Monday, January 9, 2017

A Hartless God?


Lest the impatient reader start to think of this as the blog from hell, what follows will be – well, for a while, anyway – my last post on that subject.  Recall that in earlier posts I set out a Thomistic defense of the doctrine of eternal damnation.  In the first, I explained how, on Aquinas’s view, the immortal soul of the person who is damned becomes permanently locked on to evil upon death.  The second post argued that since the person who is damned perpetually wills evil, God perpetually inflicts on that person a proportionate punishment.  The third post explains why the souls of the damned would not be annihilated instead.  In this post I will respond to a critique of the doctrine of eternal damnation put forward by my old sparring partner, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, in his article “God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilo (from the September 2015 issue of Radical Orthodoxy).
 
The central theme of Hart’s article is that the world qua God’s creation is an expression of his perfect goodness and rationality, and that eternal damnation would be incompatible with that perfection.  Of course, defenders of eternal damnation like Aquinas would deny that there is any such incompatibility, for reasons like those set out in my earlier posts.  So, Hart owes us some argumentation in addition to this assertion of incompatibility.  And indeed, he offers (as far as I can see) five lines of argument in defense of his position. 

The arguments are, however, all very sketchy at best rather than carefully worked out, and in my judgment none of them succeeds.  Let’s take a look.

1. To damn one is to damn all

Hart thinks that human beings are interconnected in such a way that no one could possibly enjoy perpetual happiness if others were damned.  He writes:

After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities?  Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us?  We are those others.  To say that the sufferings of the damned will either be clouded from the eyes of the blessed or, worse, increase the pitiless bliss of heaven is also to say that no persons can possibly be saved: for, if the memories of others are removed, or lost, or one’s knowledge of their misery is converted into indifference or, God forbid, into greater beatitude, what then remains of one in one’s last bliss?

Some other being altogether, surely: a spiritual anonymity, a vapid spark of pure intellection, the residue of a soul reduced to no one.  But not a person -- not the person who was.  (p. 9)

Now, one way to read this is as a metaphysical claim to the effect that a human being is literally constituted at least in part by his relationships to other human beings.  For example, what it is for Mike to exist is for Mike to be the husband of Carol, the father of Greg, Marsha, and other children, the grandson of Hank, the good friend of Jim, the employer of Alice, the dutiful employee of Ed, the loyal customer of Sam, and so on.  On this interpretation, these other people are parts of Mike in something like the way his arms and legs are parts of him.  Now, if Mike’s arm or leg was in hell, then Mike himself would be, to that extent at least, in hell.  Hence if any of these other constitutive parts of Mike – Carol, Greg, Marsha, et al. – is damned then Mike himself is, at least to that extent, also damned. 

Read this way, though, Hart’s claim would be obviously false, and indeed absurd.  For of course, Mike existed before he ever met Carol, Jim, Ed, Alice, or Sam, he would continue to exist if Hank or any of these other people died, and so on.  Mike did not gradually come into existence as he met these people, and he doesn’t gradually fade out of existence as they depart or die off.  Mike could even in theory end up as the last man on earth, if there were a nuclear war, a worldwide plague, or the like.  It’s not as if, when the second-to-last man goes out of existence, Mike himself would blink out with him!  Hence it is simply not the case that Mike or any other human being is literally constituted by his relations to other people. 

What Hart must have in mind, then, is the idea that our identity is determined by our relationships with others in the looser sense that those relationships play a crucial role in molding one’s character, memories, values, etc.  We could say, for example, that Mike’s understanding of his personal calling in life includes his conception of himself as the husband of Carol, the father of Greg and Marsha, the friend of Jim, etc.  Fulfilling his responsibilities to these others, enjoying their company, being involved in common projects with them, etc. are what give his life the specific meaning and unique satisfactions that it has.  He could have known other people, been born in another country, had another vocation, etc. but these possibilities all seem abstract and alien to him.  Given his actual history and the people who have actually played a role in forming his character and memories, he would be unhappy if they were taken away from him. 

Now, a person is indeed formed by his relationships to others in this loose sense.  The trouble is that if this is all that Hart has in mind, then the premise is clearly too weak to support the conclusion that we could not possibly maintain our identities and happiness in heaven unless everyone who played a role in molding our lives is saved along with us.  For people obviously can and do retain their identities and even happiness in the absence of some of the people who have shaped their lives, even if in some cases this is difficult.  It happens all the time.

For example, not everyone who has played a role in forming one’s life remains a part of it in the long term.  Mike is the man he is in part because of the teachers and fellow students he knew in his school days.  But he may seldom if ever think about many of these people, and his life might carry on just as it has, and as happily as it does, even if he never thinks of or hears about them again.  For another thing, people sometimes find their callings in life and achieve happiness precisely by leaving behind a pattern of life and set of relationships that once determined their conceptions of themselves.  For example, imagine that Mike had been a hard-partying musician in his twenties, but two decades later has become a family man and professional who would never want to return to his earlier, hedonistic ways and could no longer relate to the people he then knew even if he still kept in contact with them. 

Of course, it might seem harder to imagine Mike being happy if he never again saw (say) his wife Carol, his son Greg, or his friend Jim.  But suppose it turned out that Carol had been committing adultery with Jim, was stealing from Mike in order to sustain a drug habit, abandoned him and the children to run off with Jim, etc.  Mike might in that case be happier in the future precisely to the extent that he does not think about Carol and Jim.  Or suppose Greg ended up becoming a drug pusher and a murderer, was hardened into bitter ingratitude and hatred toward his father, and they became estranged.  Greg might become so corrupt that Mike might conclude that it is as if Greg were no longer his son.  Here too he might be happier in the future precisely to the extent that he does not think about Greg. 

Even in ordinary life, then, we can think of examples in which the breaking off of relationships with even once close friends and family is consistent with one’s maintaining his basic character and happiness.  Now, what C. S. Lewis called the “great divorce” between the saved and the damned is analogous to this.  As I noted in one of the earlier posts in this series, on the Thomistic account, the good that was in the damned person prior to death drops away, leaving only the soul permanently hardened in evil.  So, the people one knew in this life but will be separated from forever in the afterlife are usefully thought of on the model of the most corrupt people we come across in this life, including even people whose evil has so estranged us from them that once close emotional bonds have been dissolved. 

Now, Hart might concede that these sorts of examples give us a model for understanding how we might be happy in the afterlife even if we no longer then know some of the people we knew in this life.  But he might argue that it still does not follow that we could be happy if those people were not only separated from us forever, but also suffering forever. 

To see what is wrong with this, though, return once again to examples from this life.  Few people are troubled by the fact that mass murderers who are imprisoned for life are to that extent unhappy for the rest of their lives.  The reason is that those who suffer such punishments deserve them.  Similarly, Mike might be untroubled even if Greg goes to jail for life, if he thinks Greg has become so evil that he deserves this.  And if he hears that Carol and Jim have become miserable together in their adulterous relationship, he may well be untroubled by that too, since they deserve that misery. 

By the same token, if those damned forever deserve precisely that punishment – and in an earlier post I spelled out the standard Thomistic account of how someone could deserve it – then the saved will not be troubled by the fact that the damned suffer that punishment.  Hart might disagree with the claim that they deserve it, but the point is that his argument doesn’t show that they don’t deserve it but at best merely implicitly presupposes that they don’t.  If so, then it simply begs the question.

To sum up, then, this first argument of Hart’s rests on a fatal ambiguity.  His premise that a person’s identity is determined by his relationships to other people can be interpreted in either a literal sense or a loose sense.  If interpreted the first or literal way, then while the premise would support Hart’s conclusion, it is also obviously false.  If interpreted instead in the second or loose way, then while the premise is true, it does not support Hart’s conclusion.  Hart’s argument can appear plausible only if we fail to disambiguate these alternative readings.

2. Hell is incompatible with God’s goodness and rationality

Again, the main theme of Hart’s article is that creation is an expression of God’s goodness and rationality.  He writes:

{T]he only necessity in the divine act of creation is the impossibility of any hindrance upon God’s expression of his goodness… (p. 3)

[T]he doctrine of creation adds… an assurance that in this divine outpouring there is no element of the “irrational”: something purely spontaneous, or organic, or even mechanical, beyond the power of God’s rational freedom.  But then it also means that within the story of creation, viewed from its final cause, there can be no residue of the pardonably tragic, no irrecuperable or irreconcilable remainder left at the end of the tale. (pp. 5-6)

Now, creation would in Hart’s view be neither good nor rational if hell were a part of it.  He expresses this idea in passages like the following:

[T]he eternal suffering… of any soul would be an abominable tragedy, and so a moral evil if even conditionally intended, and could not possibly be comprised within the ends intended by a truly good will (in any sense of the word “good” intelligible to us)Yet, if both the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo and that of eternal damnation are true, that evil is indeed comprised within the intentions and dispositions of God… And what then is God, inasmuch as the moral nature of any intended final cause must include within its calculus what one is willing to sacrifice to achieve that end…? (pp. 11-12)

Let us imagine… that only one soul will perish eternally, and all others enter into the peace of the Kingdom… Let it be someone utterly despicable – say, Hitler.  Even then, no matter how we understand the fate of that single wretched soul in relation to God’s intentions, no account of the divine decision to create out of nothingness can make its propriety morally intelligible. (pp. 12-13)

Let us suppose… that rational creatures possess real autonomy, and that no one goes to hell save by his or her own industry and ingenuity… [L]et us say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into Tartarus forever; this still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price… Creation could never then be called “good” in an unconditional sense; nor God the “Good as such,” no matter what conditional goods he might accomplish in creating.  (pp. 13-14)

[I]f God does so create, in himself he cannot be the good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: it is from one vantage an act of predilective love, but from another – logically necessary – vantage an act of prudential malevolence. (p. 16)

End quote.  Now, I quote these passages rather than summarizing Hart’s argument precisely to demonstrate to the reader that there really isn’t much if anything in the way of actual argumentation here.  Hart repeatedly asserts that hell is incompatible with God’s goodness.  But while he does so with rhetorical flourish, as far as I can tell he never actually provides a rational justification for this claim.  Perhaps he finds it obvious, but since it is not obvious to those among Hart’s fellow Christian theologians who affirm the doctrine of hell – historically, by Hart’s own admission, the majority of Christian theologians – Hart is hardly in a positon to rest his case on mere personal intuition.

Those defenders of hell have also given arguments of their own which purport to show that the reality of hell is compatible with God’s rationality and goodness.  For example, in the three previous posts in this series, I spelled out the Thomistic arguments for this conclusion.  If those arguments succeed, then a person could indeed merit eternal punishment and a perfectly good and rational God not only could but would inflict it.  So, in order for Hart to make his case, he would need to respond to those arguments.  Unfortunately, he says very little in response, and the little he does say is not impressive.  This brings us to his next line of argument:

3. Free will does not justify hell

Hart claims that in order to try to make sense of eternal damnation, it will not suffice to appeal to the idea that the damned have freely chosen their unhappy fate.  He writes:

[The] appeal to creaturely freedom and to God’s respect for its dignity… invariably fails.  It might not do, if one could construct a metaphysics or phenomenology of the will’s liberty that was purely voluntarist, purely spontaneous; though, even then, one would have to explain how an absolutely libertarian act, obedient to no ultimate prior rationale whatsoever, would be distinguishable from sheer chance, or a mindless organic or mechanical impulse, and so any more “free” than an earthquake or embolism.  But, on any cogent account, free will is a power inherently purposive, teleological, primordially oriented toward the good, and shaped by that transcendental appetite to the degree that a soul can recognize the good for what it is.  No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good. (p. 10)

So, Hart evidently thinks that the conception of free will presupposed by defenses of the doctrine of hell is a voluntarist one on which the will is not inherently ordered toward what the intellect takes to be good.  This is very odd, considering that Aquinas and other Thomists firmly (and rather famously) reject voluntarism and agree with Hart that the will is inherently ordered toward what the intellect takes to be good.   Yet they also defend the doctrine of hell.  So, Hart’s objection here is aimed at a straw man.

Hart also says:

It makes no more sense to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves out of his love for them or of his respect for their freedom than to say a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of a tender respect for her moral autonomy.  And the argument becomes quite insufferable when one considers the personal conditions – ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will – under which each soul enters the world, and the circumstances – the suffering of all creatures, even the most innocent and delightful of them – with which that world confronts the soul. (p. 10)

Part of the problem with this is that once again, Hart appears to be attacking a straw man.  Defenders of the doctrine of hell – certainly Thomist and Catholic defenders of the doctrine – would not deny that factors such as ignorance, impairments to one’s intellect or to the freedom of one’s will, and the way that suffering can lead to such impairments, are relevant to one’s culpability and thus relevant to whether one is going to be saved or damned.  The traditional criteria for whether a sin is liable to send one to hell (i.e. for a sin’s being mortal) are, first, that the action is gravely wrong; second, that the sinner has full knowledge that what he is doing is wrong; and third, that the sinner acts with sufficient freedom of will.  So, to attack the thesis that someone might be damned even if he acted out of ignorance or if his will is impaired, and even if this ignorance or impairment were due to suffering he has undergone, is to attack something most defenders of the doctrine of hell are not committed to in the first place.

Another problem is that, given these conditions for a sin’s being mortal, Hart’s “deranged child” analogy is a false one.  A child typically lacks the sort of knowledge necessary for mortal sin, and a deranged person lacks the freedom of will necessary for mortal sin.  So, someone who goes to hell is precisely not like a father’s “deranged child.”  A better analogy would be a father’s adult son or daughter who is no longer under the father’s authority and has with full knowledge and deliberate consent chosen a life of evil – like Mike’s son Greg in our earlier example.  And here we would say that a respect for Greg’s “moral autonomy” should lead Mike to allow Greg to suffer the deserved bad consequences of his evil actions (e.g. jail time). 

But Hart would no doubt claim that even this analogy won’t work.  This brings us to his next objection:

4. Hell destroys the analogy between God’s goodness and ours

Aquinas takes the terms we apply to God to be properly understood in an analogical way.  The analogical use of terms is to be contrasted with the univocal and the equivocal uses.  If I say “I can make it to the party” and “I can start the car,” I am using the word “can” univocally or in the same sense.  If I say “I can make it to the party” and “The vegetables came out of a can,” I am using the word “can” equivocally or in completely different senses.  If I say “The battery is out of power” and “I have the power to release you from that obligation,” I am using the word “power” analogically or in a middle ground sort of way.  The power of a battery and the power of a person to release someone from an obligation are so very different that the term is not plausibly thought of as being used univocally.  But the senses are not completely unrelated either, so that the term is not being used equivocally.  Rather, there is something in the power of a person that is analogous to the power of a battery, even if that something is not the same thing that the battery has (e.g. it has nothing to do with electricity).

Again, for Aquinas, when we speak of God as powerful, as good, etc. we are using terms in an analogical way.  We are saying that there is in God something analogous to what we call power in us, something analogous to what we call goodness in us, etc.  It is not the same thing as what we call power or goodness in us (given that, unlike us, God is immaterial, outside time and space, changeless, etc.) but it is not entirely unrelated either.  (Note that the analogical use of terms being spoken of here is not a metaphorical use but a literal use.  A battery literally has power and a person literally has the power to release someone from an obligation.  Similarly, God literally has power and goodness, just as we literally have power and goodness, even if -- as with the battery and us -- it is not exactly the same thing that is had in both cases.  Not all analogical language is metaphorical.) 

Now, Hart evidently agrees with this account of theological language.  But he alleges that the doctrine of hell is incompatible with it.  In particular, he thinks that if God damns people to hell, then we are really using terms like “good,” “merciful,” “just,” “loving,” etc. in an equivocal way rather than an analogical way (pp. 6-7 and 11).  Moreover, he claims, “the contagion of this equivocity necessarily consumes theology entirely” (p. 14).  All of the language we use about God will turn out to bear no relation to the meanings it bears when we apply it to us, not even an analogical relationship.  Hence we will be unable to say anything about God at all.

Unfortunately, here too Hart’s position appears to boil down to little more than mere assertion, and a failure to consider much less respond to the arguments of the other side.  Aquinas, after all, champions both the doctrine of analogy and the doctrine of hell.  Moreover, as we have seen in the three earlier posts in this series, he gives detailed arguments for the latter, and these arguments purport to demonstrate the justice and goodness of damning some people to hell.  So, if Hart’s position is to amount to more than mere undefended assertion, he needs to respond to those arguments, and he does not do so.

Consider that when a human being with the authority to do so inflicts on a guilty person a punishment proportionate to the offense, we do not count this as evidence that the former is not really “good,” “merciful,” “just,” “loving,” etc. in anything like the ordinary senses of those terms.  For example, if a judge imposes a longer sentence on a repeat offender than he would on a first-time offender, we don’t think this contrary to justice in the ordinary sense, but rather precisely as an exercise of justice in the ordinary sense.  When a parent finally grounds a teenager who has repeatedly stayed out past his curfew, despite the fact that his parents have shown leniency to him in the past, we don’t think this contrary to their being loving or merciful.  On the contrary, we think it a case where the child has abused his parent’s mercy and love and for that reason is even more deserving of punishment.

Now, as we have seen in the previous posts, Aquinas argues the punishment of hell is perpetual precisely because those who are punished perpetually choose evil and perpetually reject the mercy and love of God.  Their punishment is as proportionate to their offense as the repeat offender’s punishment is proportionate to his offense, and as the teenager’s punishment is proportionate to his.  Properly understood, their punishment supports rather than undermines the analogy between our goodness on the one hand and God’s on the other.  Certainly Hart has said nothing to show otherwise.

(Incidentally, at pp. 7-8 of his article, in the context of his comments about analogy, Hart also makes some highly disparaging remarks about the doctrine of original sin.  This is a large topic, but suffice it for present purposes it to note that Hart directs his fire at the least plausible construal of that doctrine rather than at the most plausible construal.  I gave an exposition of the latter in an earlier post.)

5. Scripture doesn’t really teach eternal damnation 

Since Hart is a Christian theologian who regards scripture as divinely inspired and authoritative, one would expect him to have something to say about those biblical passages which are widely and traditionally understood to teach the doctrine of hell.  And indeed he does.   What he says is that this biblical evidence amounts to:

three deeply ambiguous verses that seem (and only seem) to threaten eternal torments for the wicked.  But that is as may be; every good New Testament scholar is well aware of the obscurities in what we can reconstruct of the eschatological vision of Jesus’s teachings. (p. 15)

That’s it.  Hart does not tell us exactly which passages he has in mind, and he does not explain why those passages do not really teach the doctrine of hell despite the fact that they are typically taken to teach exactly that.

This is very odd, especially coming from Hart.  Longtime readers will recall my exchange with Hart on the topic of whether there will be animals in heaven.  In that context, Hart put great emphasis on scriptural evidence, accused me of ignoring it (which in fact I had not done, as the article linked to shows), and dismissed any non-literal interpretation of passages that seem to imply the presence of fauna in the afterlife.  Yet when the topic is hell, Hart is strangely uninterested in scripture, dismisses in two sentences the biblical evidence against his position on the basis of the undefended assertion that the relevant passages “only seem” to conflict with it, and is apparently suddenly happy to consider non-literal readings.

In fact, contra Hart, the relevant passages are mostly not ambiguous, “deeply” or otherwise, and when one considers passages other than those reporting the words of Christ, there are a lot more than just three of them.  Those most relevant to the eternity of the punishment suffered by the damned are as follows (all quoted from the RSV):

The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire?
Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isaiah 33:14)

And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched… (Isaiah 66:24)

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (Matthew 18:8)

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” … And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.  (Matthew 25: 41, 46)

Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.  (Matthew 26:24)

[I]t is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire… [I]t is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,  where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43, 47-48)

They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.  (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (Revelation 14:11)

 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

Now, there have of course been creative attempts to interpret such passages in a way consistent with universalism or annihilationism.  For example, it is sometimes claimed that the Greek words translated as “everlasting,” “eternal” or “forever” could instead be interpreted as indicating that the punishment in question will last merely for an age or period of long duration, without being strictly endless.  But there are serious problems with such proposals.  For one thing, if the critic of the doctrine of hell were to be consistent in such an interpretation, then he would also have to say that these scriptural passages don’t teach that the reward of the saved will last forever either, but only that it will last for an age or period of long duration.  But if the relevant passages are in fact saying that the reward of the saved lasts forever (as they obviously are), then given the parallelism they employ it is clear that the punishment of the damned lasts forever as well. 

Moreover, the interpretation in question isn’t consistent with other scriptural uses of the relevant Greek terms.  For example, when the Bible speaks of God living forever or having glory forever, it obviously doesn’t mean that God lives or has glory only for an age or period of long duration (1 Timothy 1:17; 2 Timothy 4:18; Galatians 1:5; Revelation 15:7).

It is also very hard to see how Christ could have said that it would have been better for Judas not to have been born if his punishment is only temporary.  If even Judas is destined to be saved eventually, as Hart apparently thinks, then how could it not be better for Judas to have been born?

Another problem is that, whatever a few somewhat later thinkers like Origen thought, the very earliest of the Church Fathers (Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, et al.) took the punishment of the damned to be everlasting.  And those who were closest in time to the scriptural authors are in the best possible position to know exactly what those authors meant. 

Like other universalists, Hart puts great emphasis on passages that speak e.g. of God as willing that all be saved (Romans 11:32, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 Timothy 2:4, etc.).  The standard universalist move is to suggest that there is a deep tension here with the passages that speak of eternal damnation, and then to suggest that the only way to resolve this is to give the latter a non-literal interpretation.  This way universalism can be sold as a harmonizing defense of scriptural teaching, rather than as a departure from scriptural teaching. 

But the purported tension is bogus.  Consider the following parallel example.  God wills that no one sin.  But obviously it doesn’t follow that no one in fact sins.  On the contrary, people sin constantly, as scripture itself teaches.  It would be ludicrous to suggest that the fact that scripture says that God wills for us not to sin, but also complains that people do in fact sin, shows that there is some deep tension that needs to be resolved.  There is no tension at all because the claims are perfectly consistent.  Given our free will, it is possible for us not to do something that God wills for us to do.  Similarly, that God wills that all be saved simply doesn’t entail that all will in fact be saved, and for the same reason.  Given our free will, we are capable of rejecting the salvation that God wills for all of us.  There is nothing mysterious about this.

It is also odd for people who demand a non-literal interpretation of passages which speak of eternal punishment suddenly to sound like strict literalists when reading a passage like 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  For there is simply no reason to read the “all” here as entailing that every single last person will be saved.  “All” and related expressions are sometimes used somewhat loosely, including in scripture.  For example, when Matthew 3:5-6 speaks of John the Baptist going through “all Judea” baptizing, it obviously doesn’t mean that he walked through every single square foot and baptized every single person (e.g. Herod was obviously not baptized by John).  When Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed to human beings “once to die,” this doesn’t entail that absolutely everyone dies at most once (since those who have been resurrected, such as Lazarus, have died twice) and it doesn’t entail that absolutely everyone dies even once (since Hebrews 11:5 itself says that Enoch did “not see death”).  Such passages are simply making general claims but without intending to rule out the possibility of exceptions. 

1 Corinthians 15:22 has to be read in the same way.  Indeed, like Hebrews 9:27 it can’t be read as intending to assert that “in Adam” absolutely every single human being dies, given examples like Enoch and Elijah.  By the same token, there is no reason to think the claim that “all” shall be made alive means that every single human being will be saved.  And given that (for all the universalist has shown) there are many scriptural passages that teach eternal damnation, that can’t be what 1 Corinthians 15:22 means. 

But even if someone wants to resist these exegetical claims, Hart has given us no reason to reject them.  Again, like some of his other arguments, the one in question here boils down to little more than sheer assertion.

* * *

Remarkably for someone with a reputation as a champion of orthodoxy (as well as Orthodoxy), Hart suggests that “the God in whom the majority of Christians throughout history have professed belief would appear to be evil” (p. 6).  Lest there be any doubt about how radical is his critique of the tradition, he adds: “Nor am I speaking of a few marginal, eccentric sects within Christian history; I mean the broad mainstream” (p. 7).  The Christian God is heartless, thinks Hart, and needs a transplant.  To accomplish this he proposes constructing the needed organ out of selected scriptural passages and the ideas of what have, historically speaking, been a small minority of Christian thinkers.

Yet in defense of this bold hairesis or “choosing” of one part of the tradition to the exclusion of the other, Hart offers only imprecise claims, begged questions, undefended assertions, straw men, a false analogy, a failure seriously to address scriptural counter-evidence, and in general a reliance on rhetoric rather than careful argumentation.  A cri de coeur perhaps, but hardly an exercise of the rationality he attributes to God and in the name of which he attacks perennial Christian doctrine.

121 comments:

Blake Denenny said...

Dr. Feser, I don't think you have adequately responded to Hart's contention that it is impossible for someone to will evil with full knowledge of what they're doing (one of the three conditions of mortal sin). Hart would contend that, since nobody could actually meet the three requirements of mortal sin, no one could therefore be damned. Plato himself believed that all evil is born out of ignorance, and I think Aristotle followed him.

Brandon said...

(1) seems an increasingly common argument in this context; I think a reason for it is that people often have a very modern conception of happiness as pleasure, one that bubbles up even if (like Hart) they know better. But of course, the whole doctrine of heaven is that the beatitude of the saints is not subjective pleasure but union with the real and infinite good that is God, and there is always a missing step as to how love of justice and the recognition of just punishment could possibly affect the Beatific Vision in such an adverse way.

One of the things that I think Lewis gets very right in The Great Divorce is his recognition of the fact that if you have an account in which, effectively, hell gets to blackmail or guilt heaven for rejoicing in justice, something has gone very dangerously wrong with your view of all three -- hell, heaven, and justice.

Fr Geoff Horton said...

Just an aside: There is (or was) a considerable school of thought that holds that everyone is indeed subject to death, as Heb 9:27 might imply. The two witnesses from Revelation are thought by this school to be Enoch and Elijah, and the two witnesses die. See Pohle-Preuss on Eschatology, for example.

Greg said...

@ Blake

Plato himself believed that all evil is born out of ignorance, and I think Aristotle followed him.

In developing his account of akrasia, Aristotle famously didn't follow Plato on this point.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Blake,

First, that makes it sound like Hart thinks that in principle God could justly damn someone if that person met the knowledge criterion, but that in practice no one ever meets it. I don't think that's his argument. Rather, Hart seems to think that it would be evil for God to damn someone even if the person met that requirement, or indeed under any circumstances at all.

Second, even if that were Hart's contention, it's just a contention or assertion. I don't see any argument for it in Hart. Hence there's nothing there for me to answer.

Hello Brandon,

Yes, good point. Hart sometimes says things that sound odd coming from someone with his generally classical rather than modern set of views and interests, and this is one of them. (1) arguably reflects a pretty this-worldly conception of the afterlife and of our relationships to other human beings in it. (I think the same is true of his stuff about animals.)

Greg said...

(It's obviously contentious to conflate the guise of the good thesis and the all-evil-is-ignorance thesis, since lots of philosophers, who bear on this discussion, have held the one without the other. To sin one doesn't have to will evil "as evil" if by that it's meant that one must not see anything good in what one is choosing.)

Georgios Scholarios said...

A lot of modern discussions of hell sadly neglect classical aspects about it such as mitigations and different levels of punishment proportionate to one's guilt. They tend to see it in 'fire-and-brimstone' terms. Many fathers (e.g., Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory the Theologian, and Ambrose), though they don't go as far as Hart, tend to see hell in relatively merciful terms overall (even Augustine to some degree accommodates).

Kristor said...

"Even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Not yourself in Christ? Sucks to be you.

Note to self: get back to, and stay, in Christ.

Jo F said...

Professor Feser,

Your "series" on the doctrine of Hell and its consistency with God's judicious and moral perfection has been very, very helpful. This has always been one of the first apologetic tasks I am faced with and I had never considered what you have drawn from the reflections of Thomas Aquinas and your articulation of those and your own ideas.

I've found that defending the contention that God has created a world such that the maximal number of people come to salvation through their substantial capacity for free will comes into play with both an intellectually satisfying discussion the doctrine of Hell and the problem of evil. (in arguing for this logical compatibility, points often have to be made about what conditions would be compossible with other conditions, i.e. when one person asks why God would not make the word's conditions such that more people chose Him by, for example, rendering inexistent certain people who would turn out to be bad influences on others or something, I've tried to explain that such conditions may not be all that simple when we consider what free will really is. In that example I gave, it seems a baseless assumption to think a person influenced poorly by one man's unrighteous choice leaves no room for his sufficient means to do righteously and accept Christ.) Perhaps there is a better approach here, but this is a general description of the discourse between myself and an atheist I know. I'm not surprised to see that these objections are common.

Thank you so much!

Chad Handley said...

"Defenders of the doctrine of hell – certainly Thomist and Catholic defenders of the doctrine – would not deny that factors such as ignorance, impairments to one’s intellect or to the freedom of one’s will, and the way that suffering can lead to such impairments, are relevant to one’s culpability and thus relevant to whether one is going to be saved or damned."

I still do not understand how this relates to the "locking on" view espoused in previous posts. I'm going to use a tenuous analogy to relate my confusion. (I realize some of my questioning can be annoying to some here, but I am trying to understand this.)

A child may innocently consume sugary foods that are bad for him without knowing the consequences. Nevertheless, despite his innocence of intent, the food will have the same unhealthy effect on his body that the food has on adults who knowingly partake. The child's body will be shaped by what he eats despite the fact that he eats innocently. An authority figure appraising the child might determine that the child did not have full knowledge that the sugary food would make him fat, and that, being a child, he did not have full freedom of the will regarding his food choices. He might therefore hold the child in some sense morally nonculpable in becoming fat. However, because his becoming fat is a natural and unavoidable metaphysical consequence of his having eaten sugary food; his innocence won't save him from that.

As I understand Feser's earlier comments, there's an analogy here to the state of the soul. Feser seemed there to be saying that a person's soul is warped into a Not God shape by their sinful actions. A person who, for example, engages in fornication and drug abuse as a child will have their souls shaped by those experiences. Now, it may be that person was not fully knowledgeable of their sin, and that their will was impaired by cognitive defects resulting from abuse. Yet and still, their soul will be warped into a Not God shape by such actions as a natural metaphysical consequence of those actions, just like the child, despite his innocent ignorance of nutrition, will become fat if he eats fatty foods. Thus, if the person dies with his soul warped into a Not God shape, the soul is very likely to opt for Not God and be damned despite the fact that the actions that warped his soul did not meet the criteria for mortal sin.

Now, when I raised this objection, I was told I was not sufficiently accounting for God's grace, but I again repeat my counter to this objection, that I do not see where God's grace can get in.

Does God stop the fornication and drug abuse from warping the souls of the people who engage in them innocently or without full freedom of the will? In other words, does God intervene to stop the otherwise natural metaphysical consequences of the sin from occurring? Does he "hold" the soul in a more "God" shape, despite the person's innocent actions that would have tended to warp it into a more "Not God" shape?

Or does God take some action to control the direction in which the soul spontaneously "locks on" after death? Can he "overrule" a soul's decision in that way?

Or is it just that without full knowledge and full freedom of the will, the soul just doesn't have any tendency to move into a "Not God" shape from engaging in acts like fornication or drug abuse? Is it just that such acts really aren't that bad for your soul if you are ignorant of the fact that they are evil or if you aren't fully free in choosing them?

More...

Chad Handley said...

I think that there is some confusion here (more than likely on my part) about the distinction between what I'll call the natural consequences of an action and the moral consequences of an action.

The natural consequence of eating fatty foods is that you will become fat. The moral consequence of eating fatty foods is that, if you knowingly did so of your own free will, you are culpable for a charge of gluttony.

Now, an authority figure appraising your actions may find that you acted out of ignorance that sugary food was bad for you, or might find that you were forced to eat the foods against your will. He might on those grounds decide to spare you from the moral consequences of your actions. But he does not have the power to spare you from the natural consequences.

On the locking on view, God seems to be in a similar position. He can hold the inculpable sinner innocent from the moral consequences of his actions, but there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about the natural consequences. Sin warps the soul, even if engaged in innocently or without full freedom. Even if not to the same extent that it would have been warped if engaged in knowingly and freely, sin will warp the soul. And since, on Thomas's account, it's the soul that decides, not God, then God might hold someone innocent of the moral consequences of their actions but still be powerless to save them from the natural consequence - their soul, of its own accord, opting for Not God.

My struggle is that I can see where Grace comes in where moral consequences are concerned, but I do not see where they can come in where natural consequences are concerned. And on the Thomistic view, as I (barely) understand it, it's the natural consequences that count.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Chad,

Think of it this way. Suppose X is bad but someone sincerely believes it to be good, with no self-deception or attempts at rationalization, no indifference to whether it really is good, etc. Then his soul can't get locked on to the bad, because it isn't in any way aiming at it in the first place. It's aiming at the good, even if it is inadvertently missing it.

Or suppose X is bad and someone knows it is bad but is in some way or other not acting freely (because he is under enormous stress, or semi-conscious, or heavily medicated, or whatever). Then he can't get locked on to the bad, because his will can't at that moment get locked on to anything. He's being moved by factors outside of his control rather than moving on his own toward anything in the relevant sense.

Now, there are all sorts of qualifications to be made, the various conditions under which someone can be said to be acting without sufficient freedom or without self-deception or whatever would need to be carefully spelled out, and so on. By no means am I trying here to give an exhaustive list or explain what all this would involve. The state of a person's soul in individual cases like the one you briefly summarize is in my view an extremely complicated question. I think two people could to outward appearances seem more or less in the same spiritual state, yet in fact, if one could get inside their heads as it were, would turn out to be very different. That's why Catholic writers on this subject are typically extremely cautious about judging anyone's spiritual state. (They do judge the objective goodness or badness of various actions themselves, of course, but that's a different question.)

The point is just that the intellect and will are absolutely crucial to the story -- they are precisely what make us rational animals, and thus human, after all -- which is why they enter into two of the conditions for mortal sin (sufficient knowledge and sufficient freedom). It seems to me that you are focusing instead on sub-rational and sub-volitional factors, such as the emotions, habits, etc., that one has formed in a certain context. And obviously all of that is important -- I emphasized that myself in the first post. Still, it is important only because of the way it can affect the intellect and will, and ultimately those are not forced one way or the other by these sub-rational and sub-volitional factors. Even if one is led into error and compulsion by these factors, one has to know that one is doing that and will it in order for that to be culpable.

The main difficulty here is that self-deception is a much bigger factor here (and a trickier thing to analyze) than many people realize, or so I wood argue. I think a lot of what is alleged to be honest ignorance these days is nothing of the kind. (I'm not talking about the sorts of examples you've been raising.) But that is a separate question that can be put to one side for the main point of these posts. I've been primarily addressing the question of the conditions under which someone could end up in hell, why this would be just, etc. Whether a person in such-and-such circumstances would actually meet those conditions is another question, and I have not been addressing that.

Edward Feser said...

Ha! By "wood" of course I meant "would." (But then I wood mean that, woodn't I...)

Scott W. said...

Great analysis Ed even if most of universalist assertions we've seen lately deserved little more than "Cool story, bro!" as they jumped over one bus-sized premise after another like Evel Knieval.

Joshua Harris said...

>>[S]uppose Greg ended up becoming a drug pusher and a murderer, was hardened into bitter ingratitude and hatred toward his father, and they became estranged. Greg might become so corrupt that Mike might conclude that it is as if Greg were no longer his son. Here too he might be happier in the future precisely to the extent that he does not think about Greg.<<

Turns out there is a story like this in the Bible. Luke 15:11-32! Slightly different ending, though.

FrankNorman said...

This discussion touches on something I have noticed about conservative Roman Catholic thinkers - they do not seem to regard God as genuinely omnipotent. The idea that people could damn themselves despite the Supreme Judge of all creation declaring them not deserving of damnation... is simply bizarre.

So let me put this to Ed Feser as a direction question: Do you believe that God is incapable of altering His creatures' moral natures?

Brandon said...

Turns out there is a story like this in the Bible. Luke 15:11-32! Slightly different ending, though.

Notably it's not a case of bitter ingratitude and hatred toward the father, though, which is precisely what makes the ending different.

Brandon said...

The idea that people could damn themselves despite the Supreme Judge of all creation declaring them not deserving of damnation... is simply bizarre.

While this would indeed be bizarre, nobody has this idea -- there is nobody saying that God declares that someone is not damned and they managed to be damned anyway.

So let me put this to Ed Feser as a direction question: Do you believe that God is incapable of altering His creatures' moral natures?

To save Ed from having to ask it: altering their moral natures in what way, specifically?

JoeD said...

Feser: ''I think a lot of what is alleged to be honest ignorance these days is nothing of the kind. ''

What examples would you have in mind, that is, what assertions of honest ignorance in what context do you think aren't actually honest ignorance?

Chad Handley said...

"Think of it this way. Suppose X is bad but someone sincerely believes it to be good, with no self-deception or attempts at rationalization, no indifference to whether it really is good, etc. Then his soul can't get locked on to the bad, because it isn't in any way aiming at it in the first place. It's aiming at the good, even if it is inadvertently missing it.

Or suppose X is bad and someone knows it is bad but is in some way or other not acting freely (because he is under enormous stress, or semi-conscious, or heavily medicated, or whatever). Then he can't get locked on to the bad, because his will can't at that moment get locked on to anything. He's being moved by factors outside of his control rather than moving on his own toward anything in the relevant sense."

Okay, this really helps. So, if the person sincerely believes some sin to be a good, they were never actually aiming at Not God, they were aiming at God. They just, through no fault of their own, have very bad aim. But it's what they were aiming at that determines the shape of their soul, not what they actually hit. That makes sense.

I think the condition requiring an act to be free would get more complicated. A young person who was abused and is acting out with sex and drugs isn't exactly completely free but also isn't exactly acting under compulsion. They do seem to be aiming at Not God, even if they are only doing so because of extreme trauma. I'm still not clear on how God's grace would help prevent such a person's soul from being oriented in a Not God direction.

However, I agree this isn't a matter for this thread. I do hope one day you'll spell out exactly how grace enters this picture, or how the work of Jesus on the cross alters the scenario. The way you've spelled this out, it seems like things would proceed essentially the same way whether Calvary happened or not. People would still be saved or damned by virtue of whether their actions pointed their souls in a God or Not God direction. I'm not clear, on the Thomistic account, what Jesus' death and resurrection actually accomplished in terms of soteriology.

But I'm every so slightly more persuadable to the Catholic account of things by virtue of this post. Thanks.

Gerald Haug said...

Catholicism makes ZERO sense. A Catholic is damned to Hell for using a condom with his wife. Why? Birth control is a mortal sin in Catholicism. Yet an atheist, who is in complete ignorance has a better chance of Heaven than a rubber using Catholic. This is justice? It what universe does this make sense. Maybe a Muslim Universe but not in any sane universe.

Edward Feser said...

Gerald,

You absolutely destroyed that straw man. Good job!

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

First, I'd like to compliment you on your skill in dismantling Hart's position, in your post.

That being said, Hart does make a couple of valid points, even if he expresses himself very vaguely in his article. I'd like to address your remark:

"Remarkably for someone with a reputation as a champion of orthodoxy (as well as Orthodoxy), Hart suggests that 'the God in whom the majority of Christians throughout history have professed belief would appear to be evil' (p. 6). Lest there be any doubt about how radical is his critique of the tradition, he adds: 'Nor am I speaking of a few marginal, eccentric sects within Christian history; I mean the broad mainstream' (p. 7)."

I think it's fair to say that the God in Whom most Christians have believed for the past 2,000 years is, in some respects, a heartless Deity. Allow me to quote from Avery Cardinal Dulles' online article, "The Population of Hell" (First Things, May 2003):

"Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell."

Cardinal Dulles goes on to say that the contrary opinion, that most people attain salvation, has never been contradicted by authoritative Church teaching. But the fact remains that for 1900 years, most Christians believed that most human beings were damned. Sounds pretty heartless to me.

And here's an excerpt from St. Francis Xavier's Letter from Japan, to the Society of Jesus in Europe, 1552 (also online):

"One of the things that most of all pains and torments these Japanese is, that we teach them that the prison of hell is irrevocably shut, so that there is no egress therefrom. For they grieve over the fate of their departed children, of their parents and relatives, and they often show their grief by their tears. So they ask us if there is any hope, any way to free them by prayer from that eternal misery, and I am obliged to answer that there is absolutely none. Their grief at this affects and torments them wonderfully; they almost pine away with sorrow. But there is this good thing about their trouble---it makes one hope that they will all be the more laborious for their own salvation, lest they like their forefathers, should be condemned to everlasting punishment. They often ask if God cannot take their fathers out of hell, and why their punishment must never have an end. We gave them a satisfactory answer, but they did not cease to grieve over the misfortune of their relatives; and I can hardly restrain my tears sometimes at seeing men so dear to my heart suffer such intense pain about a thing which is already done with and can never be undone."

I do not wish to impugn Francis Xavier's goodness; to this day, he is universally respected in Japan. But I have to say I find his preaching utterly heartless, on this point.

You also find fault with Hart's view that my identity is intertwined with that of those near and dear to me:

"Now, one way to read this is as a metaphysical claim to the effect that a human being is literally constituted at least in part by his relationships to other human beings. For example, what it is for Mike to exist is for Mike to be the husband of Carol, the father of Greg, Marsha, and other children, the grandson of Hank, the good friend of Jim, the employer of Alice, the dutiful employee of Ed, the loyal customer of Sam, and so on...

Read this way, though, Hart's claim would be obviously false, and indeed absurd.


(To be continued.)

Vincent Torley said...

I think Hart is onto something here. For surely Mike would not be who he is if he had had different parents or grandparents etc. Thus his identity as a person is bound up with theirs. His relationships with Jim, Alice, Ed and Sam are accidental, of course. But his children would not be who they are if he hadn't married Carol. What's more, I think we can say that Alice wouldn't be who she is if she didn't have an older brother, named Greg. In other words, she'd be a different person if she were Mike's eldest child. (Some might disagree with me on this point.) And while Mike's personal identity is not tied to Carol's, his union with her is an indissoluble one.

What does that mean? It means that Mike cannot sever himself from these people without excising a piece of his own psyche in the process. His fulfillment as a human being is bound up with theirs.

You point out that we can imagine circumstances in which Mike would, in fact, sever himself from these family members: "Or suppose Greg ended up becoming a drug pusher and a murderer, was hardened into bitter ingratitude and hatred toward his father, and they became estranged. Greg might become so corrupt that Mike might conclude that it is as if Greg were no longer his son." True, but the hypothetical case you consider is a very extreme one, in which Mike's relationship with his son has turned poisonous and is now harming Mike. In that case, perhaps we can imagine a kind of spiritual divorce taking place - although the parable of the Prodigal Son shows us that Mike would have to take his son back if he subsequently repented.

But the vast majority of human beings are not murderers or drug pushers; and they love their parents rather than hating them. The common teaching of Catholic theologians is that they can be damned eternally for sins which are far less heinous: taking deliberate pleasure in lustful thoughts (I was always taught that was a mortal sin, and C.C. Martindale once told Frank Sheed that all moral theologians teach as much); divorcing a violent or repeatedly unfaithful spouse and remarrying; deliberately missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day, or failing to fast on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday; and of course, apostasizing after having received a proper Catholic education, because one no longer finds the arguments for the Faith in the least bit convincing. All of us have family members who have done one or more of these things.

According to you and Aquinas, these people, in freely choosing to commit these sins, have opted for a way of life that places them in fundamental opposition to God. What's more, they are utterly devoid of supernatural charity towards God or man. In their present condition, God regards such people as utterly loathsome, for they have spiritually severed themselves from Him by performing the acts they did. [Only insofar as they are capable of repenting at a future date are such people deemed lovable by God.] According to you, if these people continue as they are, then the appropriate response of the saved towards such people on Judgement Day is to shrug and say: "Whatever. Knock yourselves out, guys." And since you hold that people in mortal sin already merit the everlasting punishments of Hell, then on your logic, a virtuous and saintly person whose soul is properly formed should experience no psychic distress whatsoever, even if God were to supernaturally inform that person that a family member whom they dearly love (a) is currently in a state of mortal sin and (b) will never repent and will therefore be damned. (There's nothing to prevent God from doing that; think of Christ's words about Judas, which you quoted. Mind you, St. Vincent Ferrer, after whom I was named, maintained that Judas might have been saved after all.) (TBC)

Vincent Torley said...

Here's my point. Most of us love our parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, and children, warts and all. And even if we were fully aware of their darkest and foulest innermost thoughts, I think we'd still love them - for we sometimes have such thoughts ourselves. We recognize that virtue can co-exist with vice, and we perceive the same virtues in people outside the Faith (including apostates) as are found in those who possess and practice the Faith. (Living in Japan, I encounter people who are more courteous, patient and charitable than I, all the time.) If we can still love these people as they are, in themselves, notwithstanding their faults, then I ask: why can't God?

Vincent Torley said...

Sorry. The sentence above, "Alice wouldn't be who she is if she didn't have an older brother, named Greg" should read "Marsha wouldn't be who she is if she didn't have an older brother, named Greg." My apologies.

Chris Lansdown said...

Dr Feser,

Without this being meant to support universalism or annihilationism, with regard to Judas it strikes me as possible that Jesus could have been saying that Judas would have been better off had he died in the womb. That's obviously not the only possible interpretation, but it seems to me that if Jesus words' are taken to mean that Judas would have been better off never having existed, it begs for the question of why Judas existed, then. A man who exists can deserve hell, but a nothing which does not exist cannot deserve to be made a man fit for hell. (I don't mean to conflate the problem of free will since obviously a man can't be fit for hell until he has chosen it, which logically he can only do after existing.) But it seems to me that the doctrine of hell does not entail that those in hell would be better off had they never existed; they still have existence which, as such, is good, and therefore better than nothing. In fact, it seems to me that the idea that those in hell are better off than if they never existed is necessary for hell to be just, since otherwise a man's life would be a net negative, which is by definition unjust, is it not? I mean, if justice is balance, justice can be superseded by generosity to be positive, but to sum out negative would be to fall short of justice. Is there a flaw in that? Because if not, it suggests to me that Jesus was not saying that Judas would have been better of never having existed, but simply never having been given the opportunity to do anything. (For of course a man is better off if his evil intentions are never actualized.)

Gerald Haug said...

The problem is that the God of the Bible is NOT the God of Scholasticism. The Jews believed that God had distinct attributes. However, AT obfuscates the distinct attributes of God with its unprovable metaphysics of Act/Potency. A dualistic framework built on faulty axioms. To begin with man is NOT a two part being, but a three part being. If a person were to PROPERLY understand theology, not unprovable metaphysical swill, he would see that man is a three part being and also understand that the body and soul are temporal, while the spirit of a man is eternal. Thus Tertullian was correct, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" Absolutely nothing! Metaphysics is what destroyed the Medieval church and also destroyed the Hellenistic Jews, who tried to synthesize Judaism and Hellenism.

In a nutshell Feser and Hart are rambling on about something that is FULLY in the domain of theology. Metaphysics is USELESS in this discussion as it is in most, not quite all, discussions.

Gerald Haug said...

To continue. Hell is a prison for Spirits. It will contain both angels, who are spirits, and humans, who are also spirit beings. Yes, Humans are spirit beings, composed of three parts, body, soul, and spirit. The spirit of man is what will be eternally punished in Hell, not his soul. The soul is temporal. Even Aristotle believed that the soul was temporal and it must be. Why? Dogs and Cats have souls and they will cease to exist upon death. No dog or cat will be in heaven or hell.

Thus AT is a fools errand, leading multitudes of Catholics to Hell, because they exalt metaphysics above sound Bible exegesis. To even discuss Hell properly requires a proper understanding of the book of Revelation. The Catholic church has NO official teaching on the book of Revelation. So how can they speak with authority, not mental onanism, on such an important topic as Hell? They cannot. In fact the Catholic church has NEVER official endorsed AT. In the Middle Ages they entertained Molinism along side AT.

DDT said...

Metaphysics is USELESS in this discussion as it is in most, not quite all, discussions.

The only problem you seem to have with metaphysics is that various conclusions run smack up against your heartfelt views, for which you have no argument or authority. Frustrating, perhaps, but bad news: you can cry about how much you dislike metaphysics all you like, and it doesn't give your rambling an ounce more authority.

Torley,

Treating your capability to wholly love and cherish people, flaws and all, as some kind of milestone that God must be able to reach is just absurd. Some people are also able to love sin. "Surely God must be able to as well!" would be an idiotic conclusion to draw from that.

Really, talking about 'pieces of our psyche' as if they are things to be cherished above all else, and which no loving God would ever have us do away with, is unconvincing to an extreme. Hannibal Lecter had plenty of fouled parts of his psyche. God is not therefore bound to invite a love of cannibalism into heaven, on pain of having a poor blessed lamb give up precious psyche-parts.

Any criticism of God which pivots on how we'd personally feel if God did X or Y is destined to fail. It doesn't work much better with anything else, come to think of it.

Nate Winchester said...

Gotta admit, I first saw the title and thought, "A God without deer???"

JoeD said...

Vincent: ''If we can still love these people as they are, in themselves, notwithstanding their faults, then I ask: why can't God?''

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't God also love the sinner in a state of mortal sin?

After all, God wishes that people in mortal sin would repent, and thus also wills their greater good. In other words, God still loves them.

Vincent: ''I do not wish to impugn Francis Xavier's goodness; to this day, he is universally respected in Japan. But I have to say I find his preaching utterly heartless, on this point.''

The Japanese most likely understood Hell as a state of shame.

In Japanese society, shame is much worse than it is in Western societies.As such, it would have been a shocking thing for the Japanese to find out that their family and friends were in a state of shame, having denied the honor of God.

That shame would be proportional, and wouldn't really be torture, but it would still be a bad thing.

And let's not forget that this occured 1500 years after Jesus, a time where a literal fire-and-brimstone version could have become more popular than the shame one, so yeah.

There is also the issue of honest ignorance being in play and other things that could have led to that reaction.

DNW said...



"After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities? Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us? We are those others. ..."

Cue the violins.

Yes, ok Mr. Hart ... that will be enough for now. Thank you very much and please be advised that no further testimony will likely be required. Your are free to go. Have a nice day, and goodbye.

I guess it isn't easy being a philosopher.

JoeD said...

DDT: ''Treating your capability to wholly love and cherish people, flaws and all, as some kind of milestone that God must be able to reach is just absurd. Some people are also able to love sin. "Surely God must be able to as well!" would be an idiotic conclusion to draw from that.''

What Vincent is refering to is whether or not God still loves people in a state of mortal sin, despite their sin and focus away from God.

Vincent seems to think some are saying God does not love people and/or will their good when they are in a state of mortal sin.

That God does not love individuals in mortal sin as they are in and of themselves.

Not that God should also ''love'' their flaws somehow.


DDT: ''Really, talking about 'pieces of our psyche' as if they are things to be cherished above all else, and which no loving God would ever have us do away with, is unconvincing to an extreme. ''

I think he's talking about how if you removed from someone a piece of their psyhce, their identities would be compromised to the point they wouldn't be the same person.

But most likely that their fulfillment as human beings is tied to having memory of, and a certain connection to, these other persons.

DDT: ''Hannibal Lecter had plenty of fouled parts of his psyche. God is not therefore bound to invite a love of cannibalism into heaven, on pain of having a poor blessed lamb give up precious psyche-parts.''

Are you seriously comparing having a deeply personal and fond connection with a person who turned out to be damned to a desire for sin?


Skyliner said...

Many thanks for this, Ed. Although I disagree with your position on many points, you defend it admirably. That said, two things:

First, do you believe--upon the basis of Scripture, Tradition, the teaching of the Magisterium, and the dictates of reason--that it is **impossible** that, in the end, "all will be saved?" The teaching of the Catechism in particular seems to leave open the possibility of such (1058--though, admittedly, its comments on the matter without further context largely do corroborate your point of view).

Second, in fairness to Hart I think that it should be emphasized that he does not reject "hell" as such, for he clearly believes that the punishment of deserving souls post mortem is necessary, does happen, and obtains in a truly "terrifying" way. The difference between your view and his, however, is that he believes that this punishment will be **remedial** rather than being **only** retributive (and what's driving this, I believe, is an indefatigable metaphysical optimism rather than an instinctive sentimentalism).

At any rate, thanks again for this post. I am a Catholic, and while I find (certain construals of) universalism more intellectually compelling and morally intuitive than traditional portrayals of the eschaton, I believe that the right thing to do is to **hope** that all will be saved, rather than assume that such will inevitably happen.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@Vincent Torley,

I found the quote from St. Francis Xavier's letter striking, since it makes clear how damaging to the soul belief in hell is. After all, the people Xavier describes must have had trouble loving God. Actually I can't very well imagine how people who really believe in hell can really love God at all.

As for Hart's “a human being is literally constituted at least in part by his relationships to other human beings”, I happen to believe that there is ultimately only one human soul and that our current condition is a temporal one. The reason I believe this is because it solves a little discussed version of the problem from evil (which one may call the problem from bad fortune), it solves a little discussed problem about the number of souls (if existence is good why is there only a finite number of creaturely souls), and it makes self-evident some of Christ's ethical commands which otherwise appear to be rather unnatural. So I find it interesting Hart's insight that our personal identity cannot be separated from the people we know, and that therefore if our personal identity is to survive in heaven it won't be separated from them either.

Tim the White said...

Chad Handley,

I must say something about the Grace of God!!

When God gives you grace, it is like an epiphany. A glimpse of Truth or Goodness etc.
This effectively makes you wiser at that moment. You see/know what would be better than what you were doing,or what is wrong with -that is contrary to- to the good you perceived.

With this new insight; you either choose to do better, and so stop sinning; or, begin to sin since you now know better.

Continued acceptance or rejection of these Graces will then form your character and lead to either final perseverance or impenitence.

The natural consequences of your actions make it easier or harder to accept Grace.

God however, knows whether you have accepted His graces or not and will judge accordingly, taking any circumstances into account.

These circumstances however, will eventually lead to final perseverance or impenitence by the time that judgement happens. (The judgement happens when you are out of time, that is dead.)

Tony said...

1. Hart needs to recall the distinction between metaphysics and metaphor. His evocative passage describing "what a person is" is actually an extended metaphor about ONE ASPECT of personhood. To demolish it as any sort of a solid metaphysical account, let me illustrate with a person. Jane was conceived via rape by Bill who roofied Miley at a party, though she was at the party to get plastered and hook up with a guy (almost any guy) and the roofie was virtually unnecessary. Miley never caught on to the fact that she was pregnant, continued her horrible personal habits with huge excesses of alcohol and other behaviors, and caused a very early miscarriage. Jane has effectively no recognizable relationship with any person on the face of the planet: neither of her parents even knew she existed, and both of them gravely mistreated her in every sense of which they were capable at the time. Nor does anyone else know.

And yet, Jane is a person, whole and real and entire, who will exist forever. Her personhood is made up of this: she is a subsistence of a rational nature. She has this no matter what relationships she has with other humans, or none at all. For the "person" is an intrinsic reality, whereas relationships with other humans are EXTRINSIC realities. Not the same at all.

As a metaphor, Hart's point is touching. As philosophy, it's like building an entire criminal case on a person putting the word "fire" in a letter, only to find out later that it was a typo for the word "tire". The words "radial" and "Goodyear" might have been hints, but no, you went with "fire".

2. [T]he eternal suffering… of any soul would be an abominable tragedy, and so a moral evil if even conditionally intended,

The problem with this theory is that IT PROVES TOO MUCH.

There is philosophically no way to insulate this concept from ANY suffering, even of the least sort for even a brief time: The momentary suffering of any soul would be an abominable tragedy, and so a moral evil if even conditionally intended by a good God who could create a world good like ours but without that suffering.

And yet, manifestly, God has not done so. So, Hart (and he is by means alone in this) sets up a dilemma in which either God is evil or God is not omnipotent. Take your pick.

The answer is that all of these people who use this approach need to re-think what they understand by the notion "evil" and what it's place is in the providential order, for God CERTAINLY intended to create a providential order that has sufferings and evils. They need to re-visit Job, and discover that we don't understand God's purposes yet. God's designs look "wrong" to creatures who are benighted in this vale and laden with sins and imperfections, but they are good and holy, and when He tells us that it is HIS design to provide for suffering, yea, even eternal suffering, our role is to humbly receive His word, not to cast it in His teeth as if we were more godly than God.

Anonymous said...

A story is told of a Jew who gave away his portion in the World to Come in order to rescue a kidnapped family being held for ransom. When asked why he was not sad over losing his place in heaven, he responded, “I was always concerned that I was serving God for the wrong reasons. Now that I don’t have a portion in the World to Come I can serve Him reassured that I am doing it purely out of love and devotion.”

Gerald Haug said...

It seems many of the people on this blog think God's love is unconditional. Ihis is an unbiblical position. God's love is very conditional. This has been known throughout the Medieval period. However, modern Catholics who have been polluted by Vatican II and secular humanist ideas fail to understand this.

God removes His love from those in Hell. Hell is a place devoid of God's love.

Joshua Harris said...

>>Notably it's not a case of bitter ingratitude and hatred toward the father, though, which is precisely what makes the ending different.<<

The story of the prodigal son absolutely involves bitter ingratitude and hatred toward the father. Keep in mind that inheritance is something you acquire after your father dies. To ask for your inheritance "early," then, is to say in effect that you wish your father were dead. Doesn't get more bitter or hateful than that.

Gerald Haug said...

AT Metaphysics has led to the corrosive conclusion that Catholics and Muslims worship the same god. Not surprising since Muslims are the ones who first rediscovered Aristotle and have had similar metaphysical positions in the past. Thus, it is fitting that these two religions worship the same false god.
Evangelicals in contrast do not worship the same god as Muslims; ergo they worship a different god, in fact ONLY they have the ability to worship the true God; the God of the Bible NOT the pagan philosophers. The true God has said ONLY Scripture is the final authority given to man. Jesus NEVER appealed to Jewish authority when dealing with the Jewish religious leaders, He always appealed to Scripture. NO exceptions! Maybe we should do the same. So,Hart, Feser, nor some Catholic clergy is a reputable authority regarding Hell, God's Love, God's Character, unless that person can properly exegete Scripture. If they cannot exegete Scripture they are nothing but mere dilettantes trying to punch above their weight class.

Brandon said...

To ask for your inheritance "early," then, is to say in effect that you wish your father were dead. Doesn't get more bitter or hateful than that.

This is merely naive; it gets quite a bit more bitter and hateful than that. The Prodigal Son returns of his own volition.

thefederalist said...

Feser quotes Hart (in part 3, above) as saying, "...And the argument becomes quite insufferable when one considers the personal conditions – ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will – under which each soul enters the world, and the circumstances – the suffering of all creatures, even the most innocent and delightful of them – with which that world confronts the soul."

What can "defectibility of intellect and will" possibly mean, to Hart, if it is necessarily temporary?

Anonymous said...

JoeD,

'The Japanese most likely understood Hell as a state of shame.'

And?

Is shame not bad? If a man is pained by the mere concept of having done wrong, is this not more properly human than a man who is only pained by gross, physical punishments? If honor consists of the recognition of an agent's real merit and value, then is it not shameful to perform actions which detract from an agent's real value? How is shaming not a vitally important human practice? Without an understanding of shame, there can be no understanding of righteousness.

DDT said...

JoeD,

What Vincent is refering to is whether or not God still loves people in a state of mortal sin, despite their sin and focus away from God.

If He does, one thing we can tell from reading the Bible is that He must also be loving them while He damns them.

Note that that effectively undercuts the entire move of appealing that God loves everyone. Both by the Bible and dogma, we can be certain that if this is true, love doesn't guarantee an avoidance of damnation.

I think he's talking about how if you removed from someone a piece of their psyhce, their identities would be compromised to the point they wouldn't be the same person.

That's a desperate, self-defeating argument which ensures none of us attain salvation. The final kingdom will involve losing substantial parts of our psyches: the desire for evil, etc. Therefore, no one's saved. Some other, distinct people are saved.

Are you seriously comparing having a deeply personal and fond connection with a person who turned out to be damned to a desire for sin?

It depends. Is Hannibal Lecter damned? Or are you saying it's impossible to love Hannibal Lecter?

A large point of the argument is that you can have a deeply personal and fond connection with some rotten people. But that doesn't carry someone into salvation. And arguing that someone being damned who was loved by others is tantamount to denying a piece of (saved!) people's psyches and thus they aren't "the same person" just cashes out to damnation for all, unless substantial parts of psyches can be lost and a person remains intact, which undercuts the original line of argument anyway.

Gerald Haug said...

Based on the posts listed here, it seems like many people have a very schizophrenic view of their god. The posts show clearly how blind Scholasticism and Eastern Orthodoxy are in revealing the nature and character of the true God. This confusion comes precisely because AT/Simplicity is incoherent (as Plantinga proves) and posits a god that is self-refuting, instead of a God that is self-existing.

Hell is a place that is devoid of God's presence, and hence His love. It is true that God is love, but He also has a right to hold back that love. Withholding love is exactly what God does to the unrighteous, idolaters, and those who have exalted metaphysics over theology. How do I know this? The Bible says: "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them." (John 14:21). In effect, God ONLY loves those who obey Christ and His commands. One of those commands is to NOT be deceived by philosophy or the traditions of men.

Edward Feser said...

Gerald Haug,

Go away. You are incapable of posting anything but undefended, question-begging assertions and rants. That's tolerable when done once or twice, but you are now descending into classic compulsive troll behavior.

Maybe you can go hang out with some of the nuts in Jerry Coyne's or P.Z. Myers' combox. You guys deserve each other.

Andreas Smith said...

Dr Feser, as always an interesting, challenging and thought-provoking article. I do have a query, though, about your recent articles on hell, in this my first ever comment on your blog after reading it for several years (forgive me if you've already covered this point). You put great emphasis on the state of the soul or will at the time of death in relation to the possibility of salvation or damnation. This, though, seems to ignore important contingent, accidental factors to do with the nature of time. For instance, the following scenario, though unlikely, isn't impossible: X acts in such a way that 90% of his adult life makes him worthy of salvation, with 10% risking damnation. It just so happens, unluckily for X, that he dies during a period when he is in a state of mortal sin. Y, on the other hand, has been dissolute 90% of the time, but dies, luckily for him, during the 10% of the time when his soul is worthy of salvation. Since outside of suicide no one chooses the time of his death, X seems here to have been dealt, unfairly I would say, an unlucky card in relation to the rather fortunate Y. Given that Christian doctrine allows for the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of moral reform, it surely can't be the case that one's accidental time of death helps determine one's eternal state vis a vis heaven or hell.

Anonymous said...

LUDI INCIPIANT!

At Fans of David Bentley Hart on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/groups/552331154934653/

drxray said...

Interesting discussion. Appreciated the Brady Bunch reference!

Blake Denenny said...

Dr. Feser, I'll refine my original contention. I think Hart is arguing that it is a logical impossibility for somebody to freely will something evil, since someone who wills something evil would, by definition, be in bondage to ignorance. I don't think you've given an adequate counterargument

Gerald Haug said...

Dr. Feser,

I beg to differ. I am stating directly from Scripture that God ONLY loves those that obey His commandments and Christ. That is very specific and cuts to the chase. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God's love is conditional. Once this concept is grasped it brings new clarity to your discussion with Hart, and refutes all notions of Christian universalism or God loving the sinner.

Todor said...

What about original sin? Maybe this is extremely naive, but isn't original sin like a poison, and the Blood of Christ the antidote? Sure, some people don't believe they are poisoned, others believe their own concoction will do the trick. And others, instead of drinking the antidote, believe God will save them anyway. But if you end up dead because you didn't take the remedy or because you kept taking new doses of poison, who is to blame?

Bob Sacamano said...

Blake,

I would also add that Hart (following Gregory of Nyssa) distinguishes between the Natural Will and the Gnomic Will. The Natural Will is always oriented toward God, even when the Gnomic Will is not. While damnation is a reality, it cannot be eternal because we are created for God, and to finally and eternally reject God would be to alter a God-given nature when we have no power to do so.

In other words, whereas Dr. Feser would (I think) claim that we "lock-on" (or not lock-on) to God after death by virtue of the habits, beliefs, and attitudes we cultivate over the course of our lives, Hart would say that we "lock-on" to God by virtue of our very existence.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Hart doesn't have to defend the thesis of an eternal hell's injustice in any way but the one he has offered. A natural evil, if intentionally willed, becomes a moral evil; or, at least, any good that outweighs that evil remains to that degree a conditional good. Either possibility undercuts the Christian claim about God and his acts.

Sorry, but Hart has this right. Feser is missing the point. And it's an obvious point. What is it that God "pays" to reveal himself in creation? If you cannot see why the eternal suffering of a rational nature is an absolute price, then the logical deficiency is yours.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Feser,

You had better rethink challenging Hart on the scriptural passages. You're really out of your depth there. For one thing, he is thinking in Hebrew in Greek, while you're quoting English translations that pretty much every biblical scholar knows are misleading. And he starts his whole argument with a smattering of universalist quotes from the New Testament (in the full lecture text in the forthcoming book, he includes about 40 I understand). But there are certainly no "everlasting burnings" in the Hebrew. There is a use of "olam" that and "vod-olam" I believe, but that certainly has nothing to do with hell. It's clearly about a final destruction in this world.

Anyway, you should also avoid talk of "heresy." Hart scrupulously stayed entirely within the bounds of Orthodox doctrine in everything he said.

Also, why do you think the transcript of a 40 minute lecture should contain all the scriptural references involved? This is all part of a larger conference at Notre Dame. I was there, and the biblical passages were discussed at length in the open session that followed. Complaining that a single lecture (out of four he wrote on the topic) is not a complete exposition is absurd.

Anonymous said...

Wrong. Hart clearly says no one--no one--can meet the requirement. You are right that he does argue that, even if that criterion could be met, then God's decision to create would be the decision to effect a relative rather than absolute good. But hey, that's true.

I honestly don't think you followed Hart's argument very well at all. But you'll never admit that, so why bother to argue the point?

Anonymous said...

I should also mention that Hart's view of human coinherence is not drawn from a "modern" view of human personality or of the afterlife. It comes directly from Gregory of Nyssa, as he laid out in lecture 3 (which you have not seen, of course).

Edward Feser said...

What is it with Hart fans? Do they ever provide anything but strings of question-begging re-assertions of the Master's assertions, encomia to Hart's erudition, the "you just don't get it" move, etc.?

Edward Feser said...

Plus, of course -- as I see from the Facebook discussion someone linked to above -- the usual outrage that someone actually had the sheer effrontery to disagree with Hart, speculation about the hidden motives for this disagreement, etc.

Edward Feser said...

As to the heresy issue, well, what can I say. I'm a Catholic, and hence when considering that aspect of the question I factor in Lateran IV, Trent, and the solemn teaching of various popes. Plus, you know, scripture and the way the majority of the Fathers and most Christians have always read it. Your mileage may vary.

All the same, I didn't call Hart a heretic, though I did use the word "hairesis." There's a difference between suggesting that someone's views have dangerous implications (as I did) and judging that he is simply "a heretic" (as I did not). Hart fans, who purport to like nuance, should realize that.

By the way, contrary to what the Facebook folks seem to think, I have never in previous exchanges with Hart ever called him a heretic. That's sheer fantasy. (As is another bizarro accusation someone raises there to the effect that I somewhere somehow "straight-up mock[ed] Eastern Christian asceticism." Never happened. What is with these people?)

Brandon said...

Anonymous at January 11, 2017 at 3:52 PM:

A natural evil, if intentionally willed, becomes a moral evil; or, at least, any good that outweighs that evil remains to that degree a conditional good.

Neither of these are true; the first claim would falsely require that all punishments, which by definition are natural evils, are moral evils. On the second, the good in genuine acts of the virtue of fortitude, which fit the description as well, is not a conditional good.

Cam Davis said...

" (As is another bizarro accusation someone raises there to the effect that I somewhere somehow "straight-up mock[ed] Eastern Christian asceticism." Never happened. What is with these people?)"

All cards on the table, I am the one who made this accusation and I am speaking from memory, which I admit may not remember what I read with 100 percent accuracy. What I do remember, though is finding it offensive that you would characterize and dismiss an Eastern Christian ascetic practice as you did, not only because it offended me as an Orthodox Christian, but because it was alienating to the Eastern Catholics with whom you share communion. I admit I am having difficulty finding the instance because it occurred in the comments section of one of your blog posts years ago, and given how little I have gotten through in a considerable amount of time it seems I am on a fool's errand. Unless you are willing to track down what you actually said, perhaps it is best that I retract my statement.

Anonymous said...

I thought that facebook group wasn't that dissimilar to the combox here. It had many interesting and thoughtful commentators, with a little bit of the fan club thrown in.

Anonymous said...

I also think that both Feser and Hart are some of the most profound and accessible traditional Christian writers alive today, whatever their occasional disagreements and flaws.

Chad Handley said...

Tim the White, that's all very enlightening, but my question was more about Thomist soteriology. It's just not clear to me how the cross impacts the picture that Aquinas paints. The whole scenario comes across as "justification by works" to someone with my Protestant background.

If you're saved by your soul opting for God at death, and if what determines that opting is your doing (or aiming at doing) the good, then why was Jesus's death necessary? Indeed, why is it necessary to become a Catholic or even a Christian? It seems like, on this account, that just being a good person, to the best of your ability, is sufficient for salvation.

Skyliner said...

Hey Ed,

I'm a Hart fan, and I also believe in the sovereignty of reason. I'd be more than happy to engage you on those terms should happen to get a chance to answer the question I raised a few days ago, viz., do you think that (given the testimony of Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium, and given also the dictates of reason) it is **impossible** that, in the end, all will be saved? (My apologies, by the way, if your answer to that question is transparent in previous posts--I haven't yet had the opportunity to read the one on annihilationism.)

Best in Christ,

Skyliner

Greg said...

@ Skyliner

do you think that (given the testimony of Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium, and given also the dictates of reason) it is **impossible** that, in the end, all will be saved?

It has always seemed to me that there are passages in Scripture that say: some people are going to eternal life and others are going to eternal death. These aren't infrequent or isolated. It is frequently responded to this point that "eternal" here translates kairos and not chronos, but (this not being my area) I have not quite been able to grasp why that should undermine the thought that those passages still suggest that some people are going to hell and it won't end. To be sure, whatever kairos implies about the duration of eternal life, it implies about the duration of eternal death.

One can consistently believe that some people will go to hell and that one ought to hope that each person does not go to hell. One may hope that each person does not go to hell even if one knows that it is not the case that no one will go to hell.

Edward Feser said...

Cam Davis,

Yes, I'd recommend that you retract it, both here and -- more importantly -- at Facebook, where you made the accusation. I have no idea at all what comment of mine you think you remember, but I have not made, and would not make, any disparaging statement about Eastern Christian ascetic practices. In fact I don't think I've ever said anything one way or the other about the subject at all, but if I did so it would be the reverse of disparaging, since I've never had anything but respect for such practices.

Whatever it is you are remembering, I suspect it was not anything I ever said. Just as the Facebook crowd accusing me of a history of accusing Hart of heresy are "remembering" things I never said.

In general, I think if people spent less time tossing out remarks about what they think I said somewhere at some time about something or other, and more time responding substantively to what I actually said in the original post, we'd all be wasting less time.

Edward Feser said...

I thought that facebook group wasn't that dissimilar to the combox here. It had many interesting and thoughtful commentators, with a little bit of the fan club thrown in.

Hello Anonymous, well, that might be true in general as far as I know. I'd never visited the Hart fan page before. I was merely commenting on the thread someone above referred to, or at least the thread as it existed several hours ago, when I last looked at it. And at the time I looked at it, among what I would guess were 20-25 comments, maybe one or two at most actually addressed the substance of what I wrote in the post. The rest were speculations about my motives, accusations to the effect that I must have some grudge against Hart, weird (and false) claims about things I allegedly said somewhere, people who seem to have their panties in a bunch over the fact that I occasionally post Photoshop images just to raise a few laughs, etc. Of course, this kind of petty stuff is not uncommon on Facebook, but I would have expected a bit better from folks I would think are more intellectually inclined.

But then, I've seen it in the past here in my own combox and elsewhere on the web when irate Hart fans show up. By no means all of them, of course, but a least a vocal faction among them seem to have skin thinner than tissue paper.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Skyliner,

If the philosophical considerations were all we had, I'd say it is possible. But in my opinion the relevant scriptural texts rule it out in practice. E.g. I don't think there is any other plausible way to read the texts from Revelation, even given the literary genre. I am also doubtful about the alternative readings of Christ's remark about Judas.

I suppose that I should add -- since too many critics of the doctrine of hell seem fond of ad hominem accusations of heartlessness and the like -- that this conclusion gives me no pleasure whatsoever. Quite the reverse. Christ's remark about Judas is in my opinion the most chilling sentence anyone ever uttered. When I said in an earlier post that the idea of hell is scary as all hell, I meant it.

I also believe, however, that it does indeed make sense when one thinks it through carefully and logically, for reasons set out in the earlier posts. And I think there is way too much emoting and grandstanding and too little careful thinking where this issue is concerned, especially among people who seem unwilling to respond to arguments except by doubling down on the emotional reactions and ad hominems.

Gerald Haug said...

I am surprised that no one has quoted Hebrews or Paul.
Hebrews states: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That means all will be judged. Judgment implies that we will either be rewarded with eternal life in heaven or sentenced to Hell. It also indicates that there are NO second chance. Example: If a man kills a person he goes to prison. He does not tell the judge give me a second chance. If the judge released the criminal the judge would be unjust.

Some of the people who will go to Hell are the following: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

According to Paul a lot of people are going to Hell. Jesus also confirmed that lots of people are going to Hell when He said: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14). Notice that Jesus few find the narrow gate. According to Jesus there will be MORE people in Hell than in Heaven. This verse alone refutes universalism.

The phrase "(there shall be) weeping and gnashing of teeth" appears seven times in the New Testament and describes the torments of the damned in Hell. See Matthew 8:12, Matthew 13;42, Matthew 13:50, Matthew 22:13 and Luke 13:28. These seven verses totally refute annihilationism. Thus it is clear that Hart is teaching heterodox doctrine and is a false teacher. What does the Bible say what our response to false teachers should be. Paul specifically says we are to avoid them:

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive." (Romans 16:17-19)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser: Add another to the list of heretics and the list grows daily. And yet, this nonsense that there is no Hell has been circulated among the Modernists for decades. Even Ratzinger/Benedict XVI believes Hell is empty. Let us realize that the institutional Church has been the purveyor of so many Modernist heresies since they were introduced in the Second Vatican Council and with the current pontiff, there seems to be no end in sight in their quest to destroy what little remains of the Sacred Deposit of Faith.

Ben said...

Chad Handley,

On a Thomist account it is practically impossible, after the Fall, to 'just be a good person' -- without the grace of Christ. And it is categorically impossible to will a supernatural end (i.e., the beatific vision), after OR before the Fall, without grace.

And the source of all grace is of course the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Thus Christ's work on the Cross is the true and real fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:26.

It seems to me that Protestant soteriology,on the contrary, tends to see grace as a sort of garment that covers our sins rather than an interior gift that truly changes our hearts and orients them to God. Maybe that's why this isn't all quite adding up yet for you. But I probably have a grossly oversimplified understanding of Protestant theology so maybe it's not that simple.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@Chad Handley,

“why was Jesus's death necessary?I”

In theology one should be careful with modal expressions. In a sense everything God does is necessary, since God is the metaphysically ultimate and therefore there are no metaphysically possible words where God does something different.

So, it seems to me, the only question that makes sense is to ask “Why did God choose to incarnate?”. Now it's not always the case that sensible questions need have a sensible answer, but in this case there is a very good answer, one which again flows from the general problem from evil. The idea in short is that God is not just as the external creator but also as an internal participant of creation (through special providence). In the Christian understanding the apex of this interior participation is found in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Why did God specifically choose this? Because of the beauty of how by it God is justified. The creation of a temporarily imperfect world with its evils was necessary for the perfection of the eschaton of the human condition, and by partaking in that imperfection God justifies that evil. So it's not like God exposed us alone to danger but partook in that danger. Creation with incarnation is greater than without.

Now Jesus's death was necessary because it is the nature of having the human nature. If you ask why it was necessary to Jesus to be executed on the cross, I don't think that was necessary. Surely it was free people who decided to execute Him, and therefore they were free to decide otherwise.

“Indeed, why is it necessary to become a Catholic or even a Christian?”

I find Jesus's ethical teaching is better understood literally. So according to what we read in the last chapters of John, Christ does not call us to be Christians, or to hold all the right beliefs, or to study scripture – but very specifically, clearly, and simply He calls us to *follow Him* and be like He is. To repent, which means to transform ourselves into the likeness of Christ, is a path open to all people independent of their belief systems or religious affiliations. It strikes me it is a failure of faith, indeed a failure in one's understanding of the greatness of God, to believe that religious affiliation and indeed the keeping of certain procedural rules is a precondition for salvation. Salvation *is* the repentance of the soul, and everything else is there to help us in the difficult quest to become like God wishes for us. On the other hand salvation is best done in a community, and that's how all great religions prepare the way that is Christ.

Skyliner said...

Greetings Ed, and many thanks for the response,

Just a few things:

First, if it is the case that the pronouncements of the Tradition (by which I understand the cumulative testimony of Scripture, the Fathers, the Councils, and the Magisterium) necessitates that hell will be everlasting in an absolute sense, then what do we do with such things as The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1058 ("The Church prays that no one should be lost: 'Lord, let me never be parted from you.' If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God 'desires all men to be saved' [1 Tim. 2:4), and that for him 'all things are possible' [Mt. 19:26]); or, with the final prayer that we say every day in the Rosary ("Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls into heaven, especially those who most need your mercy.)?

Second, do you think it is impossible to take the saying pronounced against Judas as an instance of hyperbole? Something along the lines of Jesus' statement regarding the temple to the effect that "not one stone will be left upon another" (Mt. 24:2)?

I do hope that we can prolong this discussion, but I have to go and get my kids ready for school. One final thing: I **hope** that in the end all will be saved, and i think that it is possible that God has the metaphysical wherewithal to be able to pull it off. I also believe, on the basis of passages such as Rom. 5 and the eschatology of such figures of Gregory of Nyssa, that the testimony of Tradition can responsibly be construed in such a way that universalism is **possible**. But, even if such turns out to be the case, I do believe that the purgation that many of us will have to go through before God is "all in all" will live up to the initial, "scary as hell" shock that you rightly wish to defend.

Best in Christ,

Skyliner

Raghn said...

How can Universalism be "possible" as Skyliner suggests, when Hell is full of devils? I mean, didn't God love Lucifer, (probably) highest of the second highest order, the Cherubs? Didn't God will Lucifer to be saved? God made this angel pretty special, indeed. And of course, because he's an angel in general and one of the highest anyway, he was a lot smatter than any human. But the "Light-bringer" chose to become Satan, and did so freely, with perfect understanding. And what's more, he got (in some way or other) to drag a third of the Heavenly Host down with him. (Rev 12:4)

So how is it we're so special that we can do whatever and still get "saved"?

Raghn said...

A lot of this discussion involves what people know (about themselves, and about God) and when they know it. But let's imagine a person who never was really very bad, but let a vice more or less rule their life in ways that they themselves got used to it, or never imagined it was very bad. So this person dies and stands before the Pearly Gates, which St. Pete throws open. They look in. Now suppose lust was their big sin. They look into Heaven and what do they see. Well, whatever else they see, they see no lust whatsoever. Hmmm..., they think, well, gee. I dunno. I'm kinda missin' something I kinda want. Kinda, sorta. Then the Devil throws open the Gates of Hell, and this person looks in. He's going to see every sort of lust imaginable, and some he's never remotely imagined, and all of it "off the charts". Now, where's he gonna choose to go? He might well give it some thought, and a lifetime of little sins will pull him strongly in one direction.

Or suppose some bishop who spent his life in the Church had a serious problem with spiritual pride. Where's he gonna find that honored? Or a person eaten up by the desire to be famous? Heaven is full of humility. Hell, no so much. You see the principle.

Finally, a too simple example: Adolf Hitler commits suicide and finds himself standing before the Pearly Gates. He looks in. What's he see? Jews! Jews everywhere! Many of them Jews he himself had killed. And he sees spiritual Jews too, Jews by adoption, having the saving blood of Abraham through the Most Holy Eucharist, and thus themselves transformed into members of the ancient Covenants by the Blood of God Himself. (This insight helps a bit to explain John 6, where Jesus says one has to eat His Body and drink His Blood, and St Paul on adoption, and all that.)

Now, is Hitler going in? Nope. Not at all. Or that is, not unless he can make Heaven into Hell, of course. Then he'd go. Same with Mao or Lenin or Charles Manson or whichever infamous murderer you can think of. But Hell, ah, now there's a place full of hate, mo chairde.

But of course there aren't too many Hitlers, Maos, Lenins. Right? Well, Mairtín Ó Cadhain, the Irish-language writer, once wrote of a character so nasty that "He would have driven a nail through the back of the donkey that carried Christ into Jerusalem".

If you can find such in the Irish Gaeltacht of the 1950s, you can find 'em anywhere.

Raghn said...

Haha, I wrote of the Devil that "he was a lot smatter than any human...". See, I'm no angel, the dumbest of which is lightyears smaRter then meself.

Raghn

Greg said...

@ Chad

If you're saved by your soul opting for God at death, and if what determines that opting is your doing (or aiming at doing) the good, then why was Jesus's death necessary?

In Catholicism, you only opt for God at death if you are really taking him as your final end, that is, if you really possess the supernatural virtue of charity. That requires divine infusion; no creature can, of his own power, bring himself to possess charity. I made this point in comments on the original post on the topic. I don't see how that discussion can be complete without mention of charity.

Bob Sacamano said...


Raghn,

You are attacking a straw-man. The Universalism in question does not admit all into Heaven as they are. Damnation is still very real. The argument is that damnation is not eternal and irrevocable.

Dr. Feser thinks that after death it is impossible to reverse our orientation (either for God or against God) due to the underlying Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics (supplemented by the weight of Tradition). Therefore damnation is eternal.

Dr. Hart thinks it is impossible to reject God finally and eternally because we are created with a Natural Will that longs for God even as the Gnomic Will does not. We have the libertarian freedom to reject God, but our created nature is a "limitation" of that freedom. Therefore rejection of God cannot be final or eternal. Also Hart recently translated the New Testament, and believes there are 50 or so passages which support the idea of Universal reconciliation, as opposed to 5 or so passages which support eternal damnation.

That's an overly simplistic (and I hope fair) summary, but it's pretty clear that excusing, rationalizing, or downplaying sin is not relevant.

Chad Handley said...

Ben:

On a Thomist account it is practically impossible, after the Fall, to 'just be a good person' -- without the grace of Christ. And it is categorically impossible to will a supernatural end (i.e., the beatific vision), after OR before the Fall, without grace.

So Catholics would say that before the cross it was impossible for anyone to will a supernatural end? What does that mean for those who died before the time of Jesus?

It seems to me that Protestant soteriology,on the contrary, tends to see grace as a sort of garment that covers our sins rather than an interior gift that truly changes our hearts and orients them to God. Maybe that's why this isn't all quite adding up yet for you. But I probably have a grossly oversimplified understanding of Protestant theology so maybe it's not that simple.

Protestants vary wildly but in general I would say that we see grace as sort of the supererogatory love of God; the fact that God loves us more than we deserve, and thus made provision for us to be with Him. The interior transforming and orienting power we tend to associate with the Holy Spirit itself. That we perceive the Holy Spirit, which is God, as living in us and directly testifying the truth is why we think we don't need priests or popes. Priesthood of the believer and all that.

But in terms of soteriology, most Protestants will agree that a person cannot even will to be saved on their own, but we believe that whether or not a person is saved is not as dependent on their works as seems to be the case within Thomism. We believe sin incurred a debt we couldn't pay, so God paid it for us with the death of Christ. All anyone has to do to have their debt cleared is to sincerely ask and to sincerely repent of their sins. We believe anyone who has sincerely asked and repented will live a changed life of more Christlike behavior, but we don't believe the behavior plays any role in the fact of our salvation. That was completely bought and paid for by Christ's sacrifice and nothing we can do can add to or subtract from that supreme gift.

The main point of contention here is that within the Protestant tradition it is ultimately God who decides whether you are saved or not, though of course He calls all to repentance and accepts anyone who answers the call. The Thomistic account seems to be that God calls all to repent, and he accepts anyone who answers the call, but it is up to each individual person to maintain their salvation through their works. I could be getting this wrong, but from this discussion it seems like you're all saying that, while God will help each believer through the sacraments administered by the Church, it's up to them to constantly manage and do upkeep on the grace they were given. If they fail to properly maintain ther grace even once at the wrong moment, all could be lost. Grace, on the Catholic/Thomist account, seems to be this self-existent metaphysical entity which needs to be watered and pruned by the believer or it will die. Whereas on the Protestant side, grace is just sort of how we speak about God's love, which can be refused, but once accepted is impossible to accidentally lose. (You can change your mind and deny his salvific grace, but you can't, through your behavior, cause him to withdraw his offer of salvific grace.) To many if not most of us, the idea of God not saving a sincere, believing Christian because he died with unconfessed sin is like the idea of a father disowning his child because the child broke curfew. To us grace is something that upholds us despite our mistakes, not something we can only hold onto by not making any mistakes, or by being vigilant to make sure to confess to every single mistake we made.

I'm not trying to disparage Catholicism here, just pointing out where the differences lie as I see them. I hope to be corrected where necessary.

Anonymous said...

Is there really a Protestant tradition in this respect? Do you mean Reformed? Surely Arminians have different ideas.

Chad Handley said...

Greg:

In Catholicism, you only opt for God at death if you are really taking him as your final end, that is, if you really possess the supernatural virtue of charity. That requires divine infusion; no creature can, of his own power, bring himself to possess charity. I made this point in comments on the original post on the topic. I don't see how that discussion can be complete without mention of charity.

I'll try to hunt down your comments on that thread when I have time, but in the meantime, I'll just refer you to my response to Ben.

To summarize, I think in the Protestant tradition, the soul does all the necessary opting for God in life when they sincerely turn to God and repent. That is when the fate of their soul is "locked in," not the moment of their death. And it is God who does the "locking in," not the soul itself.

I suspect, underlying our disagreement, there's some intellectualism vs voluntarism going on, since there seem to be more entities that God has no absolute control over going on in the Thomist account than in the Protestant account. I don't consider myself a voluntarist, but I think God has far more sovereign control over things like the soul than your typical Thomist seems to. God is not beholden to what the soul, of its own accord, happens to opt for at the moment of a death which could occur prematurely or at an inopportune time. He stands in judgment over the soul and He decides its fate. Most Protestant believe He respects the free choices of the soul, but that's because He decides to do so. He is under no moral obligation to do so and there are no metaphysical restraints (like the lack of a body or the like at death) forcing His hand in any way.

I suppose a Thomist would say that a soul's substantial form makes it such that the Thomist account must be correct. They would say that because of what a soul is (and metaphysically must be), it would be impossible for it to not "lock onto" either God or Not God of its own accord after separation from the body. I don't understand the underlying philosophy well enough to know if the arguments to those conclusions are decisive. However, I maintain that, if that was the case, God would micromanage the moments of our deaths for maximum salvation opportunity. In such a world, God wouldn't allow 14 year old abuse victims to die in random car accidents before they had a chance to know Him.

Greg said...

@ Chad

The Catholic view is that infused charity--love of God--is sanctifying grace. Those to whom God gives it have God as their final end and "choose" him when they die. Charity cannot subsist with what is contrary to charity; love of God is incompatible with deliberate and knowing breaking of God's commandments. Hence mortal sins, or sins that lead to death, result in the loss of charity. Works are the fruit of charity, and faith without works is dead, but charity, Catholics believe, is a theological virtue which we only can possess by God's love, for it is God's love.

Now, I think it's fair to say that Catholics shrink from saying that the heaven-bound Christian "maintains" himself in grace. That is, strictly speaking, not what is going on. But there is an ounce of truth in it. Catholics don't think that just any sort of behavior, so long as one continues to profess to be a Christian, is compatible with being saved. The behavior that is incompatible with it is strictly that which flouts God's law.

Chad Handley said...

Is there really a Protestant tradition in this respect? Do you mean Reformed? Surely Arminians have different ideas.

I'm an Arminian and this is what I was taught growing up in Baptists churches. Contrary to popular belief, Arminians do believe that no one can seek God unless God calls them. Where we differ from Calvinists is that we believe God calls everyone. (Or at least, everyone He knows will freely accept, if called).

And while Calvinists (full TULIP Calvinists, at least) believe that salvation cannot be lost full stop, most Ariminians believe it can, though only if deliberately and consciously repudiated. We don't believe it can be lost because of sin. (Although we do believe, if you live a consistently sinful and unrepentant life, you probably never sincerely repented or received salvation in the first place.)

This is my understanding given my own experiences as a churchgoer and given my own (limited) readings in theology. I am not a theologian by any means and I know less about Protesantism per se than most here know about Catholicism. But in my defense, given the variety of Protestants, it would be impossible to speak for all of them.

Greg said...

@ Chad

I suspect, underlying our disagreement, there's some intellectualism vs voluntarism going on, since there seem to be more entities that God has no absolute control over going on in the Thomist account than in the Protestant account.

I would not describe our disagreement this way. We are agreed that humans can freely lose salvation; we are disagreed as to the scope of acts with that result. I think those acts are those which the Catholic Church calls mortal sins; you think it is just the free and conscious disavowal of sanctifying grace. It doesn't seem to me that your own view should be described by saying that "God has no absolute control over" human beings because they can freely reject his grace.

I'd rather think that there are good independent grounds to think that "things effected by the divine will have that kind of necessity that God wills them to have, either absolute or conditional. Not all things, therefore, are absolute necessities" (ST I q. 19 a. 8 ad 3). God's willing things to have less than absolute necessity is not a restriction of his freedom at all.

Chad Handley said...

The Catholic view is that infused charity--love of God--is sanctifying grace. Those to whom God gives it have God as their final end and "choose" him when they die. Charity cannot subsist with what is contrary to charity; love of God is incompatible with deliberate and knowing breaking of God's commandments. Hence mortal sins, or sins that lead to death, result in the loss of charity. Works are the fruit of charity, and faith without works is dead, but charity, Catholics believe, is a theological virtue which we only can possess by God's love, for it is God's love.

Again I may be rhetorically privileging my own position here, but the main difference in this account is that Protestants believe we are not saved by our love of God, but by God's love of us. And it of course being the case that God's love for us is more constant and sure than our love of Him, it's little wonder Protestants tend to view salvation as harder to lose than Catholics.

As a Protestant, where I think Catholics go wrong is that they tend to reify things like charity and the grace of God and to a certain degree make them into metaphysical entities in their own right. Whereas if you just think of those concepts as being ways of speaking of God's love, some of the conclusions Catholics draw don't follow. Again, Protestants conceive of salvation as being more or less a matter of accepting God's love for you, as eternally and perfectly demonstrated on the cross. So, for us to lose our salvation (by anything other than our willful and deliberate repudiation of it) would require us to act in such a way as to cause God to stop loving us. And that's impossible. We think it's hubris to think that there's anything we could do that could conquer or overcome God's love for us.

Now, I think it's fair to say that Catholics shrink from saying that the heaven-bound Christian "maintains" himself in grace. That is, strictly speaking, not what is going on. But there is an ounce of truth in it. Catholics don't think that just any sort of behavior, so long as one continues to profess to be a Christian, is compatible with being saved. The behavior that is incompatible with it is strictly that which flouts God's law.

I think Protestants would agree in general with the thought that people who exhibit consistently sinful and unrepentant behavior probably aren't saved. But like Catholics, most of us would never claim to know this for certain.

We just tend to think such people were NEVER saved in the first place, whereas on the Catholic view, they are people who are in danger of losing the salvation they attained.

Chad Handley said...

I would not describe our disagreement this way. We are agreed that humans can freely lose salvation; we are disagreed as to the scope of acts with that result. I think those acts are those which the Catholic Church calls mortal sins; you think it is just the free and conscious disavowal of sanctifying grace. It doesn't seem to me that your own view should be described by saying that "God has no absolute control over" human beings because they can freely reject his grace.

I'd rather think that there are good independent grounds to think that "things effected by the divine will have that kind of necessity that God wills them to have, either absolute or conditional. Not all things, therefore, are absolute necessities" (ST I q. 19 a. 8 ad 3). God's willing things to have less than absolute necessity is not a restriction of his freedom at all


Do you think God could make it such that souls do not automatically opt for God or Not God at death? You think God could make it to be the case that souls separated from bodies continue to have full freedom of choice as to their end?

If that's within His power, why doesn't He do it? It seems like that would allow for more people to have a better chance of choosing Him as their end.

In my view, God chooses, (as an aspect of His grace, which is just His love) to respect our free decisions about Him. But again, He has no obligation to do so. After all, it's POSSIBLE that God fully elects all the saints; the Calvinists could be correct. Now, all I'm going by here is Feser's account, which is all I know about Catholic eschatology. But from that account, it seems like Feser's saying it's IMPOSSIBLE for God to prevent a soul from opting for God or Not God FINALLY and IRREVOCABLY at the moment of death. Given what a soul is, even God cannot cause it to continue to have an ongoing choice as to its final end after it is separated from the body.

So, I think this is, to a small degree at least, a matter of disagreement over the extent of Voluntarism. On the Protestant view, God is fully sovereign over the fate of the soul. (Calvinists believe God uses that sovereignty in an unlimited way, Ariminians believe he uses that sovereignty in a limited way.) But on the Catholic view, it at least seems like God lacks that sovereignty. I suppose you would say that God chose to forfeit that sovereignty by giving souls the nature they have and respecting that nature. But I struggle to understand why God, if totally unrestrained, would chose to restrain Himself in the Thomist way rather than the Protetant way.

In other words, if it's in God's power to decide either to privilege the conscious decisions people make towards Him in life, rather than the exact state of their soul at the exact moment of death, why would He choose the latter over the former? It seems like doing so at least creates the possibility that a lot of people will go to Hell by accident.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Here a great quote I read in Hart's fb fan page:

“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols Wonder makes us fall to our knees.” St. Gregory of Nyssa

Reason is fine and good for avoiding error. But God is not known by reason, for reason can only lead to true beliefs *about* God, but not to God. God can only be known by *meeting* Christ. Who is risen, alive and well, and here among us.

Come to think of it, the proposition “reason is good only for avoiding error” is too optimistic. For reason without the guidance of the spirit is kind of blind. Sure, reason can help one avoid inconsistencies, but does not help one avoid false premises. Both finding the truth and avoiding error are ultimately an existential matter of interacting with Christ.

Anonymous said...

St. Gregory would presumably differentiate discursive reason from direct grasp of truths ratio from intellectus. I doubt his idea of wonder excluded reason in the second sense.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Raghn

“Dr. Feser thinks that after death it is impossible to reverse our orientation (either for God or against God) due to the underlying Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics”

I don't think that's precise. Feser explains Aquinas's thought here, and as far as I can see it's an ad hoc idea designed to make hellism sensible. It does not contradict the underlying A-T metaphysics, but neither is it implied by it. Interestingly enough I happen to agree that the human soul can pass through two points of no return, one after which it will never choose to turn away from God and another after which it will never choose to return to God. But in the latter case, what the soul cannot do, God can and will if God so chooses.

The historical record proves that since the very beginning Christians had trouble with hellism. We all know why: hellism does not sit well with our sense of the divine. I don't think many peoples' negative reaction towards hellism has anything to do with fear for their own destiny, as proven by the fact that most people who believe in hell live in a way that is not consistent to how they would live if they thought there were a chance they will land in it. What perhaps bothers them more is being wrong if they disbelieve hellism - as if disbelieving hellism makes it more probable that they will end up in hell, if in fact hell exists. So in order to manage the conflict between the fear of being wrong and their sense of the divine, people try to justify hellism, with ideas such as that the damned actually choose to go to hell and even choose to stay there, that the purgatory is the way by which presumably most people will avoid hell, annihilationism, and so on.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Chad Handley,

As an aside I'd like to comment on this phrase:
“the fact that God loves us more than we deserve”

Actually, love is never deserved. Whether love by God or by anybody else. Love is primordial and has no measure or reason. If you think you love somebody because she deserves your love, then in fact you are not loving her at all. Not in the way Christ meant “love”. After all surely our enemies do not deserve our love, do they?

”we [Protestants] believe that whether or not a person is saved is not as dependent on their works as seems to be the case within Thomism. We believe sin incurred a debt we couldn't pay, so God paid it for us with the death of Christ. All anyone has to do to have their debt cleared is to sincerely ask and to sincerely repent of their sins.”

I never understood how this is different to Catholic (or Orthodox) understanding. Repentance means to transform our soul into the likeness of Christ. The normal way to repent is through works (Christ in the gospels never tires to ask us “do this, do that”), and also the repented soul will do good works as surely as light shines from a candle. Thus to separate works from repentance is like separating heat from the fire: the heat both lights the fire and is then produced by it in abundance.

Skyliner said...

Hey Dianelos,

For my part, I would dilate our concept of reason so that it includes wonder and other affections (when properly functioning). As I've argued a few times on this site, affectivity (when properly functioning) is the primordial means whereby we cognitively apprehend the valuative dimensions of reality (my apologies to Ed if beating this horse again is annoying, but the cognitively suspect nature of "emotions" has been variously suggested throughout this discussion).

Also, are you sure that quote is from Nyssa? If so, do you have a reference? (It sounds more like Bernard of Clairvaux to me.)

Best in Christ,

Skyliner

Vincent Torley said...

I'd just like to respond briefly to DDT's comments. He writes:

"Some people are also able to love sin. "Surely God must be able to as well!" would be an idiotic conclusion to draw from that."

Sin, as Ed will tell you, is a privation of goodness. One cannot love a privation.

One can, however, love people, for their own sake, despite the fact that they are to some degree sinful. And that was what my whole argument was about. As I put it in my comments above:

"Most of us love our parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, and children, warts and all... If we can still love these people as they are, in themselves, notwithstanding their faults, then I ask: why can't God?"

DDT also writes:

"Hannibal Lecter had plenty of fouled parts of his psyche...
Is Hannibal Lecter damned? Or are you saying it's impossible to love Hannibal Lecter?
"

If someone could get into the mind of Hannibal Lecter and know his innermost thoughts, then I doubt very much whether they could love such a person. In any case, I made it very clear in my comments that I was distinguishing murderers from ordinary people:

"...[W]e can imagine circumstances in which Mike [in Ed's hypothetical example] would, in fact, sever himself from these family members: 'Or suppose Greg ended up becoming a drug pusher and a murderer, was hardened into bitter ingratitude and hatred toward his father, and they became estranged. Greg might become so corrupt that Mike might conclude that it is as if Greg were no longer his son.'...
But the vast majority of human beings are not murderers or drug pushers; and they love their parents rather than hating them."


Or does DDT truly believe that there is only a difference of degree between someone in a state of mortal sin and Hannibal Lecter?

DDT adds:

"The final kingdom will involve losing substantial parts of our psyches: the desire for evil, etc."

Pardon me, but I think there's a real difference between someone's losing their desire for evil and someone's losing their love of their mother, wife or child. In a very real sense, if I lose my connections to people I love, then my identity is shattered.

Finally, DDT writes:

"...[O]ne thing we can tell from reading the Bible is that He must also be loving them [i.e. the souls that go to Hell] while He damns them."

Chapter and verse, please? And what exactly does God love in the damned? Their abstract capacity to reason and choose? Love of a person's potentialities, when combined with an utter loathing of everything actual about them (their thoughts, words and deeds), is not love of that person, per se. At best, one might call it love of human nature.

The whole point of my argument is that if we look at people in a state of mortal sin, we can still find many actual qualities to love about them - their selfless kindness and generosity, their courage, and their steadfastness, for instance. Ed thinks that people in a state of mortal sin have already made a fundamental option for a way of life which excludes God and idolizes some finite good (e.g. sex, drugs, fame or money). If that were the case, then there shouldn't be anything left to admire in such people. Since there is, I have to conclude that (a) Ed's analysis of the state of mind of people in mortal sin is incorrect, and (b) there must be some additional choice one makes, at the end of one's life, before one can irrevocably cut oneself off from God. That's all I wanted to say.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Skyliner,

”I would dilate our concept of reason so that it includes wonder and other affections (when properly functioning).”

Well, one can define “reason” in various ways. What I think is factual is how we existentially change, including our forming of beliefs and their place in that change. In this context I find that what in analytical philosophy is called “reason” is a matter of formal thought designed to reveal contradictions and thus guide one away from error. But take the typical valid argument with premises A and B and conclusion C. If one is not prepared to accept C then one only has to choose which of the two premises to reject instead. It's not a useless exercise, but then again it has a very limited scope.

How do we then approach truth beyond what analytic philosophy offers? I think a major source of confusion is to be vague about what truth is. On Christianity truth is not a property of beliefs. Truth *is* Christ, not metaphorically but literally, and thus one knows the truth by meeting Christ. And this holds on all cognitive endeavors, even outside of theology. Say physical scientists who discover the mathematical order in phenomena are meeting Christ since Christ makes all that is, including the phenomena they are studying. Albeit they are not aware that by doing science they are meeting Christ. Non-Christians and atheists who follow Christ repent and their soul is transformed into the likeness of Christ, even though they too are not aware of it.

In the western intellectual tradition we tend to turn beliefs into idols. It's not like true beliefs are not significant; it's that many misunderstand what makes a belief they hold to be true. A belief is true to the degree it is produced by one's experience of meeting Christ or else motivates one to turn towards Christ. It is one's relationship to Christ that makes a belief true. And that's how the truth of beliefs is always objective, but also true beliefs may be different from person to person. To give an analogy that elucidates this simple idea: There is an objective fact of the matter about the shortest way towards the peak of a mountain, but for one person that truth may be to walk north and for another it may be to walk west. There is an objective truth about the form of the peak of the mountain, but the one standing to the south and the one standing to the west may describe differently that objective truth.

”Also, are you sure that quote is from Nyssa? If so, do you have a reference?”

The quote is from his “Life of Moses” in which I think he used Moses as a metaphor for all of us: here a reference Incidentally I tried to find that book online but couldn't. Strange that important Christian texts are still not online.

Anyway here's a quote we all know “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Thus one goes towards God by following Christ, one comprehends the truth by meeting Christ, and one becomes alive by turning into Christ.

Greg said...

@ Chad

Again I may be rhetorically privileging my own position here, but the main difference in this account is that Protestants believe we are not saved by our love of God, but by God's love of us.

Catholics think that we are saved by both, and more fundamentally by God's love of us--for we can love God only by virtue of his grace of infused charity.

As a Protestant, where I think Catholics go wrong is that they tend to reify things like charity and the grace of God and to a certain degree make them into metaphysical entities in their own right. Whereas if you just think of those concepts as being ways of speaking of God's love, some of the conclusions Catholics draw don't follow.

I'm not sure this gets at the difference either. Charity is a theological virtue in the sense that it is a habit which disposes us to love God. We only possess it by virtue of God's grace, which is God's love.

We just tend to think such people were NEVER saved in the first place, whereas on the Catholic view, they are people who are in danger of losing the salvation they attained.

Yeah, Catholics--I don't know, perhaps unfairly--often have trouble taking seriously Once Saved, Always Saved.

Consider two people, A and B. A and B both lead ordinary sinful lives, until they turn to Christ and repent--or, at least, that is how it looks. At the point of repentance, not only do they behave more or less the same, but phenomenologically everything is more or less the same.

But later on, while A's faith continues, as we might say, to worketh charity, B--though he continues to profess belief in God and his salvation--starts to slip into whatever sort of bad behavior would be the cause and result, for a Catholic, of a state of mortal sin, or whatever sort of bad behavior would be cause for belief, for a Protestant, that he was "never really saved".

I don't really see any problem with this happening. And it does happen. But suppose that the Protestant is right, and he was never really saved. Then it would follow that B's works and phenomenology, though initially not different in quality of kind from those of A, were consistent with B's not really being saved; thus, neither of those things are really fruits of true faith, even in A. To put it differently, it seems to me that lapses are possible despite having all possible evidential assurances that one is saved by accepting God's grace. It's this sort of thought that leads Catholics, I think, to puzzle at the idea that salvation cannot be lost through mortal sins.

(The example isn't entirely unobjectionable. One could deny that it is genuinely possible; perhaps everyone who turns out not to be saved really did not bear fruit or experience the relevant phenomenology when it seemed that they were saved. I simply find this overwhelmingly implausible, but it is a position one may take.)

Greg said...

@ Chad

Do you think God could make it such that souls do not automatically opt for God or Not God at death? You think God could make it to be the case that souls separated from bodies continue to have full freedom of choice as to their end?

No, I don't. At least if the metaphysical argument holds, then this would be like God's willing the existence of a square and willing for that square to have some property--roundness, say--incompatible with another property that flows from its nature. So Thomas, in saying what he does about conditional necessities, is not, I think, actually committed to this position:

it's in God's power to decide either to privilege the conscious decisions people make towards Him in life, rather than the exact state of their soul at the exact moment of death

That said, I don't see a metaphysical argument for the conclusion that God could not reincarnate human souls so that they might change their choices in a second life. I don't believe he does that, and I don't believe the existence of the metaphysical possibility would suffice to require him in justice to do so, but I don't see why that would be impossible.

So, I think this is, to a small degree at least, a matter of disagreement over the extent of Voluntarism.

The other reason I tend to find "intellectualism" and "voluntarism" unhelpful labels is that they can have certain connotations that are accidental to their actual plausibility. The temptation to affirm, for instance, that God must be able to create items with contradictory possible, lest we fail to affirm his power as much as possible, just strikes me as misguided. Such arguments take the form of arguing to an attribute of God (that such-and-such is open to his power, or that he is sovereign in such-and-such a way) from the praiseworthiness of a human's affirming that attribute of him; that is, I think, misguided.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Skyliner: Also, are you sure that quote is from Nyssa? If so, do you have a reference?

You: The quote is from his "Life of Moses" in which I think he used Moses as a metaphor for all of us[.] Incidentally I tried to find that book online but couldn't.

The Life of Moses is online. But one must be willing to suffer and endure a tremendous amount of back-breaking work in order to find it.

If you have the courage and fortitude to slog your way through all the necessary steps, then you too can find it: 1) Go to google; 2) do a search for The Life of Moses Nyssa; and, 3) click the link under the heading of "[PDF]Gregory Of Nyssa".

As you can see, finding TLM does involve a lot of trouble, though, of course, it can be done.

Said link is the fourth link on my screen, though it may be positioned differently on your screen.

- - - - -

The closest thing to the quote as given which I found is in paragraph 165:

"The divine word at the beginning forbids that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since every concept which comes from some comprehensible image by an approximate understanding and by guessing at the divine nature constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God."

If I'm not mistaken -- and I do hope I am -- you would like to simplify and reduce that in your mind to: all concepts either are idols or lead to the construction of an idol.

But that would be silly, of course.

For if one is going to contemplate God by way of analogy from things in creation then the aid of reason will be required, as will be concomitant concepts.

Here is St Gregory of Palamas writing of and quoting from St Gregory of Nyssa (in the principal spiritual text of your Church (the Philokalia)):

Most excellently does St Gregory of Nyssa, St Basil's bodily and spiritual brother, say in his refutation of Eunomios: 'When we perceive the beauty and grandeur of the wonders of creation, and from these and similar things derive other intellections concerning the Divinity, we interpret each of the intellections produced in us by its own distinctive name. "For from the grandeur and beauty of created things the Creator is contemplated by way of analogy" (Wisd. 13:5).

May he who believes in the possibility of contemplating by way of analogy without the aid of reason, and, therefore, without the aid of concomitant concepts, have some sense knocked into him.

Skyliner said...

Hey Danielos,

Can you be more specific with your reference? The website to which you provided a link doesn't seem sufficiently vetted (see especially the attribution of Nazianzus' works to Nyssa).

Best,

Skyliner

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Anyway here's a quote we all know “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Thus one goes towards God by following Christ, one comprehends the truth by meeting Christ, and one becomes alive by turning into Christ.

Yeah, we all know that quote.

Unfortunately, not all of us know this one (at least not well enough): "I am the vine, ye are the branches..."

If ever I turn into Christ, I'll apologize for having bumped into Him.

If ever you turn into Christ, you'll proclaim, "Without myself, I can do nothing."

Sean Eha said...

Dr. Feser,

I appreciate the time and effort you've taken to read David Hart's article and write this response. I hope you'll find yourself able and willing to offer a little more time to me, since, while I understand your objections (and am aware that while Hart's article was extremely eloquent, he did not often fully spell out his arguments), I also feel like they are often somewhat missing the actual mark (or at least what I take to be the mark). I am, of course, not Hart, and I do not pretend to speak for him; I only offer my own understanding of the various points made. In fact, since I am attempting to search out and understand the truth (or at least arguments) regarding this issue, I offer more questions, really, than iron-clad arguments:

(1) I take this to be an argument mainly based on two things: The first (and weakest) is the understanding put forward by Gregory of Nyssa that, when God created mankind "in His image," what He meant was the entirety of mankind, all of them (both individually and) together meant to be/become one body and together be one full image of God. On this view, of course, if even one member is missing, the body and image are incomplete, and so no one can be fully saved until everyone is (since to be "fully saved" would mean to be fully united in love to both God and all the rest of humanity). Of course, while I think there is a great deal of truth and wisdom in this idea, whether it fully captures the truth of the matter seems to me to be a question somewhat open to debate.

The second (and much stronger) basis for this argument I take to essentially be charity. The highest Christian virtue has always been considered to be charity (indeed, we read, "God is love," and we are meant to be His image), and when we consider the matter in Scripture we find that the fullest revelation we have of the character and love of God is in the Person and work of Christ, who is willing literally to go to hell and back for the sake, not of those who love Him, but of the horrible wretches that hate Him and desperately need the salvation that only He can offer. Even His awful justice is revealed to be undivided from His mercy (indeed, they are the same thing), as, on the cross, Justice delivers Himself up to meet His own demands on behalf of those who cannot. Now if our holiness consists precisely in becoming more like Him Who is this sort of love (a love that wills and works for the reconciliation even of His worst enemies, the redemption of even the most depraved), then it seems to me that there is no escaping the implication that, the more we become like Christ (i.e., the "better" or "more holy" we become), the more we shall (and must) pray and work for and desire the redemption, reconciliation, and loving fellowship of all humanity -- and most especially of those whose lives have more immediately touched our own. Indeed, this certainly seems to be what we are commanded to do, since we are told that a great part of our holiness (and likeness to the Father) consists in praying for even our enemies, and doing good to those who hate us, and blessing those who curse us, and so on.

[To be continued]

Sean Eha said...

[continued from previous]

This is what I feel was entirely missing in your response. Of course it is easy to imagine earthly situations in which a person might actually be happier for forgetting (or even seeing bad things happen to) certain other people -- but that looks to me like an argument from human weakness, which ought to have nothing to do with what we are made to be in the age to come, when we shall see Christ "as He is" and be made like Him. And it does not fully take into account the cross of Christ: For to accept the sacrifice of the Son of God as full payment for our own sins is necessarily to accept it as full payment for those of everyone else (hence the fact that we are absolutely commanded to forgive, or else we shall not be forgiven). Of course a hurt or angry man might be "happier" in some sense to forget or even see the misery of his cheating wife; but would he not be a much holier man (and therefore, although more sad in some ways for now, also much more open to and even filled with the deeper kind of joy that union with Christ brings) who rather desired that same wife's repentance, reconciliation, salvation, and good? And if we are to desire the good of all people, and all people's "good" consists in their salvation and union with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, then mustn't we certainly desire that for all?

So here is the point (and I apologize for being somewhat wordy): If holiness (which is necessary for our own ultimate happiness) consists in more and more fully (and unconditionally) loving and desiring the good of all others, then it is exceedingly difficult to imagine how the eternal torment of even one soul -- a soul which I shall by then have learned to fully identify with and love even as a member of myself (because your first analogy, perhaps you will notice, is actually much less absurd than you made it out to be, when put in the context of the teaching about us becoming the Body of Christ, or even in the simple context of the love we are taught to have for others and what that sort of love means) -- could fail to be also a torment to me. Even if it were "just," was not that justice fulfilled on the cross and in the now-empty tomb? Even if it is a self-willed imprisonment, were not those doors burst asunder on the third day? Even if it is "righteous," is it not still a loss -- and an eternal one, at that? A loss, in that case, which can never be recovered? And can holiness ever possibly actually consist in learning to ignore or even rejoice in that loss? Having begun to be taught by the grace of God now to love and desire salvation for everyone, could the fullness of that grace actually consist in sending me backwards, teaching me which people I actually should not care about?

[more to come]

Sean Eha said...

[continued again]

(2) You again seem to be ignoring the understanding of charity offered above, which seems to me to be a thing largely presupposed by Hart (at least in the article in question). If goodness for us consists in desiring and working for the redemption of all people, and God is much more good than we are (is, indeed Goodness Himself), and if the entire purpose and good of Creation is being drawn into complete fellowship with God, and if nothing can hinder His expression of His own good purposes, then can there be any reasonable way of supposing that Hell as a place of eternal and perpetually-deserved/justly-administered punishment exists? Could anything actually eternally prevent even one human being made and designed for glory from finally being brought into that glory?

Further, you have spoken of the damned "meriting" eternal punishment. Now, to a certain extent, I agree -- but then, isn't that almost irrelevant? Isn't our doctrine precisely that ALL humans "merit" eternal punishment, but for the blood of Christ? And if the blood of Christ is enough to pay that debt, then hasn't the question of "merit" become meaningless? None of us could merit salvation; all of us merit death. But because of Christ, all that is required of us now is: "Repent, and believe the gospel" (which, of course, leads to a life of "hav[ing] and keep[ing] [Christ's] commandments"). "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works" -- so it no longer has anything to do with our own "merits," but only (if anything) our willingness to repent and obey. Of course, some obviously choose not to repent -- the question being asked here is whether, given the perfect goodness of God, any human being whose ontological foundation, original basis, and ultimate designated goal is union with that goodness can (once the blinders of this age are removed) fully and eternally reject (or from God's side be rejected from) it.

Finally, while I am not familiar with the Thomist system, I understand that a great number of Calvinists (and some others), at least, justify hell and the damnation of some by suggesting that God also wants to display His wrath, or His justice, or what-have-you. This is part of what I take to be argued against by Hart's understanding of Creation out of nothing: If God is eternally complete in Himself, and the world is entirely gratuitous (He does not need it at all), then He obviously has no need to show off His wrath or anything else. And so why would He, when it would result in the eternal torment of beings supposedly made to share His goodness?

The biggest problem here is that what seems to me to happen is we tend to divide the attributes of God: As though, He has mercy, but also justice; love, but also wrath; etc. But this is nonsense. God does not have myriad attributes which sometimes war and sometimes do not, or even myriad attributes which are all reconciled: In His divine simplicity (since He is perfectly good, and perfectly free), all of the attributes are one and the same; they are all His goodness (or His love). So we do not see, ultimately, the reconciliation of mercy and justice on the cross, but the fact that they are one and the same (or two perspectives on the same goodness). So wrath, even, is not a separate thing, but ultimately only the way that the love and goodness of God are experienced when we reject them. But since that rejection of them by us is a defect in us which God is able to heal, since even His judgements are actually mercies meant to lead us to repentance, can there really be any way in which such a God could inflict eternal punishments which are not meant to redeem or heal -- and if not, could anyone ever succeed in eternally undergoing punishments meant to heal without finally being healed?

[Yet more to come]

Sean Eha said...

[continuing to be continued]

(3) You accurately point out that most theologies, even ones with strict doctrines of hell, take into account the same things Hart complains about: ignorance, confusion, etc. What you seem to me to have missed is Hart's obvious implication that, given the state of things here, no one can be said to have actually fully accurately and willfully chosen evil with complete understanding. Hence the fact that "God has consigned all under sin that He might have mercy upon all." We are all, always, so to speak, somewhat "deranged children." And, while a father might allow his adult son to "suffer the consequences" of his crimes, to the extent that he is a good and loving father, he will always hope and desire that those consequences will open his son's eyes to to wickedness of his behavior and bring him to true repentance. So the question is still whether a God who specifically says that He desires all men to be saved, and whose discipline is meant to cause us to share His holiness, actually also has some other form of punishment which has nothing to do with purification, leading to repentance, or anything else other than an eternal outpouring of vengeance.

Now, however philosophically or ontologically accurate Hart's characterization of all mankind as more or less incapable of making fully-informed, entirely willful choices in favor of evil/rebellion may be, I am not certain I agree with it. The majority of people, at least (myself included), very often recognize at least that choosing one thing would be ethically (or even practically) "better" than choosing another, but still take the "worse" choice because of a lack of will to chase what even they admit to be the truly good. However, again, there is something to say about a lack of real clarity in everyone's soul regarding the importance of those choices, what real goodness is, why it should be chased, etc.

[One more post remains]

Sean Eha said...

[final continuation]

(4) Along with the above, of course, is the fact (which Hart repeatedly mentions) that, even given free will, if anyone is able to end up ultimately in perpetual, eternal torment, then from a certain perspective it still means that the beatitude of some has been purchased at the cost of the eternal misery of others -- a misery then forever included in the nature and fact of the universe, and so from the beginning included in the calculus of Creation, and thus (apparently) a part of the eternal nature of God (whose freedom means nothing can ultimately hinder His realization of His purposes and whose simplicity and unchanging nature mean that there is ultimately no difference between His character and His actions) -- and thus Hart's question as to how such a God (or a universe) could ultimately and fully be said to be "good" in any sense really intelligible to us. It could only ever be (at best) a relative good, for some, and only for them to the extent that they neither loved nor identified with nor desired the good of those in hell. And, while I am not certain I agree with Hart, I do not think you have actually addressed the cases he was really making here (in both 3 and 4).

(5) To be perfectly honest, here I am largely in agreement with you. I would have loved for Hart to be right about there being only a couple passages which only seem to mention eternal torment, but I have read too much of my Bible to believe that to be the case. Certainly, at least, there are a great deal of passages strongly warning about coming judgement, the destruction of the evil, and eternal torment of the devil, his angels, and all of those who do not follow Christ. Now, I am not saying that I know the full and proper interpretation of all of the various passages which seem to support either side; I do know that in they end we will see how they all fit together. All I am saying at the moment is that, while Hart's arguments (as I understand them) are powerful, so long as they fail to fully account for the numerous Scripture passages which seem to be arrayed somewhat against them, they have not fully accounted for all of the issues. But then, that is the main reason I have written this: Because I do not have all the answers, and I am working and praying to understand.

This has been very long, and has taken a good two or more hours of my morning to write. I apologize for the somewhat rambling and wordy nature of my thoughts, and but I hope you found it at least somewhat interesting; and I would very much appreciate it if you found it worthy of a response. God bless and keep you always.

In Christ,
~Sean

Raghn said...

Bob Sacamano said...
Raghn,
You are attacking a straw-man. The Universalism in question does not admit all into Heaven as they are. Damnation is still very real. The argument is that damnation is not eternal and irrevocable.


Hi Bob Sacamano,
Many thanks for this and the rest of your summation of the discussion. I appreciate it. It’s an interesting point you explain here that the “Universalists” claim damnation is real, yet not eternal and irrevocable. But is that damnation? Doesn’t it sound more like Purgation? Are these Universalists reinventing Purgatory, in a certain fashion, more or less, give or take?
Also I understand that it’s a discussion from metaphysics, not revelation. Or at least, an argument from metaphysics “supplemented by the weight of Tradition,” as you write. But is the Tradition “supplemental”? Or is the metaphysics supplemental, I mean, in that the metaphysics is used to explain an already long-existing, authoritive teaching?

Dr. Feser thinks that after death it is impossible to reverse our orientation (either for God or against God) due to the underlying Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics (supplemented by the weight of Tradition). Therefore damnation is eternal.

Thank you. Excellently stated. And that is what the New Testament and subsequent Tradition seem to teach, or at least what they’ve been considered to have taught, and taught consistently since the beginning. It’s reinforced by the idea of the Incarnation, of course: after all, God becoming Man, and suffering and dying on the Cross, is a pretty hefty thing to for the Absolute Being, Being as such, to do. But if damnation can’t be eternal, if in the end we cannot resist the Divine Will, then why go to all that unimaginable effort?

Also, FWIW, from what I know of demonology, devils will sometimes admit that their rebellion was stupid, hurts them beyond describing, and that it causes them unspeakable pain – yet they insist they’d do it all again because they’re “locked in” to their damnation.

Cont.

Raghn said...

Cont. from above...

Bob Sacamano also writes:

Dr. Hart thinks it is impossible to reject God finally and eternally because we are created with a Natural Will that longs for God even as the Gnomic Will does not. We have the libertarian freedom to reject God, but our created nature is a "limitation" of that freedom. Therefore rejection of God cannot be final or eternal. Also Hart recently translated the New Testament, and believes there are 50 or so passages which support the idea of Universal reconciliation, as opposed to 5 or so passages which support eternal damnation.

DBH has been busy, it seems. I’ve read a number of his books, such as The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, and also his short story compendium, the most interesting of which is a long dialogue with a very urbane devil. Perhaps Dr. Hart a great Koine Greek expert, as well. But Bible translations by individuals, I think it fair to say, are not looked upon as the last word in Bible translation. I’m sure many scholars with great competence in the field might well challenge his translation. The point being, of course, that this can't really be used as evidence. It's amazing news, really; but otherwise...


That's an overly simplistic (and I hope fair) summary, but it's pretty clear that excusing, rationalizing, or downplaying sin is not relevant.

Again, many thanks! It seems very fair and pellucidly (to use a Hart-level word) clear. But from the aspect of a reader reviewing this fascinating discussion, I am inclined to wonder whether this “hellism” as Dianelos Georgoudis so aptly calls it in his posts, which has always been an essential teaching of both Christianity (and Islam, for whatever that’s worth), isn’t the whole point of Christianity – for why else the extraordinary length God went to “save” us, or the amazingly painful, Hellishly horrible anguish the devils feel as they ceaselessly try to wreck this salvation plan of God’s? Or yet again, can we use the word “damnation” for something that isn’t eternal? Purgation has an end, damnation doesn’t. In other words, it appears that a redefinition of a long-standing word and concept is what’s in play here? And thus a seriously fundamental restructuring – if not recreation – of Christianity?

Upon review, I'm sure I'm stating the obvious to everyone. Oh well. Anyway, thanks again.

Raghn

Tony said...

That said, I don't see a metaphysical argument for the conclusion that God could not reincarnate human souls so that they might change their choices in a second life. I don't believe he does that, and I don't believe the existence of the metaphysical possibility would suffice to require him in justice to do so, but I don't see why that would be impossible.

Glenn, as far as I understand it, this would entail some pretty hairy metaphysical shenanigans under either Aristotle's or Aquinas's views of the soul. Not, perhaps, manifestly contradictory, but very, very odd at least. The soul of a man is the principle in virtue of which a man maintains the same identity after death, and is the principle of integration of the body (making it a ONE body, instead of many things), while the body is the principle of individuation of a NEW being. Christians hold that each person when conceived consists in a NEW soul (i.e. the soul as newly created) informing the material provided by the mother and father and so constituting that material as a new substantial entity, a human being. The new being is not "humanity", but AN INDIVIDUAL human being because the matter is the principle of individuation, making to be THIS human being.

When the human being dies, the soul ceases to be the principle of integrity of the body, and ceases to be the principle of life IN the body, and thus the entity decomposes and the body ceases to be "a man" but "the corpse of a man". But the soul retains its individuality that it received IN VIRTUE OF the body, and so in some sense it retains its orientation toward that one specific body. It remains the SOUL OF Peter, not "generic human soul". It is the soul of a specific person, only.

This I think has ramifications: the soul harbors habits that pertain to that one specific body: it has the habit of left-handedness, the habits of athleticism, the habits belonging to a person 5' 11", who weighs 170 pounds, who has learned how to throw a frisbee. More than that, it harbors the habits of thought of a person who has learned how to tie his shoes, learned the proof for the Pythagorean theorem, learned the difference between the love of friendship and the love of utility, learned the mental habits of being a careful biologist. These habits, though they reside in SOME respect in the soul, they also reside in the brain (in memories of specific actions and proofs), and in neural pathways of thinking that are learned behavior.

If you were to put that "old" soul into the new body of a baby, it would not just tend toward, but WANT and NEED to organize that new body into the body it was already used to; it would also organize that brain with the thought patterns it already learned. It would, frankly, be the organizing principle of an oldster in a baby's body - it just doesn't work. (That's even apart from the possible carry-over of specific memories, about which I am agnostic.)

But much more metaphysically importantly, even the notion of putting the old soul into the newly conceived body is what this seems to imply about the entity Peter: that "he" is "really" a soul, which sometimes inhabits one body, and sometimes another. This means that "Peter" is not per se that unity of THIS body with human nature, but that THIS body sometimes houses the human nature - this means Peter's human nature can be determined without reference to Peter's specific one (first) body. And thus "what Peter is", is "a rational soul" that may inhabit some body, not "this rational animal".

I don't think that works.

Greg said...

@ Tony

That was me, not Glenn.

I actually was going to ask whether any Thomists had any beef with that claim. Of course, failing to recognize an impossibility is not to recognize a possibility.

I should also say that "reincarnate" was a poor choice of a word. Thomists think that there will be a bodily resurrection. Catholics don't believe that anyone blessed will thereafter be damned or that anyone damned will thereafter be blessed. Is there a metaphysical argument for that conclusion, though? (I don't ask that rhetorically; I have not studied this question.)

Vishal Mehra said...

I have a question regarding equivocal sense of the words. Feser gives the example above

"If I say “I can make it to the party” and “The vegetables came out of a can,” I am using the word “can” equivocally or in completely different senses."

But here the word "can" is not the same in the two sentences. There are two entirely different words that happen to spell the same. It is not the two senses of the same word.
The "can" in "I can make it to the party" is not the word "can" in “The vegetables came out of a can".

So, is my objection valid. I am not doubting the idea of equivocal senses but merely saying that the example that Feser gives is incorrect.

Glenn said...

Vishal Mehra,

So, is my objection valid

Read the following excerpt from Robert D. Sutherland's Language and Lewis Carroll, then decide for yourself:

According to John Stuart Mill, in a statement which Lewis Carroll undoubtedly read, an equvocal word is in reality not a single word with several possible meanings, but two or more words which accidentally coincide in sound. That which is called an equivocal 'word' is actually as many different words as there are meanings which it is potentially capable of having. _Track_, for example, is the name of many different things. It may designate the rails along which trains move, the spoor of an animal, the turf course where horses race, the cinder course where men run races in the springtime sporting event (comprised of running, pole vaulting, high jumping and discuss throwing) which also bears the name, or the path of a sub-atomic particle through a cloud chamber. As it refers to these various things individually _track_ is not one symbol, but six. For convenience, however, men generally speak of such equivocal symbols not as homophones, but as a single word signifying various things. Thus, the word _mouse_ is said to refer to mean 'a type of rodent', 'a young woman', or 'a black eye'. As long as one realizes that the symbol _mouse_ as it refers to these three things, is actually three separate symbols, each with its own signification, he may safely regard _mouse_ for the sake of convenience as a word which is capable of having three distinct meanings.

Glenn said...

("is said to refer to mean" s/b "is said to mean".)

Johannes said...

Greg said:

"The Catholic view is that infused charity--love of God--is sanctifying grace."

Actually, Catholic doctrine holds that sanctifying grace and infused charity are two inseparable but distinct supernatural gifts. Sanctifying grace is a quality ("entitative habit") whose subject is the essence of the soul, whereas charity is a virtue ("operative habit") whose subject is the will. Both gifts are directly infused by God, and charity also proceeds from sanctifying grace.

They are initially infused together at baptism (of water, of blood, or of desire), they grow together by the reception of sacraments and the performance of acts of charity in a state of grace, they are lost together by mortal sin, and they are re-infused together when the sinner makes an act of contrition with a purpose of sacramental confession, or when he just goes to sacramental confession having only attrition.

Vishal Mehra said...

Glenn,
The example given of equivocal meanings of the word "track" I actually agree with. But it contradicts Mill's contention that an equivocal word is just homophones.
Indeed, the example "track" with its five meanings given, four seem not equivocal but analogical. Only the meaning as "the spoor of an animal" is unrelated. Maybe an homophone?

So, my point is that a word is not just a sequence of letters or a sound. Two entirely different words can share this sequence or sound. To attribute equivocal property to such a situation is misleading.

Vishal Mehra said...

Glenn,
The following quote illustrates perfectly the equivocal usage:
"If you die before you die, you will not die when you die."

Glenn said...

Vishal Mehra,

Rather belatedly I notice Sutherland gave only five uses of 'track', and not six. Apparently, he lost track of how many different uses of 'track' he was giving.

The following quote illustrates perfectly the equivocal usage: "If you die before you die, you will not die when you die."

How about:

a) If you really live before you die, you won't regret not having lived when you die; or,

b) "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it."

Anyway, here's Aristotle:

"Things are said to be named 'equivocally' when, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each. Thus, a real man and a figure in a picture can both lay claim to the name 'animal'; yet these are equivocally so named, for, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each. For should any one define in what sense each is an animal, his definition in the one case will be appropriate to that case only."

JSM aside, I don't see why "can" cannot be legitimately used to refer to an ability or capability in one case, and to a cylindrical metal container in another case (oh!).

Vishal Mehra said...

Glenn,
"why "can" cannot be legitimately used to refer to an ability or capability in one case, and to a cylindrical metal container in another case"

"Can" is an example of homophones. Two entirely different words having distinct history merely happen to currently coincide in spelling and pronunciation.
It is not the case of "things having a common name". The names "can" in the sense of ability is wholly distinct from the name "can" in sense of metal container.

Glenn said...

Vishal Mehra,

The names "can" in the sense of ability is wholly distinct from the name "can" in sense of metal container.

If the names 'can' and 'can' indeed are wholly distinct, then there oughtn't be any difficulty in telling whether it's the former 'can' which is used in "I can make it to the party" and the latter 'can' which is used in "The vegetables came out of a can", or the other way about.

Also, you base your assertion that 'can' and 'can' are wholly distinct names on the fact that 'can' has multiple senses (or can be used in different senses).

That said, I'm not unsympathetic to your objection; which is why I gave you the Sutherland quote.

For there is a way in which your objection can be said to be valid; another way in which it can be said to be invalid; and a third way in which even though it can be said to be valid, it still can be said of the example in response to which the objection itself was made that it is not incorrect (recall Sutherland's "for the sake of convenience").

Tony said...

According to John Stuart Mill, in a statement which Lewis Carroll undoubtedly read, an equvocal word is in reality not a single word with several possible meanings, but two or more words which accidentally coincide in sound. ... As long as one realizes that the symbol _mouse_ as it refers to these three things, is actually three separate symbols, each with its own signification, he may safely regard _mouse_ for the sake of convenience as a word which is capable of having three distinct meanings.


"Can" is an example of homophones. Two entirely different words having distinct history merely happen to currently coincide in spelling and pronunciation.

Interesting. If my understanding is not astray, before the invention of writing, the expression "word" usually meant, literally and expressly, the SOUND emitted by the mouth meant to signify. It would have made no sense at all to call "can" and "can" as spoken "two different words with the same sound", having the same sound meant they were the same word.

Perhaps, in the context of multiple languages, one might suggest that "can" to an Englishman and "can" to a Hungarian might "be" two different words, but if one recorded the event of the spoken word and played it back to a Chinese person, it is hard to see how he would consider it one sound if English and a different sound if Hungarian.

According to S-T tradition, the sound signifies the concept - i.e. what is held in the mind - and the concept signifies (in quite a different sense of "signify") the thing. But this does not spell out enough to say whether "the sound signifies the concept" must imply in "word" something more than JUST the sound. I would suggest that saying things are "homophones" (and thus distinct "words") because they signify different concepts and have different historical derivations before arriving at the same SOUND, depends on according to "word" something of the context in addition to the sound. And I think this is probably justified at least to some extent: it seems to me that if some natural (non-intelligent) process accidentally produced the same sound as "can" when I speak that word, we don't tend to call that natural process the production of a word. It seems to me that at a minimum, using the term "word" of a sound DOES imply enough context to it as to place it within the universe of "sound produced with an intention to signify something else". It seems not unreasonable that we might go further and ascribe the context of a specific language to a spoken word and so say that "can" spoken by an Englishman and spoken by a Hungarian referring to completely unrelated concepts is more "different words" than "the same word with 2 meanings".

But it might be even better (when doubt is possible) to simply say explicitly exactly what you mean to avoid the possibility of being misunderstood.

I completely agree with Vishal that most of the senses of "track" given are analogues rather than pure equivocations: they share a root notion of "pathway" in some form or other. To ignore the difference between distinct usages or connotations of what is the SAME word, and call it a matter of "different words" cannot be helpful to a discussion like this. (By the way, given the purpose of finding spoor in order to track an animal in hunting, I wouldn't classify "spoor" as a completely unrelated meaning, but a derivative meaning that is more of an analogue than a pure equivocation.