note Ann's view of Hell is a very Eastern Christian one.

Well said.

Seth said...

So this is the explanation I've long understood, but it raises a question and I was never quite sure where to find an answer for it (within Scholasticism, that is).

If this is how they "experience" things, how do they interact with the physical world of people, such as the case of Guardian Angels (Not sure if I am supposed to capitalize that)? How would they be capable of interpreting a temporal world? Since wouldn't this constitute "new" information?

I guess it's a question of, does this process of learning represent a superior or subordinate sort of experience? Since it sounds a lot like "Like our current experience, but with one less dimension". Wouldn't that mean our experience is of a more complete one? But that doesn't clearly seem the case since angels often have a far more powerful grasp of how things are going on or predicting what will happen.

I just don't understand how they interact with a world which does have process and change. Since wouldn't that mean they need to experience it in the same way? And hence, thus capable of change?

Urban II said...

If love is defined as "willing the good of another" and God is all loving, does this not imply that hell is somehow good for particular individuals? Or at least that it is the best possible alternative? So either God's love means that he wills hell for particular individuals because it is good or God has no control or choice in the matter.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Feser, You are inventing imaginative excuses for eternal damnation when your definition of God means He has ALL MEANS at his disposal to teach, purge, enlighten, influence and heal the merely finite beings He has created. Rather than see them suffer for eternity.



Edward T. Babinski said...

Feser, Have you read...

Augustine on the Eternal Joy that Comes From Seeing What Is Happening in Hell

Thomas Aquinas on the Eternal Joy that Comes From Seeing Perfectly the Sufferings of the Damned

Read on https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/11/christians-say-damnedest-things-about.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

The Problem of Pain is also the Problem of Hell (Because if one can defend eternal suffering/punishment, then one can and will defend anything)

https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-problem-of-pain-in-nature.html

John West said...

Edward T. Babinsky writes: Thomas Aquinas on the Eternal Joy that Comes From Seeing Perfectly the Sufferings of the Damned

In case anyone is interested in what Aquinas actually said.

Wesley said...

The only part I don't understand is why a person remains "locked" even if given a resurrected body. I understand the example about the setting of clay, I just don't see why that example must apply. Does this follow from natural theology? Every other parts seems to, but this part doesn't so far as I can tell. Or is this part instead an insight from what we know through divine revelation and the teaching authority of the Church?

Thursday said...

How does Aquinas square this with the need for Jesus' sacrifice? What active part does the atonement play? It seems like what really matters are the habits of the soul, not the grace provided by the death of Christ?

(Honest question, not being snarky. I presume Aquinas does have something to say on this.)

Thursday said...

If true though, this really does answer the question why one's earthly death matters so much for the Christian. Otherwise, since we do continue to exist, one might wonder why we cannot reform in our purely immaterial state.

Anonymous said...

Terrifying! Sobering, but terrifying.

Mister Jorge said...

John West,
I think it's been well established that Babinski isn't really interested in what Aquinas actually said; nor what Feser said in this post.

He's like a the Friendly Atheist, Mehta: big on smiles, big on pleading.... small on understanding.

Ludstein said...

Not sure if this is on topic, but does Aquinas (or anyone else) explain if, in the context of avoiding "going to hell", our having both corporeal nature and intellect, versus angels having only the latter, is a boon or a bane for us?

Corporeality does sound like a good thing, because it appears to give us a chance to undo bad choices if we make them. The angels, by contrast, seem to really get it in the neck! "One strike and you're out, and by the way it already happened!" OTOH, maybe corporeality makes bad choices more likely in the first place. In fact, thinking of some of the imagery in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, I could imagine that corporeality could in some way itself be the result -- the concretization, so to speak -- of some bad choice of ours, made in a post-creation-but-pre-fall/embodiment state. But I digress.

So, to repeat: to what extent, and why, are we better or worse off than angels -- in the context of avoiding eternal damnation -- as a result of being embodied?

BIODTL said...

How is this compatible with what Aquinas writes on predestination? I can't see any difference between him and Luther (or Marc Carpenter and Vincent Cheung). All of them cite Romans 9. At least the latter three are consistent. Why don't Catholics ever talk about this?

Ludstein said...

@Edward T. Babinsky:
> He has ALL MEANS at his disposal to teach, purge, enlighten, influence and heal

Edward, but what if the being concerned simply doesn't want to be with God despite all those means being deployed? Suppose I were to choose, even in the face of such teaching, purging, enlightening, influencing, and healing, to turn away from God. Wouldn't it make a mockery of my freedom were he to shove his salvation down my damned throat? (Serious question, playfully asked :-) )

I mean, such rejection in the full knowledge of the consequences seems like utter lunacy to me, but maybe that's just me (and you, I presume). If freedom to choose God means anything, surely it must mean freedom to reject him. No? For all I know, maybe sinning here on Earth is actually modifying my most fundamental valuation system -- the very thing that leads me to want bliss (a.k.a. God) and avoid torment (a.k.a. separation from God). Maybe, just as the heroin addict's behaviors actually change what he wants, so too sinning changes what we want, and necessarily so (i.e. not because God is "punishing" us) because sinning Just Is an expression of want.

Shrug. But what do I know?

DeusPrimusEst said...

Ludstein,

I'm certainly no expert, but given we have faculties and abilities in addition to those we share we the angels (sensation, locomotion, etc) I'm inclined to say it makes hell/heaven worse/better for us. For apart from having intellect and will frustrated or otherwise, as the angels do, our corporeality is affected in like manner.

I do not know of any more authoritative treatment on this point, sorry. Just wanted to give my two cents.

iwpoe said...

High academic philosophy blog troll: a very specialized calling. It's too bad he's got no talent for it.

jem said...

Would it follow then that Mary's assumption and her crowning as Queen of Heaven were simultaneous events, then?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Feser's account above strikes me as kind of forced. Like trying to find how far reason can take one, given a preset official destination one wants to reach. In my judgment the official account of hell suffers from at least four major problems, problems what are not really touched by that account:

1. God clearly wishes all people to be saved. One does not need scripture to know this, one sees this directly. Not only in one's knowledge of God by acquaintance, but also by one's reason. Clearly it's not like the greatest conceivable being would create sentient beings not wishing the best for them. But the official dogma of hell, by its very nature, is one of eternal and eternally pointless suffering for many creatures – the very worse that may happen. And, perhaps more significantly, the dogma of hell presents us the picture of God abandoning the creatures – of the Good Shepherd giving up on some sheep. So the official dogma entails not only God's failure to ultimately realize what God wishes, but an eternal rift in creation, a scar on its beauty, a limit to atonement (and thus a devaluing of Christ's sacrifice), an eternal limit to joy in heaven. (About the last point some conservative Christians such as William Craig suggest that God will grand oblivion to all people in heaven, but this too is a problematic idea.) Some Christians argue that even given all of the above, a greater good obtains through hell – namely God's “justice” is satisfied since all those who did not obey God's commands are punished. But, again, such a sentiment has trouble flying given our direct knowledge of God.

2. The official dogma puts an eternal significance to our moment of death – indeed that's a major premise in Feser's account. But this appears to be eminently unfair. One person is granted a long life in which she has plenty of opportunity to repent while the other's life is cut short early - at an age where she was perhaps a less evil person than the former. Here some Christian thinkers argue that based on God's “middle knowledge” (or “prevolitional knowledge of all true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom”) God knows that the latter person would fail to repent anyway, even if she hadn't died but given all possible opportunity. Besides the paradoxes entailed in such an understanding of God's omniscience, one wonders: If God has middle knowledge then why bother with creation in the first place? Why not create every creature in the state of her eternal destination?

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

3. When Christ in the Gospels speaks of the problem of error He says that “by the fruit you'll know”. Since the fruit in question can be no other than salvation, I take it a fundamental way to test theological claims is by checking to see how well they help us (or else hinder us) follow Christ's commands. In my experience the dogma of hell clearly makes it more difficult to follow Christ's final command to love each other as He loved us. For if God is prepared to abandon many of our neighbors to eternal damnation, it becomes kind of unnatural to love them and forgive them as Christ did. Why should one pray for the salvation of a dead criminal's soul if almost certainly by doing that one is praying against God's stated intention?

In this context another major dimension concerns our sense of fear. It is natural to feel great fear when thinking about hell. (Actually I find myself incapable of truly facing the idea of hell for its ugliness is too much to bear, but never mind.) But fear, as we know from actual experience, is *not* conducive to repentance, it weakens the will, it mars our love for God, it moves us to self-pity and self-destroying despair. At least it does for me, and it does it so clearly that I assume it does the same for everyone else. (Perhaps in the context of the dogma of hell we have the same situation that is described in the fairy tale of the king's new clothes – nobody could actually see those clothes but because of fear or shame everybody was pretending to do so and was even describing them in fantastic detail.)

4. The greatest problem (perhaps the only serious one) the theist faces when reasoning about God is the so-called problem from evil. Its solution is called theodicy. In my judgment the by far more successful theodicy (so successful that I think it is the correct correct solution albeit not fully worked out yet) is the so-called soul-making theodicy. (The original idea was by St Irenaeus but in our times it was much developed by John Hick.) A basic premise of this theodicy is that our salvific life does not end at the point of death of our physical body, but goes on much longer than that. So if the official dogma is true then the best theodicy we know is rendered invalid on its premises.

Finally I wonder how “official” the dogma of hell is. I understand the dogma of hell is not found in our faith's canonical creeds (except for a mention in the Athanasian Creed). Nor is it found in the recent “credo of the People of God" of Pope Paul VI's, nor in the delightful also recent “Maasai's creed”. Given this state of affairs one wanders how important and how certain the dogma of hell can be. In my own tradition (Eastern Orthodox Christianity) on the one hand hell is mentioned a lot (and painted in lurid detail in many a church's wall) – but in what is probably one of its best expositions in the English language, Kallistos Ware's “The Orthodox Way”, I read that even though hell, the place of eternal separation from God, exists, it is not for us to know whether God's grace will allow souls to fall in that state. Which says to me that the natural state for the Christian is to hope that God won't.

Incidentally a modern philosopher I know (I guess he must be about Feser's age), Erik Reitan, is one of the two authors of “God's Final Victory”, which is perhaps the most detailed modern analysis against the dogma of hell, and argues based on fundamental Christian doctrine. Brainy participants in this blog may be interested in it.

jps said...

I have had the scary thought that perhaps those in hell don't actually realise where they are, so they don't experience it as punishment, per se. It's more likely that they rationalise it - 'things really aren't too bad', they might say (when in fact things are of course hellish).

I think that is why Lewis said the 'gates of hell are locked from the inside' - those that are there think they're getting what they want. In fact, the only grounds for suspecting that they may be in a real bad place, would be the spark of conscience - the very lack of which is what put them there in the first place!

But in any case, they're not 'sent' to hell, they are there because they turned down the chance for redemption, which was offered freely, and freely rejected - no compulsion in it. Nor were they sent there by a vengeful God - such depictions are really anthropomorphic projections or concessions to the popular imagination. If my intuition is correct, the reality is much more likely (and a lot scarier).

Ludstein said...

@jps:
> If my intuition is correct, the reality is much more likely (and a lot scarier).

And is also such that we all might ourselves already be in hell, right now.

If I ever feel the need to scare the bejeezus out of myself, I bring to mind Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, and then this comment by the narrator in the aforementioned, The Great Divorce:

"I remembered how poor Cowper, dreaming that he was not after all doomed to perdition, at once knew the dream to be false and said, ‘These are the sharpest arrows in His quiver.’" Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). The Great Divorce (pp. 57-58). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[shudder] Thank God I'm not also a Calvinist! :-)

BIODTL said...

I should have posted links in my earlier post. What is "free will" and how is it compatible with the biblical doctrine of predestination? Dr. Feser, this is a BIG issue you haven't addressed. Some of us have no problem with damnation; it's predestination that's creepy! (It sometimes makes me wonder/hope if Judaism or Schopenhauer was right.)

http://www.outsidethecamp.org/reprobation.pdf

http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/The%20Author%20of%20Sin%20(2014).pdf

https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/double_luther.html

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1023.htm

Anonymous said...

I suspect that some who disagree with Ed are forgetting the important differences between the mode and operation of the intellect on the one hand and will on the other. We are saved or damned not because of or through acts of the intellect but through acts of the will.

Of course these are related, but they are also quite distinct (which is inter alia why God is a Trinity).

In the classical conception, the intellect presents to the will, as a slave to a master, the data regarding facts, values, etc. The intellect identifies, but it is the will that chooses. It does so by either embracing (move towards, unite with) or moving away from (rejecting, expelling) a value (the good).

Satan and the damned are in hell not because they're ignorant but because they choose themselves as the summum bonum rather than the real Summun Bonum.

bulldog91 said...

I second the recommendation of Erik Reitan's book "God's Final Victory" for a detailed philosophical argument against hell. Thomas Talbott's "The Inescapable Love of God" is also terrific. David Bentley Hart also had a good article somewhere.

Ludstein said...

@DeusPrimusEst:
"...given we have faculties and abilities in addition to those we share [with] the angels (sensation, locomotion, etc) I'm inclined to say it makes hell/heaven worse/better for us."


You mean because we'd experience torment/bliss in both corporeal and incorporeal dimensions of our eternal selves, thereby doubling up, as it were? I guess that could be the case. That said, it still doesn't tell us if it's a better or worse position to be in than that of the angels. If the magnitude of any corporeality-induced "amplification" is the same for both torment and bliss, then in terms of expected values, it may not make much difference overall, although it would of course make a lot of difference for any given individual. Not that it actually makes any difference, since we are what we are. But it would be nice to know exactly what He gave us our capacities for (over-)appreciating Habanos, Glenfiddich, and Cheryl Cole *for*. :-)

Reading back through some of Ed's links in the current article, I did find a post of his from last year where he says a little about the man/angel difference when it comes to sexual desire. From What’s the deal with sex? Part II" (emphasis mine):

"Angels are incorporeal and asexual, creatures of pure intellect. Non-human animals are entirely bodily, never rising above sensation and appetite, and our closest animal relatives reproduce sexually. Human beings, as rational animals, straddle this divide, having as it were one foot in the angelic realm and the other in the animal realm. And that is, metaphysically, simply a very odd position to be in. It is just barely stable, and sex makes it especially difficult to maintain."

So far, so different. We're metaphysical weirdos, but still nothing on whether having bodies is a good thing or not. But Ed continues:

"The unique intensity of sexual pleasure and desire, and our bodily incompleteness qua men and women, continually remind us of our corporeal and animal nature, pulling us “downward” as it were. Meanwhile our rationality continually seeks to assert its control and pull us back “upward,” and naturally resents the unruliness of such intense desire.

At first glance that, with its "upward" and "downward", could seem to imply that bodies are in fact a liability. On the other hand, since presumably animals are not morally capable of going to Hell, whereas it seems angels can seal their fate in that respect by merely getting out of bed on the wrong side, that directionality isn't one of "probability of avoiding Hell". Of course it may be that animals are not heading for Heaven either, but even if that's the case, then in this existential game of Blackjack, where it's a case of eternal bliss if you make 21, but eternal beating up in the alley behind the casino if you bust, reasonable minds could conclude it's wiser to stand even with only a 2 and a 3.

Ed concludes by first holding out a possible resolution, and then quickly snatching it away again by dint of The Fall:

"This conflict is so exhausting that we tend to try to get out of it by jumping either to one side of the divide or the other. But this is an impossible task and the result is that we are continually frustrated. And the supernatural divine assistance that would have remedied this weakness in our nature and allowed us to maintain an easy harmony between rationality and animality was lost in original sin.

So I'm still none the wiser :-)

Anonymous said...

>>"I second the recommendation of Erik Reitan's book "God's Final Victory" for a detailed philosophical argument against hell. Thomas Talbott's "The Inescapable Love of God" is also terrific. David Bentley Hart also had a good article somewhere."


https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/theodicy-hell-and-david-b-hart/

Here is the David B. Hart article (Just click the second link in the first paragraph of the blog post and download the pdf).


However, my main hang-up with Universalism is that it seems to rob the world of an absolutely indispensable deterrent to the worst expressions of human nature - namely, the threat of judgment and hell. Put starkly, I wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone believed in Universalism.

Paul said...

Ed,

I get the gist of your argument but I don't see how it agrees with the Bible and the teaching of the Church. I've never heard about there being any choice made after one's death: instead, God judges the man on his faith and morals in life, and this life is our only chance to make any kind of choice.

It's not that the sort of person a man becomes in life will incline him to choose God or else after death: there is no choice after death, only the judgment of God.

What do you think?

Skyliner said...

For a different point of view, below is the link to the aforementioned article by David Bentley Hart.

http://journal.radicalorthodoxy.org/index.php/ROTPP/article/view/135/75

Vincent Torley said...

I'm afraid Aquinas would disagree with what Anonymous wrote above:

"We are saved or damned not because of or through acts of the intellect but through acts of the will...

In the classical conception, the intellect presents to the will, as a slave to a master, the data regarding facts, values, etc. The intellect identifies, but it is the will that chooses. It does so by either embracing (move towards, unite with) or moving away from (rejecting, expelling) a value (the good).

Satan and the damned are in hell not because they're ignorant but because they choose themselves as the summum bonum rather than the real Summum Bonum.
"

Here's an excerpt from the article on Voluntarism in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"In medieval philosophy, voluntarism was championed by Avicebron, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. Intellectualism, on the other hand, is found in Averroes, Aquinas, and Eckhart... According to intellectualism, choices of the will result from that which the intellect recognizes as good; the will itself is determined. For voluntarism, by contrast, it is the will which determines which objects are good, and the will itself is indetermined."

Or as Aquinas himself puts it:

"Now the first formal principle is universal "being" and "truth," which is the object of the intellect. And therefore by this kind of motion the intellect moves the will, as presenting its object to it." (S.T. I-II, q. 9, art. 1)

And here's Aquinas on the fall of the angels:

"...[N]o creature of a lower order can ever covet the grade of a higher nature; just as an ass does not desire to be a horse: for were it to be so upraised, it would cease to be itself... Consequently it is impossible for one angel of lower degree to desire equality with a higher; and still more to covet equality with God...

...[However,] one may desire to be like unto God in some respect which is not natural to one; as if one were to desire to create heaven and earth, which is proper to God; in which desire there would be sin... [H]e (the devil - VJT) sought to have final beatitude of his own power, whereas this is proper to God alone.
" (S.T. I, q. 63, art. 3)

The opinion of Anonymous sounds more akin to that of Scotus.

Anonymous said...

Can someone clarify what is meant by choosing something as one's ultimate end?

A lot of people commit sexual sins. But I think a lot of the same people don't see it as the ultimate end of their existence. It's more of a recreational activity. Say if I were to play baseball. It's not my ultimate end, I just enjoy it.

Daniel Carriere said...

I know Ed listed purgatory and our supernatural end as some of the complex issues he wasn't prepared to take on in this present article. But I think it is really important to note that when we discuss these topics knowable by reason, that the key point of revelation be kept in mind: God is both just and merciful. And that no matter how far down the road we have traveled in vice and sin, that there is always the possibility of repentance. Of turning back towards God. That is why we have in scripture, the biblical story of the proud and hypocritical pharisee who congratulates himself on being so virtuous and good unlike all the others he looks down on, as compared to the miserable sinner who begs God for mercy. The point I am trying to make is that the Christian revelation teaches us that our humanly acquired virtue is less important in the end, than our final orientation towards God in death. To be sure, God's justice demands purgatory for such as these, but they are not forever lost and will eventually reach the beatific vision.

Having said this - I wonder if the temptation towards prideful self reliance grows the more we acquire human virtue? And whether it is not, at least partially, a blessing for the proud man to fall into "sins of the flesh", to help combat that pride that leads one into the erroneous belief that he does not need God's mercy and grace?

God bless,
Daniel

bulldog91 said...

"However, my main hang-up with Universalism is that it seems to rob the world of an absolutely indispensable deterrent to the worst expressions of human nature - namely, the threat of judgment and hell. Put starkly, I wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone believed in Universalism."

This proposition is testable: is there any relationship between rates of moral/ethical behavior in a society and rates of believing in eternal punishment (whether in different societies today, or societies across history)? I would have to be convinced: certainly, there are many more religious and therefore hell-believing people in America than in say, Finland, but it hardly seems that Americans are less violent, greedy, etc., than Finnish people. Likewise, I'm sure belief in Hell was more widespread still in medieval Europe, but was people's behavior really better? Obviously the social science question is complicated because there are always *many* ways in which two societies differ and you can't really pin any difference in vices solely to levels of belief in Hell, but prima facie I'm having a hard time coming up with examples of a clear relationship. Moreover, sometimes belief in Hell was actively harmful: executing heretics is much easier to justify if you believe that the spreading of false beliefs will lead to more people suffering eternally.

Anonymous said...

Vincent, I expressly said and fully agree that the intellect identifies the good. But the will's actual choice does not follow ineluctably or necessarily from what the intellect presents. The will can make its choices despite the promptings of the intellect, and in that sense is radically free, as it needs to be in order to love.

Example: Let us say the intellect identifies the following two options, all else being equal: 1.Sell your 1969 VW to Buyer A for $1-million, or 2. Sell it to Buyer B for $100. Though the intellect clearly identifies the values at play, the will is still quite free to choose either.

I'm certainly not Scotist.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I'd like to take issue with your Thomistic arguments for the obstinacy of the angelic will and the will of the separated soul. Please note that I am not contesting your conclusion that Satan, the demons and damned souls are incapable of repentance; I am merely contesting your premises.

You argue that angels cannot be led into error by their passions, or by lower appetites, or by false reasoning, since none of these things apply to them. You then argue that once an angel makes a choice as to its ultimate end, it is incapable of reversing that choice, since there is no contrary appetite or cognitive process within its nature which could lead it to do so.

You argument assumes that angels are fully aware of the consequences of their choices when they make them. I disagree. I maintain that there are certain things that can only be known by experiencing them directly. An unfallen angel could never know what it feels like to be separated from God. Such knowledge can only come from bitter experience. Angels may not have passions as we do, but they certainly have first-person experiences. It is therefore conceivable that an angel may choose autonomy from God, only to repent of his choice immediately after making it. Even Aquinas acknowledges that the angels "have an unchangeable being as regards their nature with changeableness as regards choice; moreover they have changeableness of intelligence, of affections and of places in their own degree." (S.T. I, q. 10, art. 5)

It would be different, of course, if an angel were to remain attached to its bad choice, even after experiencing its results. Since an angel would indeed be incapable of repentance. What I'm suggesting, then, is that for all we know, some of the angels may have sinned, but speedily repented, while others are damned forever.

Regarding the separated soul: at most, your argument would establish that it cannot deviate from the first choice it makes immediately after separation from the body, which is different from the traditional view that it is the last choice it makes while still attached to the body which determines whether it will be saved or damned. (Mind you, I completely agree with you on this point.) But I would add that a separated soul could conceivably repent for the same reason as a fallen angel might: one it experiences what separation from God actually feels like, it might instantly decide that this is not what it wants, after all.

Kronen and Reitan go further, and argue that God may confer efficacious grace on anyone, without violating their rational autonomy. That may be so, but it would be presumptuous to count on it, and "God may" is not the same as "God must." For that reason, I cannot call myself a universalist.

Sami said...

Vincent: If I understand him correctly Aquinas gave plenty of room for the will to mess with things. Selective focus and other such biasing that is actually easily confirmed in modern psychological studies (unless you're careful you see what you want). Though in this particular account of damnation it does look like the intellect is playing the bigger role.

Ed: This account doesn't seem right on fairness grounds and as someone above mentioned it doesn't seem to leave a lot of room for God. Specifically I'm going to bring up the very real problem of the brain injured, the psychologically ill, and the unfortunately large group of dead children.
If you are born a psychopath it's not like you got a fair shot at the morality mini game that is life. Likewise there are cases of previously virtuous folks getting popped in the frontal lobe and coming out quite different. Probabilistically speaking those poor souls aren't going to be picking god if our physical existence biases the soul.
Likewise in the case of children I see no reason to think that all of them are naturally going to make the right choice at death (especially if a good amount of angels didn't pick right). But I think it's generally accepted that below a certain age and under certain circumstances you are considered "faultless". And nowhere in this almost mechanistic account do I see a role for saving grace or judgement at all.

Overall the Bible treats sin (as I understand it) as something that is based at least somewhat on circumstance ("from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded"), something that God can remove at will (Jesus's acts of forgiveness in general), something that is not entirely dependent on a single person (the paralyzed man saved by the faith of his friends), and something dependent primarily on actions of merit or demerit. Likewise it is ultimately (if we are to take the bible as an authority) God who separates the wheat from the weeds, not the other way around. Ed's account just doesn't seem to square with Biblical sin because it ignores circumstance, action, and god's forgiveness in favor of the decisions of a soul in a single moment (even if that moment was biased by his former life, which itself was biased by initial conditions not considered in the fairness of this theory)

Sami said...

Oh also, I'm not sure I can agree with the idea that God, who literally holds the angels into existence and gives them their existence, can't undo the habituation, which is by nature accidental, of an angel. There is no comparison with a square circle here, square circle is just a combination of words that can't mean anything because it implies A=notA. Everyone understands what the state "unhabituated angel" means. I'm not arguing against metaphysical impossibility in general (can god turn an angel into a banana? probably not, because there is no potential in an angel for that, and without potential the concept of transformation doesn't make any sense, hence square circle), I just don't think this particular claim of metaphysical impossibility holds up to God's omnipotence. Now can god reverse an angel's habituation without violating the integrity of their free choice? No, so maybe that's why he doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Matter is indeterminacy. Without the body, spirit determines an object without any mixture of indeterminacy. The determination expressed in life via the series of thoughts and actions realized throughout the whole process is finally expressed at the moment of death as a determination without any mixture of indeterminacy and further material process.

But, can the spirit proceed to diverse moments of choice via intrinsic power? For it seems that an ultimate object encompasses a diversity of inferior objects which represent it as a servant or multitude of servants represent their master. Also, if an inferior object is perceived spiritually then the objects implied by or in it are also perceived such that the spirit sees higher objects in a mediated way through any immediate object. Similarly, in the immediately perceived works of servants, the commands of a master's will are understood in a mediated way. A spirit is not omniscient since then it would be equal to God. Therefore a spirit intuits objects and proceeds to further objects rationally; its experience is not divided according to indeterminacy mixed into the object or into its spiritual substance. Nonetheless the spiritual creature is divided between its essence and its act expressing the essence. The essence is the totality of intrinsic possibilities or powers available to a spirit, but the act is momentary in the manner of aevo-process and not simply eternal in the manner of God.

Briefly, the potentiality or indeterminacy of matter is different from the essence which is a theoretical object of God's knowledge. Matter is simply acted upon, but essence is prior to a creature's act. The essence is said to be possible in the sense that it is not impossible, but it is comprehended in God's act through being a divine idea. Therefore pure essence is at once both actual and possible ('middle knowledge' status of all objects of the absolute omniscient vision) and this is expressed as intrinsic power in the creature which can only realize the possibilities contained in the essence through either a material process or a rational process. The rational process or aevo-existence consists of navigating a system of ideas. The totality of a spirit or of an idea is only known to God via unique omniscience. So, it seems that a spirit could make choices because of intrinsic power to do so and not only because of material indeterminacy which renders all particular actions incomplete. Particular material actions are always incomplete as actions towards an object, but spiritual actions are complete in that sense; however, they are incomplete as expressions of the agent's essence. Hence the spirit proceeds from object-to-object rationally in a process which does not involve the addition of material impediments.

Chad Handley said...

I have dozens of questions about this, most pertinently, how does Aquinas know that angels are merely compositions of intellect and will and nothing else? Or I guess what I'm getting at is, how does he know that in the absence of a body, all that is available to a non-physical being is will and intellect? Perhaps there are other capacities that could be possessed by a non-physical being that could allow them to change, capacities that we are unaware of or even incapable of conceiving.

I also wonder how purgatory is supposed to work given this doctrine. Presumably, those in purgatory have also died, and so if the decisive choice happens the moment of death, are also "locked in" to their choices. So, how could such people benefit from purgatory? Are they somehow not separated from their bodies at death?

But leaving that aside, it just seems this doctrine is very nearly anti-Christian, at least inasmuch as it makes Christ's work on the cross secondary, in terms of your salvation, from your habits. On this analysis, at best, all Christ's sacrifice accomplishes is enabling you to develop God-directed habits during this life. But at the end of the day, it is the habits you develop, not your trust in the all-sufficient grace of God, which will have the final say. This flies in the face of a belief that is very important, in the Protestant tradition at least, that it is never too late to turn to God, that it is impossible to go so far in your sinful ways that God cannot save you. By this analysis, it seems like it's entirely possible to become so sinful that Christ's work on the cross is insufficient to save you. Furthermore, it seems like the longer a person waits to turn to Christ, the least likely it is that they will be saved. It seems very unlikely that even a completely sincere deathbed repentance could suffice to save someone, if they have a lifetime of bad habits that very heavily determine their post-death "choice."

It seems to me that if all of this is true, God would have a very strong obligation to forestall death for all humans as long as possible, intervening with miracles when necessary. You speak of a man not warning a jogger that he is about to run into quicksand. Well, on that analysis, how much worse is God, who throughout history has allowed perhaps billions of people to die without any knowledge of him, knowing that their death sets their course irrevocably forever. Are we to believe all people who died without this knowledge were incapable of benefiting from it? You might say that in some sense those people have innate knowledge of the good and, since the good is God, have the same opportunities we have for salvation. But surely there are some who are able to see the good in Christ in a way that they could not innately, and thus were saved when they might otherwise have been lost. If death locks people in so firmly to a decision, wouldn't it be the most moral thing for God to do to make sure everyone hears the gospel before they die, and lives long enough to develop the proper habits to condition a correct choice?

Daniel Carriere said...

Hi Chad,

In fairness to Ed, he has explicitly left out of this discussion many related topics. As he says in the second paragraph (which I have reformatted as a numbered list):

A complete treatment of the subject would be complex, because there are a number of relevant subsidiary issues, some of them complex in themselves.
These issues include:
1. The difference between the supernatural end of the beatific vision and our merely natural end,
2. Hell as the loss of the supernatural end;
3. The difference between the sufferings of hell and the state of a soul either in limbo or in purgatory;
4. The precise nature of the sufferings of hell,
5. The different kinds and degrees of suffering corresponding to different vices;
6. What it is that makes a particular action – including actions modern people tend to regard as merely minor sins or not sins at all – mortally sinful or apt to result in damnation;
7. What can be known by way of purely philosophical analysis
8. What is known only via special divine revelation; the proper interpretation of various scriptural passages and the authority of the statements of various councils, popes, and saints;
9. What is wrong with various popular misconceptions which cloud the issues (crude images of devils with pitchforks and the like); and so forth.


But I certainly would be interested in knowing how purgatory fits in, given the way he characterizes being "locked in". And how grace fits in as well.

Cheers,
Daniel

Anonymous said...

I will post here Aquinas' thoughts on aeviternity (aevo):

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP/FP010.html#FPQ10A5THEP1

Chad Handley said...

I did see that, but in my view, purgatory's not a subject you can skip when presenting this case, as the case seems to rule purgatory out.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 6:08

Thanks for the link to Hart's article.

You write: “However, my main hang-up with Universalism is that it seems to rob the world of an absolutely indispensable deterrent to the worst expressions of human nature - namely, the threat of judgment and hell. Put starkly, I wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone believed in Universalism.”

In the human condition there is clearly a dynamic between beliefs, behavior, and the movement of the soul (towards a state of more virtue or more vice). Fear of punishment is a deterrent, but it is also an obstacle for attaining virtue and facilitates the soul's movement towards perdition. So we have two opposing forces. If so then in a world where everybody believes in Universalism people would be more virtuous but also lack one reason to avoid misbehaving. I feel pretty confident that on balance peoples' behavior would be better, and that such a world would therefore be preferable – not only in the salvific but also in the social sense. Interestingly enough as bulldog91 above observed this question is testable.

A greater issue I am thinking about is the effect on society if more Christians started taking Christ's commands seriously. What would happen if more people were to consider the lilies and not collect material goods, were to turn the other cheek, would give their cloak to those who want their shirt, and so on? Somebody suggested that in such a society the evil would rule. But I wonder.

Tony said...

"In medieval philosophy, voluntarism was championed by Avicebron, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. Intellectualism, on the other hand, is found in Averroes, Aquinas, and Eckhart... According to intellectualism, choices of the will result from that which the intellect recognizes as good; the will itself is determined. For voluntarism, by contrast, it is the will which determines which objects are good, and the will itself is indetermined."

Vincent, this passage from the Encyclopedia is either wrong or just woefully deficient. Aquinas definitely puts sin in the will, and also definitely puts the order of operations as (1) intellect knowing the good, (b) will acting to adhere to a good known. However, it is absolutely necessary to distinguish in order to get Aquinas right on this: the will is "determined" toward the good known by the intellect, as to genus only. The will is utterly unable to adhere to a thing under the aspect of evil, it can only choose a thing under the aspect of good. However, the will is NOT determined toward this or that good, it is radically FREE to choose good A versus good B if both are known under the aspect of good. In this sense, it is not determined. However, the will is designed as not "free" with respect to one good under one aspect: If the intellect knows God precisely under the aspect of the whole good that encompasses every possible desirable in every shade, the will is not able to depart from THAT good by choice for some other. But this latter is not a lack of freedom, it is FULLEST freedom, the freedom of the saints who are confirmed in beatitude such that they know they cannot lose it, as they cannot will an evil which would be consonant with losing it.

Like us in this life, the angels did not have the Beatific Vision at the moment of their first choice, which is why they were able to choose ill:

(I:63:6) I answer that, There is a twofold opinion on this point. But the more probable one, which is also more in harmony with the teachings of the Saints, is that the devil sinned at once after the first instant of his creation. This must be maintained if it be held that he elicited an act of free-will in the first instant of his creation, and that he was created in grace; as we have said (I:62:3. For since the angels attain beatitude by one meritorious act, as was said above (I:62:5), if the devil, created in grace, merited in the first instant, he would at once have received beatitude after that first instant, if he had not placed an impediment by sinning.

(I:62:8) I answer that, The beatified angels cannot sin. The reason for this is, because their beatitude consists in seeing God through His essence. Now, God's essence is the very essence of goodness. Consequently the angel beholding God is disposed towards God in the same way as anyone else not seeing God is to the common form of goodness. Now it is impossible for any man either to will or to do anything except aiming at what is good; or for him to wish to turn away from good precisely as such. Therefore the beatified angel can neither will nor act, except as aiming towards God. Now whoever wills or acts in this manner cannot sin. Consequently the beatified angel cannot sin.

George LeSauvage said...

Inevitably, the problem of evil pops up, but I can't think why. The trouble is that it just isn't the right sort of argument to employ here; even if accepted fully, it won't bear the load expected of it.

By its nature, it offers reason to doubt. As such, it is a legitimate answer to Paley or Kant, or to anyone else who offers, not a demonstration, but grounds for rational belief. But that isn't true for Thomists, who believe God's existence is provable. (Devotees of the Ontological Argument are, in this respect, akin to Thomists.) The difference is that classical theists are arguing from something known (or at least, purportedly known), and not simply from belief. Therefore the grounds claimed for that knowledge is what must be attacked. The rest is immaterial.

But the most the argument from evil can say is that we cannot see how a God who is omnipotent, benevolent, etc, can bring about good from evil. That is, that we cannot see how a creation in which no one is damned can measure up to a creation in which some are. But that's not disproof unless one can see the entirety of creation, and show the contradiction. And we cannot. "I don't see how" or "It violates my sense of right and wrong" just won't do.

It's a bit analogous to someone who, taking geometry, cannot accept that there are the same number of points in a 1-inch line and a 1-foot line. Sure, it's unintuitive, but we have good, demonstrable reasons to believe it true. Scientists often have to deal with this, as to historians of ideas, economists, and pretty much everyone else who deals with anything which seeps into the popular consciousness. (It can be very hard to get someone to see that, because of inflation, his higher nominal wage is lower than it was when he made 3/4 as much.)

The most it can show is that the theist doesn't have all the answers (which almost all theists will affirm as true), not that the answers he does have are false.

George LeSauvage said...

An entirely separate matter: Perhaps one of the main punishments is the persistence in an orientation to a good which cannot be achieved. Don Juan can no longer seduce. And I've long suspected that the demons themselves are punished by their proximity by humans in Hell who, however fallen, retain a relation to the Incarnate Christ to which they cannot approximate. Rough on pride, I'd say. (But I won't insist on that.)

I also suspect that much of the problem people have with damnation is based on an assumption that eternity in the afterlife is like a long time here, but longer. I don't see that as necessarily so. But here I'm stabbing in the dark.

Jeremy Taylor said...


However, my main hang-up with Universalism is that it seems to rob the world of an absolutely indispensable deterrent to the worst expressions of human nature - namely, the threat of judgment and hell. Put starkly, I wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone believed in Universalism.

Well, I think there is universalism and universalism. There is the sort of universalism that says everyone will eventually be saved, whether they wish it or not. This sort of universalism is contrary to Church teaching. Then there is the kind of universalism that says that it is possible that those in hell might be saved, though they must wish to be, just as those on earth might wish to be. This kind of universalism is not explicitly condemned, at least in Eastern Christianity. The latter was held by some Church Fathers.

Tony said...

Or the much simpler universalism of grace superabundant: God may simply, at the moment of each person's death, give them so much grace drawing them to the good that they, each and every one of them, want to do the right thing and choose aright. This doesn't deny that "everyone who deserves to go to hell does", nor that "some sins unrepented are deserving of hell", because everyone repents.

It simply flies in the face of the normal implications of dozens of passages in the Bible that indicate people are going to hell, and which are supported by dozens of private revelations to saints that people have gone to hell.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy says [i]"Then there is the kind of universalism that says that it is possible that those in hell might be saved, though they must wish to be, just as those on earth might wish to be. This kind of universalism is not explicitly condemned, at least in Eastern Christianity."[/i]

Aren't you describing a square circle? In aeviternity, how can the will in the same act choose God and also reject Him?

No-one is in Hell against their will. Those who choose Hell find it infinitely preferable to the surrender of self that is necessary in order to behold God face to face.

Understood correctly, the existence of eternal Hell is a manifestation of God's eternal mercy. He so respects the choice of his spiritual creatures (who by nature are immortal) that he gives us what (or who) we truly and most deeply want.

For the damned, the fires of hell are vastly preferable to entering the infinitely intense blazing furnace that is the Godhead. So intense is the fire of God's love (ie being) that no created being could possibly survive it for even one femtosecond without supernatural grace.

It's why the highest order of creatures before The-Infinite-Fire-Who-is-God are called Seraphim, literally "burning ones".

So, those in Hell might have a torrid time, with wailing and gnashing of teeth. But hell's pangs are for them far preferable to the intolerable agony (as they see it) of subordinating their entire selves to the infinite furnace that is God.

The root disorder in the damned is that they choose themselves as the centre of creation rather than the One Who Is.

There are only three ways God can deal with that choice: 1. Override their free will and force the beatific vision on them, or 2. Respect it and grant their desire, or 3. Snuff them out of existence at some point, thereby making the problem disappear.

Options 1 and 3 necessarily entail God acting against his own nature, so they're in fact not possible.

Hell really is what an infinitely merciful and loving God allows.

[aw]

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tony,

The Bible, however, doesn't state hell is eternal. It uses the word aionios, which more nearly means perpetual.

Anon,

Do we not, in part at least, wish for the good? Is God not the good?

Anonymous said...

Jeremy asks: "Do we not, in part at least, wish for the good? Is God not the good?"

God is indeed the good. The self is a good. Evil ignores the importance of the definite article, ie the hierarchy of being, allowing the indefinite article to trump the definite. ;)

In other words, sin and ultimately damnation are not about choosing evil per se but about loving a lower good over a higher one, a contingent one over a necessary one, &c, &c.

When it comes to the most fundamental choice of all -- God or Self? -- the created will that chooses self as first tumbles into the ontological and epistemological contra/intraverse we call hell.

[aw]

Tomislav Ostojich said...

Feser, You are inventing imaginative excuses for eternal damnation when your definition of God means He has ALL MEANS at his disposal to teach, purge, enlighten, influence and heal the merely finite beings He has created. Rather than see them suffer for eternity.

"One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?' But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:19-24)

Respecting God as infinitely wise and infinitely powerful is the beginning of wisdom. However, most people despise wisdom and prefer folly. Those in Hell have only heard a rumor of wisdom. (Job 28:22) They only have a faint idea that everything they did apart from God's power is worthless, but not true understanding.

Anonymous said...

Tomislav, I think Ed would strongly affirm with you the basic point that God uses His infinite love and power to do all He can for the salvation of every single person. If not, He is a monster. We Christians affirm that God's "everything possible" is done through, in, and by the Incarnate Word, crucified on our account and for our hail.

But not even God can accomplish what is a metaphysical impossibility: the involuntary turning of a vicious will into a virtuous one.

Again (as I posted way above), what you are not sufficiently appreciating is that damnation arises through a disordered act of the will, not the intellect. Persons are not damned because of a want of data or education to illumine the intellect.

Much of modern utopianism buys into this same error, that sin is really an intellectual error, to be abolished through programs that address the mind (eg education). It is not. Education (as we moderns conceive it) can't cure a disordered will. Only the practise of virtue can - a habituation to freely choosing the good.

Satan and the damned are in hell not because of a want of data or knowledge of the truth. They are there precisely because, despite knowing the truth, they choose a lower good over a higher one.

[aw]

stephen castleden said...

I would like you to write an article on how many angels fit on the head of a pin. It would be fascinating! A great follow up to your writing about whether animals go to heaven.

Step2 said...

But not even God can accomplish what is a metaphysical impossibility: the involuntary turning of a vicious will into a virtuous one.

God caused the involuntary hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, so why is it metaphysically impossible to involuntarily turn the hearts of the vicious?

Anonymous said...

Stephen Castleden said: "God caused the involuntary hardening of the heart of Pharaoh".

How do you know it was involuntary? The action of God's will here might well be His permissive will, in much the same way that he 'causes' the sword to decapitate a martyr -- the metal sword acts exactly as God intends his physical universe to operate.

God intends those creatures will intellect and will to make free moral decisions. If those decisions are not free then they cannot be moral or immoral.

[aw]

DNW said...

"stephen castleden said...

I would like you to write an article on how many angels fit on the head of a pin. It would be fascinating! A great follow up to your writing about whether animals go to heaven.

October 31, 2016 at 3:57 AM"



It's already been treated elsewhere.

See Wiki ...

... and its cited link.

"Whether an angel can be in several places at once?"


By the way, while I have no definite opinions on the matter myself, as other commenters on this blog might expect, I view the atheist nominalist's moral indignation at the thought that others might be indifferent to his frying in hell forever, to be a bit of a hoot. Seinfeld treated aspects of this question rather entertainingly, as I recall.

There are a number of very queer tales of supposed life after death experiences involving a brush with Hell, on the Internet ... for anyone interested. Some more noteworthy subset of them - placed up by people who should not apparently have any philosophical background - nonetheless relate strikingly interesting "observations" concerning: 1, time and its special relevance for enabling moral action; 2, a reduction to a psychological state stripped of excuses during a confrontation with Truth; 3, the unavoidable and undeniable realization that at some level they freely chose their strategies during life; 4, the understanding that their manner of being, set as it was outside of time and capable of no further change, made them unfit for entrance into the light.

Make of it what you will. It is at the very least curious bit of psychology, containing startling and repeating patterns which despite their differences in detail, amount to an oddly consistent context or framework.

Don Wachtel said...

It would be cruel of God to force on a soul the Eternal Beatific Vision if that soul refused to acknowledge God as his ultimate end. Heaven would be Hell for the soul. In charity and justice the soul is granted it's own place, eternal separation.

Step2 said...

How do you know it was involuntary?

Because God personally claims to be the cause, not through some indirect permissive will but a direct intervention.

God intends those creatures with intellect and will to make free moral decisions. If those decisions are not free then they cannot be moral or immoral.

If one doesn't have knowledge of good and evil it cannot be available to the intellect and thus impossible to make a free moral decision. Therefore original sin wasn't a sin. Tangentially, there is also the whole category of irresistible grace.

DNW said...

Speaking of Hell, and incidental encounters. As I mentioned before, one of the earliest unintentionally sought and most surprising references I came across, derived from Bede's Ecclesiastical History.

Some here will recall Dry[h]thelm's account of his resurrection from the dead and what he experienced.

Some might be surprised at what amounts to a 7th English century folk rendering of the doctrine of purgatory. Either Gregory the Great's idea had already become established widely and yeomen of this era were taught better and more deeply than I ever imagined, or something else is in play.

What what especially curious was his description of damned souls temporarily swept up from the depths of the pit like flaming sparks conveyed within the midst of bubbles of plasma or fire; only to fall back into the absolute darkness.

Where he could have gotten such rich imagery is beyond me. And how 1400 years later Catholic schoolgirl visionaries in Iberia would come up with very similar images is hard to figure. I cannot imagine that they ever read Bede.

Maybe there is a Catholic saint somewhere who describes such scenes, and is widely read by the faithful.

I don't pretend to know.

DNW said...


Read: What what especially curious was

as

"What was especially curious ..."

DNW said...

A quick web search provided the odd parallel I had in mind:

Drythelm recorded in Bede as from the 7th century:

" “When he had conducted me, much frightened with that horrid spectacle, by degrees, to the farther end, on a sudden I saw the place begin to grow dusk and filled with darkness. When I came into it, the darkness, by degrees, grew so thick, that I could see nothing besides it and the shape and garment of him that led me. As we went on through the shades of night, on a sudden there appeared before us frequent globes of black flames, rising as it were out of a great pit, and falling back again into the same. When I had been conducted thither, my leader suddenly vanished, and left me alone in the midst of darkness and this horrid vision, whilst those same globes of fire, without intermission, at one time flew up and at another fell back into the bottom of the abyss; and I observed that all the flames, as they ascended, were full of human souls, which, like sparks flying up with smoke, were sometimes thrown on high, and again, when the vapor of the fire ceased, dropped down into the depth below. Moreover, an insufferable stench came forth with the vapors, and filled all those dark places."

The Iberian girl I was trying to reference was apparently Lucy of the Fatima visionaries:


"Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright ..."



Interesting, "n'est–ce pas?"

Glenn said...

Step2,

God caused the involuntary hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, so why is it metaphysically impossible to involuntarily turn the hearts of the vicious?

Pharaoh made a deal with Moses and Aaron regarding the removal of frogs (1). They upheld their end of the deal (2), but he reneged on his end of it (3).

(1) "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the Lord, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord." Exodus 8

(2) Well, "Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the Lord because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields."

(3) "But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them[.]"

Clearly: a) Pharaoh dealt dishonestly with Moses and Aaron; b) God did not cause an involuntary hardening of Pharaoh's heart; c) Pharaoh voluntarily hardened his own heart; and, d) Pharaoh voluntarily reneged when it came time to make good on his end of the very deal which he himself had initiated.

Pharaoh later made a similar deal with Moses regarding the removal of flies. Moses advised Pharaoh to not again deal dishonestly (4), and though he, Moses, went on to uphold his end of the deal (5), Pharaoh yet again reneged on his end of the deal (6).

(4) "...but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord."

(5) "And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the Lord. And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one."

(6) "And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go."

Clearly: e) Pharaoh dealt dishonestly with Moses; f) God did not cause an involuntary hardening of Pharaoh's heart; g) Pharaoh voluntarily hardened his own heart; and, h) Pharaoh once again voluntarily reneged when it came time to make good on his end of the very deal which he himself had initiated.

Given that all of the above is from Exodus 8, it seems obvious that Pharaoh had habituated himself to dealing dishonestly and deceitfully, hardening his own heart, and unscrupulously reneging on his own deals before the beginning of Exodus 9.

What do we find in Exodus 9?

We find Pharaoh up to his usual dirty tricks (7).

(7) "[W]hen Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go[.]"

Now, true though it is that Exodus 9 says, "And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh", it is also true that Exodus 9 says that only after Exodus 8 had made clear that it was Pharaoh who was hardening his own heart, and it is also true that Exodus 9 later has Pharaoh doing the very thing he was reported to have done multiple times in Exodus 8 -- hardening his own heart (see (7) above).

So: i) Pharaoh had at least several opportunities not to harden his own heart; j) Pharaoh did not avail himself of any one of those opportunities; and, k) blame / responsibility for the consequences stemming from Pharaoh's failure to avail himself of any of the several opportunities he had had not to harden his own heart falls on him, and not on God.

Lazarus said...

What an awful, dreadful essay, Dr. Feser.

And I'm one of your big fans. Disappointing.

The less said the better.

Greg said...

Ed writes:

Now, what choice is a soul likely to make immediately upon death? Obviously, the passions and appetites that dominated it in life are bound to push it very strongly in one direction or another.

Doesn't the question of which choice the soul will make immediately upon death entirely ride on the question of whether or not the soul has charity? Man only takes God as his final end if he has charity, and he only can have charity by divine infusion. Before enjoying the beatific vision--in which the charitable soul cannot but recognize its object--charity can be freely lost through mortal sin.

The passions and habituation to sin play an indirect role here. Someone habituated to vice will be less prepared to accept God's grace and to cooperate with the means necessary to entering a state of grace (i.e., sacramental confession).

And perhaps we can also say: while it's true that a person who possesses charity will also be infused with every other virtue, there is perhaps a sense in which people who struggle with, say, sins of the flesh have a kind of habituation to them even after going to confession. We'd perhaps have to say that such is a kind of psychological habituation, perhaps pre-rational, so that they are not full-fledged vices, which could not coexist with infused virtue. Just as the wayfarer can mortally sin because he can't yet see the beatific vision, he can turn away from his real, infused virtues on account of a sort of sub-rational habituation that doesn't rise to the level of vice.

Anonymous said...

The Catechism is clear that habit, anxiety, and social pressures may reduce culpability to a minimum.

Tony said...

Tomislav, I think Ed would strongly affirm with you the basic point that God uses His infinite love and power to do all He can for the salvation of every single person. If not, He is a monster. We Christians affirm that God's "everything possible" is done through, in, and by the Incarnate Word, crucified on our account and for our hail.

But not even God can accomplish what is a metaphysical impossibility: the involuntary turning of a vicious will into a virtuous one.


@ Anonymous Oct 31, 12:31 am,

That's not the classical Catholic teaching on the matter. The classic teaching is that God's power extends even to the foundations of the human will, so that if He chooses to put forth his power in grace, He can cause ANY sinner to want to repent, to want to turn to the good, to want God over all created things. He can do this infallibly if He so wills it.

The teaching on Providence is that God can and does will effectively that all that He decides should come about in a necessary fashion does come about in a necessary fashion, and all that He decides shall come about in a contingent manner does come about in a contingent manner, infallibly-but-not-by-necessary-causes.

(I:62:3) Reply to Objection 2. Every form inclines the subject after the mode of the subject's nature. Now it is the mode of an intellectual nature to be inclined freely towards the objects it desires. Consequently the movement of grace does not impose necessity; but he who has grace can fail to make use of it, and can sin.

(1:105:4) I answer that, As the intellect is moved by the object and by the Giver of the power of intelligence, as stated above (Article 3), so is the will moved by its object, which is good, and by Him who creates the power of willing. Now the will can be moved by good as its object, but by God alone sufficiently and efficaciously. For nothing can move a movable thing sufficiently unless the active power of the mover surpasses or at least equals the potentiality of the thing movable. Now the potentiality of the will extends to the universal good; for its object is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal being. But every created good is some particular good; God alone is the universal good. Whereas He alone fills the capacity of the will, and moves it sufficiently as its object. In like manner the power of willing is caused by God alone. For to will is nothing but to be inclined towards the object of the will, which is universal good. But to incline towards the universal good belongs to the First Mover, to Whom the ultimate end is proportionate; just as in human affairs to him that presides over the community belongs the directing of his subjects to the common weal. Wherefore in both ways it belongs to God to move the will; but especially in the second way by an interior inclination of the will.

Reply to Objection 1. A thing moved by another is forced if moved against its natural inclination; but if it is moved by another giving to it the proper natural inclination, it is not forced; as when a heavy body is made to move downwards by that which produced it, then it is not forced. In like manner God, while moving the will, does not force it, because He gives the will its own natural inclination.

Reply to Objection 2. To be moved voluntarily, is to be moved from within, that is, by an interior principle: yet this interior principle may be caused by an exterior principle; and so to be moved from within is not repugnant to being moved by another.

stephen castleden said...

Anonymous said:
Stephen Castleden said: "God caused the involuntary hardening of the heart of Pharaoh".

No I didn't.

Benevolent speculator said...

Part 1 of 2

Prof. Feser wrote:

"Just as an angel, immediately after its creation, either takes God as its ultimate end or something less than God as its ultimate end, so too does the disembodied human soul make the same choice immediately upon death."

An angel made that choice while being a free spirit. This is clearly not the case of a living human being, "for a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind" (Wisdom 9:15). Now, positing that the choice that "the disembodied human soul" makes "immediately upon death" must necessarily be the same choice the person was making while still burdened by the earthy tent is unwarranted, precisely because "the soul could (in principle) come to judge something else instead as a higher end or good than what it has opted for."

In turn, that change of judgment is possible because there may be (again, in principle) some "new knowledge which might change its course".

In turn, that new knowledge is possible because the fact that an unburdened soul "does not know discursively but rather in an all-at-once way, as an angel does" does not necessarily imply that it cannot receive some new data that it did not have in life, or even that it cannot ponder appropriately some data which it did have in life.

Of course, the reception of new data in that situation cannot occur through natural means, but to posit that God cannot give the just-unburdened soul any new data in order to allow it to make an informed decision is directly against divine omnipotence.

Benevolent speculator said...

Part 2 of 2

Now, we must take into account the following conciliar definitions:

COUNCIL OF LYON II (XIV Ecumenical), 1274, under Pope Gregory X:

"The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments" (DZ 464).

Council of Florence (XVII Ecumenical), Session 6. Laetentur Caeli, Bull of Union with the Greeks, issued on 6 July 1439 by Pope Eugene IV:

"Moreover, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell but to undergo punishments of different kinds" (DZ 693).

These definitions imply that God will not give the just-dead soul any new data in order to allow it to make an informed decision. Since this is not the same as stating that God cannot do it, the above argument does not contradict the definitions, although it seems not to have any practical relevance. However, it may have practical relevance if we "zoom in" into the time of death and speculate on the possibility of three subsecuent states:

1. Ordinary lifetime, during which "a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind".

2. Transition state, with the soul unburdened by, but still united to, the body.

3. Dead/departed, with the soul separated from the body.

In this speculation, death occurs between states 2 and 3. It is evident that speculating on the possibility that God may actually, and not just hypothetically, give a just-unburdened-but-still-not-dead soul some new data in order to allow it to make an informed decision does not contradict the magisterial definitions. It is also evident that, during a second for the rest of the physical universe, the time elapsed for the dying soul can be much, much longer. (After all, that's most probably what happened in Joshua 10:12-13: not the earth stopping in its rotation - or the sun in its translation, for the stubborn geocentric - but a change of timescale. From the viewpoint of the Israelites, not only the sun stood still, but also the falling drops of rain in Britain, if they could have seen them.)

Although this discussion has dealt mainly with hell, this speculation applies to the issue of limbo, and forms the basis for the illumination theory, according to which God reveals Himself and his love to the dying baby/infant and gives him the opportunity to make a decision. If he chooses God it is the same case as a baptism of desire, and the baby is infused sanctifying grace and reaches beatific vision.

Foobobble the Absurd said...

One line of argument for universalism is as follows: 1) God desires the salvation of all men. 2) God has the power to bring about the salvation of all men. 3) Therefore, all men will be saved. From a Catholic viewpoint, that He can do so without overriding free will is witnessed to by the immaculate conception of Mary, in which God's grace preserved Mary from sin without destroying her free will. If God can preveniently preserve Mary from sin can He not postveniently preserve us from eternal damnation, keeping our free will intact?

Anonymous said...

Because freedom and love are so integrally related, God would coerce no one into relationship, temporally or eternally. Hence, the possibility of separation from God remains a theoretic necessity and a concept like hell remains theologically indispensable. We're not required to believe, however, that anyone will necessarily go to hell, for all practical purposes. So, a universalism, properly considered, would not deny the theoretic possibility but would instead entertain the hope, even maintain a not wholly unreasonable suspicion, that, for all practical purposes, hell may well be empty. I'm not sure how well this may correspond with those early church fathers who taught apokatastasis or universal salvation. Those who've experienced God's love, mercy and compassion and who do not judge others' relationships to God, may reasonably hold forth the possibility that others may somehow be exculpable regarding any of their ostensible failures to cooperate with grace, because such failings, conceivably, may result --- not necessarily from sinful refusals, but --- quite possibly from inabilities rooted in human finitude.

To reject a practical universalism on pragmatic grounds perhaps says less about God and more about one's own (early) stage of moral development.

God's love is so efficacious, I suspect all will eventually be seduced but with no hint of coercion.

Crude said...

1) God desires the salvation of all men. 2) God has the power to bring about the salvation of all men.

1 would need to be unpacked. Does God desire the salvation of all men, full stop, one way or the other? Or does God desire salvation for all men the same way God desires all men do good and avoid evil, which nevertheless allows for their doing otherwise, clearly? The latter seems - given the references to damnation in the bible - more likely on the surface.

In fact, the talk of damnation and the eternal nature of it in the Bible seems to be all we need to conclude - given the Bible and Church teaching - that hell's quite real, as is damnation, and that it seems people are going there.

I know some have a tendency to respond 'That's unfair' and 'But that leaves me with a lot of questions', which makes some emotional sense to a point - I can see why people would be worried and anxious and so on. But what makes even more sense is God's answer to Job regarding such things.

Some - perhaps many - are damned. The Bible will tell you as much before the Church does. If that's the case, we're not arguing our way out of that. All we can do is trust God on the ultimates and move on. Philosophy can help us understand it - Feser, as always, writes a damn good article on that front - but it makes no promises on giving us the rosiest picture. Thankfully I realized I wasn't worshiping a smiley face a while ago.

(It all puts to mind an image of someone being flung into hell while yelling 'Wait, you can't do this, didn't you read my argument?!')

Crude said...

To reject a practical universalism on pragmatic grounds perhaps says less about God and more about one's own (early) stage of moral development.

To insist that God must save all because God either saves everyone or is a moral monster says one heck of a lot more about one's stage of development, moral and intellectual.

"If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

Who would advise self-mutilation so as to avoid hellfire? Somehow I suspect 'someone at lesser stage of moral development than I, the enlightened who best knows God' won't fly.

Gyan said...

Tony,
"the will is NOT determined toward this or that good, it is radically FREE to choose good A versus good B if both are known under the aspect of good."
Yout explanation cleared certain perplexity I had regarding this free will matter. But again the problem re-emerges:
The intellect can make determination as which good is higher:A or B. Then, is the will too determined or is the will free to disregard the determination made by the intellect that A is higher good than B?

That is, is the only thing required by the will is that intellect inform it that a choice A is good or bad. The will is not free to choose bad choices but it can choose any good choice irrespective of its ranking within the hierarchy of possible good choices? Am I getting it right?

Gyan said...

Feser discussion is remarkably like the Buddhist picture given, for example in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There, the newly departed soul is visited by or sees good and bad gods or spirits. It needs to follow a good spirit in order to get a good rebirth. The book of the Dead describes good spirits so that a person can recognize which ones to follow. Also, the soul is helped is this task by prayers said by the mourners, also given in the book.

Scott W. said...

The less said the better.

Well, you ought to supply at least some rational basis for your opinion because otherwise it is at best concern trolling.

Tony said...

That is, is the only thing required by the will is that intellect inform it that a choice A is good or bad. The will is not free to choose bad choices but it can choose any good choice irrespective of its ranking within the hierarchy of possible good choices? Am I getting it right?

Gyan, I think that is right. Except that the will is NOT free to about whether to choose A when A is presented under the aspect of "the good as such", i.e. the universal good. Therefore, before beatitude, during our time of trial, we DON'T see God directly as under the aspect of "the universal good", because we cannot see him as he is in himself, we can only grasp him through created goods, which leaves our understanding deficient. Which is why we are able to choose lesser goods.

Éamonn said...

Re: Abbot Vonier - There are a few of his works here https://archive.org/search.php?query=Vonier

Anonymous said...

RE:To insist that God must save all because God either saves everyone or is a moral monster says one heck of a lot more about one's stage of development, moral and intellectual. <<<

In my defense of a practical universalism, I only referenced a loving God and made explicit that this conception was not inconsistent with the reality of hell. If you found an implicit argument in my defense that even remotely suggested that God would have to be a moral monster to not save everyone, then please show your work and explain why you have not facilely caricatured my god-concept and rashly judged my intellectual and moral development.

Those who would dare to hope that all may be saved may consult the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jacques Maritain, Edith Stein, Richard John Neuhaus or Karl Rahner, none which articulate an unorthodox theoretic universalism, all which would be consistent with this statement:

"Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of WHETHER or which human beings are effectively involved in it." ~ Pope JPII, General Audience, July 28, 1999

Step2 said...

Glenn,
Thanks for your response, but of ten plagues there were three instances where Pharaoh's condition was explicitly claimed as being caused by God and not by Pharaoh: boils, locust, and darkness. The locust and darkness were also cases where Pharaoh was trying to diminish or refute the demands being made by Moses, but God claims the credit for hardening his heart. There were three more plagues and one wondrous sign (rod transform to snake) where the direct cause isn't mentioned, but in those cases the presumption should be trusting what God claims in both Exodus 4:21 and in Exodus 7:3 before Moses ever met with Pharaoh.

Going back to the original comment, I still don't understand why it is metaphysically impossible for God to turn the hearts of the vicious. Sure, God intends a "natural moral freedom" so to speak for humans, but it doesn't mean that natural order cannot be suspended in the same way miracles suspend laws of physics and in that sense violate God's general intent. It also seems strange to talk about an infinite being having any intrinsic restraints relating to finite creatures unless those restraints involve an inescapable contradiction.

Anonymous said...

How might one distinguish this account from fundamental option theory?

It seems to be an articulation of the fundamental option, properly considered, such that, while one might not commit a mortal sin without, in the same instance, changing one's fundamental option, one may, indeed, commit a gravely wrong act, exculpably, without changing one's fundamental option?

Crude said...

If you found an implicit argument in my defense that even remotely suggested that God would have to be a moral monster to not save everyone,

I found it implicit in your suggestion that people who are objecting to universalism are not sufficiently far along the imaginary moral-enlightenment gradient. If you want to throw barbs out like that, accept that people may have a barb or two to toss in turn.

Hope's one thing. Fine hope, that. And arguments are another, plainly stated. But there is this tendency among univeralists, practical and actual, to act as if skeptics of universalism are personally responsible for pitching people into hell, and if they'd just get out of the way (and subscribe to the latest definition of loving) everyone would be saved. It's tiring.

If warning about the dire and quite live risk of damnation is distasteful, then Christ is the first on the list to register the complaints with.

And so long as moral development and meanness and motivations have come up, I'll add - I cannot help but wonder if one motivating factor behind pondering universalism is really just one's soulful wrestling with the idea of a good God damning anyone. Another and more front-row issue seems to be the awkward idea of having to acknowledge that some people - friends and family more than ourselves - are at risk for divine punishment. As Miss Manners said, admitting that is the equivalent of taking a big dump in the middle of the tea party. (I'm paraphrasing from memory.)

People ending up in hell due to a final decision which cannot be revoked or eternal devotion to ones' sins? Possibly disturbing, but if one accepts that God is omnipotent, just accepting it and trusting in God can go a long way. Having to admit - among friends or family, or worse, in public - that unrepentant sinner X is at risk for divine punishment? One hell of a lot harder to cope with at times.

Crude said...

Putting aside the universalism disputes for a bit - what I think is really fascinating in Ed's post is the discussion about how angels 'operate'. It's got more theological infused than the normal philosophical arguments, but just getting an outline of how these beings think and experience, for lack of a better term, is pretty neat.

Also interesting to see that the resurrection of the body is dealt with too, which I'm used to normally being missing from this particular discussion.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Step2

>Thanks for your response, but of ten plagues there were three instances where Pharaoh's condition was explicitly claimed as being caused by God and not by Pharaoh: boils, locust, and darkness.

This is a Catholic Blog Step, get that Sola Scriptura, perspicuity of Scripture & private interpretation neo-Luther nonsense out of here. It is not wanted or presupposed by Catholics(& Eastern Orthodox and Rabbinic Jews) when they(we) interpret the Scripture.

God is the formal cause of Evil in that he creates free beings that freely choose evil & in that sense can be claimed to cause the evil free moral created beings freely choose. But that is it. He is not the efficient cause of Evil. He does not will on behalf of or instead of Pharaoh.

You should know by now from my past aggressive scoldings that nonsense will not fly here so cut it out. Or too put in simply. Any interpretation you give of Scripture contrary to the Church is A Priori wrong and question begging.

As to the rest of your response those are worthy objections and questions I will let others answer.

Dane Parker said...

^^This. Hate to disagree with Ed, but universalism seems to "get it" better than the alternatives.

John West said...

Going back to the original comment, I still don't understand why it is metaphysically impossible for God to turn the hearts of the vicious

The reasoning is probably something like: if Thomism, the principle of potency in an entity is its matter, and all alterational change involves the actualization of one of said potencies.* If Thomas on angels, angels have no matter. So if Thomism, angels can't undergo alterational change.

But if an angel can't undergo alterational change and changing its orientation would require alterational change, that means its orientation can't be changed.

(So, since the pharaoh was a material substance that could still undergo alterational change, God's changing his heart isn't a counterexample to Ed's analysis of why God can't change angels' or post-mortem human substances' orientations.)

*Existential change doesn't require matter: angels can still come into and go out of existence.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

The Universalists seem to believe God is somehow obligated to save all from finalizing their wills to immutibly choose damnation. He is not.

One should read Fr. Brian Davies(whom Feser often cites) and disabuse themselves of that notion. Also as Aquina argues God is not obligated to create and there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds.

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html


God is not a moral agent and is therefore not morally imperfect

In trying to demonstrate that God is not a moral agent, Davies draws our attention to the premise that God is 'Being Itself'. Yet for Davies if God is Being Itself (something which classical theism insists) something has to be done to distinguish Him from all beings otherwise He could not be 'God' in the classical sense. You should remember that classical theism puts forward a God who is 'transcendent' and therefore is removed or apart from His creation. For Davies the only way we can do this is to deny that God is ‘a being alongside other beings' and if He is not ‘a being etc' we cannot say that He is morally good or bad as we can say with human beings.

A second reason for denying that classical theism is committed to regarding God as a moral agent brings us to the notion of obligation and duty. It is often said that a moral agent is someone able to do his duty, someone capable of living up to his obligations. Yet for Davies it is very difficult to see how the God of classical theism can be thought of as having duties and obligations. These normally confront people in social contexts, in contexts where there are other people around. Thus, I have a duty and obligation to turn up to work (something which my employer pays me to do) and you have a duty and obligation to come to my lessons in order that you may successfully pass your philosophy exam!

Like Brian Davies, Huw Parri Owen takes up the view that the God of classical theism is not bound by such expectations. Owen writes: "God's creative act is free in so far as it is neither externally constrained nor necessary for the fulfilment of His own life." It must follow then that if God has no obligations or duties, then we need not think of Him as being a 'moral agent.



God is not obligated to save anybody from finalizing their will toward a lesser good (thus damning them) but God has in fact given sufficient grace to all men/women to be saved. So salvation is a real possibility for everyone (even Pharoh). This is the mystery of divine sovereignty and free will.

Crude said...

Putting aside the Biblical references, the philosophical arguments and more - the end sentiment behind universalism or universalism-lite always seems to be, 'Well, irreversible torment just doesn't seem nice. Would a loving God really do that?'

But if that's the motivating sentiment - and if the sentiment isn't going to be checked - then it looks like the most reasonable solution is to suggest not that everyone is saved, but that Hell may be tolerable-enough for the damned, either immediately or for all time. Granted, there may be intellectual roadblocks there too - the Bible or tradition - but it's not like universalism breaks past those easily as is, and there seem to be less involved. Eternal justice, even with eternal mercy - but mercy doesn't mean salvation necessarily. Just a lesser punishment and misery even on the eternal timeline.

I can imagine right away why this isn't emphasized, but partly it's because of an acknowledgment that this kind of solution being a live option robs hell of the punch some universalists demand. The emotional case for universalism is easier to make the more Hellraiser-esque damnation is portrayed as.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

On that note.


Since having being is good. God graciously lets the damned have their being instead of ending their existence.

Meister Eckhart once said even the damned in Hell after a long time would recognize and take some delight in having being the last bit of goodness God leaves them with, unconditionally.

Bayou Catholic said...

How is it that one single act of sin can lead to persoon choosing something other than God as their ultimate good? The way the argument is phrased it almost seems as if the ultimate choice requires some degree of habituation. And even then it seems as if there is merely some probability that the disembodied human soul will make the wrong decision. Isn't the ultimate decision made by being in a state of sanctifying grace at the time of death?

Glenn said...

Step 2,

...the presumption should be trusting what God claims in both Exodus 4:21 and in Exodus 7:3 before Moses ever met with Pharaoh.

This expands the scope of the context of what I had originally responded to, so my response now takes a different tack.

If the presumption should be trusting what God claims in both Exodus 4:21 and in Exodus 7:3 before Moses ever met with Pharaoh, then we need to recognize the difference between an end and what is accidental to that end, and thus recognize both that the end is that the Egyptians shall know that He is the LORD (Exodus 7:3-5) and that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21 and 7:3) is accidental to that end.

Going back to the original comment, I still don't understand why it is metaphysically impossible for God to turn the hearts of the vicious. Sure, God intends a "natural moral freedom" so to speak for humans, but it doesn't mean that natural order cannot be suspended in the same way miracles suspend laws of physics and in that sense violate God's general intent. It also seems strange to talk about an infinite being having any intrinsic restraints relating to finite creatures unless those restraints involve an inescapable contradiction.

Anonymous has already said on October 31, 2016 at 8:20 AM that, "God intends those creatures wi[th] intellect and will to make free moral decisions. If those decisions are not free then they cannot be moral or immoral", and St. Thomas wrote long before that that, "All good things that exist God wills to be. If therefore His will imposes necessity on things willed, it follows that all good happens of necessity; and thus there is an end of free will, counsel, and all other such things." ST 1.19.8

Now, that doesn't directly address your 'suspension' question, so let it be supposed that at the time of my death my life will have been such that hell is the right and proper destination (i.e., state) for me, and let it also be supposed that, though hell is the right and proper destination/state for me, God, being God, can suspend whatever needs to be suspended in order that I wind up in heaven rather than in hell.

Well, why should He do that in my case? If He does do that in my case, why not also do it in the case of some others? If He does do that in the case of some others, why not also do it in the case of all others? If He does do that in the case of all others, have we not arrived at there being "an end of free will, counsel, and all other such things"?

Now, let it be further supposed that God never doesn't do that, and that He doesn't always do that, i.e., that God only sometimes or occasionally suspends whatever needs to be suspended in order that some entity otherwise bound for hell winds up in heaven instead.

This supposed case, however attractive it may seem, still amounts to "an end of free will, counsel, and all other such things" for the entity involved.

Glenn said...

(...let it be further supposed that God never doesn't do that, and that He doesn't always do that...

(Ugh. That is confusing, and, even if its meaning could be figured out, doesn't convey what I meant to say. This isn't confusing, and does convey what I mean to say: "...let it be further supposed that it isn't the case that God never does that, and it isn't the case that He always does that...")

John West said...

My bad. I find it hard to keep track of combox discussions, and didn't realize this one is about why God doesn't alter our orientations right before death.

(Not meant to be sarcastic.)

Anonymous said...

True mercy is forgiveness granted to the contrite. For example, to be merciful to a criminal who performs some act of penance, who is in no way contrite and intends to return to his crimes, is only apparent mercy granted by an imperfect judge. So, it seems that those who are damned are in no way contrite because God is a perfect judge and His mercy is true. The damned then must never become contrite and must always be perfectly satisfied with their own criminal intentions, though never with the attainment of any benefit or object sought through those intentions.

Perhaps one who is damned is one who constantly seeks some unattainable object in an insane manner? There state of mind is not comprehensible since every element of sanity and reason has given way. The damned mustn't ever be contrite and so they must be perfectly satisfied in one respect and yet perfectly unsatisfied in the other. This appears to be perfectly incoherent.

Crude said...

Anon,

Perhaps one who is damned is one who constantly seeks some unattainable object in an insane manner?

Well, you won't have to go far to find people insisting that they'd rather spend eternity in hell than bow down to a God who (insert some standard the omnipotent, omniscient First Cause failed to meet.) Granted, they seem entirely willing to endure any authority who offers imminent punishment, but there you go.

I'm not sure complete insanity is necessary. In fact, if I read Ed right, it seems to just be what they thereafter 'are', without pertinent change. Wondering what damned people are willing to settle for in Hell is an interesting question.

Greg said...

@ Bayou Catholic

How is it that one single act of sin can lead to persoon choosing something other than God as their ultimate good?

See my post on October 31, 2016 at 11:01 AM. I don't see how one can get this result without the theological virtue of charity. For Aquinas, it takes infused charity for one to take God as his ultimate good--charity is necessary and sufficient for this--and theological virtues are unlike natural virtues in that they can be lost in a single action.

@ Anonymous (November 1, 2016 at 7:54 AM)

How might one distinguish this account from fundamental option theory?

See the same post. Fundamental option theory will contradict Aquinas's account of how charity can be lost through a single mortal sin, or else it will contradict his account of how one only takes God as his final end if one has charity.

jaime lopez said...

So, God, It seems to me wasn't all good after all, since Angels knew God's nature and they understood The Trinity and they rejected anyway, Not good.

Crude said...

So, God, It seems to me wasn't all good after all, since Angels knew God's nature and they understood The Trinity and they rejected anyway,

Some did, and some didn't. It's almost as if God wasn't the issue here, eh?

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>So, God, It seems to me wasn't all good after all, since Angels knew God's nature and they understood The Trinity and they rejected anyway, Not good.

Tradition tells us prior too the War in Heaven they had the Angelic equivalent of sanctifying Grace but not the Beatific Vision (direct vision of God). After the War in Heaven the good Angels where rewarded with the Beatific Vision and now cannot sin or rebel.

jaime lopez said...

"War in Heaven" war? in Heaven? How's that? Don't get me wrong. I really want to know it, sincerely

jaime lopez said...

"Tradition tells us PRIOR too the War in Heaven" "AFTER the War in Heaven" Is there any kind of time or "prior" "after" anything in heaven? That does NOT MAKE ANY SENSE

Tony said...

Jaime, angels are not absolutely non-temporal like God. God is eternal in and of himself. But angels experience aeviternity: W

(1:10:5) We say then that since eternity is the measure of a permanent being, in so far as anything recedes from permanence of being, it recedes from eternity. Now some things recede from permanence of being, so that their being is subject to change, or consists in change; and these things are measured by time, as are all movements, and also the being of all things corruptible. But others recede less from permanence of being, forasmuch as their being neither consists in change, nor is the subject of change; nevertheless they have change annexed to them either actually or potentially. This appears in the heavenly bodies, the substantial being of which is unchangeable; and yet with unchangeable being they have changeableness of place. The same applies to the angels, who have an unchangeable being as regards their nature with changeableness as regards choice; moreover they have changeableness of intelligence, of affections and of places in their own degree. Therefore these are measured by aeviternity which is a mean between eternity and time. But the being that is measured by eternity is not changeable, nor is it annexed to change. In this way time has "before" and "after"; aeviternity in itself has no "before" and "after," which can, however, be annexed to it; while eternity has neither "before" nor "after," nor is it compatible with such at all.

St. Thomas says, for example, that higher angels can inform the lower angels with knowledge (say, needed for a mission given them in the supernatural order), which their natures do not suffice to encompass unaided. But in any case, an angel's sheer operation of intellect is something other than his own nature or essence, it is an operation OF his power distinct from his own self, which ultimately implies that his mode of being is distinct from proper eternity.

Anonymous said...

RE: I found it implicit in your suggestion that people who are objecting to universalism are not sufficiently far along the imaginary moral-enlightenment gradient <<<

Theories of both moral conversion (e.g. Bernard Lonergan & Don Gelpi, SJ) and of moral development (e.g. Piaget & Kohlberg) may not be wholly uncontroversial but they remain largely influential in fostering good, empirical social research. They are hardly imaginary.

Now, by pragmatic grounds, where moral conversion is concerned, one shifts, sometimes suddenly, from personal criteria to values that transcend one's own or one's group's interests; and where moral development is concerned, one shifts, usually spontaneously and dynamically, beyond pre-conventional morality, which includes punishment avoidance and a what's in it for me calculus, to conventional (more interrelational and authoritative) and post-coventional (universal principles) moralities.

These are not unrelated to Merton's account of Bernardian Love: 1) love of self for sake of self; 2) love of God for sake of self; 3) love of God for sake of God; 4) love of self for sake of God. In other words, a shift from a merely erotic to a more robustly agapic quest.

More concretely, then, by pragmatic objections to universalism, whether theoretic or practical, we would include such questions as: If all might be saved, then, 1) why be good? or 2) why evangelize?

We should not forget that an enlightened self-interest or imperfect contrition or love of God for sake of self remains sufficient for salvation.

All that said, I still don't see the logic, implicit or explicit, that would take one from an anthropological observation (regarding others' moral development) to the conclusion that one making that observation must believe God's a moral monster if universalism isn't true or possible. You didn't infer anything or logically conclude anything. You simply asserted a gratuitous ad hominem.

Stages of moral development and moral conversion should not be confused with moral perfection, as the latter involves DOING while the former describe forms of decision-making. Moral conversions are also transvalued by intellectual, social and religious conversions. Saintliness has more to do with what we DO with what we've been gifted. At any rate, no barbs were intended.

RE: Another and more front-row issue seems to be the awkward idea of having to acknowledge that some people - friends and family more than ourselves - are at risk for divine punishment. <<<

How on God's green earth would one assess the relative risk of damnation for one versus another person without violating the Gospel injunction not to judge?
While we can and must properly discern, often even interdict failures to cooperate with grace, we have no empirical access (even based on self-reports) that would allow us to ever know which such failures result from inabilities (human finitude), exculpably, and which from refusals (sin). There's no probabilist method available for guessing the population of hell, in general, or the risk of damnation for anyone, in particular. Too many have been forced to cope, unnecessarily, due to theologically impoverished God-conceptions and scrupulosities. Too few have been consoled by sufficiently nuanced reasons to practice the virtue to hope, in my view, although that seems to be the pastoral approach that should be on offer when suicides occur.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>"War in Heaven" war? in Heaven? How's that? Don't get me wrong. I really want to know it, sincerely.



Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
12Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”
-Revelations 12:7-12.

Surely you know of the origin of the Devil as a Fallen Angel?


>Is there any kind of time or "prior" "after" anything in heaven?

Angels dwell in Sempiternity so there is a sort of "Time" for them.

>That does NOT MAKE ANY SENSE.

Only if you attribute the A-temporal nature of God to Angels.
Which you should not do.

I am giving you the simple version see Tony's Post for the meat
and Potatoes.

Cheers Jaime.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

PS...Sempiternity=aeviternity.

Anonymous said...

I qualified the fundamental option as an habituation-like process which would not preclude a morally grave but exculpable act but which would properly be considered inconsistent with a culpable mortal sin.

I missed your post. That was a very satisfying response with great distinctions. Thanks!

Derek said...

For those interested, another article that argues on the same lines as Feser: The Justice and Goodness of Hell, by John Lamont

https://www.academia.edu/2311701/The_Justice_and_Goodness_of_Hell

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@Anonymous November 1, 2016 at 4:59 PM

“If all might be saved, then, 1) why be good? or 2) why evangelize?”

1) Because of our own good, and 2) because of our neighbor's good.

The very question demonstrates what is wrong with hellism, namely the unstated assumption that being good and spreading the good message are not completely good in themselves, but to some degree have to do with the avoidance of hell.

To believe that some people will surely end up in hell makes us fear hell, but that fear and our desire to avoid going to hell is an obstacle to repentance. That fear may work as deterrent and keep us from committing at least the worst sins, but also keeps us from repenting, from burning with desire for Christ because of Christ's love for us, from loving God with all our heart because we see God's infinite beauty, even if only vaguely

Here is a fact about the human condition: You don't become more virtuous by fearing the punishment. We know this based on our knowledge of ourselves - as simple as that. If anything the opposite is true, the fear of punishment keeps us from becoming more virtuous because it makes us miss the very point. Even in law you are not responsible for your signature if it was extracted by duress. If one takes seriously Christ's teaching in the Gospels that by its fruit one will know them – then in my judgment one must hold that hellism is a false teaching because it produces bad fruit.[1]

Given one's respect to tradition and to the opinion of many a famous Christian not to mention perhaps one's church's official position, and given humility about one's power to know God's mind, I can see why some Christians resist embracing universalism. In our discussion somebody put it quite simply and quite rightly: After some point all we can do is trust God; perhaps it's not our place to know one way or the other. What I cannot see is how a Christian may not hope that universalism is true (a position called “hopeful universalism”). Everything I understand from Christ's ethical message in the gospels entails that we should hope and indeed pray and work for the salvation of all. This is after all what Christ Himself did (and made it a point to associate and help those who in His time were considered the very worse of humanity). To hope and work for the salvation of all is as clear as anything can be in Christianity.

[1] Having used a scriptural quote myself, and before anybody leads the discussion into a war of quotes for hellism on the one hand and for universalism on the other, let me say that I am not a literalist. As it happened, in my own life it was by reading the written gospel that I became a self-aware Christian, and I consider the written gospel in its whole to be a supernatural work of God's special providence, but I don't think it's likely or even makes sense to hold that every word in the gospel is true, even when expertly interpreted. In the gospels the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. Having said that, all hellish quotes from the gospel strike me to be 1) relatively rare, 2) poetically ambiguous (gnashing of teeth, pit of fire, and whatnot), 3) probable metaphors about the great sufferings of evil, and as warnings about the seriousness of the matter and indeed about what is possible to obtain in spiritual reality.

Anonymous said...

A good place to start for a more universalist understanding of death and dying as a process. And what may or may not occur to the human entity, soul or star-body during and after the dying process, including the very real possibility of being reincarnated as a human being again (and the possibility that we have all been here many times before) would be via the work of Stanislav Grof, beginning with two of his earliest books Beyond Death: The Gates of Consciousness, and the Human Encounter With Death.
And from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective Bardo Teachings by Lama Lodru, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

>>"War in Heaven" war? in Heaven?

>Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon

Perhaps there is an ambiguity in the meaning of “heaven” here. In the context of Christianity “heaven” refers usually to the realm of the eternally saved. Here it makes no sense to speak of evil persons in heaven, and even less of war breaking out in heaven. But “heaven” may also refer in general to the spiritual realm, in which perhaps evil disembodied spirits create mischief.

The idea of pure “spirits” (whether good angels or evil devils) is it seems to me rather obscure. For example they make little sense in theodicy, and I tend to agree with the OP that these spirits are in some sense “set” from the beginning (but I disagree that they are a good analogy for human souls after the bodily death). Actually I think that it makes no sense to consider such beings as conscious subjects, in other words I think there is no subject that thinks “I am the archangel Michael” or “I am the demon Lix Tetrax”. Rather I think that these spirits are orders in creation whose effect is equivalent to that of a disembodied subject. Thus they are real and it is good to know about them since they can help or hurt us (some Greek monks claim they sometimes literally exchange blows with them), but that it is wrong to think about them as subjects. Or, say, wonder what fault there might be in a fallen angel if it was thus set from the very first instant of its existence. Or wonder, say, whether on universalism Lix Tetrax will also be saved. Or, say, whether one should pray for the soul of Lix Tetrax.

BTW before writing this comment I had no idea that there is supposed to be a demon called “Lix Tetrax”. In the same list of names I found “Mammon” with the clarification that Mammon is not an actual demon but is only a name representing “wealth” or “property” - notwithstanding the famous bit about “following Mammon” which sounds like Mammon is a deceiving spirit. Well, in my mind all angels and demons have the kind of nature Mammon has; they are guiding or deceiving spirits but not actual subjects.

Incidentally, those who despise capitalism may consider calling it “mammism” :-)

Gottfried said...

How do those universalists who take scripture seriously deal with Matthew 26:24 and Mark 14:21?

Also, are we certain that universalism is countenanced by the Orthodox Church?:

http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-strange-theology-of-david-bentley.html

I'm not familiar with the author, so I don't vouch for his reliability.

Vincent Torley said...

Step2 asked:

...I still don't understand why it is metaphysically impossible for God to turn the hearts of the vicious. Sure, God intends a "natural moral freedom" so to speak for humans, but it doesn't mean that natural order cannot be suspended in the same way miracles suspend laws of physics and in that sense violate God's general intent.

In response, John West argued that not even God could change a fallen angel's will:

If Thomas [is right] on angels, angels have no matter. So if Thomism [is correct], angels can't undergo alterational change.

But if an angel can't undergo alterational change and changing its orientation would require alterational change, that means its orientation can't be changed.


Meanwhile, Glenn argued that it would be illogical for God to turn the hearts of wicked human beings, just before they died:

Well, why should He do that in my case? If He does do that in my case, why not also do it in the case of some others? If He does do that in the case of some others, why not also do it in the case of all others? If He does do that in the case of all others, have we not arrived at there being "an end of free will, counsel, and all other such things"?

I'm afraid I don't find either John West's or Glenn's arguments terribly persuasive. First, it is not true to say that angels cannot undergo alterational change, even according to Thomism. Even a pure form may still have accidental properties. The angel Gabriel was sent to God to visit Mary. That manifestly implies some kind of alteration: (a) the angel visited Nazareth (although an angel does not occupy space as we do; it would be better to say that it contains the space it inhabits), and (b) he was informed of Mary's assent to God's will.

Glenn's argument doesn't work, either. He would do well to read the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Final Perseverance at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11711a.htm . Here's an excerpt:

The Council of Trent, using an expression coined by St. Augustine, calls it (magnum usque in finem perseverantiae donum) the great gift of final perseverance. "It consists", says Newman, "In an ever watchful superintendence of us on the part of our All-Merciful Lord, removing temptations which He sees will be fatal to us, succouring us at those times when we are in particular peril, whether from our negligence or other cause, and ordering the course of our life so that we may die at a time when He sees that we are in the state of grace."

Surely the 11 apostles, after meeting the risen Christ, received this gift. If God can do that for them, why not the rest of us, in our final moments? The article goes on to suggest that even for notorious sinners, "God suffuses the sinners' dying hour with an extraordinary light and, showing them the hideousness of sin contrasting with His own infinite beauty, He makes a final appeal to them." Only one class of sinners is necessarily excepted: those who emphatically wish not to receive such a gift. If someone says, "I don't want to receive the gift of conversion," then I suppose there is nothing God can do for them, without violating their freedom. The same would also apply to any fallen angels who said the same thing to God.

Anonymous said...

RE: Going back to the original comment, I still don't understand why it is metaphysically impossible for God to turn the hearts of the vicious. Sure, God intends a "natural moral freedom" so to speak for humans, but it doesn't mean that natural order cannot be suspended in the same way miracles suspend laws of physics and in that sense violate God's general intent. It also seems strange to talk about an infinite being having any intrinsic restraints relating to finite creatures unless those restraints involve an inescapable contradiction <<<

Have you looked at Molinism, which might accord with your take?

Another solution compatible with what some process thinkers present is to qualify divine attributes something like this:
God's omni-_____ would correspond to that omni -science or -potence than which none greater could be consistently conceived. Consistency would be broadly conceived to include such as free will. That's not unlike a free will defense to the logical problem of evil.

I suppose the rub between some molinists and thomists would be akin to a theodicy where the evidential problem of evil is dealt with and the argument becomes which position is more plausible given our human experience. The church abides with the logically consistent approaches but prudently doesn't take sides in the evidentially plausible debates, precisely because they are not sufficiently empirical to be decisive.

Crude said...

VJT,

Surely the 11 apostles, after meeting the risen Christ, received this gift. If God can do that for them, why not the rest of us, in our final moments?

It's not very compelling to shoot a "surely" from the hip, and then go on to expand it even further like that. Especially since the apostles were rather heroic in their own right; "surely" not all of us are as deserving as they were.

Second, the gift of final perseverance, from your own source: "Final perseverance is the preservation of the state of grace till the end of life."

Preservation is not creation.

You say "the article goes on to suggest that..." but you leave out this part:

"Singularly comforting is the teaching of such saints as St. Francis de Sales (Camus, "The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales", III, xiii) and St. Catherine of Genoa (Treatise of Purgatory, iv). They dwell on God's great mercy in granting final perseverance, and even in the case of notorious sinners they do not lose hope: God suffuses the sinners' dying hour with an extraordinary light and, showing them the hideousness of sin contrasting with His own infinite beauty, He makes a final appeal to them."

Two things out. It's not Trent teaching that, it is the teaching of some saints. I can find you others who talk rather boldly about the damned.

Second, it is a final appeal. Appeals can be rejected. You will not have to go far to find people who intensely dislike Christ and Christian teachings. You will, in fact, find people who will openly remark that they'd find God wicked and evil if, say, he didn't bless same-sex unions or abortion or female priests, and want no part of said God.

D,

Here is a fact about the human condition: You don't become more virtuous by fearing the punishment.

Here is a fact: you are completely incorrect. Plenty of people do become more virtuous by fearing punishment. People often can and will behave so as to avoid the punishment, and condition themselves to act, even think, in ways that will minimize it. People are rational like that, however awful it may be if the punishment is administered by a wrong or fallible source. No worries of that with God.

The same goes for your non-seq about 'it keeps you from repentance'. Far from it, since repentance is the one way to really avoid punishment.

In the gospels the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Dianelos, you creatively reject any part of the gospel that doesn't fit in with your preferences or politics, and you've interpreted 'by their fruits ye shall know them' as a kind of universal access card to discard any teaching you dislike. Thus, God's teaching about hell, marriage, and sin all are metaphorized into irrelevance whenever you've got a conflict with your social or political views. There is precious little distance between yourself and someone poetically deciding that 'by their fruits ye shall know them' proves that cannibalism is hunky dory, because he likes how the latest butchering ended up.

Here's something to consider: the relevant judgment of the fruits is God's. Not yours. It is not 'by deciding whether or not you personally like the fruits, you shall know them'. Considering the context of that quote is one of identifying false prophets, one would think you'd think twice.

Ah, but that may lead you to doubt your politics, and thus those portions must be metaphorical or poetic. The admonition to judge them by their fruits is so rare, after all, and thus a probable metaphor meant to assure us of whatever it is you're selling at the moment.

John West said...

Vincent:

Having noted my post irrelevant to Step2 and Glenn's discussion about wills before death earlier, I hesitate to reply.

Let a the bare substance of a fallen angel*, and F represent its accidental property. If we identify the angel with a + F, by the indiscernibility of identicals if God destroys F the resulting angel isn't the same angel. (The angel, a + F, ceases to exist, and we're given a counterpart.) If, however, we identify the angel with a, F is external to him and whether it's destroyed or not, the angel doesn't change.

I see no satisfactory way around the problem without abandoning endurantism. (I'll have to let the exegetes worry about compatibility with scripture.)

*That is, nothing more than the angel's substantial form and matter.

Crude said...

Circling on back to something I said before, here's something I find interesting.

A lot of ink gets spilled over the Universalism topic. I think it's clear that both obvious biblical teaching is pretty clear about the reality of hell as well as its eternity. 'Literalism' doesn't matter here; the impression is pretty distinct even if one doesn't take every letter with the utmost literalness. Tradition across the board backs up the same. Justification why one may be hellbound - or at least, forever denied salvation - are pretty easy to come by. You have to go at the Bible, tradition, and argument with a battering ram to 'shake' eternal damnation as a live and dire option. Even when the smoke clears, the best you're able to grab is an inferred possibility. Not a total comfort, that.

I can understand someone saying that we should pray for the salvation of all souls. Good thing to get behind, that. But, aside from the problems I've already noted, I think there's a nasty side of universalism that its loudest proponents don't want to discuss, and which has been touched on a little bit in this thread: the change that would be undergone in the case of a saved and theretofore unrepentant sinner. The violations of will.

I'm more interested, however, in the changes of character.

See, I can see two relevant kinds of universalism. The universalism where God just grants everyone salvation no matter what. No change. Jeffrey Dahmer is resurrected and saved and, I suppose, is just kept far away from people in New Eden because otherwise he's got a strong urge to butcher them at times.

The other kind of universalism is, of course, the one where we're cleansed not only of the guilt of past sins, but of our inclinations to them. Salvation, here, is a salvation where the unrepentant gay man goes to heaven, now very repentant indeed - and also no longer gay. The abortion supporter who is made, by divine fiat, to regard themselves as a butcher and a murderer, saved and regretful of their past wrongs even as they rejoice in heaven. The muslim who rejects Mohammed - blessed be his name no more - and becomes a good Christian.

On and on it goes. I can name the glutton who no longer desires food (and also is no longer fat), the miser who is now generous, etc. Less controversial, those.

But I suddenly realize the other universalist is one who I've never explicitly come across in the wild, even though that's the only defensible kind of universalism out there. You know, the offensive universalism.

Go figure, right?

Anonymous said...

I refrained from sharing my own responses to those questions to see how others might respond. Your response --- being good and spreading the good message are completely good in themselves --- resonates with my view. A universalist stance, thus, doesn't indicate any sort of indifferentism.

Does the above response settle the matter, logically? I think it does and that its normative implications are clear even before we raise practical concerns and prudential judgments, for example, like the implications for different pastoral approaches.

This is to suggest that the hellism vs hopeful universalism stance doesn't turn on pragmatic grounds like which would better foster moral and spiritual formation. It has already been decided in one direction or the other by this or that thinker based on logical consistency within doctrinal bounds.

So, when we move to pragmatic grounds, what we are doing is trying to decide between two disparate views evidentially, asking which might be more plausible given formative spirituality, moral development, theological anthropology and pastoral experience. Those considerations are not without great interest because, even if they are not robustly truth conducive, they are weakly truth indicative, not in the vulgar utilitarian sense that what is useful must be true, but in the fallbilist sense that, if it's good, beautiful and useful, it's more likely to be also true, all other things being equal.

So, your anthropological observations are, in my view, also spot on and relevant.

All that said, still, an enlightened self interest, an erotic quest, an imperfect contrition, a detesting of all one's sins because of God's just punishment, remains sufficient for salvation, however one conceives that punishment.



John West said...

That is, nothing more than the angel's substantial form and matter.

Sorry. That should be, "That is, the unpropertied immaterial substance." (As far as I can tell, that's just the substantial form and act of existence.)

Anonymous said...

Without stipulating to your particular inventory of character defects, a hopeful universalism precisely turns on the issue of a putative character trans-formation. An assessment of character traits, alone is insufficient precisely because their origins in character formation are in play. Are any given set of traits rooted, for example, in a lack of formation, invincible ignorance, mental or emotional illness, early deformative influences and other such exculpating factors? That might precisely be the basis of hope, for example, of Dahmer's loved ones. Many universalist stances incorporate something like this. The proper default bias in fact presupposes finitude-based exculpability when we encounter character flaws given we are not only not positioned but forbidden to prejudge.

DNW said...

Crude quotes and comments:

" 'Here is a fact about the human condition: You don't become more virtuous by fearing the punishment.'

Here is a fact: you are completely incorrect."


Yes, it seems pretty obvious that "fear" taken in a relatively broad sense, can lead to the development of "virtue" taken in its usual sense.

Joe Crude, (we hypothesize) "fears" descent into a state of moral, intellectual, and physical flaccidity and torpor, and therefore lifts weights, jogs, hikes in the great outdoors, and reads old calculus books.

DNW, working in close quarters with an at-loose-ends secretary with a well-developed cleavage and a pronouncedly casual attitude towards the fulfillment of basic urges, fears the wreckage of his business and personal life and systematically addresses to her as "Mrs. XYZ" much to her puzzlement.

In at least the first instance we can easily observe how such a habituation would lead to virtù, if not a state identical in every way with Christian virtue.

Since I first tried and failed to put this comment up, I see that Crude has addressed another problem which I mentioned as an afterthought.

If, God exists and is Good and Truth, can neither deceive nor be deceived nor countenance evil in His presence; if, there is an afterlife in His presence which cannot admit deception or exploitation; and if the deceased retain an individuating personality which they have built up in time; then, it seems pretty obvious that an afterlife which constitutes a selection of Hedonism Resorts tailored to suit the tastes of whatever personality however randomly solidified or developed, makes little to no sense. But if personalities are preserved as developed in time, and Universalism is also true, then that incoherence is the necessary result.

On the other hand, it would make sense for such a God to say as the price of admission: "You have to get your mind right first, son; before entering."


Anonymous said...

RE: I can imagine right away why this isn't emphasized, but partly it's because of an acknowledgment that this kind of solution being a live option robs hell of the punch some universalists demand. The emotional case for universalism is easier to make the more Hellraiser-esque damnation is portrayed as.<<<

This downplaying of torment figures prominently in many universalist considerations. Interestingly, its not only the size and manner of the punch to the unrepentant sinner that's of concern in some discussions. Also, many try to reconcile the punch delivered to that sinner's loved ones in "the good place" as Ted Danson and Kristen Bell might put it. There are logical arguments that counter such concerns but they aren't emotionally satisfying, intuitively appealing or morally intelligible, relying pretty much on the boilerplate theological skepticism that many apologists fall back on in their theodicies.

Anonymous said...

Vincent,

1. Meanwhile, Glenn argued that it would be illogical for God to turn the hearts of wicked human beings, just before they died:

In reverse order:

a) I made three suppositions, only the first two of which at present are relevant. The first supposition was "at the time of my death my life will have been such that hell is the right and proper destination (i.e., state) for me", and the second supposition was, "that, though hell is the right and proper destination/state for me, God, being God, can suspend whatever needs to be suspended in order that I wind up in heaven rather than in hell." Nowhere in the second supposition is there any mention of the timing of the supposed suspension. Since it was solely the fact of a suspension that was being supposed, and not also its timing, I had purposely left it open as to whether the supposed suspension occurs before death, at the time of death or subsequent to death.

b) My argument is that if the supposed suspension were to take place (at whatever time), then it would amount to "an end of free will, counsel, and all other such things" for the entity involved, i.e., it would effectively render the entity's free will, responses to counsel, and what not, null and void. I do grant that this implies, e.g., that it would be illogical for God to render null and void the free will He Himself gave to the creature.

2. [Glenn] would do well to read the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Final Perseverance at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11711a.htm. Here's an excerpt:

The way Final Perseverance has been brought into the discussion leaves one wondering whether you may be arguing that, "Since God will save those who persist in leading a heaven-bound life, there aren't any good reasons for thinking He might not likewise save those who persist in leading a hell-bound life."

For the excerpt you give, I substitute the following except: "Canon 22 (Si quis dixerit justificatum vel sine speciali auxilio Dei in accepta justitia perseverare posse, vel cum eo non posse, anathema sit), by teaching that the justified cannot persevere without a special help of God, but with it can persevere, not only condemns both the naturalism of the Semipelagians and the false supernaturalism of the Reformers but also clearly implies that the power of perseverance is neither in the human will alone nor in God's grace solely, but in the combination of both, i.e., Divine grace aiding human will, and human will co-operating with Divine grace."

The talk here (in the OP and comments) about people going to hell is not talk about people with wills co-operating with Divine grace going to hell, but about people who've made things difficult for themselves precisely through their willfully inadequate co-operation with Divine Grace.

3. Only one class of sinners is necessarily excepted: those who emphatically wish not to receive such a gift. If someone says, "I don't want to receive the gift of conversion," then I suppose there is nothing God can do for them, without violating their freedom. The same would also apply to any fallen angels who said the same thing to God.

a) I would say that the fallen angel or person whose co-operation with Divine Grace is willfully inadequate is saying in a non-verbal way, i.e., is saying via his choices and actions, that he doesn’t want to receive the gift of conversion.

b) If it is true that you do indeed suppose there is nothing God can do for such fallen angels and people without violating their freedom, then, I suppose, it must also true that, notwithstanding your explanations as to why you think we are wrong, you do indeed agree with John West and I.

Ivan Knezović said...


Sister Faustina's Vision of Hell

"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell." (Diary 741)

"Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like...how terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them. O My Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend you by the least sin." (Diary 741)

Christ has himself sent us st. Faustina to prove universalists wrong.

Crude said...

Anon,

Without stipulating to your particular inventory of character defects, a hopeful universalism precisely turns on the issue of a putative character trans-formation.

And I'm noting that this - the character transformation - is precisely what gets undersold and overlooked by universalists. And I can easily see why: because it would actually land the universalist in a similar position that makes hell so distasteful. It's not the damnation that's the problem; it's telling others that they are damned, it's recognizing damnable behavior and being, and talking about it. Awkward stuff.

That's the oddness I notice with how universalism is sold. It's 'God loves everyone so much that He'll save everyone! Everyone gets salvation!' I've aired some problems with that. But even on universalism - the most plausible version is going to involve some kind of very interesting purge and purification.

Tell the saved people what's coming for them. Tell them how they will be changed by the loving God that wishes salvation upon them. Let me know what they think of being told that the sins they think are not sins are exactly that, and that their attitude will be changed - by force, if need be - to recognize them as such. I want to see how loving they think it is.

DNW,

On the other hand, it would make sense for such a God to say as the price of admission: "You have to get your mind right first, son; before entering."

Yep. I think a point of universalism has been touched on which makes it every bit as emotionally iffy as damnation. Maybe moreso; I honestly wonder, if it were posed to people (unrepentant, mostly) as I said above, how many would say 'Hell would be more merciful.' Especially upper-level Dante hell.

Anonymous said...

This article makes for an interesting metaphysical riddle, aside from doctrinal stances.

Eschatologically, concerning resurrections, what logical constraints present for the types of acts and potencies that might be in play? Something new would have to happen given certain presuppositions from anthropology and angelology. Could God, logically and consistently, introduce such novelty? Given that human freedom may be a rock so big that God cannot pick it up without otherwise being inconsistent, how might such novelty be introduced? Molinism, alone, wouldn't answer this question. Maritain, in his "Reverie," clearly recognized that something novel would be required, metaphysically, what other universalists refer to in terms of a "new creation."

That puzzle may be more interesting to some than the doctrinal and pastoral squabbles. What eschatological anthropology might be in play or not and why or why not?

Glenn said...

(Oops. I'm the 'Anonymous' just above (November 2, 2016 at 10:01 AM).)

alternative hypothesizing122 said...

Crude said: ''Second, it is a final appeal. Appeals can be rejected. You will not have to go far to find people who intensely dislike Christ and Christian teachings.

You will, in fact, find people who will openly remark that they'd find God wicked and evil if, say, he didn't bless same-sex unions or abortion or female priests, and want no part of said God.''

I agree to a point. What strongly determines someone's salvation is the personality he has built up.

If he has built up a negative personality that is bad or even evil, then the chances of him ending up damned are higher.

If he hasn't, the chances are neutral, or even pro-salvation.

But a factor we would have to consider is the specific outline of a person's sinfulness being confronted with God's infinite beatuy and holiness.

Such a thing might get some people with negative personalities who heavily dislike Christian beliefs to open up and seriously consider that they are in error and that they could change their mind.

After all, an extraordinary light would be able to at least significantly mellow out a person's distaste for God to give him a chance to choose without being as biased about the choice as he could be.

Especially considering that there are many people who may know a lot about Christianity, but in the end they don't actually know the full truth.

They may reject a straw-christ, or a version of Christianity that they think is true but actually isn't.

And let's not forget that it is extremely likely that Hell is not a place, but simply a state before God.

A sinful person realising God is everywhere around him while he is so incredibly sinful would cause shame which would technically last forever, which would actually be the true version of Hell.

It kinda destroys one of the main arguments of Universalists: Hell is so awful that nobody should go there and that a loving God would by his nature have to act in a universalistically salvific way.

Don't get me wrong.Shame is really really bad.But it's not physical torture or torment or anything.

In fact, those who are damned will be shamed proportionally.

A person like Hitler (if he is in Hell of course, considering the Church wants us to never presume upon God's mercy being too limited to save even Hitler) would of course have much to be ashamed of compared to someone who commited certain much lesser sins.

And then there is the whole idea of how many people go to Hell.

The smallest number possible (i.e. only a handful) would be enough to satisfy some Universalists.

But it raises the idea that some people would presume too much upon God's grace being so abundant so that they can be completely and utterly lax in their faith and be too lazy for their own good.


Then there is another factor to consider, namely that in the modern day West sins such as masturbation and others are so frequent that a majority of even conservative orthodox Protestants don't object at all.Same for contraception.

While this could arguably make an argument that shows that most people would be damned, I doubt that such actions would be enough to constitute a full-on sinful personality construction.

And then there is the even more important issue of modern-day atheism, with all of it's political and social and philosophical and spectral and other slimy tentacles and the idea that modern-day atheistic rejection of god-belief would be enough personality building to equal potenitally likely damnation, all of which are just too much to consider in one comment.

Crude said...

alt_hop,

Pardon the truncation.

I think the shame idea is interesting, and a lot probably pivots on that in one way or another. Modern Christian and popular thought in general can probably be summed up (incompletely) as a kind of prolonged Shame War, desperate to either eradicate any trace of it with their allies, and heap it unceasingly on their enemies.

I'm not sure what role it absolutely will play in salvation and damnation. Interesting, the idea of the forcibly saved being shame-wracked to the point of misery. I wouldn't be surprised if it's there somewhere.

Still, the more I think about it, the more it seems that universalism - and it is a popular flavor of the month, theologically - is strangely light on details as it's sold. Indeed, it seems to be light on thinking-through, period; people want to talk about the loving, loving, loving God. Not just what this God, in 'infinite mercy and love', would really have to do to save anyone. Not what saving would look like, what it would have to look like.

I don't think it'd go over very well. Truth be told? I think it'd scare the hell out of people. Or scare the hell into them? Either-or.

Thursday said...

I can name the glutton who no longer desires food (and also is no longer fat), the miser who is now generous, etc. Less controversial, those.

There is a difference here between the person who realizes what they are doing is wrong even as they do it, and wishes it otherwise, and the person who sees nothing wrong in what they are doing. In the first case, their desires are being pulled in different directions, and there is hope for them. But for someone who is settled in their desires, this is not the case.

Thursday said...

But, aside from the problems I've already noted, I think there's a nasty side of universalism that its loudest proponents don't want to discuss, and which has been touched on a little bit in this thread: the change that would be undergone in the case of a saved and theretofore unrepentant sinner. The violations of will.

This is the problem I see too. If a person has built up a certain character disposition over time, then if God radically reconfigures that, is it even the same person that gets saved.

DNW said...



It's interesting that the term and matter of the "will" has come up; as well (quite reasonably) as has the issue and notion of the preservation of the integrity of an inviolate will as the sine qua non of a "personal" identity: e.g., " ... if God radically reconfigures that, is it even the same person that gets saved.[?]"

Now, several of us have from time to time gingerly explored the edges of an interrelated question: What is (anthropologically speaking) the human or personal residuum which remains after once granting for the sake of argument either hedonic nihilist or radically utilitarian premisses stipulating the definition of "good" as appetite satisfaction; and then going on to examining what exactly what remains of, or remains to constitute, the willing agent, upon the completion of such a reduction?

Accept for the sake of argument that "the good" is to be construed as a synonym for the experience [ or registration of] of feelings of pleasure divorced from teleology.

Accept for the sake of argument that the locus of the will seeks what it perceives as the good, so defined.

What is then, what constitutes, either the locus of, or the rationale of, the will?

Well, per our non-teleological stipulation there is none. The will is not a conscious or unconscious intention expressive of an intrinsic end, but an expression per se, of an appetite, without a point.

In fact in this case, the willing thing, as a real thing, is an illusion of sorts. It is the misleading appearance left by an uninformed will emanating not from an integrated being, but from as Feser has pointed previously, a congeries of appetites. If, that is, the urges referred to can even be dignified with the term appetites.

What remains is a cluster of ultimately pointless habits or ruts; with some apparent ability to register its own existence as such a boundaried cluster.

So the answer to the question looks to be, that the person in some ways disappears, or is stillborn, before any such Divine intervention on "its" will can take piece; before that is to say, its willing habits successful coalescence into a person is completed.

DNW said...



Sorry about the disjointed seeming comment. Trouble posting up through several error message crash attempts resulted in this incompletely edited comment which did not reflect certain verbal corrections.

Well, I had prefaced the final that was supposed to take, with "just a ramble " ... so take it as such

Sean said...

I thought of this in terms of salvation or reaching the beatitude, by grace and faith. Revelation (and Christ) says that it is grace accepted and faith that saves. So, if someone ends up in hell, they somehow rejected grace, or accepted grace but did not live by faith. This could be choosing an idolatrous temporary good, rejecting grace, the spirit of truth and/or rejecting living by faith. Grace is the gift/guidance of the Holy Spirit. Faith would then be trying to live within the framework of God’s laws seeking and acting on that ultimate good, love.

Our pagan modern culture does not believe in sin, or grace, or faith. Some Christians do believe in these but are influenced by the culture. They accept the cultural concepts that the only sin is intolerance and the only virtue is being kind (I have nothing against being kind). But this really does cause a habitual condition favorable to some types of sin. The dangerous is that virtually any selfish desire or sin can be relativized by our culture. Abortion is one of these sins accepted by the culture and by some Christians. We enable it by voting for cultural values and against Christian principles. What will the judgment at death be when we realize we have accepted and condoned injustice and sin when we should have acted against it…or will we even realize? I think this is what it means when after death we no longer choose because our actions in life become our direction. If we lived our life with sin without reforming, our direction is chosen. The only practical way to counteract this is to be brutally honest with ourselves frequently examining our conscience, forgiving constantly, and being grateful for the grace and faith we live by.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@Son of Ya'Kov

“The Universalists seem to believe God is somehow obligated to save all from finalizing their wills to immutibly choose damnation. He is not.”

Of course. God is the metaphysically ultimate so there can't be anything external to “obligate” God in any way. Neither is God obligated to allow anybody to stay in hell, for that matter. Nor are there any principles external to God, whether of mercy or of justice, which obligate God. So the only matter it makes sense to reason is what God – the greatest conceivable being – wants to do. And wants to do only given God's nature, and not of course given any of our own preconceptions.

On universalism God wants to keep trying to save the very last lost sheep (and given that we are talking about what God wants to achieve it is a good bet that God's final victory over evil will be complete). On hellism at some point God decides to give up trying to save the very last lost sheep (and so they will stay eternally lost because hell is a condition of utter hopelessness in which the soul is blind and weak). The question is which view is more probably true.

Now there are many fine books written about universalism, so it makes little sense for me to argue my thoughts on this matter. In general I think fundamental truths are such that one can only know them by actually seeing them, that is to know them by faith. Unfortunately, given our fallen nature our sense of the divine is flawed and can lead us astray. Reason can help us out here. I was thinking about the various ways we can employ reason:

1. Perhaps the most useful way is to use reason empirically; as it were by making a spiritual experiment to check the truth of a belief. It is based on Christ's admonition that many wrong teachings will come along but that by their fruits one will know them (since a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit). Now, clearly, the fruit in question is salvation and thus to follow Christ's commands. So the empirical experiment is to check and see whether in one's condition holding belief A compared to not-A, helps or hinders one from following Christ's commands. If A helps rather than hinders then A is more probably true than not-A. One thing one can be certain about is that deceiving spirits will *not* try to convince one to follow Christ.

2. Just thinking about God, say in one's free time. I find that this is an excellent practice; it works like prayer and fits well those people with a brainy disposition (like those apt to hang out in Feser's blog). Just thinking about God is a very enjoyable way to spend one's time and does help clarify one's sense of the divine.

3. Studying convincing arguments. It is generally agreed that arguments are not sufficient to convince one of the truth of full-blown theism, never mind of Christianity. It is pretty clear that God ordered the human condition in such a way that spiritual truth is not obvious in the way of being capable to be forced into human minds (and I think on the so-called soul-making theodicy one can see why God did it so). But I find arguments are sufficient to convince one of the unreasonableness of non-theism, and specifically of the dominant scientific naturalism. Myself, whenever I feel doubts about the spiritual foundation of reality these are quickly dispelled as soon as I remember how absurd the alternative view is. - Incidentally when in a discussion a few days back I was hammering on scientific naturalism a philosophically educated atheist objected to my manner claiming that there are much better atheistic views than scientific naturalism. This then is a fact that deserves spreading around: educated atheists are abandoning the scientific naturalism of the popular new atheist movement. On the other hand, to the lovers of truth it is useful to study the best atheistic arguments, for it is practically certain that one holds some wrong beliefs, and atheistic thought can be useful in finding out about them.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

4. Studying non-convincing theistic arguments. Arguments which ultimately fail within reason, may be quite useful in the sense of helping one turn one's eyes to the right direction as it were.

5. Reason can help one achieve balance and avoid excess. Perhaps the most famous ancient Greek dictum is “metron ariston”, that is “perfection lies in measure”. So reason can show us the limits of reason. This is a pragmatical matter since our time in this life is limited and reasoning and holding true beliefs are a means towards the good life and not what the good life consists of. So for example, it is really quite conspicuous that Christ in the gospels does not command us to search for true beliefs but to follow Him. (Eastern Christian theology is very hard to understand. Once I bought a famous book but did not manage to read beyond the first page. But in that page I read something striking about the nature of truth. It said that truth is not a property of abstract propositions but an actual personal reality. When Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?” Jesus remained silent because that was the wrong question. Had Pilate asked “Who is truth?” then Jesus would immediately have answered “I am”.) What I am saying here is that by following Christ one will know the truth in a much more direct way than is possible through reason – for one will attain personal knowledge (knowledge by acquaintance) of God who is the very ground of truth. Conversely reasoning alone without Christ at some point is apt to be misleading, for Christ is the very path, the shining light that makes God visible to our eyes.

6. Reason can help us pick the right teachers. Either impersonally by reading their written thoughts, or by knowing them personally and observing their manner, and by that manner understanding the truth. In the same way that an engineer should pick for study a book written by somebody who demonstrably is a good engineer (for example built airplanes), so the theist should pick those who demonstrably are holy people. I mean it is a given that there were and there are Christians much closer to Christ than we ourselves are, and thus one can certainly learn from them. In this context we also have the benefit of the church. By “church” I don't mean the mystical body of Christ, but the actual human and thus flawed organizations. But these organizations, warts and all, are the result of millennia of effort of uncountably many Christians including some that knew Christ personally, and including many who had personal knowledge of God far beyond one's own. So reason tells us that the official teachings of one's church deserve our utmost consideration. When the Christian finds herself holding a belief that goes against the official church position, and in particular against the great creeds of the Christian faith, then reason says that she should reconsider matters very carefully.

Now in the context of our discussion about hellism/universalism it is I think a fact that the official position of all three great streams in Christianity (the Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Protestant churches) is basically hellism. There are differences and exceptions but that's basically it. On the other hand it is also a fact that hellism, even though often mentioned by many as if it were a fundamental and certain matter, is practically absent from the creeds. I find it especially telling that it is absent from the recent "Credo of the People of God" of Pope Paul VI's. If that good Pope, and the important Pope who concluded the Second Vatican Council, did not find it proper to mention hell even once in the creed prepared for today, then this clearly reveals how little certainty there is about the truth of hellism. So I think it is right to say that hellism is the official position but is held with much doubt.

Crude said...

So I think it is right to say that hellism is the official position but is held with much doubt.

It's the view in near universality among Church fathers, among Christ Himself, and more. But it wasn't mention in this or that document, to which D extracts 'much doubt'.

I'll note that cannibalism merits hardly a mention anywhere in the creeds. Indeed, it doesn't seem to be as mentioned as hell is in the Bible either. Therefore, it's 'held with much doubt'.

Once more: Christ on hell. Not exactly hard to find this.

"Mark 9:43, 48-49 “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire…where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.”"

"Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”"

D may object, 'But any God who says that is not one which I would consider good, or want to worship.' Perhaps adding that he's thought about this a great, great deal, and feels it so strongly.

Okay. You may want to ask yourself who or what you're worshiping, then, because 'Christ' doesn't seem to be it. Christ really is the Way, Truth, and Light. Objecting 'but wait, the Light isn't saying what I think He should, let me overrule Him and say with certainty what He REALLY means' is a hell of a thing.

Miguel Corleone said...

If I understood Ed correctly, angels can be defective or have defective wills upon creation, and will therefore be directed toward a lesser good, which is something other than God, and will be damned eventually.

Won't this make these particular angels defective creations to begin with?

I mean, if they're defect was with them from the beginning, and was not through any choice of their own, this kind of strikes me as a bit unfair. Help. Thanks.

Tony said...

If I understood Ed correctly, angels can be defective or have defective wills upon creation, and will therefore be directed toward a lesser good, which is something other than God, and will be damned eventually.

Not so, Miguel. Angels were created not "defective", but also not confirmed in perfection. Like Adam and Eve, made whole and complete and "perfect" in the sense of made with all that was appropriate to them in the state God put them in, including grace (i.e. the state of "original justice" for Adam and Eve). But for both the angels and for Adam and Eve, that state consisted in a condition of trial. For the angels, it was a SINGLE choice: for God, or other. When they made that choice, they were free to choose either, and in that freedom they were ABLE to defect away from the proper and due good end of their natures: God. With the angels, that choice was all it took to complete their trial: for the good angels, they were immediately confirmed in good with the Beatific Vision, for the angels who chose otherwise, they were immediately confirmed in permanent defiance of God, as their wills are not naturally capable of revision. But they had that first choice.

(1:62:3) I answer that, Although there are conflicting opinions on this point, some holding that the angels were created only in a natural state, while others maintain that they were created in grace; yet it seems more probable, and more in keeping with the sayings of holy men, that they were created in sanctifying grace.

(And Article 4): Whether an angel merits his beatitude?
...I answer that...because free-will is not the sufficient cause of merit; and, consequently, an act cannot be meritorious as coming from free-will, except in so far as it is informed by grace; but it cannot at the same time be informed by imperfect grace, which is the principle of meriting, and by perfect grace, which is the principle of enjoying. Hence it does not appear to be possible for anyone to enjoy beatitude, and at the same time to merit it.

Consequently it is better to say that the angel had grace ere he was admitted to beatitude, and that by such grace he merited beatitude.

Reply to Objection 1. The angel's difficulty of working righteously does not come from any contrariety or hindrance of natural powers; but from the fact that the good work is beyond his natural capacity.

Reply to Objection 2. An angel did not merit beatitude by natural movement towards God; but by the movement of charity, which comes of grace.

Edward Feser said...

Just had to delete a lot of completely irrelevant stuff. Very annoying.

Stop it with the threadjacks, please.

Step2 said...

Son of Ya'Kov,
Hell just froze over because the Cubs won the World Series, so I'm guessing that means the Universalists are correct since seemingly eternal curses can be broken.

More seriously, if God did suspend the normal rules and controlled Pharaoh like a puppet it doesn't imply that God was an efficient cause of evil because it was God's action and not Pharaoh's. As you point out, since God cannot have any moral obligations then it makes no sense to claim God did something evil. It does make the story a little odd in that God is to an extent wearing both the antagonist and protagonist hats, but infinite beings can do weird stuff.

Tony said...

This is the problem I see too. If a person has built up a certain character disposition over time, then if God radically reconfigures that, is it even the same person that gets saved.

What about St. Paul, converted in a moment? He was hell-bent on killing Christians, and then...not.

God's power and action by grace are so deep, compared to the kind of causality that we are used to exercising, that we tend to forget what is available to him. According to St. Thomas, though: First, God acts in us in EVERY instance of willing the good, as the first cause thereof, not as some bystander hoping that we will, but as the necessary first cause of every good including every good act. It is only our choice to defect away from His operative movement that can entail sin. Second, God's capacity with grace is so extensive that he can easily, at any moment, grant us so much (prevenient) grace that he removes all obstacles and even all inclinations and temptations to defect away from the good action that he initiated that, even though we retain the freedom to defect, we WON'T. That is, He can make it so that by grace WE WANT to do the good, and make it so that our wanting is free, retaining the possibility of sinning but we do not in fact choose to. He can, for instance, unwind the inclination to sin that a vice gives us, so that we are MUCH FREER than usual to do the good, (since vice is an impediment to free action). He is not bound to leave us in our bad habits as if powerless in the face of them. Indeed, for every great sinner who does in fact convert, this is exactly the explanation, for if he were left to his own devices, he would never overcome the difficulties sin present to him. God is more powerful than sin and vice. Every alcoholic who goes dry, does so because God gives him the strength to overcome the temptation this time, etc.

There is no seat of "personhood" so deep that God Himself is not present to it, even deeper still, making him to be and to will and to do. Thus, being converted away from evil is not being made a different person, it is being made more so the very same man God intended and designed you to be from the first.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude writes,

It's the view in near universality among Church fathers, among Christ Himself, and more.

There are important exceptions amongst the Church Fathers, and I think it would highly controversial to suggest that Christ affirmed an eternal hell, especially as the Greek term used doesn't really mean eternal but perpetual or age long.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dianelos,

I'm certainly sympathetic to the universalist position, though not of the automatic kind. But one of the anonymous posters above raises a good point. It does depend upon whether or not there is time or duration in hell. If there isn't, then it becomes hard to see how there could be salvation from hell.

Miguel Corleone said...

Tony, just want to thank you for that illuminating response!

jps said...

Oriental eschatology often speaks in terms of 'aeons of kalpas' when describing the lengths of time that beings inhabit various domains of existence (of which hell is a class.) I'm not too familiar with the units of time involved, but they're realistic, in modern terms - i.e. tens of millions of years.

Crude said...

Jeremy,

There are important exceptions amongst the Church Fathers, and I think it would highly controversial to suggest that Christ affirmed an eternal hell

Those exceptions are why I spoke of the near universality. Important? I'm not sure of. The 'highly controversial', even moreso. Both His words and the traditional interpretation are pretty straightforward. I'd save 'highly controversial' for universality claims.

That said, playing off what I've already said, here's an invitation. Can I see any example of a modern universality (Past ~20 years) describing, in detail, exactly what's going to happen to these otherwise damned souls? Not the 'they'll be saved and embraced by the Everloving Love of God, who is Love' aspect. I mean the 'You will be twisted, changed, shaped into being salvation-worthy' part. I ask this in part because the most plausible offerings of universalism (which I think is, at best, plausible only in a 'I can win powerball' theoretical sense, rather than in a likely/doctrinal sense) have a very unsavory aspect. I would say, at least as unsavory as the doctrine of hell itself.

I suspect this aspect is universally (ha ha) ignored. And if it is, I think it's a mark against its seriousness. At that point it starts to look like, well, universalism is -nicer- and it makes God seem less -mean- to modern (not to mention, otherwise uninterested/hostile) ears.

Bob Sacamano said...

Crude,

If I'm reading your objection correctly, you seem to be saying that having to "twist, change, or shape" someone into being "salvation-worthy" is at least as unsavory--and maybe more so--than an eternal hell.

But to follow up on Tony's excellent post, are we not already and always oriented toward God from the first moment of our existence, such that the "twisting, changing or shaping" is better construed as a healing or restoration rather than violence? If our Natural Will is necessarily directed toward God, then I don't think such influences amount to an assault on our individual sovereignty any more than God creating us for the purpose--a purpose which we have no power to alter--of everlasting union with Him could be called an act of violence.

And I don't think this is a matter of whether God is "nice" or "mean." This is about the Good and Not Good. Most Christians identify God with Goodness as such, so that is not in dispute. But the Goodness of eternal hell compared to other alternatives is certainly a worthy topic of discussion.

Crude said...

Bob,

If I'm reading your objection correctly, you seem to be saying that having to "twist, change, or shape" someone into being "salvation-worthy" is at least as unsavory--and maybe more so--than an eternal hell.

But to follow up on Tony's excellent post, are we not already and always oriented toward God from the first moment of our existence, such that the "twisting, changing or shaping" is better construed as a healing or restoration rather than violence?


Fair question. But I think you're misunderstanding what I mean. Let me try to zero in on this.

In my personal view, God can do as He pleases. I identify heavily with Job - I am at God's mercy. I have little I can do but trust. I can try to figure out, discern His will, to a degree. Past a point, I'm sunk. Everyone is. If God wants to twist, turn, and shape someone, so be it. No doubt He's shaped me in a way or two in my life. (Though as ever, mea culpa.)

The problem is... I ain't the target audience here. I don't bat an eye at God damning anyone in principle. It's the people who object to Hell, who impugn God's goodness in way after way unless He does this or that. In fact, it's the unrepentant sinners who typically take front row here.

When I say universalism is about as palatable as Hell, or even less so, note that I'm making an appeal weighted heavily on emotion and instinctual reaction (but then, that's apropos - it's the appeal univeralists make more than anything.) Tell the unrepentant that no, they won't be punished eternally for their sins, or made to suffer eternal separation from God. Instead, what they hold dear and have pride in, they will reject. The loving union of man and man (and possibly, man and man and man and man, maybe a woman because man 4 isn't totally on board with this), is not loving, and was never really a union, much less loving. They will come to realize that, reject it. Tell the feminist that the loving God has prepared for her a final reshaping, where her views on a female clergy (and women's roles in general) shall melt away and soon she shall love the everlasting God who has shown her the ill of her ways.

Then ask them how loving and merciful all that sounds. I'm sure they'll be happy to tell you. Ask them if they'd rather be damned for all time, with nothing but the pride of knowing that when it came to God or their sins, they chose the latter. You may be surprised. (I recall no less than Desmond Tutu said he'd rather be damned to hell than go to a 'homophobic' God's heaven. I have my doubts.)

What I'm describing, again - while sharpened a bit - is the most plausible view of universalism. Remove this ingredient and the whole thing gets a lot more implausible than it would otherwise be, and it's already kind of out there. Yet I cannot help but get the impression this is a part of universalism that prominent universalists don't want to talk about or acknowledge, much less embrace, and even less than that - argue for.

But, I may be wrong. It's why I asked for the references. I have a feeling, if they exist, they are at the fringes. And I am not convinced they exist at all.

Brandon said...

There are important exceptions amongst the Church Fathers, and I think it would highly controversial to suggest that Christ affirmed an eternal hell, especially as the Greek term used doesn't really mean eternal but perpetual or age long.

Well, 'eternal' in this context doesn't strictly mean eternal, either, but perpetual, just as talk about whether the world is eternal doesn't mean anything more than that it is perpetual. And I think the exceptions among the Church Fathers are more ambiguous than they are usually admitted to be. St. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, who is often brought up in this context, doesn't have a doctrine of hell that differs in any noticeable way from anyone else; he just also has a doctrine of apocatastasis, and never really explains how the two fit together. St. Isaac of Nineveh, who is probably the most important authority to come out and deny it outright, is also quite vague about what this is supposed to entail. And that's fairly typical.

We have a modern tendency to try to look for the 'minority report' of Church Fathers to give us more wiggle-room, but even when such minority views do exist in reality (as in this case) rather than as an artifact of our interpretation, they often don't give much to work with.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Crude

“Plenty of people do become more virtuous by fearing punishment. People often can and will behave so as to avoid the punishment, and condition themselves to act, even think, in ways that will minimize it.”

It seems that by “virtue” you understand good behavior, and therefore you believe that since fear of punishment is effective in improving behavior it also improves virtue.

I think the right understanding is that virtue is the state of the soul that makes us desire the good for the good's sake, and therefore will naturally express itself in good thoughts and good acts, but is not predicated on such thoughts and acts. After all people may act nice because of hypocrisy, or because they wish to deceive, or, indeed, because they fear punishment. Such deeds are not the fruits of virtue.

Christ commands us to *do* this and that, because good deeds affect the soul for the better (make it more virtuous, move it on the path to atonement), and conversely bad deeds affect the soul for the worse (make it more evil, move it on the path to perdition). The soul is everything we really have, and that's why doing good is by itself a reward, and doing evil is by itself a punishment. After all the goodness of our soul is the true treasure that moths do not destroy and thieves cannot steal :-) Now if on the contrary one follows the path away from Christ then one's soul becomes disordered and weak to determine the will, one's eyes become blind to the beauty of God, one's heart gets filled not by love but by contempt. This is the way of hopelessness, the way to hell. In that sense it is right to say that by choosing evil people go to hell, but it doesn't really make sense to say that people choose hell itself. It's also rather misleading to say that God rewards the good and punishes the evil. Rather to be good is good and to be evil is evil.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude,


Those exceptions are why I spoke of the near universality. Important? I'm not sure of. The 'highly controversial', even moreso. Both His words and the traditional interpretation are pretty straightforward. I'd save 'highly controversial' for universality claims.

I suppose importance depends upon which Church Fathers you most look up to. I must admit it is the Alexandrine and Cappadocian Fathers I most admire, and it is these who are most likely to be universalists (this is not the reason I admire them, or not the main one).

I will grant you that the interpretation of eternal goes back a very long time. It was normal by at least the fifth century. It is interesting, though, that what was condemned at the fifth ecumenical council, under pressure from Justinian, was only automatic universalism. But I'm not sure how one can say that Christ's words themselves are straightforward. He doesn't use a word that normally means eternal. I'm not sure what, from the context, would make one think he meant eternal.

As to your other point, I reject doctrines of automatic, universal salvation, and these have been definitively rejected by the Church. I don't think your point would apply to someone who simply left open the possibility that someone in hell can choose God. It would be much like salvation in life (though, I grant, much harder).

Brandon,

Well, 'eternal' in this context doesn't strictly mean eternal, either, but perpetual, just as talk about whether the world is eternal doesn't mean anything more than that it is perpetual.

But the Gospel doesn't necessarily use the term in any philosophical sense. Perhaps age-long or long-lasting would be an even better translation, being less technical terms (and good translations of aionios).

I took St. Gregory to be suggesting that all may be saved, but that one must wished to be saved, even in hell.

Brandon said...

But the Gospel doesn't necessarily use the term in any philosophical sense

I don't think there is a 'philosophical sense' in these cases; it's a colloquial tag for summarizing a content whose precise character simply varies depending on the particular arguments and context. If anyone were being precise in the mere using of the term, they wouldn't use the word 'eternal' in this context at all, because the only contexts in which it actually has a technical sense are very different.

I took St. Gregory to be suggesting that all may be saved, but that one must wished to be saved, even in hell.

I don't think any Church Fathers accepting apocatastasis suggest anything so straightforwardly --there's always a measure of interpretation involved in getting something precise from it. St. Gregory says, if I recall correctly, that hell is an extremely severe refining process destroying evil (by fire and bitter medicine as he says somewhere) and that in the end, after a long period, there will be nothing evil at all because evil is intrinsicially finite but good is not. He does emphasize that repentance is needed, but he's also always seemed to me to be more concerned with the salvation of Man than the salvation of men, at least in talking about this subject, so that he doesn't really tell us what goes on at the individual level, beyond the fact that it is immense agony. So one can read him any number of different ways.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Brandon,

But would it not be the case that many of the Fathers, especially before the fifth century, are not clear about the nature of hell either?

Brandon said...

But would it not be the case that many of the Fathers, especially before the fifth century, are not clear about the nature of hell either?

I'm not sure what you intend this to mean. Many of them clearly say things about it, and quite straightforwardly, too, even when it's only in passing; this contrasts with St. Gregory on apocatastasis, who clearly says things about it on the general level and does not clearly say things about it when it comes to how it would work in the case of individuals. Nor is this surprising; the entire content of the former question is revealed truth and conclusions from it, while the content of the latter consists of a set of general arguments about something only God could possibly know in detail and that nobody claims to have been revealed in any of its details. And the Church Fathers in general are much more careful than modern theologians to stick to what is revealed or what they think can be rigorously proved. After all, how would we possibly know how God does what no human heart can conceive at the end of the age, under circumstances that would have to be different from those that obtain now, except by either revelation or rigorous proof from it, which doesn't exist in this case of how universal salvation would work in the case of individuals? Thus even someone with an identifiably strong view, like St. Isaac of Nineveh, talks about it, he keeps to the general, because that's the most that could be known. Thus my point that the nature of the topic leaves less wiggle-room than moderns sometimes want to find. But when the nature of hell comes up, there is direct information about it -- Scriptural revelation, especially by Jesus himself, who is the person who says most about hell in Scripture. One can argue that the wrong conclusions are drawn from the starting points, but it's not as if it's unclear or vague to point to one's starting points and draw conclusions from them, however undeveloped one's conclusion-drawing might be, and one can perfectly well continue to develop their beginning beyond where they left off. Thus the two are not structurally analogous in terms of what kinds of things can be said and concluded about them.

If you merely mean that there are many things left undiscussed or not considered, that's true, but it is a universal feature of theological doctrine, and not, as far as I can see, a relevant point; that things are not discussed does not tell us about the clarity of the things that are.

On the other hand, if you mean that specific things about the nature of hell are unclear, I'm sure that this would vary considerable depending on precisely what we were looking at. Everyone's very clear that it exists and that it is punishment, that what Jesus says about it must be true in some not-too-strained sense, and so forth, but no doubt one finds more lack of clarity on specific points the more one gets into precise details. There are lots of things that can be said about hell, some clear and some not; it's not possible to make a general classification of them without looking at them.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Jeremy Taylor,

“I'm certainly sympathetic to the universalist position, though not of the automatic kind.”

There is nothing “automatic” in unversalism, at least in the universalism I have seen defended.

Universalism's idea is really simple and can be captured in just one sentence: “God will not stop trying to save the last human soul, while always respecting its free will”.

As such universalism does not necessarily deny the existence of hell, or that people will go to hell, or about the particular state of the soul of somebody who is in hell. What it does deny is the premise that the moment of one's death in this life has a momentous significance in one's path to salvation: Before that moment God works for your salvation but after that moment no more; before that moment Christ's sacrifice means the world, after that point it means nothing at all. (I have previously explained why I am not a literalist and thus do not study scripture word by word, but right now I am not aware of any scriptural basis for the belief that our moment of death has such momentous significance. So for example I remember how Christ often calls us to repent, but I don't remember one instance where He calls us to repent before we die.)

Now strictly speaking universalism does not *entail* the salvation of all. But even for the universalist who fails to see how (given the kind of depravity people in hell suffer from and given God's respect for creaturely freedom) the whole salvific project can get off the ground, never mind can guarantee that even the most stubbornly unrepentant will be saved – the thought arises that here we are talking about God and about God's wishes, and that it would therefore be extremely foolish to bet that God will not find a way to succeed, and to succeed completely. Or in general to bet that there is the slightest probability that God's victory over evil will not be complete.

Nevertheless brainy universalists discuss how it might be possible that God can souls in hell, and moreover how God can save every last of them. I personally do not see any remarkably difficult problem here. But even if I am wrong in this understanding nothing changes to the fact that if God wishes to save everybody then it would be extremely foolish for a theist to doubt that God will succeed.

“But one of the anonymous posters above raises a good point. It does depend upon whether or not there is time or duration in hell. If there isn't, then it becomes hard to see how there could be salvation from hell.”

Well it seems to me that to speak of creaturely experience entails experiencing in time and thus having duration. So to say that souls will experience being in hell (and not just falling into hell) entails that they will experience hell in time and having duration. Even so, to say that hell is eternal does not entail that the experience of hell is never-ending. One can imagine that the path towards perdition continues even after one enters hell, and that at the limit one's soul reaches the state of absolute disorder, of complete spiritual blindness, and of absolute loss of will – this is the point where experience stops and where the “I” disappears, and therefore where the soul has literally annihilated itself. In that speculative picture the lost soul will not have a never-ending experience of hell, but it still makes sense to say that hell is eternal.

Kind of depressing to be thinking about hell :-P

Jeremy Taylor said...

Brandon,

I am a little confused about what is being said about St. Gregory.We seem to be somewhat in agreement, as far as I can see. But I am not entirely sure.

I don't think Christ is clear about his belief in eternal hell. The Greek doesn't even seem to indicate such a belief.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ed,

Would it be prudent for you to comment on the situation at Providence College and Anthony Esolen? If you haven't heard about it, you might see, here:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net

Sorry, to interrupt the discussion.

The Chicken

Jeremy Taylor said...

I should also add that, if I'm reading you correctly, and that admiiting St. Gregory is not straightforward, I wouldn't say that he is alone amongst the Fathers in this, on this issue. The ante-Nicene Fathers in particular say much that can be interpreted in multiple ways on thus issue, or seemingly different things at different times, whether of etetnal hell, finite punishment or hell, or annihilation, or distinct levels of punishment. If this us your point about St. Gregory, I agree. I just don't think he is alone, but I may be misinterpreting you. Unfortunately, I don't have time to dig around in the works of the Fathers right now, so if you have a different reading of the other Fathers, I will be more than happy to hear it, but won't have much to say in response.

Crude said...

Jeremy,

But I'm not sure how one can say that Christ's words themselves are straightforward. He doesn't use a word that normally means eternal.

Unquenchable? The sense is clearly there, as is the interpretation. It's also not the only place where Hell comes up in that sense.

As to your other point, I reject doctrines of automatic, universal salvation, and these have been definitively rejected by the Church. I don't think your point would apply to someone who simply left open the possibility that someone in hell can choose God. It would be much like salvation in life (though, I grant, much harder).

Well, no, because my point isn't about choosing those two doctrines alone. At least, the main point isn't. It's about coming to grips with what Universalism is really stating. And what Universalism is stating - when it is NOT that automatic salvation - is going to be terrifying to most ears. I'd say again that for many, it's more horrifying than Hell.

Somewhat, anyway. I think Tutu's full of crap, and I think most people would be. In a normal sense, no one's going to stand before the omnipotent, omniscient being and say 'Yes please I choose eternal damnation over saying that anal sex is bad'. People love to pretend they will, but I can't help noticing that every person with the supposed firmness of will to be able to stand up to God Himself tends to be meek around their manager at work.

D,

It seems that by “virtue” you understand good behavior, and therefore you believe that since fear of punishment is effective in improving behavior it also improves virtue.

No, I said that fear of punishment is remarkably good at altering not just behavior, but desire - both in a good way and a bad way. Fear of punishment motivates people to not just behave a certain way, but often to regard behaving that certain way as the sort of thing one should desire and orient themselves to. It doesn't just affect action, it affects - or can affect - thought.

Christ commands us to *do* this and that, because good deeds affect the soul for the better (make it more virtuous, move it on the path to atonement), and conversely bad deeds affect the soul for the worse (make it more evil, move it on the path to perdition).

Wait, so you're saying actions affect the soul? Funny, that.

Now if on the contrary one follows the path away from Christ then one's soul becomes disordered and weak to determine the will, one's eyes become blind to the beauty of God, one's heart gets filled not by love but by contempt.

Not quite. Contempt is something Christ had in abundance, particularly for sinners, or those who would mislead Christians, typically with loophole excuses. Love's also the sort of thing that can make you wreck a temple at times.

This is the way of hopelessness, the way to hell. In that sense it is right to say that by choosing evil people go to hell, but it doesn't really make sense to say that people choose hell itself.

Doesn't make sense? It's true. I've got quotes.

Here's Desmond Tutu: "'I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,' he said. 'I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.'"

Now, as I said to Jeremy: I think Tutu is full of crap. But Tutu's stated sentiment is not unpopular.

I respect Jeremy, I'll note. But it's unfortunately no one - perhaps due to misunderstanding - is engaging my point. The most reasonable, supportable kind of Universalism isn't a Universalism that's going to sound terribly loving to anyone nowadays. Now I, personally, can see how it could be loving. But as I've said - it ain't me you're selling to.

Brandon said...

I don't think Christ is clear about his belief in eternal hell. The Greek doesn't even seem to indicate such a belief.

As I said above, I don't think 'eternal' here is a technical term, but a colloquial tag used to summarize, and the precise meaning varies according to different lines of reasoning, so one would need to specify more precisely what is meant before one can know whether 'their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched' and other such things are relevant to it.

As I also said, I don't know what you mean by 'clear' in this context, or why you are raising the point. If you just mean 'explicit', I don't see that this is relevant; the matter of importance would be whether it followed from His teaching in the overall context of revelation or not. (We obviously have no direct line to the beliefs of Christ, only to His actual teaching and that of His disciples.)

Jeremy Taylor said...

Unquenchable presumably refers to the fire itself, and doesn't necessarily say anything about the time spent within it. The New Testament refers to hell in various different ways and under various different names. I think it would be a stretch to say the overall picture is unambiguous in its affirmation of an eternall hell.

I'm not sure what you mean about Universalism.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Brandon,

I was referring to the words as Christ in the context of the discussion within this thread, the teaching of Christ on the matter having been raised. Yes, it goes without saying that if one has other reasons for suggesting Christ taught there can be no salvation from hell (which is what seems to be at the heart of the dispute, and what is most usually meant by eternal in this context), then his words can be interpreted that way. They just don't strike me as unambiguous in themselves.

Brandon said...

I think it would be a stretch to say the overall picture is unambiguous in its affirmation of an eternal hell.

It seems odd to call it a stretch when it has been the dominant view for nearly two thousand years -- or, if you prefer, at least fifteen hundred -- that it does in fact unambiguously indicate one thing or other that can fall under the label 'eternal hell'. One might say that it is still possibly wrong, or even definitely wrong, but if it were a stretch one would think it would have been noticed more often over so many cultures and climes.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I don't think that follows. A stretch here simply means that the words in themselves aren't unambiguous in suggesting there is no salvation from hell. I don't see why such a dominant view could no come about in such a situation. I am not, after all, suggesting Crist says anything on hell explicitly contrary to the dominant view Indeed, I am sure one could find numerous parallels, if one cared to.

Brandon said...

I was referring to the words as Christ in the context of the discussion within this thread, the teaching of Christ on the matter having been raised.

And part of that discussion is my saying that 'eternal hell' does not have a precise meaning and therefore can apply to rather different positions on the subject, so it's impossible to say what you are asking if you just keep referring to the doctrine as that of 'eternal hell'. If the claim is that Christ does not explicitly teach a Thomistic account of it, that's certainly true. If the claim is that no Church Father developing the implications of Christ's teaching draws a reasonable conclusion to something that can be tagged as 'eternal hell', that certainly is false. If the claim is that one can interpret the words in ways that don't imply something that one would put under the label, that's certainly true, but not relevant since one can interpret words any way one pleases; the question would be whether that's a particularly reasonable interpretation or not, and that would require specific argument and attention to what is specifically included under the label. I have no way of agreeing or disagreeing with you without such specifics.

Nor does turning to salvation immediately help. All of the medieval scholastics held that people could in principle be saved by God from hell under special conditions; so your formulation would seem to mean that (for example) Aquinas (who held that it was at least possible that the legend of St. Gregory the Great and the miracle of the baptism of Trajan might be true) and Dante (who seems explicitly to accept the legend of the baptism of Trajan) do not fall under the label. If that's the case, it's the sort of thing that would need to be made explicit in a discussion like this.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Step2
>Hell just froze over because the Cubs won the World Series, so I'm guessing that means the Universalists are correct since seemingly eternal curses can be broken.


Well I am not a baseball fan so this argument might work on my brother. But I am open to the idea the climate in Hell is cold enough to freeze water seeing Hillary and Trump getting this far as they have.;-)


>More seriously, if God did suspend the normal rules and controlled Pharaoh like a puppet it doesn't imply that God was an efficient cause of evil because it was God's action and not Pharaoh's. As you point out, since God cannot have any moral obligations then it makes no sense to claim God did something evil.


I think you are channeling Theistic Personalism here. Except instead of a Theistic Personalist Moral God(which requires some dumbarse Theodicy) you are substituting an A-moral one unequivocally comparable to an A-moral human being only more uber & magical.
Naturally, I only care about Classic Theism. Classic Theism is DaBomb! OTOH Theistic Personalism? Let’s just say there are not enough vulgar four letter Germanic metaphors to describe my deep deep hatred for that view.

God is not obligated to do anything for us anymore then Plato’s Form of the Good is obligated to stop the holocaust. But that doesn’t change the fact God is metaphysically and Ontologically Good. God is not a moral agent. But God is the Moral Law Itself. God’s good acts toward His creatures are gratuitous but God cannot directly command what is intrinsically evil or directly cause it. God cannot override Pharaoh’s free will or will on Pharaoh’s behalf then blame Pharaoh. God can however create someone whom He will foresee resisting His will & transcendently cause that someone to will freely & be the cause of the freedom in his or her resistance.
How God does this is a mystery. God can withdraw Grace from Pharaoh which results in “hardening his heart” but we can infer from theology God still somehow gives Pharaoh Sufficient Grace to change his mind. Grace that is somehow truly sufficient so that conversion for Pharaoh is a real possibility as it was for Judas. But how God creates beings with Free Will is in principle a Mystery. How Grace that is merely sufficient and not efficacious is truly sufficient is a mystery. In the end you hit a wall of mystery no matter what your ultimate metaphysical philosophy. Those are the breaks.


> It does make the story a little odd in that God is to an extent wearing both the antagonist and protagonist hats, but infinite beings can do weird stuff.


That last bit after the coma I would agree with. That first bit not so much but I will leave it to other.
Cheers Step2. Go Cubs!

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Crude,

“I'll note that cannibalism merits hardly a mention anywhere in the creeds.”

Do you really think that's a serious response?

I mean here we have a modern and detailed version of the creed prepared by the Catholic Church and signed by the important Pope who concluded the Second Vatican Council. This is arguably the most important Church document there is for the lay Catholic. And this document speaks about a great many things, such as about the right understanding of Papal infallibility, about salvation outside of the church, about the place of Mary in heaven, about the right understanding of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine at mass, about life eternal and about how souls and bodies will be reunited, even about the purgatory. But not even one word about hell. Doesn't this strike you as strange? Isn't the existence of hell and the right understanding about what hell means and about the danger of falling into it - really of the very greatest concern for the faithful? Then why not even a single word about hell in this modern and detailed version of the creed?

The only answer I can give is that the Church does not really feel sufficiently confident about this important matter, not as confident about any of the other matters included in the creed.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gottfried,

“How do those universalists who take scripture seriously deal with Matthew 26:24 and Mark 14:21?”

Well,I am a universalist and I do take scripture seriously. But to me to take scripture seriously is to take in the whole of the gospel and not be troubled with each word in it. And to take scripture seriously is also to learn something about the historical context and about the messy way by which scripture was produced. And why it is hardly reasonable to expect every word in it to be significant (never mind be correctly translated from the spoken Aramaic to the Hellenistic Greek, and from that Greek to modern English). Finally, the literalist belief that God supernaturally guided the hand of the actual human writers and thus every word has a divine source – is false on its face, since scripture, for all its worth, has not the quality one would expect to find if every word was literally God's. I also note that the one potential writer who was God incarnated made it a point not to write down a single word Himself – and that means something. Finally when we speak of the Bible as “the Word of God” we mean it metaphorically, for of course only Christ is the Word of God.

Having said all that, I don't understand what the problem that Matthew 26:24 (and the identical Mark) might present for universalism. A few hours after Jesus had uttered these words, when Judas was preparing to hang himself, Judas would readily agree that it would have been better if he had never been born. I can name many huge sinners who will think the same when they realize what they have done. And not just huge sinners properly speaking, but also hugely unfortunate neighbors, say those who wiped Christ, or those who nailed Him to the wooden cross. There are many human conditions where non-existence (not having been born) is preferable to facing what one has done.

Perhaps the suggestion here is that universalism entails that people may escape the implications of their sins, but that's certainly not the case. On the contrary it sits very naturally with universalism that everybody will face the full implication of their sinning. On the other hand it seems to me that the standard idea of hellism, namely that salvation is possible up to the last seconds of one's life but not after that point, entails that it is possible to escape the just wages of the sins one has committed in one's entire life – by doing the right thing in the very last seconds. So if anything it is hellism that offers the possibility of a free lunch.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gottfried,

“Also, are we certain that universalism is countenanced by the Orthodox Church?”

The Orthodox Church happens to be my church, and I am perhaps the only one in our party in that condition. So let me try to answer this – while making clear at the outset and without any false humility that I am not in any way an expert but respond only from what I know, by osmosis as it were.

The general understand of laity and clergy alike is that robust hellism is clearly the official position. By robust hellism I mean the belief that many (probably most) people will end up in never-ending separation of God – in a very unpleasant condition called “being in hell”.

The dogmatically orthodox position may not be as clear. The one and only book on Orthodox theology I have read in my life is the excellent “The Orthodox Way” by Kallistos Ware. The author has taught for many years about Orthodoxy at the University of Oxford, and is a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – so he is clearly an authority in this subject. In his book he writes that even though the condition of eternal separation from God certainly exists, it is not our place to know whether God will allow any humans to be in this condition. My understanding from memory is that since even so the danger is real we should take it seriously.

I happen to know one of the highest up bishops in the administration of the local Greek Orthodox Church, who is also a nice guy. BTW I sometimes have the impression that the more learned an Orthodox priest is the more probable it is that he will answer a serious question with a funny story or even a joke – which can be disconcerting to the western educated brain. Anyway when I once insisted on this issue he responded matter-of-factly that Origen's belief in universal reconciliation is wrong and that's that.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Brandon,

My comments were in response to what has been said in this thread. In fact, I believe I was so responding to someone who used the word eternal, if I remember correctly. I pointed out the Greek term doesn't mean that exactly. Other than that, the discussion seemed to be between those arguing for Universalism and those arguing against it. My point was that the words of Christ are ambiguous between any such position, and I mean on reasonable interpretations of them, not any great twisting if them. I think this is much simpler than you seem to wish to make it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Or, to put it another way, the words of Christ and the New Testament on hell and the afterlife seem to me to be able to support numerous different conceptions of these, universalist and non-universalist, with no great need for interpretative gymnastics nor any particular position, even universalism versus non-universalism, being the more likely or obvious interpretation of his words. I don't have time to enter into any detailed exegesis, so my point stands or falls on whether or not others share this general impression. But, apart from this, I don't see why I need enter into more specifics to make this general point. Either my point is rejected, and it is maintained Christ's words should be interpreted most naturally as referring to eternal hell, whichever way that is interpreted, or it is allowed that multiple reasonable interpretations can given to them. I think one can grasp the latter choice without developing these interpretations in great detail, just as one can the first choice. In fact, a lot of the discussion in this thread has hardly relied upon such development, for either position.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

FYI,

1. From the document to which you linked:

"We believe that the souls of all those who die in the grace of Christ whether they must still be purified in purgatory, or whether from the moment they leave their bodies Jesus takes them to paradise as He did for the Good Thief are the People of God in the eternity beyond death, which will be finally conquered on the day of the Resurrection when these souls will be reunited with their bodies."

a) I think this one sentence alone blows out of the water and to smithereens your ill-founded claim that there is little certainty and much doubt in the "official position" regarding a certain subject. For,

b) It stands to reason that if the souls of all those who die in the grace of Christ are the People of God in the eternity beyond death, then the soul of one who dies but not in the grace of Christ is not amongst the People of God in the eternity beyond death.

That aside,

c) If a man endeavors to lives his life as best he can and such that when he dies he'll likely be dying in the grace of Christ, then he really hasn't much to worry about (respecting his final 'destination'), does he?

2. Excerpts from an excerpt from Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Church:

o For the Christian there exist but two ultimate alternatives, Heaven and Hell.

o In recent years many Christians — not only in the west, but at times also in the Orthodox Church — have come to feel that the idea of Hell is inconsistent with belief in a loving God. But to argue thus is to display a sad and perilous confusion of thought.

o While it is true that God loves us with an infinite love, it is also true that He has given us free will; and since we have free will, it is possible for us to reject God. Since free will exists, Hell exists; for Hell is nothing else than the rejection of God. If we deny Hell, we deny free will.

o The Orthodox attitude towards the Last Judgment and Hell is clearly expressed in the choice of Gospel readings at the Liturgy on three successive Sundays shortly before Lent... But in the Gospel for the third Sunday — the parable of the Sheep and the Goats — we are reminded of the other truth: that it is possible to reject God and to turn away from Him to Hell.

o Hell is not so much a place where God imprisons man, as a place where man, by misusing his free will, chooses to imprison himself.

o Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God.

o It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved.

o Father Silouan of Mount Athos used to say to himself ‘Keep your mind in Hell and despair not;’ other Orthodox saints have repeated the words ‘All will be saved, and I alone will be condemned.’

Gottfried said...

Dianelos,

I suppose I should have taken the time to explain what I thought those verses implied.

Simply put, how can the statement of Jesus that it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born be true if Judas will eventually be reconciled with God and attain eternal beatitude? If the end result is eternal life in heaven then surely no amount of intermediate suffering (even, say, a billion years in purgatory or some temporary hell) could make that statement true. I see no indication in the text that Jesus was talking about the subjective feelings of Judas. And given that this saying appears verbatim in two different gospels, it seems to have made a strong impression.

I should note that I'm taking universalism to be simply the doctrine that all of humanity will ultimately be saved, though I'm not sure everyone here is talking about the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Very on point from The Sun - about the soul being preserved after life as quantum information at the point of death (this would seem to back up the Thomistic view you are describing here). I have no idea if the science here is legit: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thesun.co.uk/living/2123380/researchers-claim-that-humans-have-souls-which-can-live-on-after-death/amp/?client=safari

Eric Fesh said...

If a jogger has his legs cut out from under him in the act of jogging, does not momentum keep tbe torso travelling in the same direction in absence of an opposing force?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

Very on point from The Sun - about the soul being preserved after life as quantum information at the point of death (this would seem to back up the Thomistic view you are describing here). I have no idea if the science here is legit: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thesun.co.uk/living/2123380/researchers-claim-that-humans-have-souls-which-can-live-on-after-death/amp/?client=safari

November 5, 2016 at 5:48 PM"



Huh. I cane to this site today specifically to drop mention of a series of videos available (yes, on YouTube) concerning the Roger Penrose/ Stuart Hameroff collaboration on quantum state change based consciousness, microtubles, and platonic form.

Thought provoking to say the least.




A snippet

DNW said...



That last with the link to Hameroff was DNW.

"The objective reduction is consciousness"

DNW said...



I give up. Tried to respond to Anonymous @5:48 with a link to Roger Penrose/Stuart Hameroff on consciousness and objective reality, but something keeps error-ing out.

Type in Hameroff in your search window and check out the 6 part video series on microtubules, consciousness and a foundational reality deduced from their theorizing. Which, as it relates to a secular recognition of consciousness and its preservation, as well as a platonic reality informing and objective aesthetics and morals seems relevant.

DNW

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn

“It stands to reason that if the souls of all those who die in the grace of Christ are the People of God in the eternity beyond death, then the soul of one who dies but not in the grace of Christ is not amongst the People of God in the eternity beyond death.”

Can you please unpack this argument for me? Are you saying that the Catholic Church's “Credo of the People of God” is meant to be read only by the People of God who are those who will die in the grace of Christ? And the reason that hell is never mentioned in that document is because no one of them will go to hell? Please don't tell me that's your argument :-)

“If a man endeavors to live his life as best he can and such that when he dies he'll likely be dying in the grace of Christ, then he really hasn't much to worry about (respecting his final 'destination'), does he?”

On the one hand, being a universalist I don't think anybody has much to worry about one's final destination. On the other hand, being a universalist I think everybody should understand that justice is a serious matter, indeed a fundamental order of creation. Which means that one will pay the wages of sin as certainly as one will receive the blessing of even the smallest act of charity. To some degree we all know that repentance is hard, and that at the very least it entails the pain and humiliation of facing our own shortcoming. Now is it possible for God to bless an undeserving person and save her for free as it were? God can do everything God wants to do, but I feel one should not count on this kind of special saving grace. And that those who might receive it are those who do not count on it and do not at all expect it.

Finally I have a problem with the expression “endeavor to live one's life as best one can”. When I consider Christ's ethical message in the gospels it seems to me that a central part of it is self-transcendence. Which in a way means to endeavor to live one's life better than one can. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not a call to endeavor to live one's life as best one can, but something more than that.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

“Excerpts from an excerpt from Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Church: [snip]”

Thanks of the link and for the quotes.

As far as the quotes go I read and reread them and can't find one I disagree with. I'd like to comment on two that strike me as the most relevant to our discussion:

“Since free will exists, Hell exists; for Hell is nothing else than the rejection of God.”

One goes to hell by rejecting the good that is God, but being in hell is a condition that is not just about having rejected God. By having chosen the path towards perdition the lost soul will at some point enter the qualitatively different condition of being in hell. This is the condition where the disorder of the soul, its spiritual blindness, and the loss of mastery of will's freedom – have grown so much that it is now existentially impossible to turn back to God. The condition of being in hell is then characterized by eternal hopelessness, and if you think of it true hopelessness is the very worse condition one can be in. (Conversely, entering heaven entails an ordering of the soul, a clarity of vision of God's beauty, and a mastery of will's freedom, such that it becomes existentially impossible to turn away from God; this condition is therefore characterized by the joy of the greatest hope eternally fulfilled.) It may well be possible to enter hell even in this life. Hell is not simply about getting lost, but about having already lost oneself, having lost one's natural orientation towards the good. This is a deadly sickness of the soul. When in such a condition of the soul, it is only by some special blessing from God (or perhaps from the saints) that it may turn back to the path of atonement.

“It is heretical to say that all *must* be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all *may* be saved.”

If this is not only Ware's understanding but is also the Orthodox Chuch's understanding then it follows that hopeful universalism is countenanced by my church. Now in comparison to the Catholic church the Orthodox Church is much less centralized not only organizationally but also dogmatically. So it may well be the case that there is no official understanding - no final dogma of the Orthodox Church about hopeful universalism. But given Ware's knowledge of Orthodoxy it is practically certain that at the very least hopeful universalism is not rejected by the Orthodox Church. I may be wrong but I have the impression that it is not dogmatically rejected by the Catholic Church either. Perhaps somebody else can clarify this point.

Now there is an ambiguity in the expression “all *must* be saved”. I think that's not how robust universalism is likely to put it. Speaking for myself, I believe that “all *will* be saved”. This is an expression of faith. Not only faith in the power of the Father's love, in the value of Christ's sacrifice, in the glory of the Spirit's final victory. In my understanding it is also an expression of faith in humankind, in the nature of being made in the image of God. As long as the soul is not dead (and a dead soul does not exist anymore; a probable metaphysical impossibility) no matter how disorderly and how dim the soul's vision – the light and beauty of God's saving grace can penetrate it and thus can touch it without violating its free will.

So is it possible that a human soul will be so stubbornly evil that it will freely reject God's love for ever? Yes, it is possible. Is there any chance that the last human soul will actually choose to do so? No, there isn't, not a snowball's chance in hell. Now a hell-bound soul is in a very very bad shape indeed, perhaps worse than one can imagine. Nevertheless for love to win it over won't take a million years I don't think. Not even a thousand, probably. Love is a very powerful thing, and to be made in the image of God entails to be able to be touched by love.

Tony said...

It is one thing to say that "the very structure of hell is such that no human soul there can change toward love of God," and to say that "God has so disposed the created order, according to his good pleasure, that he has ordained it that those human souls that are sent to hell shall never be give the extraordinary grace that would be required before one of them could change toward love of God." In the latter, a damned soul doesn't "stay in hell" because it is metaphysically impossible for God to reverse his condemnation, but because God has CHOSEN not to, and chosen it permanently.

The "mandatory" universalist denies both options above, he says neither can even possibly represent the order of God's work.

I presume that the "hopeful" universalist says, rather, that while the second option is indeed possible to God, we need not assume it, and indeed we have more reason to believe otherwise, that God has NOT so ordained the created order. But this could happen either of two ways, in theory: A third option is that "though there is a hell possible and it is metaphysically possible for a man to end up there, God has so ordained the created order that He has willed to move each person's soul to love Him before their judgment at death, in response to Christ's salvific sacrifice."

And the fourth is that "although God allows some to die in mortal sin, be judged, and be condemned to hell, he STILL retains the power to change them and he in fact will do so out of love."

Since the third option is not definitely objectionable in any particular to the Bible about the nature of hell nor about God's power to act, whereas the 4th is at a minimum offensive to the NATURAL reading of the biblical passages (such as where Christ depicts the final judgment and describes the result for the "goats" as never ending), I cannot imagine ANY reason to prefer the fourth over the third.

I still think the third is highly implausible for a great many reasons, including the dire warnings throughout the bible, and the multitude of private revelations by saints and by CONFIRMED visionaries, who have "seen" many going to hell. But I grant that implausible is not the same as impossible.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

“It stands to reason that if the souls of all those who die in the grace of Christ are the People of God in the eternity beyond death, then the soul of one who dies but not in the grace of Christ is not amongst the People of God in the eternity beyond death.”

Can you please unpack this argument for me?


The People of God in the eternity beyond death are given as those who die in the grace of Christ. This is to say that the People of God in the eternity beyond death do not include those who, though they die, do not die in the grace of Christ.

Are you saying that the Catholic Church's “Credo of the People of God” is meant to be read only by the People of God who are those who will die in the grace of Christ?

I was aware before making my comment that you had read the document, so why would I venture to say such a thing? (This, of course, is a playful retort, and not to be taken any more seriously than is the question itself.)

Finally I have a problem with the expression “endeavor to live one's life as best one can”. When I consider Christ's ethical message in the gospels it seems to me that a central part of it is self-transcendence. Which in a way means to endeavor to live one's life better than one can. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not a call to endeavor to live one's life as best one can, but something more than that.

If you're capable of doing better than the best you can do, then go right ahead. (But if you are capable of doing better than 'the best you can do', then 'the best you can do' really isn't the best you can do, is it now?) Still, I see your point. Sort of. Even so, no one I'm aware of has ever made the silly claim that not being as perfect as our Father in heaven is a ticket to hell.

Anonymous said...

If an angel, upon its creation, is mistaken/in error about what is its ultimate good, how can that error, for which the angel is not responsible (is it?), damn that angel forever?

Tony said...

An angel, upon creation, isn't mistaken or in error about anything. When it adheres to itself rather than to God as its final end, it does so by wrong in the WILL not in the intellect. Just as a man, knowing that rape is a sin and contrary to God his last end, chooses it anyway. The will was not determined toward "the better good" in angels any more than to men before receiving the beatific vision.

Gyan said...

Tony,
"judgment at death"
Perhaps one needs to be a little imaginative as to what it means. For example, as CS Lewis pictured it in the Great Divorce, the judgment may not immediately follow death. We need not assume that post-death time follows for the soul as the time flows for the living people on the earth.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Crude

“No, I said that fear of punishment is remarkably good at altering not just behavior, but desire - both in a good way and a bad way”

I don't think that fear of punishment moves desire in the right direction. This is not a matter of argument but a matter of fact about the human condition as we all know it. It's also I think pretty obvious that, say, the very severe punishments specified in the US laws on drugs or taxation do not at all diminish peoples' *desire* to avoid paying taxes or to avoid taking mood enhancing drugs.

That's why I think that even when talking about hell we should not speak about punishment for our sins but about implications of our sins. But even here, just knowing the implications is not by far sufficient to change our desire. So we see many doctors smoking and not even desiring to stop, as they openly say.

“Wait, so you're saying actions affect the soul?”

Or course, and I wonder what I may have written that gave you the impression I don't think this. After all we see Christ in the gospels incessantly tells us to do good works. Now all ethically significant actions affect the soul, but only the good actions affect the soul for the better. Now an action is good not by what it seems from the outside but by what it is from the inside. To help somebody in need because one feels love for her is a good action. To help somebody in need because one feels that in this way one earns points for not going to hell or for going to heaven is *not* a good action. If anything it's an evil action, for it represents the intent to do business with God.

In this context many people wonder if it's good works or faith that are more significant for salvation. I think that's a false question, for good works and faith go together. There are no good deeds without faith, and no faith without good deeds. Even the atheist who does a good deed has faith, namely faith in the value of goodness. And since the atheist has not any expectation of reward or fear of punishment, when we see an atheist do a genuinely good deed we should admire her and marvel at the power of the grace of God.

“Contempt is something Christ had in abundance, particularly for sinners, or those who would mislead Christians, typically with loophole excuses.”

In my own experience evil does not substitute love with hate but with contempt. To fail to love one's neighbors is not about hating them but about not caring about them.

As for Christ in the gospels it is I think accepted by all biblical scholars (or at least I have not the least indication that there is any doubt about this matter) that Christ showed active love to those that the Jews in general and in particular the learned Jews of His time felt only contempt for. Such as for Romans (who were the occupying power), tax-collectors (who were the locals who served the Romans), the prostitutes, adulterous women, the Samaritans, etc. So very clearly Christ in the gospels is the exact opposite of what you seem to imply above. And it was especially to sinners that Christ was particularly gentle – if anything He was more stern to His closest followers. Actually I don't think that Christ showed contempt to anybody, except perhaps some anger to the learned Jews who waved the Bible at Him.

As for contempt “for those who would mislead Christians” I am not sure what you mean. Perhaps you mean the cases described in the gospels where Christ responds to the learned Scribes and Pharisees who, confident of their superior knowledge and smarts, publicly tried to test Him or to ridicule Him in the eyes of the followers.

“Here's Desmond Tutu: 'I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,'”

What do you understand is Tutu saying here: A) I choose to go to hell, or B) I am so completely certain that God is not a homophobic that I am willing to wager my soul on this point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'll check it out.

DNW said...

What do you understand is Tutu saying here: A) I choose to go to hell, or B) I am so completely certain that God is not a homophobic that I am willing to wager my soul on this point.

November 7, 2016 at 4:49 AM



Neither. He is saying that he would rather be in Hell than in a Heaven which was not ordered to the acceptance and celebration of buggery.

Anonymous said...

"For Aquinas, then, an angel’s basic orientation is set immediately after its creation. It either rightly takes God for its ultimate end, or wrongly takes something less than God for its ultimate end. If the former, then it is forever “locked on” to beatitude, and if the latter, it is forever “locked on” to unhappiness. There is no contrary appetite that can move it away from what it is habituated to, and no cognitive process that can be redirected. The angel that chooses wrongly is thus fallen or damned, and not even God can change that any more than he can make a round square, for such change is simply metaphysically impossible insofar as it is contrary to the very nature of an angelic intellect."

"Choose" does not make any sense here, since on this account, angels have no free will.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn

“The People of God in the eternity beyond death are given as those who die in the grace of Christ.”

Since you are not giving a straight answer I take it you explain the fact that hell is not mentioned in the Catholic Church's recent “Credo of the People of God” by observing that the people of God by definition will not go to hell and therefore the mention of hell in that document was irrelevant.

I find it much more probable that the right explanation is that the Pope Paul VI who concluded the Second Vatican Council felt deep doubts about the truth of hellism and was not prepared to sign an important document that affirms it.

“If you're capable of doing better than the best you can do, then go right ahead.”

I didn't say that. I said that Christ calls us to *endeavor* to live our life better than we can. Christ's call for us is to endeavor the impossible. When I try to take Christ seriously two thoughts arise: First that the Kingdom is not of this world, and thus it's only natural that the way towards the Kingdom isn't either. Though His sacrifice Christ has opened a door that connects our customary fallen world with the actual world of God. Secondly that after a point in repentance we can only continue to follow Christ (or to order our soul to become more similar to Christ) by transcending ourselves. Perhaps that's the point of actual salvation, the point one enters heaven: when on gives oneself up to Christ, or, as it were, when one offers oneself as a present to Him. As Christ gave Himself up to us when He came to meet us, so are we to give ourselves up to Him to meet Him.

And since I don't see anything in the fundamentals of Christianity that makes the point of death in our current condition a momentous event I think that Christ's call to atonement is always valid – before and after death. In this life and the next we are to follow Christ. The idea that it's only what we choose here before death that's significant – strikes me as too easy. And too primitive, too Earth bound.

And does not really fit with the facts we see around us: The vast majority of people live and die in an ethical limbo, neither hot nor cold, confused and having lost their way but not having lost their souls. It was perhaps in response to this realization that the Church came up with the idea of the purgatory. And some thought of various afterlife limbos besides. I mean the amount of theological work that has been invested in the question of whether infants who die unbaptized may go to heaven, is incredible. And it is tragic to consider how many Christian wives of dead soldiers suffered with the idea that their husbands might miss heaven because they died without getting absolution. Quite a mess – I think it is a mark of error when by trying to clarify a view one finds oneself making it ever more complicated. I find that all things considered universalism's simple idea that our current condition is but the beginning of the path of atonement makes vastly more sense. Both metaphysically (it avoids a cornucopia of realms and the difficult problems about the movement between them), and ethically (in practical ethics but also concerning justice), and theologically (it concords better God's greatness, it makes God more lovely and more lovable).

“one I'm aware of has ever made the silly claim that not being as perfect as our Father in heaven is a ticket to hell”

Neither have I. (I trust you meant “ticket” metaphorically, but even so it's a misleading way to put things. There are no tickets one has, but paths one follows.)

Rather my claim is that *endeavoring* to be as perfect as our Father in heaven (which means exactly the same as endeavoring to follow Christ), is the path to heaven. And *becoming* as perfect as our Father, is the path to theosis. These are trivial truths if you think about them.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

1. The purpose of the document is given in its third paragraph:

"[W]e shall accordingly make a profession of faith, pronounce a creed which, without being strictly speaking a dogmatic definition, repeats in substance, with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time, the creed of Nicea, the creed of the immortal tradition of the holy Church of God."

You will notice that it is expressly not the purpose of the document to constitute, strictly speaking, "a dogmatic definition."

You will also notice that it is expressly the purpose of the document to repeat in substance the creed of Nicea.

I suggest you now review the Nicene Creed.

2. You give your explanation for why you think the term hell is not explicitly mentioned in the document as follows: "Pope Paul VI who concluded the Second Vatican Council felt deep doubts about the truth of hellism and was not prepared to sign an important document that affirms it."

As is the case with the Nicene Creed, the document also does not explicitly mention repentance.

Shall we conclude from your explanation above, and the confidence with which you give it, that your explanation for the lack of any explicit mention of repentance is similar, i.e., something along the lines of, "Pope Paul VI who concluded the Second Vatican Council felt deep doubts about the value of repentance and was not prepared to sign an important document that affirms it"?

If not, then please provide a rational explanation for why you think there is something to made of the fact that hell is only implicitly mentioned in the document, but nothing to be of the fact that repentance is neither explicitly mentioned nor implicitly mentioned in the same document.

3. We read in the document:

a) "God alone can give us right and full knowledge of this reality by revealing Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose eternal life we are by grace called to share, here below in the obscurity of faith and after death in eternal light."; and,

b) "He ascended to heaven, and He will come again, this time in glory, to judge the living and the dead: each according to his merits -- those who have responded to the love and piety of God going to eternal life, those who have refused them to the end going to the fire that is not extinguished."

Can you provide a rational explanation for how –- indeed, for why -- those rejecting the eternal life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to which they have been called by grace to share, might share in the very eternal life which they themselves have rejected?

Can you square that rational explanation with the declaration that those who, to the end, refuse the love and piety of God go to the fire that is not extinguished?

Can you make an educated guess as to what the referent of the phrase "the fire that is not extinguished" might be?

Anonymous said...

“The People of God in the eternity beyond death are given as those who die in the grace of Christ.”

Except the Emperor Trajan?

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

“If you're capable of doing better than the best you can do, then go right ahead.”

I didn't say that. I said that Christ calls us to *endeavor* to live our life better than we can.


Before you said that, I had said "If a man endeavors to lives his life as best he can and such that when he dies he'll likely be dying in the grace of Christ, then he really hasn't much to worry about (respecting his final 'destination'), does he?"

While you expressed no disagreement with the whole of this, you did say had a problem with the particular expression "endeavor to live one's life as best one can".

The 'best' in "as best one can", however, is akin to "that than which nothing better is possible" (now's a good time to recall the rhetorical question already asked: "But if [one is] capable of doing better than 'the best [he] do', then 'the best [he] can do' really isn't the best [he] can do, is it now?"), so I don't see how you can have a legitimate problem with the expression "endeavoring to live one's life as best one can".

Christ's call for us is to endeavor the impossible.

Christ also said that His yoke is easy, and His burden light.

Still, it is true that,

o [I]t behooves a man to do his utmost to strive onward even to Divine things, as even the Philosopher declares in Ethic. x, 7, and as Scripture often admonishes us---for instance: "Be ye . . . perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mat. 5:48)[.] ST I-II Q 61 A 5

(I trust you meant “ticket” metaphorically, but even so it's a misleading way to put things. There are no tickets one has, but paths one follows.)

Something which is a means or method may be said to be a "ticket to".

Thus, e.g., a college degree may be said to be a ticket to a higher paying job, excessive drinking and immoderate smoking may be said to be tickets to poor health, and truth may be said to be the ticket to freedom ("The truth will set you free").

A path is a means (to the destination to which the path leads), so even a path may be said to be a 'ticket to'.

Tony said...

Tony,
"judgment at death"
Perhaps one needs to be a little imaginative as to what it means. For example, as CS Lewis pictured it in the Great Divorce, the judgment may not immediately follow death. We need not assume that post-death time follows for the soul as the time flows for the living people on the earth.


@ Gyan:

This is a fair enough point. We don't know - and probably cannot fully imagine - the parameters of the judgment at death. Time, or "time" being one of them.

Indeed, we should EXPECT there to be some sort of wiggle room about the affair: there are numerous instances of persons who have been brought back from death to life. (Even if we were to discount the cases of people brought back after their heart stopped as "not really dead yet", we still have the cases in the Bible, such as Lazarus dead for days.) If the judgment at death and the sentence was instantaneous as we perceive "instantaneous", we would have a lot of trouble dealing with these people.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that whatever conditions obtain for the "moment" or "time" or "period" of the judgment, we still have to accept (a) that it is a real event and not a metaphorical one, and (b) that the judgment of condemnation is not in any ordinary sense reversible. The condition of those condemned is that of permanent isolation from God, whereas those who have been sentenced to purgatory are NOT sentenced to permanent isolation from God, and this is a very fundamental difference. Despair and hope are not different by mere degrees.

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