Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Hart, hell, and heresy

Well, yikes, as the kids say.  Hell hath no fury like David Bentley Hart with his pride hurt.  At Eclectic Orthodoxy, he creates quite the rhetorical spectacle replying to my review of his book That All Shall Be Saved.  In response, I’ll say only a little about the invective and focus mainly on the substance.  Since there’s almost none there, that will save lots of time.  And since Catholic Herald gave me only 1200 words to address the enormous pile of sophistries that is his book, I would in any case like to take this opportunity to expand on some of the points I could make in only a cursory way in the review.

Hart’s response

First let me reply to the two substantive points Hart makes in his response.  In my review, I noted that it was “centuries” after the time of Christ before universalism was floated within Christianity.  Hart says I am wrong and cites as among “the earliest witnesses” (whether friendly or hostile to universalism) Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Jerome, and Augustine – all fourth or fifth century writers.  For the reader whose math is rusty, that would place them… centuries after the time of Christ.  Of course, above all others we have to consider Origen, who was a third century writer.  Which, if your math is still rusty, would put him… centuries after the time of Christ.

Hart misunderstands a criticism I raise against his views about free will.  He writes:

[Feser] claims, for instance, that from my treatment of the nature of rational freedom I “infer that no one is culpable” for his or her wicked choices… Where on earth did he get this weird idea that I anywhere deny human culpability for sin?

But that is not what I said.  What I said is that Hart infers, from the fact that as rational creatures we are made for God, that we are not culpable for “any choice against God,” specifically.  That is to say, he infers that we cannot be culpable for a sin of the kind that would damn us, of the kind that would separate us from God forever.  And that is indeed a major theme of his book (one he reaffirms in his reply to my review).  I did not attribute to Hart the view that we are not culpable for any of the sins we commit.  To be sure, in my review, I did go on to say:

Furthermore, if a choice is non-culpable because it is irrational, how can we be culpable for any bad thing that we do (given that bad actions are always contrary to reason)?

But obviously, what I am saying here is that this is an unintended consequence of Hart’s arguments, not that it is a thesis he actually intends to affirm.

Hart puts heavy emphasis in his book on the irrationality of acting contrary to an end toward which our nature directs us.  Of course, he is right about that much.  The trouble is that he fallaciously reasons from this correct premise a mistaken conclusion about culpability, because he persistently fails to distinguish:

(a) an end the pursuit of which is in fact good for us, given our nature, and

(b) an end the pursuit of which we take to be good for us (whether it really is or not)

Now, acting against either (a) or (b) would be contrary to reason, but not in the same sense.  In particular, a person might act against (b) because of confusion, duress, passion, or something else that clouds reason.  And that can certainly affect culpability.  For example, suppose that you say something extremely rude and uncalled for to your mother, because she just roused you from a deep sleep or because you are heavily medicated and not thinking straight.  We would not hold you culpable for such behavior, because we know you weren’t thinking clearly.  If you had been, you would never have done such a thing, because you yourself take it to be good to be respectful of your mother.

But suppose instead that you are fully awake, stone cold sober, and calm, but that you nevertheless say something extremely rude and uncalled for to your mother.  Here we typically would regard you as culpable, and we might be even more inclined to do so if you refused to admit that you had done something wrong but tried to rationalize it.  Now, here too you would be acting contrary to reason or irrationally, but not in the same way as in the first example.  In particular, your act would in this case be contrary to reason in the sense that it conflicted with what is actually good (as opposed to what you’d fooled yourself into falsely thinking was good).  But your act would not be irrational in the sense that it resulted from confusion, duress, passion, or other factors of the kind that prevent clear thinking.  And that is why we would regard it as culpable.

Hart’s mistake is conflating these two sorts of case.  He thinks that since choosing to reject God would be irrational in the sense in which any action that is contrary to (a) would be, it follows that it would be irrational in the sense that would mitigate culpability, as actions that are contrary to (b) often are.  But that doesn’t follow.  And this erroneous conflation would also entail that we would not be culpable for any bad action that we commit, since any bad action (and not just explicitly rejecting God) would be contrary to (a).

To forestall misunderstanding, let me again make it clear that I am not saying that Hart explicitly or knowingly makes these fallacious inferences.  I am saying that his discussion of rationality and freedom implicitly and inadvertently trades on such fallacies.  And that is one reason I said that his book is a “mess” philosophically.

Hart’s rhetoric

So much for the actual intellectual substance of Hart’s reply.  The rest is vituperation of an intensity and repetitiveness that is unusual even for Hart.  Judging from his replies to readers in the comments section, this owes primarily to the last paragraph of my review, which clearly has gotten under Hart’s skin.  That is understandable – indeed, I knew that that paragraph would upset him, though that is not the reason I wrote it.  I wrote it because what I say there is true, and because to have said anything milder would simply not have done justice to the gravity of Hart’s offense against orthodoxy, or to the danger his writings on this subject pose to souls. 

I’ll come back to that later.  I do want briefly to comment on Hart’s rhetoric before returning to more substantive matters.  As to the content, it’s mostly not worth responding to.  At this point we’re all used to Hart’s shtick about how stupid, ill-informed, unscholarly, untalented, morally depraved, etc. I and his other critics are compared to himself.  Reading through this stuff, all you can do is tap your foot impatiently and think “Fine, whatever, let’s get to something interesting already.”  I will confess to being a little annoyed by his repeated false accusation that I am a liar.  I have many faults, but that is not one of them.  I did read your book, David, every word.  It was my bedtime reading for a couple of weeks.  Ask my poor wife, who had to endure a new and more violent expletive every time I turned another page and encountered yet another fallacy.  (“What, do you have Tourette’s?”  “No, it’s DBH.” “Ah.”)

Anyway, here’s the more important point that must be made about Hart’s rhetoric.  He and his fans like to pretend that when his critics object to it, what they are concerned about is etiquette.  No, what we are concerned about is logic.  Hart and his admirers are so inured to his reliance on the ad hominem that they seem unable to perceive just how much of the heavy lifting it is doing in his writings, and how manifestly sophistical it looks to those outside the fan club.

Again and again in That All Shall Be Saved, complex philosophical and theological lines of argument are casually brushed aside after at most a cursory analysis, on the grounds that only “thorough conditioning,” “self-deception,” “collective derangement,” “emotional pressure,” “willful[ness]” and the like could get anyone to take them seriously (pp. 18-19, 45).  A Thomist line of thought is breezily dismissed as “not ris[ing] to the level of the correct or incorrect” and “utterly devoid of so much as a trace of compelling logical content,” and thus something which “can recommend itself favorably only to a mind that has already been indoctrinated” and “been prepared by a long psychological and dogmatic formation to accept ludicrous propositions without complaint if it must” (pp. 20-21). 

Yet other ideas are said to be not worth taking seriously because they have “less to do with genuine logical disagreement than with the dogmatic imperatives to which certain of the disputants feel bound,” or “because it is what they want to believe” (p. 28).  Views Hart disagrees with are alleged to reflect only the “naïve religious mind at its most morally obtuse” (p. 12), are claimed to attract only those inclined to “accept… moral idiocy as spiritual subtlety” (p. 19), or are said to reflect “a picture of reality that… [is] morally corrupt, contrary to justice, perverse, inexcusably cruel, deeply irrational, and essentially wicked” (p. 208).  And so on, and on and on and on.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of relentless question-begging ad hominem abuse one sees in every dime store New Atheist tract.  Whether it is Richard Dawkins or David Bentley Hart, the basic rhetorical tactic is the same:  The arguments are too awful to be worth considering in any detail, because the people giving them are so stupid and dishonest; and we know that these people are stupid and dishonest because they give arguments that are too awful to be worth considering in any detail. 

And whether it is Dawkins or Hart, the problem with this is not that it is rude.  The problem is that it is a merry-go-round of circular reasoning.


In my review, I noted that a couple of Hart’s arguments imply a position that “is hard to distinguish from a pantheism that blasphemously deifies human beings.”  In his response, Hart takes exception to this charge, though curiously, he does not tell us exactly how I’ve misinterpreted the remarks from his book that I cited as evidence.  Let me now quote the relevant passages at greater length.  I am going to highlight certain especially important lines, but please read each excerpt in it’s entirely for context.  First, here is a passage in which Hart approvingly cites a view he attributes to Gregory of Nyssa:

Such is the indivisible solidarity of humanity, he argues, that the entire body must ultimately be in unity with its head, whether that be the first or the last Adam.  Hence Christ’s obedience to the Father even unto death will be made complete only eschatologically, when the whole race, gathered together in him, will be yielded up as one body to the Father

For Gregory, then, there can be no true human unity, nor even any perfect unity between God and humanity, except in terms of the concrete solidarity of all persons in that complete community that is, alone, the true image of God…

Apart from the one who is lost, humanity as God wills it could never be complete, nor even exist as the creature fashioned after the divine image; the loss of even one would leave the body of the Logos incomplete, and God’s purpose in creation unaccomplished…

I am not even sure that it is really possible to distinguish a single soul in isolation as either saint or sinner in any absolute sense. (pp. 142-44)

I will put to one side for present purposes the question of whether Hart has interpreted Gregory correctly.  The point is that Hart clearly accepts the views he describes.  A few pages later he makes the following further remarks:

We belong, of necessity, to an indissoluble coinherence of souls.  In the end, a person cannot begin or continue to be a person at all except in and by way of all other persons… Yes, the psychological self within us – the small, miserable empirical ego that so often struts and frets its hour upon the stage of this world – is a diminished, contracted, limited expression of spirit, one that must ultimately be reduced to nothing in each of us if we are to be free from what separates us from God and neighbor; but the unique personality upon which that ego is parasitic is not itself merely a chrysalis to be shed.  There may be within each of us (indeed, there surely is) that divine light or spark of nous or spirit or Atman that is the abiding presence of God in us… but that light is the one undifferentiated ground of our existence, not the particularity of our personal existences in and with one another.  As spiritual persons, we are dynamic analogies of the simplicity of the divine life of love, and so belong eternally to that corporate identity that is, for Gregory of Nyssa, at once the “Human Being” of the first creation and also the eternal body of Christ.

But, then, this is to say that either all persons must be saved, or none can be. (pp. 154-55)

End quote.  I think it should be obvious why these passages imply a kind of mitigated pantheism that collapses the distinction between God and the human race (even if they don’t go the whole hog of collapsing the distinction between God and the world in general).

In the first passage, Hart treats the entire human race as one big blob that only collectively makes up “the body of the Logos,” and without every single part of which Christ’s obedience to the Father is “incomplete.”  This implies that the second Person of the Trinity is incarnate not just in the individual human being Jesus of Nazareth, but in the entire human race considered as one lump.  What else could it mean to say that only all human beings together make up “the body of the Logos”?  How could Christ’s obedience to the Father be incomplete apart from universal salvation, unless all human beings collectively make up his human nature?

In the second passage, Hart tells us that the individual ego must be “reduced to nothing” and that what will remain is a “divine light” or “Atman” that is to be identified with “the one undifferentiated ground of our existence, not the particularity of our personal existences in and with one another.”  That sounds pretty much like Vedantic pantheism, right down to the term “Atman.” 

Perhaps Hart would say that I am taking his colorful language too literally.  The problem with that response, though, is that unless this language is taken literally, it will fail to do what Hart wants it to do, namely serve as an argument for universalism.  The first passage will support universalism only if every single human being is literally part of Christ’s body, so that Christ’s human nature cannot be fully obedient to the Father unless every single human being is ultimately obedient.  The second passage will support universalism only if every single human being is part of one big lump that is in turn literally identical with the divine nature.

I don’t know if Hart intends to blur the distinction between God and human beings.  It is possible that he is simply reasoning in a sloppy way and doesn’t see the implication of what he is saying.  I am claiming only that his argument does have that implication, or at least that if it does not, he owes us an explanation of how he can avoid it.  This is another reason his book is a “mess” from a philosophical point of view.

Analogy and goodness

One of the big themes of Hart’s book is the problem he thinks the analogical approach to theological language – which, of course, we Thomists are very keen on – poses for the doctrine of eternal damnation.  For if God allows anyone to suffer everlastingly, how can he be good in a sense that is truly analogous to the goodness we attribute to human beings?

Hart thinks this is a devastating objection, but in fact it can be answered fairly quickly.  The crucial issue here isn’t really analogy, but goodness.  And in fact it isn’t even goodness in general, but the goodness of punishment, specifically.  As writers on the controversy over the doctrine of hell often point out, universalists and defenders of the doctrine typically operate with two very different conceptions of the purpose of punishment, each of which can be independently motivated.  A retributive conception of punishment takes the fundamental end of punishment to be the restoration of the right order of things by the infliction of just deserts, even though there are other ends as well.  By contrast, a rehabilitation-centered view of punishment sees the reform of the offender as the fundamental end, even though it too might recognize other ends.

Now, if you see punishment as fundamentally a matter of rehabilitation, then it is understandable why you would think that everlasting punishment cannot be a good form of punishment.  For such punishment, being everlasting, will never yield rehabilitation.  By contrast, if you see retribution as the fundamental end of punishment, then everlasting punishment can be good, if the offender really has done something to deserve it.

What sort of offense could deserve it?  The traditional Thomist view, which I have defended elsewhere (see the posts linked to below), is that at death the will of an offender can be locked onto evil in such a way that a damned soul perpetually, freely chooses bad actions.  And it thereby merits perpetual punishment. 

You may or may not think this view is at the end of the day plausible, but the point is that if it is correct, and if the retributive view of punishment is also correct, then there is indeed an analogy between the goodness that human beings exhibit when they inflict deserved punishments, and the goodness God exhibits when he inflicts everlasting punishment.  So, contra Hart, it isn’t really analogy per se that is the key issue here, but rather the retributive theory of punishment and the Thomist account of the fixity of the postmortem soul.

Again, see the links below for more on the Thomist account of the soul’s fixity after death; and see By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed for a defense of the retributive theory of punishment.

The parallelism problem

Hart has nothing to say in response to the scriptural arguments I gave in my review, other than a hand-waving appeal to authority, especially his own authority.  This is, of course, another part of Hart’s standard shtick.  When backed into a corner on patristic or scriptural matters, he will always tell you just to shut up and listen to what the experts say, or at least to what the “real” experts (i.e. the ones who agree with him) have to say, or – let’s cut to the chase – to what his favorite expert (DBH himself) has to say.  This has exactly the same probative value as an argument of mine would have if I rested it on my authority as a philosopher – namely, none at all.  It’s a rhetorical ploy to impress the rubes, that’s all.

Now, the scriptural basis of the doctrine of hell is a big topic, and for present purposes I will make just a few points.  Consider first what I’ll call the parallelism problem for attempts, like Hart’s, to argue that scriptural passages making reference to “everlasting punishment” and the like are better translated as warning only of punishments to last “for the age.”  The problem is that if the translation is consistent, then we will have to say that the reward of the just is no more everlasting than the punishment of the wicked is.  For example, Matthew 25:45-46 says:

Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.  And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. (Douay-Rheims translation)

The same word (aionion) is translated “everlasting” in each case.  Hence if we deny that Christ is really threatening the wicked with everlasting punishment, then to be consistent, we also have to deny that he is promising everlasting life to the righteous.  This is a very old objection; Augustine, for example, puts great emphasis on it.  For that reason, I am sure that Hart and his fans will be inclined to dismiss it as old hat, if they deign to respond to it at all.  What matters, though, is whether it is correct, and Hart gives us no reason at all to doubt that it is.

The parallelism problem crops up in Revelation as well.  For example, Revelation 4:9-10 says:

And when those living creatures gave glory, and honour, and benediction to him that sitteth on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever; the four and twenty ancients fell down before him that sitteth on the throne, and adored him that liveth for ever and ever.

And Revelation 10:5-6 says:

And the angel, whom I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and he swore by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things which are therein; and the earth, and the things which are in it; and the sea, and the things which are therein.

Meanwhile, Revelation 14:9-11 says:

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice: If any man shall adore the beast and his image, and receive his character in his forehead, or in his hand; he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of his wrath, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy angels, and in the sight of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torments shall ascend up for ever and ever: neither have they rest day nor night, who have adored the beast, and his image, and whoever receiveth the character of his name.

And Revelation 20:9-10 says:

And there came down fire from God out of heaven, and devoured them; and the devil, who seduced them, was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where both the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Now, if you are to deny that the latter two passages really describe punishment of the wicked that will last “for ever and ever,” then to be consistent you will also have to deny that the first two passages describe God as living and receiving adoration “for ever and ever.”

Now, Hart’s method for dealing with Revelation in general is to feign agnosticism.  That particular book, he claims, is so filled with allegory and apocalyptic imagery that we just can’t know what it is really saying (pp. 107-8). 

But there are a couple of problems with this dodge.  For one thing, Hart is guilty of special pleading.  As longtime readers know, where the topic of whether there will be animals in the afterlife is concerned, Hart insists that we know perfectly well what eschatological passages from scripture mean, and that they must be given a literal reading.  Yet oddly, when such a reading would conflict with his universalism, he throws up his hands and says “Gee, who can know what passages like that are really saying?”

For another thing, not every passage in Revelation is equally obscure.  Yes, it is not always easy to discern the significance of the book’s symbolic references to, say, locusts arising from a bottomless pit, or a whore riding a scarlet beast.  But various other specific passages are clear enough, as is the general theme of the final victory of the saints and the final defeat of the wicked.  It is simply not plausible to claim that the references in Revelation 14 and 20 to the everlasting punishment of the wicked are any more obscure than the references in Revelation 4 and 10 to the everlasting life of God.

Another move some universalists have made is to bite the bullet and affirm that the reward of the just is not, after all, any more everlasting than the punishment of the wicked.  But there are a couple of problems with this move too.  First, it is simply not a natural reading of passages like the ones from Matthew and Revelation, which are clearly intended to tell us, with finality, how the human story ends.  No one without a universalist axe to grind could possibly read them and come away thinking that they are merely telling us: “The righteous will be given a reward that lasts for a long timea whole age! – but, you know, who knows what will happen after that?”

Secondly, the “bite the bullet” strategy simply won’t work for passages like the ones from Revelation 4 and 10.  It would be quite absurd to suggest that Revelation is telling us only that the deity will live to a ripe old age.

The teaching of Christ

Matthew 25:46 gives us only one example of how much less reassuring the Christ of scripture is than the Christ who exists in Hart’s imagination.  Consider Matthew 12:31-32:

Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven.  And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.

Now, exactly what this “unpardonable sin” amounts to requires analysis, but for present purposes what matters is that Christ tells us that there is such a thing.  But Hart tells us that there is not.  Why should we believe Hart over Christ?  Or if Hart were to tell us that Christ didn’t really mean it, why on earth should we believe that?  As I said in my review, Hart makes Christ more “merciful” at the cost of making him incompetent.  Hart insists that the true Gospel is that all will in fact be saved, indeed must in fact be saved.  Yet Christ, his divinity notwithstanding, was somehow so tongue-tied that he not only never managed to say this himself, but actually said things that imply the opposite!

Then there is Christ’s famous remark about Judas, which in my opinion is the single most chilling thing anyone has ever said: “Woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).  Now, you have to strain things very greatly to try to escape the conclusion that Judas is damned.  The way some try to do this is to read Christ’s words as a warning to Judas rather than a description of his actual fate.  I don’t think that is plausible, but even if it were, it does not help the universalist.  Indeed, the “warning” interpretation presupposes the falsity of universalism.  Christ could hardly be warning Judas of eternal damnation if eternal damnation was not even possible in the first place!

The bottom line is this.  If universalism were true, then it could not possibly be true of any human being that it would be better for him not to be born.  But Christ tells us that it is at least possible for someone to be in so sorry a state that it would have been better for him not to be born.  And once again, even if Hart were to cobble together some strained reading in order to wriggle out of this conclusion, he would only succeed once again in making Christ out to be so incompetent that he says things whose face value meaning is precisely the opposite of what he really intends.

Hart’s heresy

As I said in my review, Catholic readers in particular simply cannot avoid the conclusion that Hart’s position is heretical.  Hart is not merely taking the annihilationist position that the wicked will be entirely destroyed rather than suffering forever, and he is not even taking the Balthasarian position that we can hope that all are saved.  He makes the much stronger claim that in fact all will and indeed must be saved, and that if Christianity cannot be reconciled with this universalist thesis, then Christianity must be rejected.  As I showed in my review, this extreme position is one that the Church has unambiguously condemned.

But it isn’t just Catholics who should be alarmed by Hart’s approach.  Christianity claims to be grounded in a special divine revelation.  Christians disagree over where this revelation is to be found.  For Protestants, it is to be found in scripture alone.  For Eastern Orthodoxy, it is to be found in scripture as understood in light of tradition.  For Catholics, it is to be found in scripture and tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church.  Christians often disagree about what scripture, tradition, and Magisterium actually say, i.e. about whether such-and-such a teaching is in fact authoritatively taught in one of these sources.  But they would agree that if something really is taught by one of the authoritative sources, then we must assent to it.  To reject the source itself (again, whether one conceives of this as scripture, or scripture plus tradition, or scripture plus tradition plus Magisterium) is just to reject the authority of the purported revelation, and thus to reject Christianity.

Now, Hart freely admits in That All Shall Be Saved that he is at odds with “just about the whole Christian tradition” (p. 81).  His ultimate appeal is to “conscience,” against which “the authority of a dominant tradition… has no weight whatever” (p. 208).  This not only goes beyond the Protestant and Orthodox rejection of the authority of the Magisterium, but beyond the Protestant rejection of the authority of tradition.  It is not even scripture alone that trumps all else, but DBH’s conscience alone.  And his conscience demands that Christianity conform itself, not merely to some personal theological opinion of his, but to an opinion that has traditionally been regarded as heretical!  He is calling on his brethren, not to return to traditional teaching, as St. Vincent of Lerins would, but rather to abandon it, indeed to repent of it as if it were something of which the Church should be ashamed.

That Hart denies that this shows any arrogance on his part (p. 208) demonstrates only that he is delusional as well as arrogant.  Though on a particular point of doctrine he aligns with Origen, in spirit they could not be farther apart.  As the Catholic Encyclopedia says of Origen, despite his errors:

He warns the interpreter of the Holy Scripture, not to rely on his own judgment, but “on the rule of the Church instituted by Christ”. For, he adds, we have only two lights to guide us here below, Christ and the Church; the Church reflects faithfully the light received from Christ, as the moon reflects the rays of the sun.  The distinctive mark of the Catholic is to belong to the Church, to depend on the Church outside of which there is no salvation; on the contrary, he who leaves the Church walks in darkness, he is a heretic.  It is through the principle of authority that Origen is wont to unmask and combat doctrinal errors.  It is the principle of authority, too, that he invokes when he enumerates the dogmas of faith.  A man animated with such sentiments may have made mistakes, because he is human, but his disposition of mind is essentially Catholic and he does not deserve to be ranked among the promoters of heresy.

How very far from this attitude is Hart, whose own version of “Here I stand” would embarrass even Luther.  It is bad enough that he lulls Christians into a deadly complacency vis-à-vis their eternal salvation.  He also teaches, by example, an impudence with respect to the tradition that is simply incompatible with a solemn affirmation of Christianity as a revealed religion.  These are in no way intended as insults, but simply as a straightforward summary of the facts as I see them.  And that is the reason for the harshness of the final paragraph of my Catholic Herald review.  It was, I believe, well-deserved.

Much more could be said, and I have already said much of it in earlier posts, which develop lines of argument (such as the Thomistic argument concerning the fixity of the will after death) that Hart glibly dismisses, rather than offering a serious response.  I direct the interested reader to them.  Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch′entrate:


  1. This is not the most important thing, but citing the Douay-Rheims of all translations is an odd choice.

    1. Do you think it makes any difference here? I cannot see any just on the face of it when I look at the actual Greek text.

      For what it's worth, in my humble opinion, the D-R, in its being hyper-literal in translating the Vulgate, ironically preserves the literal meaning of the Greek text better than a number of more modern and more readable translations (even "formally equivalent" ones). Nothing wrong with the latter translations of course, but sometimes consulting the DR is actually surprisingly helpful!

    2. +1. Citing a dodgy English translation of a Latin Translation of a Greek Translation of a Hebrew text really reduces the crediblity of Ed's argument. Hart commands more respect with his direct knowledge of the Greek.

    3. Tik: Same question -- do you think there is a point in the Greek where it makes a difference?

      Nevermind that you are completely and outrageously wrong. The DR is an outstanding translation of the Latin -- to the point of being over-literal -- and not "dodgy" in the slighest. And the New Testament was not written in Hebrew originally: it was originally written in Greek.

    4. regardless, I would have a lot more respect for Ed's argument if he were able to use Harts own translation against him

    5. Good Lord, people like to complain:


      45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων· Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 46 καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.


      45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    6. Key Greek word is αἰώνιον (aiōnion):

      Strong's Concordance:
      aiónios: agelong, eternal
      Original Word: αἰώνιος, ία, ιον
      Part of Speech: Adjective
      Transliteration: aiónios
      Phonetic Spelling: (ahee-o'-nee-os)
      Definition: agelong, eternal
      Usage: age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.

      HELPS Word-studies:
      Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn ("an age, having a particular character and quality") – properly, "age-like" ("like-an-age"), i.e. an "age-characteristic" (the quality describing a particular age); (figuratively) the unique quality (reality) of God's life at work in the believer, i.e. as the Lord manifests His self-existent life (as it is in His sinless abode of heaven). "Eternal (166 /aiṓnios) life operates simultaneously outside of time, inside of time, and beyond time – i.e. what gives time its everlasting meaning for the believer through faith, yet is also time-independent. See 165 (aiōn).

      [166 (aiṓnios) does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (165 /aiṓn) it relates to. Thus believers live in "eternal (166 /aiṓnios) life" right now, experiencing this quality of God's life now as a present possession. (Note the Gk present tense of having eternal life in Jn 3:36, 5:24, 6:47; cf. Ro 6:23.)]

    7. Most illustrating is:

      STRONGS NT 166: αἰώνιος

      αἰώνιος, , and (in 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Hebrews 9:12; Numbers 25:13; Plato, Tim., p. 38 b. (see below); Diodorus 1:1; (cf. WHs Appendix, p. 157; Winers Grammar, 69 (67); Buttmann, 26 (23))) αἰώνιος, αἰώνια, αἰώνιον (αἰών);
      1. without beginning or end, that which always has been and always will be: Θεός, Romans 16:26 (ὁ μόνος αἰώνιος, 2 Macc. 1:25); πνεῦμα, Hebrews 9:14.

      2. without beginning: χρόνοις αἰωνίοις, Romans 16:25; πρό χρόνων αἰωνίων, 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; εὐαγγέλιον, a gospel whose subject-matter is eternal, i. e., the saving purpose of God adopted from eternity, Revelation 14:6.

      3. without end, never to cease, everlasting: 2 Corinthians 4:18 (opposed to πρόσκαιρος); αἰώνιον αὐτόν, joined to thee forever as a sharer of the same eternal life, Philcmon 1:15; βάρος δόξης, 2 Corinthians 4:17; βασιλεία, 2 Peter 1:11; δόξα, 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:10; ζωή (see ζωή, 2 b.); κληρονομία, Hebrews 9:15; λύτρωσις, Hebrews 9:12; παράκλησις, 2 Thessalonians 2:16; σκηναί, abodes to be occupied forever, Luke 16:9 (the habitations of the blessed in heaven are referred to, cf. John 14:2 (also,dabo eis tabernacula aeterna, quae praeparaveram illis, 4 Esdras (Fritzsche, 5 Esdr.) []); similarly Hades is called αἰώνιος τόπος, Tobit 3:6, cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5); σωτηρία, Hebrews 5:9; (so Mark 16 (WH) in the (rejected) 'Shorter Conclusion'). Opposite ideas are: κόλασις, Matthew 25:46; κρίμα, Hebrews 6:2; κρίσις, Mark 3:29 (Rec. (but L T WH Tr text ἁμαρτήματος; in Acta Thom. § 47, p. 227 Tdf., ἔσται σοι τοῦτο εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν καί λύτρον αἰωνίων παραπτωμάτων, it has been plausibly conjectured we should read λύτρον, αἰώνιον (cf. Hebrews 9:12))); ὄλεθρος (Lachmann text ὀλέθριος, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (4 Macc. 10:15); πῦρ, Matthew 25:41 (4 Macc. 12:12 αἰωνίῳ πυρί καί βασάνοις, αἱ εἰς ὅλον τόν αἰῶνα οὐκ ἀρνήσουσί σε). (Of the examples of αἰώνιος from Philo (with whom it is less common than ἀΐδιος, which see, of which there are some fifty instances) the following are noteworthy: de mut. nora. § 2; de caritate § 17; κόλασις αἰώνιος fragment in Mang. 2:667 at the end (Richter 6:229 middle); cf. de praem, et poen. § 12. Other examples are de alleg, leg. iii., § 70; de poster. Caini § 35; quod deus immut. § 30; quis rer. div. her. § 58; de congressu quaer, erud. § 19; de secular sec 38; de somn. ii. § 43; de Josepho § 24; quod omn. prob. book § 4, § 18; de ebrietate § 32; de Abrah. § 10; ζωή αἰώνιος: de secular § 15; Θεός (ὁ) αἰώνιος: de plantat. § 2, § 18 (twice), § 20 (twice);de mundo § 2. from Josephus: Antiquities 7, 14, 5; 12, 7, 3; 15, 10, 5; b. j. 1, 33, 2; 6, 2, I; κλέος αἰών Antiquities 4, 6, 5; b. j. 3, 8, 5, μνήμη αἱ.: Antiquities 1, 13, 4; 6, 14, 4; 10, 11, 7; 15, 11, 1; οἶκον μέν αἰώνιον ἔχεις (of God), Antiquities 8, 4, 2; ἐφυλάχθη ὁ Ἰωάννης δεσμοῖς αἰωνίοις, b. j. 6, 9, 4. SYNONYMS: ἀΐδιος, αἰώνιος: ἀΐδιος covers the complete philosophic idea — without beginning and without end; also either without beginning or without end; as respects the past, it is applied to what has existed time out of mind. αἰώνιος (from Plato on) gives prominence to the immeasurableness of eternity (while such words as συνεχής continuous, unintermitted, διατελής perpetual, lasting to the end, are not so applicable to an abstract term, like αἰών); αἰώνιος accordingly is especially adapted to supersensuous things, see the N. T. Cf. Tim. Locr. 96 c. Θεόν δέ τόν μέν αἰώνιον νόος ὄρη μόνος etc.; Plato, Tim. 37 d. (and Stallbaum at the passage); 38 b. c.; legg. x., p. 904 a. ἀνώλεθρον δέ ὄν γενόμενον, ἀλλ' οὐκ αἰώνιον. Cf. also Plato's διαιώνιος (Tim. 38 b.; 39 e.). Schmidt, chapter 45.

    8. The value of the Vulgate here is that as an ancient translation it preserves the reading of the Greek that would have been current when Greek was still a living language.

    9. For what it's worth, lexicons/concordances like Strong's have basically been entirely abandoned in modern scholarship.

      On another note, as TIK suggested, there are a number of places where Hart's approach to translating aionios can be turned against him : instances where his approach is borderline nonsensical. (Mark 3:29; Mark 10:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Jude 7.)

    10. Which translation is used here has no bearing on the argument, since the point is precisely to compare the merits of the translations. Nothing is assumed by quoting the Douay-Rheims; nothing would be granted to Hart by quoting his own translation. Needless handwringing.

    11. Stewart says:

      "For what it's worth, lexicons/concordances like Strong's have basically been entirely abandoned in modern scholarship."

      Neeto. How do you want me to approach the meaning of the word? There's only so many approaches I can take.

      If you want to use comparative contemporary reception of the term within the relevant context, then that's just Church tradition, who has received it as eternal, never-ending, forever.

      If you want to use comparative linguistic usage, I mean you just going to reconstruct the lexicon, but Strong's does some of that and it doesn't work out since the term has a pedigree of denoting the measureless.

  2. I’m still reading DBH’s book, so I’m not in a position to know exactly what he wrote, but I would point out that “just about the whole Christian tradition,” is not the same as “the whole Christian tradition.”

    1. I submit that the difference is not important. It is hardly much better to say that one is out of step with 99% of the Tradition. One could not abandon "just about the whole tradition" and still be in accordance with it, and abandoning *most* of the essential teachings of Mother Church is still heresy, and very brazen heresy at that.

  3. There are even Saints who have held positions that in their time were acceptable, but because of subsequent pronouncements and dogma aren't. Aquinas, I believe, rejected certain important Marian dogma. I question how useful Hart's sifting of the sands of history for Christians really is -- that is, what makes this instance one where it finding such a figure in some way helps his case.

    1. "but because of subsequent pronouncements and dogma aren't [for people who would adopt them now]"

  4. Thanks Ed, these are all nice points and well-put, and indeed rather more substantial than Hart's post.

    The point about parallelism is especially well put, and rather a difficulty. I do wonder for universalists what rule they have for when "aionios" should be interpreted as meaning literal everlastingness vs. "of the age to come." (What non-circular rule, that is!)

    But even if a plausbile answer could be given there (doubtful), I do wonder what the response would be to Christ's statement about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and his warning to Judas.

    Hope you are well!

    1. // I do wonder for universalists what rule they have for when "aionios" should be interpreted as meaning literal everlastingness vs. "of the age to come." //

      In Hart's case (and especially for Ilaria Ramelli), the rule is to basically take every single occurrence of the New Testament — or for Ramelli, virtually every instance in the entirety of patristic literature — as signifying "of the age to come." I believe every single instance of aionios is translated with a capital "Age" in Hart's NT translation.

      Unfortunately there's all but zero evidence this should ever be done, and about 20 different reasons why it shouldn't.

    2. Right, I just assumed that was too implausible to be the answer. But fair enough.

      I wonder what the argument for that is. Clearly it sometimes means "forever," no? (E.g., in many places in the Septuagint.)

      If so, you still need to give some plausible criterion for when it does and does not mean "Age." But it's hard to see one that would justify a uniform translation of "Age" throughout the entire NT.

    3. Alfredo,

      -= Parallelism=-

      It's important to understand that what parallelism "tells" us is exactly equal to what the lexicographical issue "tells" the parallelism. If "aionion" meant "serious" (it doesn't, of course), could St. Augustine use the life's endlessness, and the life's aionion parallelism with the punishment, to argue for the punishment's endlessness? Of course not.

      This is a very sneaky non sequitur where parallelism seems to provide "new info" when it doesn't, really. It's so sneaky that very smart people get tripped up by it, e.g., St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Justinian, and of course St. Feser. So what should "aionion" mean, here? Years ago I used to segue into this question, but now my preference is to let this hang, in order to focus specifically on the non sequitur, with the spotlight lingering there.

      -= Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit =-

      The sin we find in the text is defaming the Spirit's power, perhaps specifically misattribution, and perhaps specifically misattribution to Satan. Under a purgatorial view of hell (or hybrid view), it being unforgiven only entails that it shall be punished, and does not imply anything about the duration of that punishment. If I drive without a license to get my grandmother to the hospital, the judge may forgive me. Or, the judge may imprison me for the weekend; when I get out, I am not forgiven, even though my sentence was brief.

      The question is much more difficult for those who believe any unforgiven sin entails endless punishment. To put it bluntly, the sin, as described is, "too easy to commit" so to speak. Jesus even suggests this by describing it as "reckless spoken words." This, I suspect, is why St. Augustine altered its definition to something that can't really be committed until the end of somebody's life. His alteration makes no sense with the Biblical text but solves the "too easy" problem. And it caught on like an earworm.

      -= Judas =-

      "Better not born" could just be hyperbolic idiom; we see the same phrase in Ecclesiastes. That is, his situation is really, really awful. We do notice that he was remorseful in the end. That's why he threw the silver back and killed himself. Let a man have his own suspicions here.

      We do know that St. Gregory of Nyssa thought that, by this phrase, it was indeed indicating that Judas "and men like him" would be doomed forever. Both he and St. Clement of Alexandria (who, Feser should become aware, appears just prior to plural "centuries," since we're being so pedantic) had a hybrid view of hell. They're often bundled into the crew of Patristic Universalists but they did allow for, and write about, exceptions to the rule. The right position may fall in the nuanced, quieter, subtler chasm between Feser and Hart; that Gehenna, while totally destructive to some, may be partially-destructive, and redemptive, for many or most, as the Babylonian Talmud records of the Pharisaic eschatological views contemporaneous to Christ -- which is to say, may qualify every time Jesus uttered the term.

    4. Thank you for the reply. I understand the point you are making about parallelism, and I agree that you have to be careful with these sorts of arguments.

      But it doesn't quite answer my original question, I think: Parallelism *does* show that you have to have some criterion for when to understand "aionios" to mean "Age" vs. "everlasting" -- unless you think it never means the latter, which is very implausible. Any my question is what rule Hart or universalists have for when to give one reading versus the other.

      Furthermore: While perhaps you cannot infer just from the fact that the punishment of the Age is not everlasting, to therefore the life of the Age is not everlasting -- still, it does follow that you have *undermined* the textual proof that heaven is everlasting.

      As for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, I agree that universalists would and should interpret it this way, but it just strikes me as a very awkward way of readings Jesus' statements (as with many readings of Jesus' statements). On this reading, Jesus was basically only saying "The sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be punished." And so the universalist reading of the text makes Jesus say that rather mundane thing in a very strange and confusing way.

      Nevertheless appreciate your thoughts. Thanks again for your reply.

    5. I meant to say, "as with many universalist readings of Jesus' statements*." I don't mean Jesus' statements are awkward!

    6. I should also clarify (as I did in another thread below): I don't mean that there are not other passages that can be used to show life being eternal, just that now these passages no longer seem to support that.

    7. Got it, appreciate your clarification. I agree that, if we call the meaning of aionios/aionion something more ambiguous, then we cannot reliably use passages with those words to substantiate an affirmation of endless life, and are forced to rely on other words/passages for strong substantiation. But I haven't found this to be a big deal.

      I do not think the reading puts awkwardness into Jesus's words. He was warning them that what they were doing was a serious sin, so serious that it wouldn't be forgiven like other sins could. No sacrifice, penitence, etc. would do, neither in this age nor the age to come; punishment would be certain, hence rationalizing fear and care to be more careful with what signs we attribute to Satan.

      St. Augustine's proposal, by contrast, simply does not fit the text. It does not make sense for 'stubbornly resisting Christ unto death' to be described in Scripture as defamatory words uttered in carelessness. Additionally, Christ specifically says that blasphemy against himself could be forgiven, but that blasphemy against the Spirit would not. St. Augustine's proposal seems transparently ad hoc in order to get around the above issue, where "unforgiven sin too easy to commit" doesn't play nicely with "any unforgiven sin = endless doom." This "doesn't play nicely" is so severe that it prompts horrifying anxiety in rational people. As Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin writes, "Today virtually every Christian counseling manual contains a chapter on the sin to help counselors deal with patients who are terrified that they have already or might sometime commit this sin." So the demand for St. Augustine's creativity here was, and is, very high (under hardline views of the consequences of any unforgiven sin).

  5. While I agree that DBH's account is no good, I do think that Kronen/Reitan and Talbot make a decent case for universalism (DU) over the doctrine of hell (DH). Here are just a few thoughts:

    First, there are about as many scriptural passages that support DU as support DH, along with a few that suggest annihilationism (DA). For example:

    Lamentations 3:31-32 "For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love."

    John 12:30-31 "Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

    Moreover, DU only claims that all will be saved eventually. The proponent of DU is not committed to saying that no one is punished or that hell does not exist. It is perfectly consistent to hold that murderers will spend centuries in hell as punishment for their sins, but that this punishment, however long, painful, and necessary, is temporary, and that the person, once sanctified, will enter the kingdom.

    Of course, passages that suggest an eternal hell do exist. Additionally, the defender of DH could find a way to interpret all of the seemingly pro DU passages in a way to support DH. But the defender of DU could attempt the same. The point is that there is enough ammunition on both sides (and again, there are some pro DA passages) such that the matter cannot be settled only through scripture.

    Second, and in light of the above, some philosophical arguments can be made for DU. Here is one brief argument from Talbot, which I'll quote directly:

    "1. God sincerely wills or desires the salvation of each and every sinful human being

    2. God will eventually achieve a complete victory over sin and death and will therefore accomplish the salvation of everyone whose salvation he sincerely wills or desires.

    From these two premises, it clearly follows:

    3. God will eventually accomplish the salvation of each and every sinful human being."

    Reitan/Kronen make several, more robust arguments in chapter 5 of their book. Whether or not one agrees, I think these arguments really need to be addressed by defenders of DH, and not merely dismissed by appealing to isolated passages or various church teachings.

    Personally, I find Balthasar's position most acceptable, in that DU is both reasonable and worth hoping for, but we should not go around preaching its certainty. It is not at all certain, but I think it is more plausible than others think.

    1. I can't say I find the Lamentations quote particularly compelling, as the context of the passage is rather removed from the eschatological. But as for the passage from John:

      "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself"

      Another similar passage is Romans 11:32:

      "For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all."

      But I think the defender of the doctrine of eternal hell should clearly interpret these passages in terms of God's universal salvific will, which many defenders of DH hold to (all Catholics certainly, though not all Protestants -- Calvinists, for example, do not believe in God's universal salvific will). That is to say, Catholics, at least, believe in what I have heard someone call "desirous inclusivism": God desires all to be saved. (So, we agree with 1.)

      And so we would say that God does, indeed, call the human race to be united with him, and offers the grace necessary to do this if men will only accept it. And God wishes to show his mercy to all, and has done all he has done for the purpose of saving all men -- but they can, of course, reject him.

      So we agree with 1. But we disagree with 2: That all those God desires to be saved will be saved. For some people may freely reject him, indeed for eternity.

      (We do not think this negates Christ's victory over death, of course, so we would not reject that part of the premise -- but to say that Christ's victory over death entails universal salvation would be begging the question.)

    2. Is it really possible that a sane person could choose eternal agonizing torment over the highest good? Free eternal rejection is not freedom, it is enslavement to insanity.

    3. Men choose to bind themselves to things they'll even agree are bad for them and others IN THIS LIFE. You can watch them do it. I think the extent to which people are unwilling to live with God *in loving obedience* to him is vastly misunderstood. Because the life of God is good as such and not good how a man might determine it there is a strong element of pride that can easily lead a man to say "good or not I want things my way."

    4. iwpoe,

      I think we can imagine that of Hitler or Pol Pot, but it doesn't exactly fit with Great Aunt Edna who died agnostic. In the early 2000s I was an atheist; had a died then and faced Judgment, I would have fallen on my knees with remorse and shame and confession, exactly as Romans 14:10-11 says all shall do at Judgment, "as surely as God lives." Whether or not it's true that all shall be redeemed eventually, or many of the unsaved shall be reconciled after a purgatorial experience, or all of the unsaved shall suffer forever, it is NOT forgone, nor (I say) even reasonable, to posit that all the unsaved shall have frozen incorrigible pride that prevents them from bending knee and confessing at Judgment.

    5. "Is it really possible that a sane person could choose eternal agonizing torment over the highest good? Free eternal rejection is not freedom, it is enslavement to insanity."

      I am very convinced of that. I am a quasi-universalist: I believe the vast majority of people are saved through purgatory, but a tiny minority will indeed end up in eternal hell by their own choice.

      Is it really that absurd and implausible to think someone could choose eternal agonizing torment? I don't think it would be that much more absurd or implausible (if at all) than the kind of stuff a sadistic serial killer does. If anything, that sadistic serial killer is already choosing hell. Freely.

      "But he's irrational" -but just because he's irrational, doesn't mean his choice isn't culpable.
      "But this is not a matter of moral culpability, but rather a matter of how any Will could choose such a thing" but then, as I said, sadistic serial killers certainly exist, and they DO choose the most absurd of actions. Consciously.

      Is it hard to model within the metaphysics of free will? Yes, it is. But how sure can you be of your own understanding of such a vexed question as the metaphysics of free action? It is even hard to pinpoint what exactly the problem would be, let alone showing its impossibility. It is not a matter of moral culpability, we really can hold people accountable for their actions and they could've done otherwise - they are morally culpable (Hart says); it is not a matter of practical action (since some people actually do in fact choose the most absurd and horrifying things imaginable). But then what exactly is the issue?

      Common sense and experience of mankind tells us that some people freely choose to do horrible, hellish things that are in fact irrational in every way. Would it be that surprising to find out that some people could also choose hell?

    6. I wonder how much of the weight against an eternal Hell. and arguments for annihilation or universalism, would be removed if we considered views of Hell that weren't eternal torture.

      For example, it's possible to view Hell as simply being eternal shame proportioned to one's sins - and not even necessarily intense or huge shame felt. The Book of Daniel for example describes the consequences for the damned as eternal disgrace, and doesn't mention torture or pain. Being excluded from God's kingdom is very relational as it's meant to imply shame of separation - and the use of Gehenna to describe hell fits in with that since trash was thrown outside the city limits and wasn't interacted with.

      On that note, I remember someone being asked if Anne Frank is burning in Hell - and then replying no because there is no fire in Hell, and if Anne Frank really is damned the shame she is experiencing is likely pretty mild, though still uncomfortable.

    7. "I think we can imagine that of Hitler or Pol Pot, but it doesn't exactly fit with Great Aunt Edna who died agnostic. "
      I don't know the state of the soul of aunt Edna. But what about adulterous Uncle Bill? We don't need to go as far as Hitler and Pol Pot to imagine ordinary people so committed to having things their way that they say no to God in their heart. Judas for me is always the key example: he sees everything Christ does- all the miracles the entire ministry, but he wants things his way and so even that isn't good enough. that's a man unwilling to repent. He might get scared and beg for his life but that's not the same thing.

    8. "I don't know the state of the soul of aunt Edna. But what about adulterous Uncle Bill? We don't need to go as far as Hitler and Pol Pot to imagine ordinary people so committed to having things their way that they say no to God in their heart."

      This is where I part ways with "infernalists"; same as it goes with "Anne Frank in hell" - the ideas strike me as patently absurd in light of 1) God's desire to save all; 2) God's resourcefulness; 3) an inchoate love for God present at least in the depths of the hearts of ordinary people, which makes their conversion a realistic prospect. Combining 1, 2 and 3 I don't think we can avoid the idea that, very probably, the vast majority of people will be eventually be saved. I find (for instance) Augustine's idea of the "massa damnata" to be intensely irrational and crazy, and if Christianity entailed that, I do think (in agreement with Hart) it would pretty much falsify it.

      But I also reject universalism, and in fact think some people (a tiny minority) really are so irredeemable to the point where their evil likely overpowers God's resourcefulness, so in all probability they end up freely condemning themselves to hell. I suppose it's just in the nature of persons that, while the vast majority are redeemable, a few really could be so rotten as to be beyond all proper virtue and goodness. The dark can be very dark.

      Both sides can hate me, but it really seems to me by far the most rational and probable position. Hell is real, and it won't be empty - but it will be almost empty!

    9. iwpoe,

      I do not think Judas was unwilling to repent. Here's what I read: "When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood.' 'What is that to us?' they replied. 'That's your responsibility.' So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself."

      Consider also Paul. Paul was one of the worst of sinners. He tells us this himself. God humiliated him by force and gave him commands.

      When I think about these two examples, adulterous Uncle Bill doesn't seem like that tough a nut to crack. It's unlikely that most people are unsolvable Rubik's Cubes to God.

      (See next post.)

    10. There are two "as surely as God lives" passages that help us build confidence here.

      The first is Ezekiel 33:11:

      "As ===surely as I live===, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?"

      The lamentation about the deaths of the wicked speaks to the character of God. It may be just(ice) for the wicked to die, but it is not ideal; it is not, in itself, preferred. Given this, the only theodicean explanation is that their dooms are concessions to serve other interests of God. Traditionally, this is formulated as a concession to free will, serving God's interest in creatures being free; it can additionally serve God's interests in various historical payoffs, course-corrections, prophylactic measures, etc.

      But with Christus Victor and the next age, death is no longer a looming enemy setting timers, and it is no longer a fallen age, a boiling cauldron of theodicean concessions to pain, suffering, injustice, and finitude. Given that it is ideal that the wicked repent, what would thwart it? Thus we saw theologians, amid the dominance of endless hell belief from the 5th-6th century onward, beginning to hypothesize endlessly stubborn rebels, who refuse to submit and refuse to fully confess to God.

      But we read Romans 14:10b-11:

      "For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: '===As surely as I live===,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will fully confess to God.'"

      "Fully confess" is the same term used for those who sought John the Baptist for confession and renewal, and for the sin confession of James 5. Now, Romans ch. 14 is written to believers, but Paul is quoting a passage from Isaiah, which continues that the wicked shall also do this, but shamefully.

      So our pieces are:

      [1] It is more ideal that a wicked person repent than die, as surely as God lives.

      [2] At Judgment, the concessions of the outworking of fallen history will largely be over, or over soon.

      [3] Hypothetical rebel concessions shall not be the case, per Romans 14:10-11, as surely as God lives.

      [4] It is implausible that adulterous Uncle Bill is "categorically" worse than Paul was; God, in his wisdom and Grace and power, can bring some (and perhaps most) of the worst sinners to repentance in fair, loving manner.

      Gehenna's purgatorial ("selective destruction") capability was eloquently described by St. Gregory of Nyssa, but was contemporaneous to Jesus himself in the Pharisaic tradition. It is not a stretch to propose that Gehenna as "totally destructive for some, selectively destructive for others," was "on Jesus's mind" whenever he uttered the word.

      And this segues to the final confounder that I haven't yet mentioned. This is where someone's meaningful identity is so enmeshed in sin that there's nothing left to be born-again after dying-to-the-old-self. To be sure, there is significant identity change during any process of personal transformation, such that we "die and live again" (and Romans ch. 6 uses this language explicitly). But how much change occurs? For some, only small changes. For others, significant changes. And perhaps for a final class of absolutely wicked, there's nothing of redemptive value after the refinery blast concludes.

      When I'm being loud and imprecise, I still call myself a purgatorial universalist. But like St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Clement of Alexandria, I admit the possibility of exceptions to the "rule" -- the "rule" being the Scriptural deduction that most sinners shall, humbly, submit and confess to God, and if not during life, at that "catch-all Road to Damascus" of Judgment Day.

    11. Atno:

      "This is where I part ways with "infernalists"; same as it goes with "Anne Frank in hell" - the ideas strike me as patently absurd in light of 1) God's desire to save all; 2) God's resourcefulness; 3) an inchoate love for God present at least in the depths of the hearts of ordinary people, which makes their conversion a realistic prospect. Combining 1, 2 and 3 I don't think we can avoid the idea that, very probably, the vast majority of people will be eventually be saved. I find (for instance) Augustine's idea of the "massa damnata" to be intensely irrational and crazy, and if Christianity entailed that, I do think (in agreement with Hart) it would pretty much falsify it."

      I myself tend to think that most people are damned and I don't think that most ordinary sinners are Anne Frank. Maybe Anne Frank has some kind of extraordinary sanctity in her heart, I don't know. Most people are simply obstinate and uninterested. I think the people who think the way you do essentially are the kind of romantic that thinks that they could get any girl if they really worked on it. If you just send the right note and write the right poetry and put on the right outfit and cock your head the right way, you can't but win. But that's not how things work. Even the most attractive man alive can't necessarily get for himself the steadfast love of any woman. Even the nicest man you ever met knows the betrayal of a friend. and these things are not extraordinary and they don't come about for extraordinary reasons because somebody was Hitler or whatever you want. They come about because of ordinary mundane obstinacy. The best guy in the world can be betrayed by a friend because the guy doesn't like the sound of his voice. And that's it. God can't finagle people into loving him. That's not how love works.

      Now granted, I tend to think that ordinarily hell is not so bad. Ordinary sinners get ordinary hell which probably sucks in just the way this life sucks for them with fewer distractions because that's what's proportionate to the peculiar reprobation of their souls. But I'm not so optimistic as you to think that everybody takes the offer because I know myself. my own parents love me very much and I knew they loved me very much and they looked out for my good, but when I was in there home I was insufferable and uncooperative because I wanted things my way. Even now to a certain extent when I'm with them I'm just the same. I have no evidence that most people are any better and primarily contrary evidence. And I have no good reason to believe that God would be a special exception. I think your particular version of 2 & 3 implies a robotic or mechanical or puppeted view of human freedom that God can simply override by way of his perfection. This isn't freedom and isn't compatible with it.

    12. @iwpoe,

      1) Yeah - a lot of people underestimate the ability of even normal people to override or drown out their conscience. Ultimately, the choice between Heaven or Hell is a choice of where your ultimate loyalty lies - will you be loyal to God or not?

      And since humans can clearly freely choose where to put their loyalty, this means they can choose Heaven or Hell by choosing whether to be loyal to God.

      2) As for Hell's discomforts for most ordinary sinners sucking at about the same level as earthly discomforts (which can be fairly bad sometimes, but not that bad), and thus not being that bad for them and so being an understandable punishment - that's also interesting. It's an interesting question whether or not such a relatively "milder" view is possible, and IIRC I think it's actually a possible view to hold under Catholic doctrine, as long as Hell still remains bad such that it should be avoided.

  6. I'm Catholic and I'm a universalist who agrees whole-heartedly with Hart, his argument, his analysis of church history, and his rhetoric.

    But if you're gonna call me a heretic jokes on you: Jesus was crucified for a being a heretic. I'll wear it as a badge of honour and just go about my business as usual.

    1. Suppose someone said this: "I'm a Catholic and I reject the Trinity . . . but if you're gonna call me a heretic jokes on you cuz Jesus was crucified for being a heretic."

      Is that a good (or even meaningful) argument?

    2. Also, if we're going to be strictly accurate, Jesus was actually crucified for rebellion against the Emperor.

    3. 'The punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity. (De fide.)' - Dr Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.

    4. I doubt this will convince TIK, but for other Catholics who happen to be reading, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

      IV. Hell

      1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

      1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"613 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

      1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

      1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

      Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."
      1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;618 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance"

      Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.

    5. I don't get the emotional appeal of strict universalism. I really don't feel like there's anything repugnant with the idea of, e.g. sadistic child rapists burning in hell forever.

    6. @Atno,

      Especially if we view Hell as primarily shame rather than torture. Hitler simply having shame forever not only doesn't seem repugnant, but is actually understandable and easy to see.

    7. Tik, it's meaningless to say "I'm Catholic, and I reject Catholic teaching on X,Y,Z." Like you just did.

  7. WRT to the argument about culpability. I suspect Hart would cut the gordian knot here by simply claiming that the Christian God is not the sort of God who even cares about questions of culpability at all. Our God is a God of mercy, love, and scandalous grace. The God of retributive justice is in actual fact Satan. Quibbling about "who is culpable" and "how much they are culpable" and therefore "how badly should they be punished in Hell" is the favourite past time of the principalities and powers, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ wants nothing to do with such morally appalling "theology". cf St Isaac of Ninevah.

    Whether or not Ed is correct about the culpability of acts and the possiblity of being culpable for a sin that would merit everlasting damnation, this is completely irrelevant because God does not give us what we are culpable for; he is the God of infinite love and grace and mercy who restores dead sinners to eternal life; he is not a god of retribution who feels compelled to punish us in painstaking retributive proportion to our crimes.

    If the Catholic tradition says otherwise, the Catholic tradition is wrong. Thankfully it doesn't though

    1. Is justice good or bad? If good, then either God is just, or God is not perfect (as there would be one goodness, namely justice, that he lacks). If bad, then what are we to make of the Bible's commendation of justice, and its description of God as just?

    2. you seem to be presupposing a certain notion of justice here, which is most certainly contradictory to the justice of God revealed in the resurrection of Christ. God's justice is restorative (raising the dead to life), not retributive (sending people to the everlasting hell that they "deserve")

    3. I suspect Hart would cut the gordian knot here by simply claiming that the Christian God is not the sort of God who even cares about questions of culpability at all.

      He can claim what he wants, but is it credible? Set aside the question of how to translate aionios; Matthew 25 is all about culpability. It's precisely an affirmation of the idea that people will be punished for what they did in this life, indeed that people can be (that some people are) guilty of neglecting Christ in virtue of neglecting their neighbors. This isn't an isolated instance; quite frequently Christ's teachings are responses to people who want to ask, "Won't I be excused?"

    4. Here I think the correct position lies in-between. Culpability comes from stewardship like toast comes from a toaster. Stewardship is about compelling people to do their job (in prospect) and/or get better at their job (in retrospect).

      Greg, you're absolutely correct when you affirm Scripture here. At Judgment, a person shall be repaid for what they have done. This is stated over and over again (Christ, Paul, John). This "repayment" is consistent with the "monetary" moral language found throughout Scripture -- credit, debt, owing, covenant/contract, etc. And the language of justice is sedeq & mispat (roughly, fairness & balance), the same words Scripture uses for balanced weights and merchants' scales.

      But the funny thing about stewardship is that you can always tweak the conditions and consequences retroactively. We parents do this with our children all the time -- even when they fail, we look for mitigations because we don't want to give up on them. Jonah is our template here; remember that God's threat of doom had no conditionals attached.

      It's also important to note that under a hybrid view of hell, where some may be doomed forever but many or even most of the unsaved shall undergo only partial destruction from which they'll be salvaged, still accords with Christ's "Bad News," which is that guilt extends further than anyone thought, without necessarily adding the idea that an endless consequence shall be applied more broadly than anyone thought.

    5. If there is no culpability there is no sin and Christ died for nothing. He must not have realized God was just waving people into heaven.

    6. I suspect Hart would cut the gordian knot here by simply claiming that the Christian God is not the sort of God who even cares about questions of culpability at all.

      You don't have to speculate; Hart bristled at the (misunderstood) accusation that he was dispensing with culpability. From his response:

      I clearly affirm that our guilt for evil deeds is real; I insist only that it is finite, qualified by inescapable conditions within the fallen world, and justly subject only to a penalty proportional to the sinner’s intrinsic powers of intention and discernment; and I insist as well—like Paul and the author of John’s Gospel, among others—that it is precisely slavery to the conditions that make such culpability inevitable from which Christ saves us.

  8. As a brief aside,very few people are in reality pantheists i.e. simply equate the universe with God. The term is usually by others about them as a criticism. Vedanta in its various schools are usually classified as forms of monism i.e. there is ultimately only one reality underlying and manifesting itself in all phenomenon.

    1. This is a distinction without a difference. If all things that exist are one (monism), and God exists, then all things that exist are God (pantheism). If all things that exist are one, and God does not exist, then pantheism is obviously false; but that is the Buddhist type of monism, which is quite another thing.

  9. I think you raised some good points Ed. I'm an annihilationist but with sympathies towards universalism. I'll offer a quick response to some points.


    I don't think this is a problem for the universalist regarding Matthew. Punishement on life of the age to come doesnt mean we have to affirm both punishemnt and life are finite or will end. Rather, when aionios is translated as the age to come its describing *what life will be when God's kingdom arrives*. Its primarily qualitative as opposed to quantitative. The passage is about justice when God sets things on order. With an age of order comes a final and thoroughly successful judgement on disorder. Its not so much concerned with the length of time this will take but that type or manner of reconciliation that jews were looking forward to in God's age to come.

    Revelation on the other hand, is the first time I've heard Parallelism applied to those texts. They do seem to trouble the universaist.

    1. Callum: Fair enough but the point still stands: Do you not nevertheless undermine the scriptural justification for everlasting life by doing this?

      If it only means "of the Age" then, by the universalist's understanding, we do not know that this means everlasting life.

    2. Callum,

      You wrote, "I'm an annihilationist but with sympathies towards universalism."

      Just out of curiosity, what is your response to Ed's post Why not annihilation?

    3. Alfredo,

      Setting aside "aionion/aionios" for the moment, we do know that the life is endless from other words, like aphtharsia, athanasia, and the return of the Tree of Life in Revelation 22. So the proposal, "'Aionios/aionion" does not strictly entail endlessness in every context," does not yield a reductio ad absurdum that undermines our hope in endless life.

      This is another subtle non sequitur, one which is very easy to miss, even by brilliant people. And we find it in St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Justinian, etc. You might be seeing a pattern now with what I mentioned elsewhere here: Subtle non sequiturs are hard to catch, even by very brilliant people, especially when inherited from other brilliant people.

    4. Stan, I agree there are other ways to argue for immortality, just meant to say that we can no longer use these verses to support that. Sorry if that wasn't clear!

    5. Thank you for the clarification! Much appreciated.

    6. Awatkins909,

      There's plenty of places in the New Testament that support and unending afterlife regardless of how we translate aionos.


      I think that approach is really feeling for arguments that make scenarios plausible or 'fitting' as Aquinas would say.

      I would simply say that the new Testament (in my view) clearly argues for annihilation and that as contingent creatures there's no contradiction in God annihilating the damned.

      I do think the analogy between life imprisonment and unending torment breaks down. Stump's point is only one for fittingness in my view. God may have sufficient reasons for annihilating the dammed - like actualky destroying evil.

    7. Callum,

      If evil is the absence or privation of good, isn't annihilating people, i.e., depriving them of being, the ultimate evil?

      The existence of creatures is contingent not upon their good behaviour, but upon divine will and power. It seems to me that God would contradict Himself if He first wills creatures into being and then wills them into non-being.

    8. Exactly, creatures are contingent on God conserving them in existence. Its ultimately the choice of God whether a creature continues to exist or not. From the fact creatures are contingent follows that there is no absolute necessity for God to keep them in existence.

      Seems like you are saying there is conditional necessity for God - having created immortal creatures (well a part of whom is incorruptible anyway) God must keep them in existence as it is in their nature to do so. But this seems to be open to multiple lines of argument from other premises thomist accepts. One example would be that God permits evil for some good. Its common in thomistic circles not just to look at the good for each individual substance but the good for a system or cosmos or whatever. An antelope being killed is an evil for the antelope but not for the lion that needs sustenance or the plants that need soil which is enriched from the lions backside. An evil for cause good at a systemic level.

      All this is to say, I don't think we can have grounds for saying annihilating a soul is something completely irrational for God to do and so impossible.

    9. Callum,

      It seems we understand "annihilation" differently. To my mind, if something is annihilated, it ceases to exist in any form, (i.e., it no longer has being, to use an Augustinian term), whereas if an antelope is eaten by a lion, it continues to exist in a different form, thereby sustaining the lion or enriching the soil.

      I'm saying that annihilation in the former sense is irrational and impossible. Come to think of it, annihilating a soul in the latter sense is also irrational, because it involves turning a higher being into a lower being, if human being is the epitome of creation.

      By contrast, punishment of sinners maintains good at the systemic level, as you put it, even though there may be evil in the sinner.

    10. I dont think its correct that an antelope continues to exist in a different form. Once death has happened the substantial form of the antelope is corrupted and destroyed where the secondary matter which was previously ensouled by the substantial form of the antelope is then organised according to another form.

      I dont see how the thomist can justify the annihilation of the soul being an evil impossible due to its irrationality. Especially considering we accept that God allows evil insofar as it brings about *some* good. We don't even need to kmow what that good is.

      Also, I'm convinced the NT clearly teaches annihilation. I think philosophy can justify an afterlife but very little about it unaided.

    11. Callum,

      Does Aquinas's view that the will becomes locked in at time of death make sense to you?

      If find it illogical for someone's fate to be determined at the time (t) at which they die.

      Should not the fate to be just ---and God is just--be only determined by the essence of the person...that is whether person is good or evil and not by any other separate factor such as time or and other factor Z?

      In other words for Hitler to be in paradise because of dying at time (t) but then going to hell at time (t + x) is illogical.

      Hitler or anyone else should go to paradise or hell based on how good or bad their essence is and not due to any other factor.

      Do you agree that Aquinas's idea that Ed promoted in his first link below is problematic at least in the mechanistic way it is justified?

    12. Callum,

      Just so I understand you correctly, you agree that the matter of the antelope continues to exist, then what exactly is destroyed upon death? What makes it destructible?

      If death is destruction in the NT, how do the spirits of the martyrs continue to speak?

    13. grateful,

      FWIW, I think you have a point there: If life is like a pendulum between good and evil, it does seem arbitrary to decide a person's eternal destiny simply based upon where s/he happens to be at the point of death -- I'm reminded of Hamlet refraining from killing his murderous uncle when the latter was engaged in prayer.

      On the other hand, if life is a race, to borrow a Biblical metaphor, it is perfectly reasonable to seal the person's eternal destiny upon his/her death. The race has ended. The results have been decided. Everyone has had a fair chance of running the race, no matter how long or short the race is.

    14. Thanks Nemo,

      I believe life is a race and the point at which someone dies may indicate a point such as that God knows the nature of that person and thus God allowed him or her to be in that state at that time of death assuming that point to be important.

      However, the mechanistic mechanism that Aquinas is using which Ed is defending is unjust and illogical if used by itself. If that is the mechanism but if it is linked to the idea I mention above, then it has an instrumental value. But it seems that Ed is giving that imagined mechanism of Aquinas as the ultimate reason itself which is problematic and unjust.

    15. grateful,

      I'm not a Thomist, and not qualified to defend their position. But I don't see why it is "unjust".

      It is quite possible for a person's will to be locked, either upon God as the Ultimate Good, or upon turning away from Him -- the Scripture speaks of people "bent on evil".

      If I understand Feser's point correctly, he is refuting Hart's central argument that evil is finite, and therefore eternal punishment is unjust. If the person is bent on evil for eternity (regardless of the mechanism), then evil is not finite in that sense, and eternal punishment is just.

    16. grateful wrote, ...go to paradise or hell based on how good or bad their essence is ..."

      The nature of everyone is good, as God created them. When people sin, they sin against God and against their own nature. Hence the saying, evil is its own punishment.

      I tend to think that eternal punishment actually does good to the sinner, in that it preserves the God-given nature in the sinner, who might otherwise be void of any good.

    17. Nemo,

      I think we are partly talking past each other, partly agreeing and partly disagreeing.

      I believe that we all have the capacity to do good or bad. But it is we who choose to do good or bad. The person who suffers should do so solely to the extent he chose good or bad and not to any iota do to anything else whether Tom, Dick, Harry, or what time he happened to die or not. I think it is illogical to say in one breath that the person is being justly punished for his will choosing evil when in fact it is at least partly because of when he dies.

      If God chooses to let the person who God already knows is evil to die at a time that is fitting to represent his (the evil person's) nature of choosing evil, that is a poetic confluence but it is the evil will that has to be the operative force for 100% of the reason for the punishment if there is to be 100% justice for the person being.

      I find any other move to be sophistry.

  10. Also Ed, have you by any chance read Steven Jensen's book 'Sin'? I only recently just bought it but it defends from a thomistic perspective how someone could actually sin given the intellects end is truth and the will's end is goodness. His book seems to be the best defence out there.

  11. Both Dr. Feser and Mr. Hart ought to listen to St. Theresa of Ávila's advice when an acolyte asked her how we should meditate on Hell: don't.

  12. Augustine and Jerome don’t report just that there were universalists in their day. They report that they were there in centuries past in great number.

    The parallelism issue is dealt with in Hart’s translation. It’s an old issue that Origen neatly dealt with.

    1. "in Hart's translation" Is this somebody using David Bentley Hart's identity for some (perhaps non-malicious) reason, or you referring to yourself in third person?

    2. (I write this partly because I'm worried there is unjust parody going on.)

    3. Perhaps "Hart" is a different Hart.

    4. It’s me. I was trying to be coy. Unsuccessfully it seems. But since you ask...

    5. In the comments over at eclectic orthodoxy DBH says that he commented over here so it appears that he was referring to himself in the third person.

    6. I was trying to be coy. Unsuccessfully it seems.

      The fact that you commented under the name "DB Hart" was a bit of a giveaway, I must admit.

  13. How are you, Ed? Did my reply live up to my promise?

  14. And again, the culpability issue is a red herring. But so be it. My only comments, since you bluffed your way through the review and so made real debate impossible. But I wish you well and I suppose I don’t really think you’re a fool. I just think you miss too much that’s essential.

  15. Oh, except to add that universalism goes back at least as far as the Pastoral Epistles.

    1. I actually think those thomists who think Gods causal activity is compatible with infallibly resulting in the particular choices we make (Banez and Lagrange) have a difficult time with those epistles.

      'Desires that all must be saved' is explained by one such philosopher as God's antecedent will but mainly in the abstract.

      Abstracted from everything else, God antecedently wills that everyone be saved, consequent to deciding how we wants people to interact and what world he wants to produce (the economy of salvation) God wills that person to choose to reject Him.

      I know Hart is clear that this tradition is not offering a free will defence but moreso a predestinarian one - but I point it out to show that all sides interpret scripture that is inconsistent with authorial intent. There is no way the author intended that passage in the example given from a banezian thomist.

      Was such a thomist in the wrong or do we allow that such reading is permissable? Most of the patristic evidence indicates traditiin did read scripture like that.

    2. Also, historically speaking, we must see the gospels as testimony from the perspective of the authors. Its interesting most of the passages cited are from Matthew.

  16. Oh I tell a lie. I meant to add: as parallelism is of interest to you, I recommend considering Romans 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:22. Meditate on them. Chant a mantra if it helps. If strict parallelism is a logical rule....

    I have roughly 45 others for you, but you know where to look.

    Now it’s goodbye.

    1. I saw nothing in Edward Feser's post about applying "strict parallelism" as a "logical rule." Good interpretation is done on a case by case basis. The mere fact that Feser says there is a parallelism problem for your translation of Matthew 25---assuming you are the real DBH---does not imply that the same problem exists for other passages that have parallels.

    2. Hi David. From the RSV,

      22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)

      17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. (Romans 5)

      Unless you think the RSV just badly mangles the translation here I don't see how either of these passages, in context, supports a universalist reading.

    3. Another thing I've always felt about these passages is that the universalist argument ignores the fact that Paul is using "all" primarily for poetical purposes (and, therefore, not obviously intending to convey a hyper-literal, absolutely unrestricted quantifier).

      For example, 2 Corinthians 5:14:

      "14 The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died."

      Is Paul literally saying "all have died"? No. And it is hardly obvious Paul is saying here that all have died in Christ. After all, it is through baptism that one is baptized into his death, and many have not been baptized. (And it is indeed dying in Christ that he is talking about, as is obvious from the next verse and the following verses. Any other interpretation is highly implausible, and moreover it is otherwise totally unclear what he means.)

      But if Paul's statement should not be read with a hyper-literal "all," why should the other (similarly poetical) statements of Paul?

      The universalist prooftexts that assume a hyper-literal meaning of "all" feel a bit like the fundamentalist proof-texting one encounters sometimes, where you pull out one single verse and it means something completely and utterly different than it does when seen in context.

      "All fat is the LORD's." See! I knew there was something special about my butter!

    4. "The universalist prooftexts that assume a hyper-literal meaning of "all" feel a bit like the fundamentalist proof-texting one encounters sometimes, where you pull out one single verse and it means something completely and utterly different than it does when seen in context."

      Oh, you should read the part in TASBS where Hart lists all texts he takes to support universalism. It is like a parody of the most demented fundie proof texter you can imagine.

      And the point that we can't just take every statement of this sort literally is is so trivially easy to make. When I say "Everybody likes chocolate chip cookies," I do not, in fact, literally mean that every last person on this earth likes chocolate chip cookies. You can, in fact, find people who do not like them. So, you have to actually do some interpretation.

      FWIW, only the text in 1 Corinthians even give me slight pause.

    5. "All means all" is indeed a poor universalist meme that races into the wall. Some "alls" in Scripture are compelling to the case for broad reconciliation, but many are not. I tried to slice these up in the Purgatorial Hell FAQ (Google stanrock faq).

  17. The debate between infernalism and universalism is an important one because the two theories entail a different character of God. And how one views God’s character has significant implications in one’s following Christ’s commandment to love God with all one’s heart and all one’s soul and all one’s mind. Moreover creation as described by infernalism and universalism are also very different existentially speaking. Obviously it is one thing to consider one’s neighbour as one eternal neighbour, and another to think that this one will probably be eternally separated from me. So there is not doubt that spiritually speaking the question at hand is extremely important.

    Since I like both Feser and Hart I was hoping for a productive discussion. This is clearly not to be. Anger is the most insidious of the spirits of deception, and I have the impression that both thinkers’ mind has been darkened by it. It is one thing for two soldiers for Christ to disagree, another to try to hurt each other as hard as they can, or even to provoke each other.

    Feser’s response is too long for me to comment on it in detail as I did with his actual review of the Hart’s book. But I would like to discuss a few points which I find significant. Feser writes:

    1. “Of course, above all others we have to consider Origen, who was a third century writer. Which, if your math is still rusty, would put him… centuries after the time of Christ.”

    I think this is a cheap shot. Hart in his book notices that universalism was perhaps the dominant understanding during the first centuries, both among the Fathers and among the people at least in the East. Feser in his review asks “Why did it take centuries before any Christian even floated the idea [of universalism]?” giving the impression that he had not read Hart’s text about the history of the early church. The fact that the great Fathers wrote centuries after Christ and that some important Christian ideas were dogmatically formalised even later is irrelevant to the question at hand. If we care about the truth we must concede that the earliest understanding of the church leaned towards universalism or at the very least did not lean towards infernalism. As for strictly speaking “floating the idea of universalism” the first who did so in writing was Paul only a few decades after the crucifixion (as Hart discusses at the beginning of his second meditation). Given the scriptural evidence infernalists are reduced to arguing that when Paul wrote “all” he sometimes meant “some”. According to them here is what Paul really meant to say:

    “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he might have mercy on some of them.”

    “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall some made alive.”

    “For in Christ, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself some things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peach by the blood of His cross.”

    “Then, as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for some men.”

    I leave it to the reader to decide if the above makes any sense at all.

    [continues below]

    1. [continues from above]

      2. Feser makes a distinction about the “end of our pursuit” which is in fact good for us and which we take to be good for us. I don’t quite understand the relevance of this distinction for in as far as culpability goes only the latter matters. He goes on to make the following argument:

      “For example, suppose that you say something extremely rude and uncalled for to your mother, because she just roused you from a deep sleep or because you are heavily medicated and not thinking straight. We would not hold you culpable for such behavior, because we know you weren’t thinking clearly. If you had been, you would never have done such a thing, because you yourself take it to be good to be respectful of your mother.”

      But to act against the end for which we are made and thus against our own good is necessarily a case of not thinking clearly. Sin is the symptom of the illness of spiritual blindness, of lacking the knowledge of who one is, namely a creature made by God for love. Sinfulness is the illness that Christ came to cure, a cure that works through painful repentance in this life or the next.

      The specific example Feser gives hangs on the idea that one already takes it to be good to be respectful to one’s mother, but we all know that in the real world many people are not even aware they have a heavenly father and so can’t possibly find it good to be respectful to him. Thus Feser’s example is not relevant either.

      3. The third point I wish to discuss is the one where I felt I learned something new. Feser writes:

      “Hart and his admirers are so inured to his reliance on the ad hominem that they seem unable to perceive just how much of the heavy lifting it is doing in his writings, and how manifestly sophistical it looks to those outside the fan club. Again and again in That All Shall Be Saved, complex philosophical and theological lines of argument are casually brushed aside after at most a cursory analysis, on the grounds that only “thorough conditioning,” “self-deception,” “collective derangement,” “emotional pressure,” “willful[ness]” and the like could get anyone to take them seriously (pp. 18-19, 45). A Thomist line of thought is breezily dismissed as “not ris[ing] to the level of the correct or incorrect” and “utterly devoid of so much as a trace of compelling logical content,” and thus something which “can recommend itself favorably only to a mind that has already been indoctrinated” and “been prepared by a long psychological and dogmatic formation to accept ludicrous propositions without complaint if it must” (pp. 20-21).”

      I can understand that an infernalist reading Hart’s book will feel personally attacked. But Hart is only describing what he thinks is the truth about the mindset of a Christian who would embrace such an ugly idea about God. Let me give an example of what I mean: Suppose you feel sorry about the damage cigarette smoking causes, and wishing to help your neighbours you describe in detail the psychological factors related to addiction, how much quality and quantity of life is lost by those who smoke, etc. It’s not like you are thereby personally attacking smokers.

      Having said that, I do wonder about how charity would move one to help one’s neighbour. For if one’s goal is to help perhaps there are more effective ways to transmit the truth. Or perhaps there aren’t. I notice Christ in the gospels was not very circumspect in describing the horrific implications of sin. Still, this question does trouble me. I can now understand that no matter Hart’s good intentions he may be hurting people. I am always reminded of Ibsen’s great play “The Wild Duck”, and how love weights more than truth.

      Here I stopped reading Feser’s reply.

    2. I too was pleading for a more irenic tune over on Eclectic Orthodoxy. Seems like it is falling on deaf ears. People prefer their echo chambers at times. Perhaps this topic is just too emotionally charged. On it does hang the weight of the eternal destiny of souls, so it is understandable.

    3. @Danielos:
      "If we care about the truth we must concede that the earliest understanding of the church leaned towards universalism or at the very least did not lean towards infernalism."

      Got an argument for that? (As it stands you're just begging the question.)

      "I can understand that an infernalist reading Hart’s book will feel personally attacked. But Hart is only describing what he thinks is the truth about the mindset of a Christian who would embrace such an ugly idea about God."

      What "ugly idea"? You do realize you're just begging the question, right? Try to understand: The issue isn't whether anyone feels personally attacked. The issue is the lack of logic in Hart's ad hominem arguments. But then you didn't finish reading Feser's reply, so maybe that's why you missed that. Or maybe you, like Hart, are logically incompetent. Either way, next time you should read it all before you write a comment. It's just a basic form of love and respect, for the truth and for the man whose blog you're commenting on.

      [I don't see how you can claim that Hart has good intentions, not in what he has written at EO. He writes as a man possessed by vainglorious wrath, not any kind of well-intentioned lover of truth, God, and neighbour.]

    4. @David McPike

      “Got an argument for that?”

      In my previous comment I wrote an argument for that: To interpret what Paul wrote as not entailing universalism amounts to claiming he wrote nonsense. And I need not elaborate on Paul’s influence in the early church. But there is plenty of other historical evidence that in the first centuries the early church (especially in the Greek speaking east which could read the New Testament and the Fathers in their original language) leaned towards universalism. If you are interested Hart in his book mentions many particulars, but there are several other books on the subject (Ilaria Ramelli’s is perhaps the most detailed one). The pendulum started to move towards infernalism with influential but non-Greek speaking Augustine who wrote in the late fourth century. In my judgment those today who deny the historical fact that the early church leaned towards universalism either are ignorant of the truth or else prefer obedience to their church rather than obedience to Christ who *is* the truth.

      “What ‘ugly idea’?”

      Well, the idea that anybody would submit a conscious being to never-ending pain is ugly beyond words. Never mind that God who is love would do this to a creature he has created. The idea is so ugly that I cannot actually conceive of it; its monstrosity exceeds my powers of imagination. I agree with Hart when he writes that those who say they believe in never-ending suffering in hell have not really considered what that belief actually says. Rather fearing that God will terribly punish them if they don’t believe what their Church teaches they testify to a belief without actually believing it. To put it plainly, given my knowledge of what it means to be a human being, I believe that you and Feser do not actually believe in infernalism. I say God has made us in a way that it is impossible to even conceive of such a thing, much less believe in it.

      “you didn't finish reading Feser's reply, so maybe that's why you missed that”

      Perhaps, but it became too painful to experience a fine mind like Feser’s actually putting up a fight for defending a belief that denies the goodness of God. Actually destroys any intelligible sense of God being good – never mind loving, forgiving, etc. His is not a unique case. As it happens I have met and discussed this very issue with important Protestant philosopher, William Lane Craig – who has been also endowed by Christ with a fine mind and enormous capacity for work. I find it tragic and painful to contemplate how strong the spirits of deception are.

      I think the moral of the story is this: Whatever you do, do not take your eyes off Christ.

      “Or maybe you, like Hart, are logically incompetent.”

      Maybe. Incidentally Hart’s use of the concept of “logic” is different than mine. By “logic” I mean the mathematical science as used in analytic philosophy. By “logic” Hart means something much deeper, namely the conceptual and existential coherence of a belief system.

      “Either way, next time you should read it all before you write a comment. It's just a basic form of love and respect, for the truth and for the man whose blog you're commenting on.”

      Perhaps you are right.

    5. @Danielos:
      I am right. You're just begging all the questions. It's a waste of time. It's disrespectful and stupid and a breach of the great commandment to love your neighbour as yourself.

    6. "If we care about the truth we must concede that the earliest understanding of the church leaned towards universalism or at the very least did not lean towards infernalism."

      This is dirty rhetoric. Sheesh.

    7. Dianelos,

      You need to learn to be more succinct. I don't care enough about you to read an academic paper's worth of text (but not, N.B., ideas) every time I go to read your comments. I rather take the time to read an actual academic paper.

  18. Since DB Hart referred to his translation, I thought I would supply the needed texts. Here is Hart’s translation of Matthew 25:46.

    “And these will go to the chastening of that Age, but the just to the life of that Age.”

    There is a long footnote explaining why Hart chose “chastening” instead of “punishment.”.

  19. The way I see it, the question of eternal damnation was settled a long time ago by the Latin Church. I can understand why Hart would reject that conclusion considering Eastern Orthodoxy's opinion of the Magisterium. But I'm going to personally hedge my bets and be careful to avoid sin and the resulting hell.

    1. Good bet, either way, since Hart and other universalists believe in a temporary hell.

    2. Isn't that more accurately called purgatory?

    3. Yes, we would understand any temporary punishment to be purgatorial in character.

  20. Hart’s translation of Revelation 14:11:

    “And the smoke of their torment rises for ages of ages....”

    There is a footnote explaining that this verse is unique in not having a definite article, suggesting a weaker meaning.

  21. Hart’s translation of Revelation 20:10:

    “...the ages of the ages....”

    The definite artical is present.

  22. Hart’s translation of Matthew 12:31-32:

    “ will not be excused him; neither in this age nor in the one that is coming.”

  23. I tend to be very wary of converts to Orthodoxy in the West, they seem to be inclined towards the academic bend, activism, eccentricity, hipster sectarianism, esotericism, and the personality of Hart which I find to be very destructive. It really is odd seeing the intellectual class being brought to our Church, then telling the rubes how to run it. I guess in the West Orthodox have to deal with Intellectual hipsters coming in and not DAESH on the outside. There is always a trade off. THough I think it shows a failure in Orthodoxy if a PHD and smarmy attitude and backed by the cool institutions is the main convert and not Bob the baker. The class which Hart embraces and comes from needs to be treated with much more care when letting them into the Church.

    I am absolutely apathetic about universalism, and I think the problem is the entire method Feser points out Hart goes to achieve it. If anything, I think I am suspect about the utter enthusiasm one sees with it’s defenders, a sign that should be a red flag. It seems to me most issues Intellectual activists have is not knowing that their enthusiaism is at fault, and others indifference or apathy is probably the better mindset to asses things. As with most enthusiastic “two sides” issues, the activist side is usually the most intolerant and rabid and the actual side with something to prove and one sign that the “two sides” are far from equal. This is probably one reason why Hart will ultimately take his stand on the “pure philosophy” ground. As true to the sectarian hipster nature of bringing up minor issues like univeralsim, he’s done it with other pet causes like calling Origen a Saint which I think may have led him to condemn St. Justinian and an ecumenical council with just about the same gusto he is doing with promoting universalism. Again, making a case that Origen was unfairly judged or that there may be some plausibility to Universalism are at best, and for non sectarian activists minor but perhaps interesting concerns and for the most part best admitted that they can only be speculated about. The activism mixed with the moral certitude and radical debunking nature of things, mixed with invective, esotericism, and cool kids groups is a sign of a “child of this age”.

    And as a man of this age aside from picking odd sectarian causes with gusto and philosophic certitude, other clichés abound, some examples: He criticizes Dostoevsky at the expense of Tolstoy, not the Tolstoy who wrote Anna Karenina, but the crankish spiritual guru, which is silly but Tolstoyism is very much up to the tune of what this class of men go for. He defends only one Byzantine Emperor: Emperor Julian the apostate. . The Church should be extra cautious about letting people of such backgrounds in, it should be a much longer and more grueling task than to even baptize Caligula than it would someone of the official subsidized and tenured Intellectual Class.

    Most disturbing of these beliefs, which I only picked up from Feser’s comments though is the class seems really into the meshing of everything and the loss of personality and culture as interpreted and forced into action by their elite minds which with certitude can over ride any defense intellectual (which will be pathologized or psychologized) or traditional/tacit/non intellectual (which these philosophers seem to have a hard time at any such boundary, unless it fits a theory ) . So their paradise seems to be a kind of nihilism, and they seem to take a solace in that. That’s critical, and if true and with that maybe one could have the equal audacity of the philosophers and say “If this is TRUE Christianity, so what?”

    1. A man opens his window at night, hears the chorus of stridulation, and says, "All of the insects outside are loud tonight!" But he is wrong.

      Bob the Baker doesn't blog. He doesn't even talk much. Let's be cautious against stereotypes molded by incidental surfacing issues.

    2. If it representes tendencies and reflects worldviews of certain and specific culture and institutions I wouldn't call that incidental, one could be cautious of Zoroastrians if it looked like their was difficulty in conversions and bridging a worldview, same thing. As for a baker not blogging, maybe Hart should'nt be writing either, and his over reliance on things like articulating positions is a major part of the problem with him and intellectuals, it's a trap and temptation too many fall into, and one should be cautious about people who are embracingof and openly incentivized to perform on such institutions.

    3. Fair enough, makes sense to me.

  24. Universalism, eh? Well, alright. Then in that case, given our considerably less than perfect epistemic state here below, I think I'll hedge my bets by becoming a Muslim, which I was already seriously considering. Thanks, David.

    1. Jesus’ most dire allusion to hell, Matt. 25:46, is that it is for people who never take care of the hungry, the sick, or those in prison. Regardless of which religion you pick, make sure you do those things, just in case Hart’s translation is incorrect.

  25. I used to admire DBH, but I must say the personality and intellectual traits that have been revealed in the last 10 months since his universalist book was published have turned me off him completely. The smugness, arrogance, personal invective and vitriol directed against any and all critics of his apparent once-in-a-millennium level genius, etc. All just nauseating. Apparently most Christians for the last 2000 years (including many saints and Doctors of the Church) have failed to properly understand the Faith and have been essentially promoting false and pernicious doctrine, until DBH came along to set us all straight.

    I forget how I stumbled across Eclectic Orthodoxy a few years ago, and though I've found much of interest there, it has for the most part become nothing but the internet's chief propaganda organ for DBH and Universalism. I never knew there was such a vehement universalist sub-culture among the Orthodox (particularly, it seems, among Western converts - perhaps something there in their intellectual makeup or formation?).

    It soon became clear to me why I think Fr. Kimel is so invested in promoting Universalism - it's simply a method of assuaging the grief of his son's suicide. As an Orthodox priest, deep down he actually fears traditional doctrines about suicide being a mortal sin, and that Hell exists and is eternal, may be true (or at least as a Priest he's supposed to believe they are), so promoting Universalism (and denying that it is heresy) is essentially a way of saving his son and relieving himself of the fear of his son's potential eternal damnation. (FWIW I don't think either of the traditional beliefs regarding Hell or suicide are incompatible with the possibility that some suicides may yet be saved - Dante put some in Purgatory, after all, and it is possible that a suicide even on the point of death may repent sufficiently to merit God's mercy and grace).

    In any, case, it seems from much of what I read of Universalism that it's basically a way for certain Orthodox to sneak Purgatory in through the back door without calling it such. Hell is imply converted to a temporary place of punishment rather than an eternal one - if that's not essentially Purgatory, I don't know what is. In essence then, Hel is eradicated and most of us will go to Purgatory. All will be saved in the end, no matter what you did in life - even Hitler, Stalin, child molesters, etc. - and we'll all sit around eternal heavenly hearth singing kumbaya. What need then to be a Christian, or lead a good and moral life at all, if all will be saved no matter what? In that case, Crowley's, "Do what thou wilt" should indeed be the whole of the law. Ivan Karamazov said if God does no exist all is permitted; so too if Hell does not exist.

    1. What a disgusting picture of things.

      “What need then to be a Christian or lead a good and moral life at all, if all will be saved no matter what?”

      How about to live and build the Kingdom of God here and now, to have fullness of life on this side of the eschaton, to be a witness to God’s all-encompassing salvific work in this life. The very picture of a loving God who, perhaps after ages of purgation, finally brings all to salvation the only motive I can find to love not just a moral life but an evangelical one! Why preach hell when you can preach the living Christ in a fully beautiful way? As St. Paul says, all things are lawful but not everything is beneficial. There is no special privilege given to Christians apart from the gift of seeing that the kingdom can be lived now. Enough of this country-club-Catholic trash!

    2. "Why preach hell when you can preach the living Christ in a fully beautiful way?" Yeah, Jesus, why? Can't you see how disgusting you are to Andyroo? Why can't we just go ahead and immanentize the eschaton? It seems like such a beautiful idea.

    3. Look at the risen Christ in the Gospel accounts and in Acts. In each encounter, whether with Mary Magdalene, Peter, the two on the road to Emmaus, or the apostles, Jesus reveals himself and offers forgiveness and sets his story straight. The disciples are set to work to proclaim the kingdom as witnesses of the resurrection and NOT of an immanent threat of eternal hell. It absolutely is a beautiful idea when you don’t take it naively, just as a hell in DBH’s account is powerful when you don’t take it naively either. I’m not trying to paint a hippy-dippy “it’s all good in the end, man!” picture of salvation, but one which gives the soul a moral purpose to evangelize the risen Christ. People have got to be disillusioned of the notion that their mere Catholicism gives them eternal privilege and superiority over the rest of the sinful world that didn’t “get it right”. Take in the whole of the gospel and I don’t find Christ anywhere in that notion.

    4. “Build the Kingdom of God here and now?” A program every self-styled liberal, progressive, Communist, etc. could sign up for. Immanentizing the eschaton and building the Kingdom on earth is what secular liberal and progressives feel various stripes have been trying to do since 1789, with disastrous, indeed murderous results.

    5. Well good, I hope you can include Chartres and St. Peter’s and Norte Dame, the various monasteries of the world, Catholic worker houses and great Christian universities as some kind of liberal read on Christendom.

    6. You misunderstand what the phrase "build the Kingdom of God on earth" means if you equate it with glories of Christendom such as St. Peter's, Chartres, etc. It's precisely such monuments to Christendom past that those progressives so on fire with the idea of "building the Kingdom of God on earth" want to destroy.

      I still have not ever seen a coherent answer to why one should be Christian, or any religion at all, or act in a way generally recognized as moral or decent according to the precepts of either relgion or natural reason, if there is not even the POSSIBILITY of eternal damnation. If it is absolutely certain that all are or will be saved, no exceptions, then none of your pap about "witnessing" this or that, the beauty of the living Christ, etc. means anything at all. Just chuck it if we're all saved anyway.

    7. What need then to be a Christian, or lead a good and moral life at all, if all will be saved no matter what? In that case, Crowley's, "Do what thou wilt" should indeed be the whole of the law. Ivan Karamazov said if God does no exist all is permitted; so too if Hell does not exist.

      Presumably for the same reason that people want to avoid spending a long time in Purgatory -- even if it's finite, it's going to be pretty unpleasant.

    8. Because it makes a game out of life and turns God into an aloof game-maker. You either “get it” now or burn for an eternity. You simply “win” by joining yourself to the right group and can overlook all of the ways in which sin and suffering has grossly distorted the faculties and understanding of all people. The narrative of Christianity then becomes a survival-of-the-morally-fit rather than a story of real salvation: The inherent goodness of all creation and humanity (Gen 1), then distorted by human freedom and naïveté (Gen 3), wherein God himself enacts a rescue of the fallen creation by literally becoming a part of creation. Every life in humanity is bound up with one another; it’s either no one or everyone. I have no interest in preserving this greatly esteemed place of human freedom as a matter of pride for being able to choose the right religion.

      Let me say it this way, with all sincerity. Take it it for granted (if only for this one moment) that God has saved all and is currently bringing all of creation into the life of the kingdom to come. Everyone is coming, and since, as persons, we only know ourselves relationally, the kingdom of heaven will be a relational place. You can enter into that life of humble relationality now, however partially, through a posture of contemplation and contemplative prayer, or feel the searing agony of having all of your perverted sinful relationality and self-centeredness stripped from your very soul as God bring to fulfillment his ultimate purpose.

      I’m not talking about building some progressive utopia on Earth, but, from a contemplative space, living my life in accord with the higher laws of the kingdom here and now, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thus discipleship, and moral conversion, becomes a process of letting go of the way I would have things be and allowing God to pray in me (Rom 8:18-27) that His will would be accomplished. You can either cooperate with His work, or get painfully dragged along. That at least is my experience of God. My freedom is as nothing compared to His.

    9. "Presumably for the same reason that people want to avoid spending a long time in Purgatory -- even if it's finite, it's going to be pretty unpleasant."

      And yet even Angelic minds far superior to ours, even Satan himself that has seen God face to face as it were, have chosen precisely such a bargain -- or so the Universalist must concede. So it cannot possibly be that bad of a bargain, no matter how lyrically Universalists wax.

    10. "good, I hope you can include Chartres and St. Peter’s and Norte Dame, the various monasteries of the world, Catholic worker houses and great Christian universities as some kind of liberal read on Christendom."

      You mean the great monuments of a Christendom the taught the possibility of an eternal hell?

      In any case, these great monuments were not understood as immanentizing the eschaton. The medieval Church quite explicitly understands our life here as a sojorn.

    11. Hell itself may very well be eternally there. I just struggle with that idea that God would allow someone to stay there eternally without bringing about a greater good.

      The cathedral bit was a knee-jerk response to a ridiculous comment. Of course they weren’t meant to immanentize the eschaton. But they are houses of unspeakable beauty wherein disciples were meant to live, however imperfectly, according to the higher laws of the kingdom and witness to, again however partially, the unspeakable beauty of the life of the world to come.

    12. As for angelic affairs I can claim no knowledge. Christ did not become an angel, he became man. If he redeems all of creation in the form
      a being that is lower than angelic I can’t possibly know what that redemption might mean for those higher orders of being. Certainly many universalists hold out hope for the redemption of fallen angels. If at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend, I might presume that in the fullness of time every knee shall bend to that end.

    13. @Andyroo:

      Your ignorance of the manner of redemption of Angels (and if they are not redeemed, Universalism is even more completetely bunk than its defenders make it) is all good and well, but also quite irrelevant to my point.

    14. @grodrigues

      To be honest I’m not entirely sure what your point was. No sarcasm or smugness meant by that.

    15. @Andyroo:

      I responded to Gaius (without naming him, my bad) who was responding to DLH by quoting: "What need then to be a Christian, or lead a good and moral life at all, if all will be saved no matter what?"

      You waxed lyrically: "You can enter into that life of humble relationality now, however partially, through a posture of contemplation and contemplative prayer, or feel the searing agony of having all of your perverted sinful relationality and self-centeredness stripped from your very soul as God bring to fulfillment his ultimate purpose."

      And I said, and yet it cannot be that bad of a bargain since even many Angels, Satan himself, chose it. So why not us mere puny humans? To which I expect the response is more lyrical waxing.

    16. And I should also lodge the complaint that this purgation seems an awful incovenience just so that God can have His way. If He can save us all all, He surely can save us all without "searing agony". I mean, this sounds awfully like those medieval descriptions of Hell. A moral abomination or whatever epithet D. B. Hart fancies.

      Yes, I am being deliberately facetious.

    17. Jesus dying on the cross seems an awful inconvenience just so that God can have His way. If he can save anything, surely he could have done so without that searing agony.

      I suppose it goes either way argument-wise, but remember God’s speech to Job: “where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

      I fully admit that the purgatorial account I laid out above seems like an awful inconvenience and quite hellish, which I take to be the point. At least on that account God can bring about a greater good from such suffering. A soul consigned to eternal torment in hell precludes God being able to bring about any greater good to accomplish any higher purpose.

      Here I think about the mystics and contemplatives of the Church who so frequently speak about the dark night of the soul. Whatever dread and feeling of abandonment, whatever is suffered, ultimately brings about a fuller sense of wonder, peace, and acceptance of the majesty of the divine will. I’m naturally given to poetry and mystical writers so please excuse the lyrical waxing, though I do believe we can move toward a poetic metaphysics.

    18. Tony,

      DLH=David Lamborghini Hart?

    19. @DLW: I haven't spent much time at Eclectic Orthodoxy, but it wasn't interesting to note how much of the support for universalism was explicitly based on psychological argument ("universalism saved me from suicide," at least one guy basically said) and not logical (truth-directed) argument.

      At the same time, be fair to Andyroo: We are called to a life of charity, of love of God above all things for his own sake, so all things are indeed permitted (whatever anyone actually does is ipso facto permitted by God); but that doesn't mean all things will be permitted in the eschaton, wherein the reign of charity is universal; or that there is no point even here and now in cultivating the first fruits of the Spirit.

    20. @grodrigues:

      And yet even Angelic minds far superior to ours, even Satan himself that has seen God face to face as it were, have chosen precisely such a bargain -- or so the Universalist must concede. So it cannot possibly be that bad of a bargain, no matter how lyrically Universalists wax.

      Wouldn't the exact same logic apply if Hell is eternal, though? "The angels know much more than us, some of them chose to go to Hell for ever, therefore why shouldn't we make the same choice?"

    21. Gaius - This is a great mystery to us. St. Paul spoke of the "mystery of inquity" and he had been caught up to the Third Heaven and saw unspeakable things.

      I would just wonder if angelic beings really did know the depths of the suffering and depravation they would have, or if even they did not know the full extent. After all, it is God alone in whom resides the unfathomable depths of wisdom and knowledge.

    22. @Gaius:

      No, because I am attempting a (informal) reductio, not channeling my own position.

      The fault in the fallen angels is not a fault of the intellect, but of the will, as they choose, and do so irrevocably, a lesser good, themselves and Hell. The punishment is eternal, because the choice is eternally being redone with no conceivable way of changing, in the same parallel sense in which the choice of the Saints in heaven is eternal, eternally and freely being redone with no conceivable way of changing.

      This by the way is (one of) the reasons why harping on the finitude of the offense as deserving only a finite punishment is a misinterpretation of the doctrine of Hell. The offense is *not* finite, neither is the punishment *merely* for the harms done in the Earthly realm.

      It is simply a psychological fact that people will and do choose the lesser good, even though knowing that they will suffer the consequences further down the line. And it is at least conceivable, once again as a matter of psychology, that deferring the negative pay off may not look that bad if the "searing agony" is temporal. After all, if you are Catholic, like me or Prof. Feser, and you honestly appraise your station you are probably expecting to have to go through Purgatory anyway.

      Fire and brimstone speeches may or may not have their intended effect (even the Scriptures say that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom); maybe it is just me, but Universalists threatening "searing agony" to keep the recalcitrant sinner in line, whether or not that is the intention of the Universalist's speech, just does not have the same pazazz, and to be completely honest, just sounds pathetic.

  26. DBH seems to consider himself above the petty shallowness of rational argumentation. He really seems to despise the humility, caution, and honesty required for contemplation of and disputation over the revealed truth that is as high above us as the heavens are above the earth. He really seems arrogant and delusional. In this it seems he may well be culpable in sinning against God. He would certainly do well to get off his high horse and submit to the discipline of responding to reason with reason. But maybe he can't? What if he is lacking in the requisite intellectual virtue? And only God knows if he is culpable for that.

    Anyway, Feser's reasoning here about culpability leaves me confused. He writes:

    "Hart’s mistake is conflating these two sorts of case. He thinks that since choosing to reject God would be irrational in the sense in which any action that is contrary to (a) would be, it follows that it would be irrational in the sense that would mitigate culpability, as actions that are contrary to (b) often are. But that doesn’t follow. And this erroneous conflation would also entail that we would not be culpable for any bad action that we commit, since any bad action (and not just explicitly rejecting God) would be contrary to (a)."

    Wouldn't Hart's point be that there can be mitigated responsibility for (a)-irrational actions (just as surely as there can be for (b)-irrational actions)? And that (a)-irrational actions always do involve some degree of confusion, and thus some degree of mitigated responsibility? And (thus) that all bad actions do involve some degree of mitigated responsibility? And all that seems true. It's just not true that mitigated responsibility implies no culpability (or culpability insufficient for the commission of mortal sin). Only the last leap would be arrogant and delusional.

    1. That sounds like what I've heard Hart say before, he said there is some level of culpability, but it isn't absolute, there is always some level of mitigation no matter how minute.

  27. Reading Hart's post at Eclectic Orthodoxy, it's clearly not only intellectual virtue that the dude is lacking. What an ugly, nasty, childish screed. And he's apparently convinced that he's only being Christ-like. So much for the exalted fruits of being a "modern NT scholar" and throwing off the narrow strictures of scholastic Thomism.

  28. Dear Ed (and to others who can respond),

    I saw your first link and I find something to be a logical problem. I am coping part of the relevant excerpt below...

    Are you not implying a rather mechanistic explanation?...

    if humans get locked in a certain will due to the time at which they die while their will fluctuates before, then it is the time they are locked in that is having a determination of their eternal state and not just their own instrinsic goodness or evilness?

    Is this not unjust and thus unbecoming of God?

    If any people are sent to hell to remain there for eternity, it is not more likely that it is because God Alknowing knows how they would have acted had they returned back to life after death?

    And that God knows the essence of a person as to his or her goodness/evilness.

    "But after death, Aquinas argues, things are different. At death the soul is separated from the body, a separation which involves the intellect and will – which were never corporeal faculties in the first place – carrying on without the corporeal faculties that influenced their operation during life. In effect, the soul now operates, in all relevant respects, the way an angelic intellect does. Just as an angel, immediately after its creation, either takes God as its ultimate end or something less than God as its ultimate end, so too does the disembodied human soul make the same choice immediately upon death."

    1. I find it fascinating how Thomists regard the theologumenon of Aquinas as having the same divine infallibility as the reveal truth of Sacred Scripture. Unless we have proof that Aquinas was treated to a tour of the heavenly realm and instructed over a lunch of brie and fine wine, he is just guessing from his intellect. I can explode his nonsense from Scripture.

      Aquinas states that the angels made an immediate choice of good or evil immediately upon their creation and were locked into that state forever. Yet we see that Lucifer was the "light-bearer" in the throne room of God, which means that he was good, but then at some point fell from his goodness. This indicates, in some manner beyond our understanding of time, that there was some passage of potentialities (potentiality being that which makes time exist according to philosophers I have read)in which this magnificent spirit went from "Light-Bearer" to "Sha-tan"

      Aquinas is wrong.

      Aquinas also states that it is the body and passions which bring the enfleshed soul to repent, thus, lacking the body, the soul in its spiritual state has no passions to force it to repent, or, to put it more simply, to make a choice. How then does he account for the fact that angelic beings, lacking any form of body, were able to choose between good and evil without any bodily passions guiding them. This is a mystery (St. Paul refers to it as the mystery of evil) by Aquinas just dives right in, gives us his musings, and then we are expected to genuflect with mea culpas for ever questioning him.

      Sorry.....I ain't buying it. And I become rather annoyed at those who put their thoughts over and above that which has been revealed to us in Scripture and established as normative truth which we are called to obey.

    2. From what I can gather, the lack of a body means an angels does not juggle different goods or is not pulled or desiring different goods. So we have bodily goods and intellectual goods which can compete with each other. This constant competition means even deep seated habits to evil still have other goods that embodied creature's desire which provide the possibility for that creature to switch their focus to that good.

      Angels, as unembodied, only desire intellectual goods. Once a choice is made, intense habituation follows as there are no competing bodily habits nor matter which accumulates habit slowly.

      The angel is stuck with a perspective on what it knows that it cannot change. It colours all knowledge it has so deliberating again would make no difference.

      Of course, this is to agree with you somewhat, it can sound like thomists see angels as changing yet unchanging and how this happens is unclear. But there has been work done to defend it in detail.

    3. "And I become rather annoyed at those who put their thoughts over and above that which has been revealed to us in Scripture and established as normative truth which we are called to obey."

      St. Thomas is giving an account of the Church's position; his account could be wrong on this or that point, but the Church's position is not -- you *are* in a Catholic blog. The eternality of Hell is a De fide teaching and binding on all Catholics. And of course merely casting doubt on St. Thomas position with rhetorical flourishes such as "I find it fascinating how Thomists regard the theologumenon of Aquinas as having the same divine infallibility as the reveal truth of Sacred Scripture" does not an argument make.

      As a more or less orthodox Thomist, my thoughts exactly. Which is why as a Catholic I must defer to the Church's authority and its magisterium, not to my own conscience or to Mr. Hart's conscience.

    4. I find it annoying how anti-Thomists, people who consider themselves obviously more enlightened than the Angelic Doctor, the Common Doctor of the Church, manage to dismiss his views as nonsense without even understanding what those views are. You know, Eddie, that Thomas did think of your oh-so-clever objection? And he did address it? So how do you manage to know that Thomas was wrong without knowing what he said? Alternately, if you know what St Thomas said, why are you misrepresenting it? Either way (ignorance or dishonesty), your arrogance is not edifying.

  29. I think that some sort of Hell is plausibly necessary for the existence of Heaven. Heaven, after all, wouldn't be very heavenly if there were loads of murderers, rapists, thieves, etc., rampaging around the place, so to secure the beatitude of the saved, God would either have to destroy the wicked entirely (so, annihilationism) or segregate them off somewhere where they could do no harm -- i.e., Hell. It is possible, I suppose, that all those in Hell will eventually repent and be admitted into Heaven, but in the face of so much Church teaching, not to mention the various visions of Hell granted to the mystics, I wouldn't want to bet on it.

    On another note, Christ in the Bible talks several times about various kinds of people being "great" or "least in the Kingdom of Heaven", implying that there's some sort of hierarchy amongst the saved, with those who were more holy in life receiving a higher degree of beatitude. He also states that "it will be easier on Judgement Day" for Tyre or Sodom and Gomorrah than for some towns which had rejected his miracles, which might imply that there's a similar hierarchy in Hell, with people receiving greater or lesser punishments according to the gravity of their offences. If so, then it might be possible that most "ordinary" sinners live in a Limbo-like state, or else only receive quite mild punishments (think Paolo and Francesca being buffeted around by gusts of wind), with the fiery furnace being reserved for the genuinely malicious sinners.

    1. @Gaius,

      Wait, did Dante actually describe a region of Hell as relatively "milder" in that way? If so, interesting.

      In that case, it's possible in principle to have a model of Hell similar to that. That is, an eternal hell that is a bad state to be in and is uncomfortable and even painful somewhat, but isn't intense torture.

      It's eternal separation from God and as such generally a sad state to be in, but it the punishments don't need to be extremely intense.

    2. Wait, did Dante actually describe a region of Hell as relatively "milder" in that way? If so, interesting.

      I don't think he ever explicitly says "This region of Hell is relatively mild", but yes, he depicts the fornicators and adulterers in the second circle of Hell being eternally blown around by strong winds, to reflect the way in which they allowed themselves to be continually driven around by their passions during life.

    3. And of course, there are the virtuous pagans in Limbo, who seem to have a generally nice life except that they don't get to enjoy the Beatific Vision.

  30. So this is an interesting back and forth. The thing I would say professor Feser is wrong about though is this. David Bentley Hart isn't out of the norm among Eastern Orthodox thinkers when it comes to the issue of universalism. I'm speaking as an Anglican here so I'm not inside either circle. But going back to the patristic period even after the first 300 years, St Isaac the Syrian and St Maximus the Confessor were both universalists.

    Moreover if you are looking at the contemporary period Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the chief spokesperson of the Russian Orthodox Church and a prominent author and theological writer wrote a book in 2002 called Christ the Conqueror of Hell which explicitly argues DBH's points. Now the Russian Orthodox Church is not exactly the bastion of liberalism out there, especially in recent years and Metropolitan Hilarion is actually a deeply conservative figure. And yet he made the arguments David Bentley Hart has made and the Patriarch's of the Orthodox Church had no problem at all.

    Even in Catholic circles, you have someone like Hans Ur Von Balthasar who though not going as far as Hart, took a cautious universalist position. He was praised as a great theologian by Pope Benedict XVI(a stronger defender of religious orthodoxy) and was given the Cardinal's Hat before he died by Pope John Paul II.

    1. He's wrong that this perspective is a margin one among Eastern Orthodox thinkers. It isn't. As I mentioned the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church wrote an entire theological treatise in 2002 defending what Hart is defending, and he's one of the most conservative leaders in the Orthodox scene.

      Dr Feser is also wrong that universalism was condemned as a heresy at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. It wasn't. A form of universalism called apostatises which stated that souls pre-existed before the body and would go back to the being of God all reconciled was what was condemned. The same ecumenical council also praised St Gregory of Nyssa as one of the Fathers of the faith. A known universalist who defended those positions openly in writings like the Life of Moses.

    2. Could you point out where exactly Feser made the alleged errors you refer to?

    3. @Anglican: Within Orthodoxy it is the norm to believe in Hell, though not outside to speculate on universalism. What is way out in left field and anti-Orthodox is being that smitten with one's own speculations and hard-lining it into philisophic imperative, especially on tertiary issues. Even the man Hart leans on the most, Origen has stated his speculation was secondary, but Hart doesn't carry that virtue of Origen with him. I would also be hesitant to put "Orthodox Thinkers" at the forefront of Orthodoxy, I think we are a Church that values priests, parents, customs, culture, monks, bishops, saints (sometimes illiterate), Ecumenical councils, canons, liturgy local traditions and so forth before one would pick articulated if you pick 3 Saints who thought on such a thing that doesn't hit on normative especially if it is going very much against the currents of other forms of knowledge and customs. Besides, these people were not Saints due to them being good at philosophy (no Orthodox saint is), and I believe in Orthodoxy only 3 people are actually given the title of "Theologian", one of them being the Apostle John, so I would say the framing of Saints intellectualizing something should be done with hesitancy...this is even more problematic when the guy Hart relies on most is Origen, who by all standards but modern intellectual sectarians like Hart is not an Orthodox Father or Saint, even if he was by most observable accounts a virtuous and Christian hearted man and historically important and it seems a bit unfair why he is not considered so.

    4. I will agree that speculating on universalism is a more accurate picture. But How do you respond to the fact that someone like Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church, a leading Orthodox thinker and the main representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, wrote "On Christ the Conqueror of Hell" defending a position that Hart is defending 18 years ago from a traditional perspective.

      When the Metropolitan wrote that thesis defending universalism no one in the leadership of the Orthodox Church thought it was out of bounds, especially the Moscow Patriarchate.

      Also I don't think St Maximos the Confessor(hero of the Sixth ecumenical council) and St Isaac the Syrian are doing something out of the norm. As Hart himself mentions, St Augustine who defended the eternal damnation position admitted in City of God that universalism was a normative position among many Christians. And though he says those Christians are incorrect, he doesn't believe it rose to the level of heresy.

    5. Right, gregory of Nyssa was clearly a universalist and he was never condemned after Origen was. Even putting aside all the difficulties with that particular condemnation at the fifth ecumenical Council, that Nyssa was held so highly is furthet evidence it was probably a particular type of universalism condemned.

      Tell me more about Augustine though, is there any writings of his that suggest he didn't see it as a heresy or are you inferring that from his silence of condemning it?

    6. Callum,

      In "City of God" he called the question of temporary hell a "friendly controversy," and in "Enchiridion" he offered various concessions to the purgatorialists, including the opportunity for the "not-so-very-bad" to escape through the alms and prayers of the living, prior to the Final Judgment (it's important to understand that St. Augustine erroneously squished Sheol/Hades and Gehenna together into a single concept, so he imagined people in the Lake of Fire already).

      It's also important to note that St. Gregory of Nyssa, though we count him a Patristic Universalist, believed there would be exceptions to the rule; in his mind, Judas "and men like him" were totally doomed ("On Infants' Early Deaths"). He phrased it as "purgation extended into infinity."

    7. @Anglican:

      Forgive me for not answering you directly just had a thought on how it may be framed in my tradition (and I may be wrong on this, I am no expert, just giving it a shot):

      I think Feser in one of his arguments on Capital Punishment stated that IN FULL PRINCIPLE NOT ON TOPICAL THINGS, it may be justified...either way the same approximation may be said of Hell. I think one is stuck with the feasibility of it, though one may speculate on how it may not be the case. The usability of it though is more intractable, logically / dogmatically speaking.

      Another thing to note is historically Saint Gregory was not known as a theologin with a telescopic project of universalism, the universalists I come across seem to be very "project oriented" men, there is a big difference there.

      Two Side bars, and it has nothing to do with your point on Augustine's comment: In Orthodoxy Augustine is very controversial, some consider him a Saint (I tend this way), some a heretic responsible for major flaws (again, I agree with major flaws in relation to Orthodox teachings). Second side bar, I'm not Russian Orthodox, and Patriarch's may not be looked at with the same kind of authority as a Pope. One is lucky to know their own Patriarch much less a different one, which often times they are feuding. There have been great Saints and Sinners in that position and it isn't seen as that big a deal

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  32. DWL - What need then to be a Christian? Good Lord, man, open your eyes and look around you. See what horrendously destructive things that people are doing to themselves and others as they follow the warped instincts of a mind darkened by sin. Child pornography, wars, murders, sexual perversions by the dozens, broken marriages, greed....the list could go on for a while.

    Christ liberates from this bondage. Or doesn't it bother you that people without Christ are living lives of secret, agonizing torment. I know this. I've been there and done that - in spades, and it was killing me, literally. Once God's grace rescued me from the Fool's Paradise I so eagerly ran into at the behest of the evil one, I have never look back. There is no longing for the leeks and onions of Egypt in my mind because I know the price at which they come and having paid it once, I have no desire to experience it again.

    Your question is A.) a fool's question and B.) a question by one who has never really experienced deeply the depths of where sinful choices can lead you. Do yourself a favor and go to the cheap section of some major city and find the alcoholics and drug addicts and ask them if they are happy with their life.

    Just be ready to duck when you do.

    1. Eddie, your answer is a fool's answer, the answer of one who has never really thought deeply about the question but has relied only upon the (charming, I'm sure, and personally satisfying, no doubt) anecdote of his own experience. In truth, however, there are not just two options in life: washed out inner city onion-addict or liberated Christian.

    2. "What need then to be a Christian?"

      Universalists like Hart do not deny hell. It is a very nasty place/state of being, may go on for eons for obdurate souls, and everyone, Christian or otherwise, should strive to avoid it. What is denied, though, is its eternality.

      How a belief in eternal conscious torment is necessary for a full hatred of child pornography, wars, murders, sexual perversions by the dozens, broken marriages, greed, etc., is absolutely beyond me. It is not necessary in the slightest.

      And it should be said that even people who engage in such things -- even men like Hitler -- cause a massive yet finite amount of evil and suffering in their lifetimes. And it is a straightforward fact of justice that finite crimes, no matter how massive, do not warrant an infinite punishment.

    3. @Norman:
      What do you mean by "infinite punishment"? If I'm handing out ice cream cones and you refuse to take one, is it unjust if I don't keep coming back to offer you one until you say yes? Or might it be perfectly just if it turns out I never again offer you one (ever, for an infinite duration of all ages to come)? Wouldn't this be a just "infinite punishment"? Or I could offer you my daughter's hand in marriage (I'd offer you my own hand, but that would gay); if you refuse, does justice require me to keep coming back? Or God could offer you... (etc.).

    4. You think it possible that God is so incompetent he couldn't lure even the most hardened sinner into his beauty? Wow, that seems like the real heresy. God is omnipotent. Do Thomists even believe in providence?

    5. "You think it possible that God is so incompetent he couldn't lure even the most hardened sinner into his beauty?"

      "Lure" as if luring a stupid creature with bait? Sure, God can do that, but that isn't love. Salvation requires that the rational creature perform a free choice in favor of truth and good. By the very nature of freedom (and considering our experience with history and people), it would be possible for a free agent to choose to distance itself from God and go against His Will, even with most horrendous acts. Not even an omnipotent God would be able to (really) force a choice for a free creature. He can only try to convince, attract, and all that.

      Given God's resourcefulness and the nature and character of people, I think it's very likely that the vast majority of people will eventually be saved. But I also think it likely that a tiny minority of people really are so irredeemably evil that they definitively and consciously choose to sever themselves completely from God; indeed God's light would be like darkness to them.

      I'm a quasi-universalist. I hate how universalists seem so sure of themselves when the situation is actually quite more complicated than they think at first. It's not as if the options are only strict universalism on one hand, and "massa damnata", your atheist neighbors are going to hell, etc., on the other. Universalism is quite radical since it must insist either that a free agent CANNOT definitively choose against God (which Hart tries to do, but the end result is not as ironclad as he thinks it is), or that no one will in fact do so. If there is even one - one - person who ends up in hell, who is so terribly wicked and evil as to completely shut himself off to the real good, then universalism is false.

    6. Atno,

      Not "lure" is in baiting a fish, but seduction as a lover lures the beloved to the bridal chamber. Please see patristic commentaries on the Song of Songs, particularly Gregory of Nyssa's. It's not like luring a fish, it's just that God is all powerful and knows our hearts better than we do and knows what it would take to get us to accept His love and so He will do that. Evil is finite, it is privatio boni, it cannot last forever alongside the good. That is manicheanism to say we can choose evil forever as if it is something of real substance alongside the only thing that is absolute, God (basically what ECT boils down to). Your view entails a libertarian view of freedom that not only is illogical, but also one that Aquinas himself rejects.

    7. Tanner,

      I used to be a universalist who thought along the same lines. I don't anymore. Sure it wouldn't be baiting a fish, but a seduction, but that's the issue: the true seduction must involve a free choice from the sinner. You must believe that everyone will realistically make the choice of following God.

      I do follow a libertarian theory of freedom, circumscribed broadly by the same idea as that of the classical authors (we move towards what we perceive as good). But the Real Good is different from the Perceived Good, and while all evil acts are irrational, that does not take away their culpability (as Feser correctly notes); people really could have chosen differently, but by their own free choice they prefer the false good over the real one. Modelling everything is, however, very complicated. Much more could be said, but my point is that our understanding of free will will always be severely limited, so it is unlikely for us to come up with a perfect metaphysical model. That task may be beyond our ken. To the point where we should not be so certain about the impossibility of XYZ as universalists typically are. More care is required.

      I happen to be convinced that the scenario you mentioned is as implausible as the idea that a rational creature could choose to, e.g. sadistically torture, rape and kill innocent people and... (insert horrifying atrocities here). Yet it does happen. Some people really are so rotten to the point where they culpably make choices that go against everything in nature. Is it that hard to move from this to an eternal rejection of God? I don't find the scenarios to be so different, to be honest. The person who commits that kind of monstrosity is already comparable to the (supposedly absurd) case of someone who resolutely chooses hell. I surely don't have enough faith in our philosophical modelling of free will to reject the idea as certainly impossible.

      I quite literally believe that some people's evil "overpowers" God's resourcefulness, we might say. But I don't think it's manichaean. Good is greater than evil, but salvation depends not simply on the Good, but on a free agent choosing the Good (which requires God's resourcefulness and not simply his Beauty). And I am convinced that, just as some people can be so rotten as to commit some truly unspeakable atrocities, some people can also be as rotten as to eternally reject God.

      Very few people. Monsters. But it happens, I believe.

    8. There ya go, sneaking in that libertarian free will idea through a back door. If someone cuts off their hand in front of you, they are obviously insane and/or under the slavery of demons and should be helped. God will help them. If someone believes it is a good idea to rape and murder they are obviously disturbed and crazy and need help and compassion to be restored. Everyone will eventually choose God. Evil is finite, God is not -- you will eventually tire of evil.

    9. And? You may reject libertarian free will if you wish, but if I'm right, the universalist argument goes down the drain. If LFW as I understand it is correct, the universalist argument fails. And even if we only have grounds for skepticism about your (very specific) model of free will, your argument goes down the drain. As Callum mentioned, Steven Jensen defends a classical model of free will that could still allow for the real choice of sin (and ultimately hell).

      My position is more modest: I am not nearly as certain as you are both that 1) your model of free will is clearly the correct metaphysical picture of reality; 2) that this model really completely precludes the possibility of anyone choosing an eternal hell. I am at least skeptical of both 1 and 2, and I'm no more convinced of these propositions as I am that (e.g.) there are true monsters out there, their monstrous acts are culpable and not all that different from the scenario of someone choosing hell. If someone can choose to mercilessly and sadistically torture, rape and murder a child, they can also choose to reject all real Good and Beauty for all eternity.

      I can turn the universalist modus ponens into a modus tollens. "Our understanding of free will dictates that X is impossible for reasons Y; our understanding of free will is correct; therefore X is impossible". I can go with "X is possible, therefore our understanding of free will is incorrect".

      Again, it depends on how epistemically certain you are about 1 and 2 in comparison to the possibility of monsters rejecting God.

    10. The free will argument is only to cutoff the idea that the sinner damns himself. This is not possible. If anything it's universalism vs. predestination. Universalism makes more sense. Hart's first meditation is the linchpin. God would not create anything He knew He couldn't save. Evil is not as strong as good. I'm not a manichean, neither should you be.

    11. "The free will argument is only to cutoff the idea that the sinner damns himself."
      Sure, but it can be resisted and rejected in precisely the way I spelled out in my previous post. And then the issue is that *most* defenses of hell will involve a free will argument - it is the sinner who damns himself. Without a proper response to the free will objection, the universalist is open to attack.
      For instance, Hart's first meditation is quite interesting. But I think it utterly fails if the free will defense works. He asks us to imagine a single person being damned while everyone else is saved and lives in eternal bliss, etc.
      I don't feel any pull in this argument *provided that* the damned is in hell because of his own choice. Why should God refrain from creating a whole world of saints, joy and love, just because a single asshole *freely* and consistently insists on rejecting all good and love?
      If we're determinists or reject the free will defense, I agree that Hart would have a point. God would not create a world to damn someone. But I see no problem with God creating a world full of saints but with one person who freely insists on hell, someone that He cannot save. What's the problem with that? Should God refrain from creating and not give heaven to anyone just because one evil, rotten person freely insists on rejecting Him against all attempts?

      (Things get even trickier when you consider the traditional view (which Hart's model of free will requires) of evil as privatio boni. It is better to exist than to not exist. This means that, even for an infernalist, it is actually better to exist in hell than to not-exist at all, as horrible as hell might be. Say what you will about this issue, but I think one cannot reject it while simultaneously touting that Good is the only substance, the only absolute thing, that evil is just a privation, etc.. In that case, it is literally better for God to create the damned than to refrain from creating them just because He knows they would be damned).

    12. @Tanner: "You think it possible that God is so incompetent he couldn't lure even the most hardened sinner into his beauty?"

      Of course not. But instead, Scripture assures us, he sometimes hardens the hearts of unrepentant sinners. He does not do so because he could not do otherwise. That is a stupid idea.

      "Wow, that seems like the real heresy."

      Like a real red herring, you mean?

      "God is omnipotent. Do Thomists even believe in providence?"

      Yup. Do you even know anything about Thomists?

    13. Yes, God does harden the heart of sinners. I wonder why He does that? Maybe St. Paul tells us in Romans 11:32?

    14. Maybe we should contextualize Romans 11:32 with Romans 11:20-22? Very confusing, that Paul! Peter noted that fact, noting that unbalanced people misunderstand him. But if God has mercy even on those in hell (as Aquinas shows), Ro 11:32 is fully compatible with the doctrine of hell. It turns out that justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive.

    15. @Atno
      It is better to exist than to not exist. This means that, even for an infernalist, it is actually better to exist in hell than to not-exist at all, as horrible as hell might be. Say what you will about this issue, but I think one cannot reject it while simultaneously touting that Good is the only substance, the only absolute thing, that evil is just a privation, etc.. In that case, it is literally better for God to create the damned than to refrain from creating them just because He knows they would be damned).

      As you are a quasi-universalist, I hope this doesn't offend you, but you've actually just helped me put the last nail in my doubts about annihilationism. I was wondering how a good God could possibly create a reality which would inevitably contain evil in it forever (in the form of a soul wilfully turning away from God) and yet have creation still embody God's glory to the fullest. I apparently hadn't thought through all of deprivation theory carefully enough. Thanks!

    16. Casual Thomist,

      You're welcome. I am unsure of whether or not I accept the view; I lean towards accepting it, since otherwise we might have the problem that annihilation would appear to be a better end for the damned. The problem is just that I find it quite counter-intuitive; I'm not sure of how much sense it makes... but it does appear to follow from the privation theory. So I lean towards accepting it.

      Pruss has a blog post discussing the issue, by the way:

  33. Someone should do a David Bentley Hart versus David Bentley Hart debate, where we take quotes from "That All Shall Be Saved" and compare them to quotes from other books like "Atheist Delusions" or "The Experience of God."

  34. If universalism is true, maybe Dr. Hart will explain what Our Lord meant when he said that Judas would have been better off if he, Judas, had never been born. Suppose Judas went temporarily to hell for a uniquely horrible punishment before he went to heaven. In that case, Our Lord would have been mistaken because for Judas to go to heaven, he would first have needed to live on earth. If Judas enjoys heaven forever after he leaves hell, how would his nonexistence have been better than that?

    1. One word: Hyperbole.

      More than one word: Yours is an overly wooden and literal interpretation.

      Judas clearly repented (Mt 27:3)

    2. Never been born, not never having existed, they could argue.

    3. True repentence doesn't lead to despair, which is a sin against the virtue of hope.

    4. Goalpost pushing. The NT clearly says repented, metanoia, which means he changed his heart (mind, nous). There is no true versus false repentance. Made up category. You obviously don't know anyone who has committed suicide, based on that coldblooded lie you're trying to convince me of.

    5. It is entirely possible to "change one's heart/mind" from zeal to despair, isn't it?

    6. Why is Judas committing suicide supposed to support universalism? He didn't seem to believe it himself. Moreover, why did God abandon him to despair (and his family to grief) when he was kinder to Paul a bit later? Does God care either way? I don't see why.

  35. The ironic and tragic thing is that Hart's rhetorical gifts used to promote universalism will result in a lot of people in hell.

    1. Are you so sure?

      Would it not be unjust for the increased risk of a person to go to hell because of someone else's views be unjust? And since God is just, in the final analysis, it would not make a difference, right?

  36. Tanner, since I'ma Catholic, I'll offer a few thoughts about Judas's repentence. First, Catholics believe that if someone commits a mortal sin when there's no priest to absolve him for it, he needs to be perfectly contrite to go to heaven. That means that he must be sorry for his sins only because they offend God, not because hell frightens him.

    Second, suicide can be a mortal sin and Judas killed himself. So if the Catholic Church is right about perfect contrition, Judas may have been imperfectly contrite when he died. So if Judas went to hell, Our Lord may have implied that Judas's everlasting punishment would be worse than anyone else's. In that case, for Judas, nonexistence might have been better than damnation.

    Third, I don't know where Judas's soul went when he did. But I seem to remember that the Catechism of the Council of Trent says that he or his soul went to hell.

    Fourth, remorse differs from penitence. If I feel remorse, that may mean that I regret committing a sin only because I got caught at it. If that's why I regret my sin, I'm impenitent because penitence implies that I want to change and to stop sinning.

    That's why Catholics pray the Act of Contrition aftwe the connfess through a priest. We pray, "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I formly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to so pennance and never to sin anymore."

    Fifth, year ago, in the EWTN Document Library, I found an exorcism transcript where Judas supposedly admits that he wen to hell.

    1. Listen, ignore the gobbledygoook that makes things more complex than they really are. It's artificially bizarre. When Jesus says "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!" The word in Greek used is Metanoia. The past tense of the same word is the one used in Mt 27, meaning Judas did what Christ commanded. It's simple. Mt 27 didn't say he felt bad, whether or not he fit into theological categories that wouldn't be invented for centuries or millenia,etc. It's clear, he changed his heart as the Lord commanded.

    2. I'm not a Greek expert, but can words not have different senses in Greek? Seems to me that we have this in English for 'repent', as it were.

  37. "That means that he must be sorry for his sins only because they offend God, not because hell frightens him."

    This is not as hard as it might seem at first once one understands that God is the Good itself, and not just some "character".

  38. grodrigues wins the internet today which his keen satire that God is a "meanie" for making us suffer in Hart's pseudo Purgatory if even temporarily!

    Well done good sir. Well done!

    Hart has lost it and has devolved into Theistic Personalism.

    Naughty Hart! Naughty I say!

  39. Naughty Son of Ya'Kov, promoting ideas worse than diabolism!

    Any form of "Christianity" that promotes the idea of an eternal hell is, in point of fact, worse than devil worship. It is not Christianity at all. It is sheer offensive lunacy that any non-Christian is well within his intellectual rights to mock the hell out of and reject.

    1. You're right. It's a subversion from the God of love to the worst being conceivable. Absolute evil. Feser, as always, is too prideful to concede any ground here.

    2. You know, making hyperbolic accusations against either side gets boring pretty fast. "Your position is worse than devil worship!!" I mean, come on, mate.

      Origen and Saint Gregory of Nyssa didn't throw temper tantrums every 5 minutes, so idk what's up with these recent trends among universalists.

      Focus on the arguments.

    3. @Earl

      My aren't you a special snowflake.


      Awe, wee Lamb.


      Focus on the arguments is sane advice but we live in insane times. Men have gone mad and they don't argue they force via some extended virtue signaling.

      I blame Theistic Personalism. Of course I blame everything on Theistic Personalism. It's my raison d'être.

      Love of Classic Theistic God and hatred for theistic personalist "god" gives me joy.

      Stay sane brother.

      As for you other two twits kiss my Kilt and remember SCOTTISH LIVES MATTER! :D

  40. I left this as a comment at DBH's article, but am interested in other thoughts as well.

    How would the universalist respond to the testimony of exorcists? For instance, Father Chad Ripperger in this conference ( around 20:18) talks about how demons would tell him that they know that it was unwise and stupid to disobey God, that not following God's will is the cause of their misery, and that they would still choose it all over again given the chance. The testimony is pretty good evidence for the idea that angels and disembodied souls cannot repent, since knowledge of the irrationality and accompanying misery of their choice leaves them wholly unpersuaded.

    1. Being chained to your anger and spite doesn't mean that chain is necessarily unbreakable, even after thousands of years. All that proves is that the demons are still angry and spiteful, not that they could never in principle change their minds.

  41. I have not read Hart’s book, I have not read all of the comments in this thread, and I am not a Universalist. However, it seems to me that the best shot the Universalist has would be to use the same arguments for positive predestination (either Molinist or Thomist) expanded to a universal scale. If there is no violation of free will in individual, positive predestination—because grace perfects and does not destroy free will—by the same principle there would be no violation of free will in Universal salvation.

    I don’t think the argument works—whether God *can* do it is a different question than if He *did* do it, and the words of Christ indicate He didn’t—but such a proposition would at least pass the free will sniff test.