Friday, July 24, 2020

No urgency without hell

A common argument in defense of the eternity of hell is that without it, there would be no urgency to repent or to convince others to repent.  Call this the “argument from urgency.”  One objection to the argument is that it makes true virtue impossible, since it transforms morality into a matter of outward obedience out of fear, rather than inward transformation out of sincere love of God.  Another is that it adds a cynical scare tactic to the moral teaching of Christ, the beauty of which is sufficient to lead us to repentance when it is properly presented.

Scare tactics?

But these objections rest on misunderstandings, or at least fail to take the argument on in its strongest form.  To see what is wrong with the first objection, consider an analogy.  Suppose someone is driving a car at 100 mph toward a cliff.  Whether from the passenger seat or (hopefully, for your sake) by cell phone, you urge him to slow down and change course, warning that he is headed for certain death.  Suppose a third party interjects: “Oh come on, resorting to scare tactics is a cynical, manipulative way to get someone to change his ways!  Sure, you might terrorize him into slowing down, but only out of fear rather than a sincere appreciation for safe driving practices.  Why not instead exhort him in a way that is likelier to transform his inward attitudes?  For example, why not laud the beauty and reasonableness of safe driving?  And why not reassure him that in any event we may have good hope that he won’t go off the cliff?”

Is this wise and morally refined advice?  Of course not.  It is foolish and sentimental advice, sure to result in the driver’s death.  There are two problems with it.  First, it treats the driver’s bad behavior and the prospect of his going off the cliff as if they were only contingently related – as if the bad behavior had no inherent tendency to lead one off the cliff, so that you may or may not bring it up when trying to reform the behavior.  In reality, of course, going off of the cliff is the inevitable result of the bad behavior, and to leave it out is not only to fail to tell the whole story about the nature of the bad behavior, but to leave out the most important part of the story.

Now, in the same way, being in thrall to sins of greed, lust, envy, wrath, pride, and so on of its very nature tends to harden one’s soul into an orientation away from God and toward something less than God.  And that means that the more hardened one is in such an orientation, the more likely that that is what one’s soul will be “locked” onto at death.  One will, as it were, then go “off the cliff” toward which one had been speeding prior to death.  But to be forever locked onto an end other than God is just what it is to be damned.  So, to warn sinners of hell is not some unnecessary exercise in scare tactics, any more than warning the driver of his certain doom is.  Rather, as with the warning to the driver, it is simply to give a complete description of where someone’s behavior will of its nature inevitably lead him if he does not change course.

That is the traditional Christian understanding of the effects of sin, and the Thomist tradition gives one possible way of understanding the underlying metaphysics.  Whether or not you agree with that understanding or the proposed underlying metaphysics, the point is that it is a mistake to interpret the threat of hell as a mere scare tactic that has nothing to do with motivating inward moral transformation.  On the contrary, it is precisely a warning of what a failure to achieve a genuine inward moral transformation will inevitably lead to.

But that is by no means to concede that scare tactics are always out of place.  That is the second point illustrated by the driving example.  If a guy is speeding toward a cliff, what charity demands is not reassuring him that everything will be OK, but precisely scaring the hell out of him so that he’ll change course.  Similarly, sometimes warning someone of the prospect of hell can be the best way, maybe even the only way, to get him to reconsider the sort of evil life he is living. 

Yes, fear of punishment is not the whole of the story of the moral life, or even the most important part of the story.  No Catholic defender of the doctrine of hell denies that; on the contrary, such defenders emphasize that perfect contrition, sorrow out of love of God, is the only way a person can be saved outside of sacramental confession.  But it simply does not follow that fear of punishment is never even part of the story.  It can be precisely the first step in the process of inward moral transformation, even if it is far from the last step.  Everyone knows that this is true in everyday life – that the prospect of prison, or financial ruin, or death, or loss of reputation or friends or family, can lead a criminal, a drug addict, an adulterer, or a greedy person, to reconsider the path he is on.  There is no reason at all why fear of hell might not do the same.

Christ’s urgency

It would also be quite silly to pretend that the argument from urgency is something defenders of the doctrine of hell have added to Christ’s teaching.  No, the argument is rather that the reality of eternal damnation is the only way to make sense of the urgency that is already there in Christ’s own teaching.  Consider some passages just from Matthew’s Gospel:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, RSV)

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

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. (Matthew 7:13-14)

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  (Matthew 10:28)

But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.  (Matthew 11:24)

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.  (Matthew 12:31-32)

 I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:36)

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.  The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.  (Matthew 13:40-42)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad.  So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matthew 13: 47-50)

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33)

Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’  But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ (Matthew 25:11-12)

For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matthew 25:29-30)

Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:45-46)

Now, I submit that anyone reading these for the first time and with no knowledge of the dispute over universalism would naturally take Christ to be saying that there will be a day of judgment where the wicked will be condemned forever, that there are sins that will never be forgiven, that this sorry fate cannot be escaped, that few will avoid it, that it is so dire that it is better to lose an eye, a hand, or even one’s whole body than to fall into it, and that there is a finality to this judgement that entails an urgency to repent now in order to avoid it. 

Of course, annihilationists would say that the damned don’t suffer forever but are simply destroyed forever.  I have argued against this view elsewhere, but what matters for the moment is that even the annihilationist agrees that Christ’s words entail an irrevocable condemnation of the wicked for their failure to repent of the sins of this life.  What you cannot get out of passages like these is the universalist view that all will in fact be saved, that every sin will be forgiven, that no one will be condemned forever, etc.

Universalist non-urgency

There is a kind of Orwellian perversity to the universalist’s way of dealing with texts like these.  Out of one side of his mouth, he admits – he has to, because it is undeniable – that such passages seem incompatible with universalism.  It’s just that he modesty proposes that there are other ways of reading them that can be reconciled with his position.  Even David Bentley Hart, in That All Shall Be Saved, acknowledges the “highly pictorial and dramatic imagery of exclusion used by Jesus to describe the fate of the derelict when the Kingdom comes” (p. 117).  And he concedes that “the idea of an eternal punishment for the reprobate – in the sense not merely of a final penalty, but also of endlessly perduring torment – seems to have had a substantial precedent in the literature of the intertestamental period, such as 1 Enoch, and perhaps in some early schools of rabbinic thought” (Ibid.).  But though he allows for the “possibility” of reading Christ’s words that way, he insists that there is “nothing in the gospels that obliges one to believe this” and says that we simply cannot make “any dogmatic pronouncements on the matter” (Ibid.).  As I noted in a previous post, Hart also resorts to such agnosticism when dealing with passages in Revelation that don’t sit well with universalism.

Now, when you consider any one passage in isolation, you may or may not think the universalist can cobble together some sort of case.  But the arguments are always strained, lawyerly in the worst sense of trying desperately to open up some loophole by which the obvious implication of the text might be escaped.  (Again, see my previous post for discussion of some of the problems.)  And when all the relevant scriptural passages are considered en masse, the idea that you can reconcile scripture with universalism just falls apart.  The idea that none of the relevant passages should be taken at face value, and that the vast majority of readers have for two millennia been getting all of them that badly wrong, is just too silly for words.  And that is, of course, why, as Hart admits, “just about the whole Christian tradition” (p. 81) has always rejected universalism.

But now the universalist speaks out of the other side of his mouth.  Having cobbled together a tentative strained universalist reading of this passage, a tentative strained universalist reading of that passage, a tentative strained universalist reading of a third passage, and so on, he suddenly dumps the whole lot of these sophistries on you and pretends that they together amount to a demonstration that there is nothing in scripture that is incompatible with universalism.  He pretends that the burden of proof is now on the critics of universalism to show otherwise.  By such sleight of hand, what has always been considered heterodox is now presented as having the presumption in its favor, and what has always been considered orthodox is put on the defensive. 

Thus do we have John Milbank matter-of-factly asserting: “Of course it is Edward Feser who is heterodox and not DB Hart.”

Yes, of course.  And of course, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Related posts:

How to go to hell

Does God damn you?

Why not annihilation?

A Hartless God?

No hell, no heaven

Hart, hell, and heresy


  1. Ed,

    In your first link below "How to go to hell," you mention that Aquinas says that the person's will is locked in at time of death.

    It seems Aquinas is explaining why the person will stay in hell forever since his will is locked in an evil state.

    How can this logically stand to not violate justice since the person is not being punished based on the person himself but on this other factor of the arbitrary time at which he dies?

    So if Hitler had died when he was 20 years old when he was hypothetically good he has one fate forever, but he judged differently if his death is when he was 60 or whenever he actually died?

    If a person's death is timed by God in God's all knowing knowledge to exactly to depict his true nature that represents his eternal nature, that is different altogether and then the person's goodness/evilness at the time of death is a true marker of the person's essence....and then there would be not be the serious problem mentioned above.

    Other than the above, the state of the person's goodness/evilness at the time of death can not represent the person's essential level of goodness/evilness since the person could have become better or worse at a later time.

    1. Our eternal fate is not decided by whether we are good or bad, but whether we have chosen for God or not. A good life should follow a choice for God, but people naturally have more or less vicious natures, so someone with a vicious nature who has chosen for God may be saved when someone more naturally virtuous isn't, if the latter hasn't chosen for God. It is Christ who saves us, not our claims to virtue.

      If Hitler at 20 had chosen Christ, then in later age repudiated Christ, he has only himself to blame for being damned.

    2. So it isn't our "essential nature" by which we are saved, but by Christ through our free choice to accept his salvation.

    3. In time, a person’s choices can change because they are in sequence. In eternity, a person’s choice is eternal not sequential.

      You seem to think that a person can be condemned on accident; that is not the case. A mortal sin (i.e. rejection of sanctifying grace) requires a serious offense that is willfully chosen. One must willfully and knowingly reject God in exchange for some lesser good.

      It is also true that mitigating factors can reduce culpability: force of habit of sin, or incomplete knowledge of the choice, or psychological factors, for example. Perhaps that is what you mean by “depict his true nature that represents his eternal nature”.

    4. @David T,

      I disagree with you. God is good and thus He would not punish someone who is good. Having said that, someone who is good will choose for God holding all else equal...assuming they are able to think with normal cognitive function and thus they should be able to reason that God must be source of all good and they then should choose God so to speak over a life that does not give priority to God above all.


      "You seem to think that a person can be condemned on accident"

      If the state of the person determines his eternal state and if someone dies at an arbitrary date that is not chosen because it represents the essence of the person but the date of death is instead chosen for any other reason, then the person is being condemned at least to the wrong magnitude if his state is worse than what represents his true essence.

      God is just. God knows the essence of a person. God therefore knows how they would have been had they lived forever. So God will base the eternal fate on God's knowledge and not on any arbitrary date of death.

    5. Again, you are assuming that one can be condemned by accident by making an unfounded distinction: you are arguing that a person's choice to reject God does not "represent the essence of the person". A person's choice does, in fact, "represent the essence of the person" as long as there are not mitigating factors as I mentioned above.

      If you'd like to argue that the free choice to reject grace cannot "represent the essence of the person", go ahead. Merely stating it isn't cutting it.

    6. TN,

      I am not saying anything about a person's choice to reject God.

      Certainly that would represent the essence of a person. Everything would represent in some way the essence of a person. Rejecting God may be the biggest or one of the biggest representations of the essence of a person.

      However if the time a person times is determinative, then if a person dies before he would have rejected God or if he dies after a person rejects, that would be problematic unless God made the timing be the full essence of a person and not a partial essence of a person.

      Issue is not about rejecting God but about this mechanistic view that the will becomes locked at time of death.

      It is almost a type of artificial intelligence, something I am sure Ed would find disgusting as he quite eloquently refutes AI.

      However, this view of Aquinas about the will getting locked up, although is interesting and a clever thought, it does not hold logically or ethically. God is just. Thus, this argument in the way Aquinas says is false.

    7. Ok, you’re just not going to acknowledge that a decision made outside of time is eternal by definition.

      What if someone dies in a state of grace and is therefore saved and goes to heaven? Are they allowed the beatific vision? Afterall, if they lived longer, they may have fallen from grace. What if they change their mind while they are in heaven? Do they get kicked out? If you answer “no”, then this isn’t even the issue anyway. What is at issue is that you’re trying to prove that it isn’t possible to choose against God.

      As a Universalist, I don’t know why you would be grateful to God. There is no sin. There is no redemption (nothing to be redeemed from). No Hell. No Heaven. Just the eschatological machinery.

    8. Hi TN,

      I am having trouble understanding almost anything you are saying.

      Can you reformulate your questions?

      "A decision made outside of time?" Where did that come from?

      "What is at issue is that you’re trying to prove that it isn’t possible to choose against God."

      There is not one sentence that I can find intelligible in what you are saying.

      "What is at issue is that you’re trying to prove that it isn’t possible to choose against God."

      No, of course one can choose against God and goodness.

      I have no idea what you are trying to say regarding Hell, Heaven. I believe in Hell and Heaven.

      I simply find the idea that our will is put into pause mode at moment of death to be the illogical and unjust thus the wrong way to explain eternal hell if hell is eternal.

      God knows how we would act if we lived forever. God knows our essence even before we die.

      Our moment of death may represent our essence but for the moment to be the final cause of our eternal state sound like an Artificial Intelligence futuristic movie.

      I don't understand why you are questioning why I am grateful to God.

      I believe in God. I believe that He made us to give us an opportunity to bless us more than we deserve.

      "What is at issue is that you’re trying to prove that it isn’t possible to choose against God."

    9. @grateful, if someone who is good must choose God by virtue of being good, then how is sin possible? God does not create evil. How was the sin of Adam and Eve possible? The mystery of evil is that we are capable of choosing to sin even though God creates us good; that is the nature of spiritual freedom. God created Lucifer, the Angel of Light, good, yet he nonetheless chose against God.

      Our confidence in salvation must be in Christ, not in our own supposedly good nature, for even though good we can still sin.

    10. How is sin possible? Ignorance. St. Irenaeus covers this... we were like children and didn't know any better. For universalists our hope is in Christ-- he saves us. As far as we put ourselves in hell, Christ has gone further and He does not fail. Love does not fail. God will be victorious!

    11. How did lucifer sin then? Were the demons originally childlike and ignorant? How would that even make sense for a spiritual substance? This is why angels were such an important thought experiment for the medievals. It pushed the accounts for sin further than had been thought before.

      The patristics thought that angels were composed on a spiritual matter and form (as did some Franciscans) but this raises real difficulties.

    12. Lucifer? The myhth of Lucifer as Satan is no in Scripture. In Gen the snake is not identified as the devil. I take the whole thing allegorically like the Eastern Fathers. I also think only God is pure spirit.

    13. I'm not making an assumption about genesis. Satan, lucifer - whatever. How did the devil first sin? How does it makes sense to have spiritual matter? Is it extended? Does it have dimension?

    14. Grateful to God,

      You said: "I am having trouble understanding almost anything you are saying."

      Well, there ya go. You are on this forum arguing about a deep philosophical issue and you have no idea what you are talking about.

      Maybe go back to Trump rants; they were just as incoherent, but much more entertaining.

      Look, no offense, but seriously.

    15. Tanner,

      "we were like children and didn't know any better."

      Evil is just a synonym for ignorant . . . Oy vey!

    16. God knows how we would act if we lived forever. God knows our essence even before we die.

      Our moment of death may represent our essence but for the moment to be the final cause of our eternal state sound like an Artificial Intelligence futuristic movie.

      @ grateful: You seem to be assuming that "our essence" is something distinct from what our actions make us into. If a person is doing more-or-less good things, and then commits a gravely immoral act that he knows to be wrong, he makes himself into someone opposed to God, an enemy of God. That action changes his character. If he dies then, he dies as an enemy of God and the good. That is his character because he made it so.

      If, however, God has mercy on him and allows him to live longer, and he then repents, confesses his sins, receives absolution, and is thus restored to sanctifying grace, he is thus made into a friend of God, and once again a child of God by adoption, participant in the inheritance Jesus won for us. He has become a friend of God by his actions. This is now his character. If he dies now, he will die as a friend of God, one who loves the good.

      There is no "if he had lived forever..." aspect to a person's character. God had never planned on any person living forever, continually undergoing a test, forever. He had always planned on our period of testing (and the period of our changing our orientation to or against good) being limited to a finite period. More, God had always providentially allotted a specific amount of time to each person, according to His plan. That one person receives more time to perfect himself, and another less time, is not a matter of justice in the sense that God is REQUIRED to provide each person X amount - nobody has a RIGHT to any amount, and whatever God allots him is a gift.

      I simply find the idea that our will is put into pause mode at moment of death to be the illogical and unjust

      Perhaps you could try to understand it not as "being put INTO pause mode", but as the limit of the period of testing, the period of opportunity to make something of your character. Once you have lived that period, the whole point of it has been fulfilled. Blessedness would not be absolute and complete if we retained, in heaven, ongoing risks of falling into sin and being cast from God's presence. Heaven is heavenly, in part, because we are conscious of being confirmed in goodness, the knowing that our happiness will never fail. Hell is merely the flip side of that state, the privation that naturally exists as a result of no longer having the opportunity to change one's character.

    17. Hi Tony,

      No, I don't deny our essence being related to our actions.

      They are absolutely related.

      I am just saying that to single out the action near time of death in a mechanistic way to subsume all of essence is illogical.

      "Perhaps you could try to understand it not as "being put INTO pause mode", but as the limit of the period of testing, the period of opportunity to make something of your character."

      Very well put Tim,

      I agree with the way you formulated it but you are making the point I am making.

      If we state the time of death to indicate that the testing is over and the results of the life indicate one's essence, then I agree with this.

      But the way Aquinas has mentioned it as some mechanistic way in which the button in our robotic will gets switched down to the pause mode is illogical and smacks as if we are AI droids out of Star Trek.

      Having said the above, I am not trying to minimize the time of our death.

      I absolutely believe that our death is when the test is over.

      And thus we must be ever vigilant and careful of our test being over and thus we must align our lives with God.

      I am not a Christian but as a Theist, I believe that God did not make our life as a joke but as a test and that our test is complete when we die.

      Hence we need to be ever careful as we don't know when the time of our test is can be any day and time within any given day...even today.

    18. Grateful,

      One huge assumption being made but isn't something neccessary to the theory is that the person's soul is set *at the moment* of death. This doesn't follow, indeed Ed speculates that it could be the first choice immediately after death, when the soul begins to know like angels. This would even mean that all those not in a place to hear the gospel and respond can do so (as angelic mode of knowing cannot admit ignorance).

      Regardless, a choice *after* death doesn't suffer from the objections you raise and it is in fact a possibility many thomists have proposed

    19. Hi Callum,

      Thanks for the interesting comment.

      Although I point out my disagreement with Ed on the issue of the will at point of death, I have been learned a lot from Ed's articles on the philosophy of the mind. I still remember how happy I got after I read one of his articles talking about the form of a perfect triangle and how we never see that in the world.

  2. Ed, in addition to the New Testament scriptures you cite here, there are numerous Old Testament scriptures that contrast the fate of the righteous with the fate of the wicked which fit either annihilationism or infernalism far more easily than they fit universalism.
    Moreover, the genre of conditional prophecy of judgment/punishment as part of a prophecy of eschatological justice makes no sense if the fate of the wicked is the same as the fate of the righteous.

    1. Hi Tim, good point.

      It's also worth noting that the whole positive scriptural case for universalism boils down to passages that say that God wills that all be saved. As I've pointed out before, that no more gives us any reason to believe that all will be saved than the fact that God will for us never to sin shows that no one ever sins.

    2. No, it doesn't. It points to verses that say that God will be all in all, or that Jesus will drag everyone to himself, or that all will gladly praise Jesus as Lord, or that as in Adam all died, so in Christ so shall all be made alive, etc. That's a fundamental misunderstanding that everything hinges on 1 Tim. Even so, if God wills that all will ULTIMATELY be saved, then they shall be. We can go against Him temporarily but not forever. Meditation 4 takes that down.

    3. I get the feeling you would not believe in Christ at all if you could not believe your universalism too. Is that so?

    4. That's not a direct answer to my question.

  3. I’m fairly concerned that entirety of the scriptural defense of Ed’s reading of hell rests upon a single Gospel account (Matthew) and uses a translation that unilaterally uses the word “hell” where the correct term, such as “Gehenna”, is actually what is written in the text. Hart, among many other scripture specialists, has devoted plenty of scholarship to deal with the historical and theological issues of what “The Gehenna”, “Hades”, and “Sheol” actually mean both literally and allegorically. Quoting these passages with a translation that reads these instances unilaterally as “hell” may be convenient for Feser’s reading, but they still bring up theological (not philosophical) problems that he really isn’t dealing with here. And as admirable as his defense is I find it troubling that he has not dealt with the supposedly universalist passages on scripture that Hart, among others, has put forth.

    I can appreciate the “car driving off a cliff” tale as logically coherent and also quite appropriate. But, as I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t believe this is an appropriate rebuttal to Hart (or Milbank’s) picture of things simply because Hart is drawing on a picture of the afterlife that follows Gregory of Nyssa and not Aquinas. Whereas we get the picture of a Beatific Vision that comes across (however naively) as a kind of static state of perfect contemplation, Nyssa envisions an endless stretching out of infinite life. That kind of timeless “dynamism” (for lack of a better word) of a life of endless transformation (again, only in a sense) is perfectly congruent with hell as self-imposed exile from the divine life that becomes the total reality in which all live. It’s also perfectly compatible with a Universalism that says all will be brought into this divine reality but it will be deeply painful to defy and requires a stripping away of imperfection so that God’s will can be “all in all”, as St. Paul says.

    I went back and read that long section on Ed’s response to Hart where Ed contends that Hart has a pantheistic conception of the Christ and humanity, without real distinction. I think he gets Hart totally wrong, but that’s all due to a Neo-scholastic intuition whereby Ed is trying to preserve an extremely strict partition between nature and the supernatural. I don’t have the credentials to adequately argue the point here, but I think that this creates a Christological problem that he hasn’t dealt with adequately; something that Bp. Robert Barron and Hart have brought up in their work and one, I suspect, informs their particular givenness to kinds of universalism.

    On YouTube:
    Listener Q&A with Bishop Barron (November 2019) 28:40. Barron takes a question on nature and grace what it means to view them from Christology.

    On YouTube as well:
    Dr. Hart Love & Knowledge in Scotus.
    the first few minutes Hart takes a swipe at Thomists but brings up the same issue of the Nature/Grace distinction as it relates to the Incarnation.

    Sarah Coakley on Closer to Truth (the CtT website)
    specifically her reflections on Theological Epistemology, The Body in Resurrection, and Why Believe in God. Very interesting take on the foundational issue of desire. She also takes Gregory of Nyssa’s view of the afterlife as opposed to the Thomistic reading.

    1. I’m fairly concerned that entirety of the scriptural defense of Ed’s reading of hell rests upon a single Gospel account (Matthew)

      ?? No it doesn't. I confined myself to Matthew here only so I wouldn't have to spend all day cutting and pasting passages. I could easily add further relevant passages from the other gospels, from various epistles, from Revelation (which indeed I alluded to and quoted at length in my previous post) and from the OT too.

      and uses a translation that unilaterally uses the word “hell” where the correct term, such as “Gehenna”, is actually what is written in the text.

      That translation issue is irrelevant to the specific point I was making in this post, which is that there is an urgency to Christ's calls to repentance and warnings to sinners that makes no sense given universalism.

    2. I went back and read that long section on Ed’s response to Hart where Ed contends that Hart has a pantheistic conception of the Christ and humanity, without real distinction. I think he gets Hart totally wrong, but that’s all due to a Neo-scholastic intuition whereby Ed is trying to preserve an extremely strict partition between nature and the supernatural.

      No, it has to do with a strict partition between the creator and the creation. Which is just basic Christianity, not Neo-Scholasticism. Though I certainly would insist on the natural/supernatural partition too. But that's not what's at issue in this particular question (i.e. the pantheism one).

    3. Fair enough with sticking to Matthew, but I do think in the bigger picture the translation issue proves consequential for picturing the afterlife. Your point about repentance is well taken. But if the life of the world would to come is coming for everybody and the kingdom of God is truly at hand repentance is absolutely necessary, whether it’s to avoid hell or simply conform to the higher laws of the kingdom that will be the everlasting reality of all persons.

      Like I said, I don’t have the adequate vocabulary or training on board to make m point well here about the pantheism thing. It was just an intuition based on an admittedly limited reading, I do know that’s it’s a common contemplative/mystical insight of saints and practitioners of contemplative prayer that the notion of humanity fully separated from God is an illusion. Our life, our self, is hidden with Christ in God. Perhaps it’s a kind of panentheism? The natural/supernatural partition is more porous than it least that’s a theology that seems correct the more time I spend in silent prayer and adoration...

      I’m not here to be combative, just trying to understand. My theological background seems to be based in thinkers who didn’t come from a strictly analytic or Thomist position FWIW

    4. "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

      Which, in the original language means:

      "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

  4. One question regarding Judas's fate. On a Thomistic analysis, is a person better off suffering eternally than being annihilated? Some comments on this blog seem to indicate this because any level of being no matter how miserable is better than non-being. If so, how does this fit with the assertion that it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born than what his actual fate will be?

    1. Hi Tim, check out my "Why not annihilation?" post linked to above, which is relevant to this.

    2. I read it again and it may well have been that post I had in the back of my mind when I brought up the issue of whether suffering eternally is "better" than annihilationism on Thomistic analysis. Your post suggests that it is. But doesn't Jesus's statement about Judas cut the other way, at least on face value. If never having been born is better than Judas's infernal fate, that seems to imply that annihilation is better than eternal misery, does it not?

    3. "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
      --Mark 14:21 (NIV)

      Note that the text says *better for him*. Nothing can be good or bad for one who doesn't exist. So it seems to me Jesus is speaking of a state in which a person has not been born and yet exists in some form.

      It could be the state of the unborn, which is better than the state of eternal punishment in two senses. First, the unborn doesn't suffer (cf. Job 3). Second, the unborn hasn't committed any evil act. I'm inclined to take the latter sense: If Judas has yet to be born, he may still be blessed, so it is better for him than the Judas who condemns himself by betraying the Son of Man.

    4. Nemo,
      I grant that from a Thomistic perspective, one could argue that Jesus is saying that the hell of limbus infantium Judas would have suffered had he died while unborn would be preferable to the fate he will suffer. But that is hardly a natural construal of the passage. It is entirely plausible to take "had not been born" as a figure of speech for "had never existed."

    5. Tim Finlay,

      If I sound like a Thomist, it is probably because I'm an Augustinian. But I'm not a Thomist (nor a Catholic for that matter), having read nothing by Aquinas. Limbus infantium is a plausible explanation, but it's not what I had in mind.

      In Mark 14:21 there is a contrast between the Son of Man and the one who betrays him: "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him", i.e. He will be crucified, raised on the third day and glorified. By contrast, Judas chose to betray Jesus, and the life he has chosen is not only worse than Jesus', it is worse than the one which hasn't yet begun. The contrast is not between life and non-existence, but between a good life, an evil life and one that has the potential to be good. (The word for "never" is not in the Greek text, which suggests that the unborn may still be born.)

    6. Nemo, could you explain this another way? I'm not sure I'm following your distinction here.

    7. Pl0,

      I'd be happy to explain further if you could clarify which distinction you're referring to.

    8. Distinguish between "had never existed" which was my phrase and "the one which hasn't yet begun" which was your phrase, "one" in context clearly meaning "life." Your own phrasing strongly suggests that the life Judas chose was better than no life whatsoever which was my construal of the scripture also.

    9. Tim Finlay wrote,

      'Distinguish between "had never existed" which was my phrase and "the one which hasn't yet begun" which was your phrase, "one" in context clearly meaning "life".'

      It would be more interesting to distinguish between a Thomist and an Augustinian. :) I wonder if Dr. Feser has written a post on the subject...

      Back to the question:

      A fetus has not been born, but he or she certainly exists. So that's one way to distinguish between "has never existed" and "has not been born". I'm saying that Judas' life is better than the former but worse than the latter. Better than the former, because being is better than non-being, but worse than the latter, because an evil life is worse than a life that has the potential to be good.

      Another way to distinguish between the two is in John 3, the story of Nicodemus,

      3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”
      -- John 3:3-4

      These two statements suggest to me that, when Jesus talks about "being born", he is talking about transferring between two states of existence, not between existence and non-existence.

    10. But a fetus is one whose life has begun. And in one of your posts, you indicated that Judas is in a worse state than "one which hasn't yet begun."
      That was the confusion.

    11. Tim Finlay,

      You wrote, "But a fetus is one whose life has begun."

      In the context of this discussion, I understand "life" to begin at birth, but I take your point. Perhaps I should have said the biomolecules that constitute the zygote.

  5. I get so tired of the "love the beauty of the Christian life for it's own sake" being somehow antithetical to "this stuff will kill you. No. Really. It will KILL you." Some of us love the beauty. Some of us love the death. Some of us don't exactly see the beauty, or we find it hard, but fear the death.

    1. Me also. Some people NEED a kick in the pants to get their act together, because they're comfortable in their destitution (I speak from personal experience here). Obviously that's far from sufficient by itself, but for many people fear of Hell is a necessary first step to conversion.

    2. But even some universalists recognize that. Origen himself seemed to believe that universalism should be reserved for people who were more spiritually and morally mature. It is a real practical issue, but one which doesn't deter universalist arguments.

      Some truths are best kept hidden from some people, and this wouldn't be unique in this case.

    3. Atno,
      "Some truths are best kept hidden from some people"
      What an incredibly patronizing, egotistical, and dishonest assertion.

      There is the Christian religion, telling lies to the many in order to control those gullible enough to accept the lies as truth.

      Do you work for the CDC? Did you author the advice "travelers, don't wear masks"? Just wondering.

    4. Lol
      I don't really have any strong stance on this, but at least I don't think it's unreasonable to withhold some truths from some people. Origen was worried about spiritually and morally immature people sinning and becoming lax and vicious upon learning that everyone would be saved. I don't think it's unreasonable to at least consider keeping that kind of truth (if one believes in it) hidden in some cases.

      Moving on from religious and metaphysical themes, the same could be true with historical facts, propaganda and the like. I'm not condoning lying, just not disclosing the truth sometimes. There might be situations in which, when faced with a true fact, people might act irrationally. In times of war; turmoil; epidemics; crisis; and so on.

      I can admire the idea of "tell the truth no matter what; disclose it to the whole world", but I do think there might be situations in which it is more prudent to keep people in ignorance. That might sound horrible, but there really can be some appropriate situations for that. It's not like I'm defending machiavellian manipulation.

    5. Well, there's the whole "loose lips sink ships" example. Which probably turns more on a distinction between facts and truths. Certainly Christianity knows and preaches all truth that is humanly knowable about divine things and what pertains to right living as a human being. And only giving the neophyte as much as he can comprehend would prevent us from bestowing all the truth of the gospel at once. Well, that one's inability to tell it all at once.

    6. ... that AND one's inability ...


  6. Wow, John Milibank's comments on Twitter are just risible. Strawman arguments like claiming that Infernalism amounts to Zoroastrianism. Claiming that Infernalism is a Protestant innovation. Claiming that Thomism has no explanation for why Lucifer fell. His argument that Feser is the heterodox position is about the least controversial of his positions.

    1. Yes, his remarks are completely nuts. He comes across like the kind of guy who reads his personal bugbears into every controversy. I was surprised he didn't somehow work Trump into the discussion. No doubt that will be remedied by the next tweet.

    2. Well, what is the Thomist reasoning for Lucifer's fall? After all, your hero, Aquinas,stated that the lack of a physical body and the passions thereof is what keeps souls from change in the next life (aka repentance).

      But Lucifer didn't have a body, did he?

    3. You know it is not difficult to fetch the answer for yourself? Typing a sentence into google returned the second hit as an answer.

      And please stop with this gotcha game? Universalists also have to put limits on the allowed change that souls post-mortem can undergo, or otherwise they will have to concede that the Saints from heaven can fall from grace.

    4. IrishEddieOHara,

      Read the "How to go to hell" post linked to above, where that is addressed. Actual work I know, and not as much fun as these dumb "Gotcha" games, but you (and MilbanK) really should try to familiarize yourself with what people actually say before raising what you think is some devastating objection.

    5. Would you like to try to give me an answer now?

      It's not a "gotcha" game either. If Aquinas is going to make a statement, then one should be willing to examine that statement. Lucifer, the light-bearer, did not have a body, hence, he did not have the passions which are, according to Aquinas, the foundational ability to repent.

      Aquinas also insisted that at the moment of creation, the angels made a decision for good or evil and were permanently locked into that decision. Yet Lucifer apparently chose the good intially, being the light-bearer of the throne of God, then somehow changed into the evil one.

      Guess Aquinas missed that one.

    6. Where exactly does it say in Sacred Scripture or in Sacred Tradition that Lucifer was good for a time and then turned evil?

    7. Ed can I drop this very brief interview with Tobias Hoffmann? Its basically to advertise his forthcoming book (I dont know if it has in fact been published yet -

      The book is focused on medieval theories on angels and how they have free will and how they could sin.

      I just wrote a long post on how Aquinas thought an angel could sin in principle but that doesn't seem to be your question Eddie.

      What exactly, is your question? How could an incorporeal substance like an angel sin in the first place or why must this change be irrevocable?

    8. "Radical" """Orthodoxy"""

    9. @iwpoe,

      By the way, whenever the comments are more than 200, not all of them will show - you'll have to load more, which is at the very bottom.

    10. You're thinking temporally. The creations of the angels and the "non serviam" of some of them occurred apart from the creation of the cosmos and the beginning of time.
      That's why there's no changing in the afterlife. When would the change take place? There's no "when".

  7. "Thus do we have John Milbank matter-of-factly asserting: “Of course it is Edward Feser who is heterodox and not DB Hart.”"

    The heretics really have gone mad.

    1. At least Hart had the gall to admit that the majority of the Christian tradition goes against his views on Universalism. Milbank is just so prideful.

    2. No.

      What is transparently mad -- stark raving nuts -- is the notion that "God is omnibenevolent" and "God gratuitously created a world wherein he knew in advance that some would suffer eternal conscious torment" are in any way logically compatible.

      Hell, scientology is more coherent.

    3. Universalists channeling a variant of the Argument from Evil, and in terms that would be rejected by the Church, East or West I should add...

      Theological acumen is not what one will find in this self-righteous, humorless lot.

    4. Plota,

      They are logically compatible. A world that had some would suffer in Hell is better than a world without sin. It's standard theodicy 101. Even J. L. Mackie doesn't use the logical argument from evil anymore.

    5. He even accuses dr. Feser of believing that "eternal good and eternal evil have equal metaphysical weight and reality". I like some of Milbank's work but this is beyond ridiculous. Specially, taking in account that some of his (Milbank's) main theoretical sources are French poststructualists. He should be more self-aware.

    6. Well if sin and evil exist alongside God for all eternity, how is that not at the very least quasi Manicheanism? Explain that please.

    7. If one sin, by one creature, anywhere and at any time, ever exist, then "sin exists". You must deal with a good God and "sin exists" no matter WHAT else happens after the sin exists. If an omni-benevolent God and sin cannot co-exist, then universalists must assert that SIN DOES NOT EXIST.

      The answer (or at least, a part of the answer) is of course that God will address the evil of sin by due punishment. The goodness of God is made manifest in such justice, the moral nature of the universe is rendered whole by such redress of evil. God is not God because he will reverse time itself, go back to the beginning, and make it so that no sinner ever actually sins. He DEALS with sin by redemption and punishment, two pillars on which stand His mercy and justice, which are co-equal (actually, conjoined) attributes of God.

    8. Well, to be very clear, sin and eternal enslavement to sin, or eternal separation from God, are not on the same level. Sin is one thing, but the eternal loss of a soul is a much greater tragedy. In thinking of sin, we already want to anticipate some sort of redemption. I also think that it could very well be at least possible for it to be better for some souls to be "previously broken, now restored" than "never broken in the first place". But "eternally separated from God" is not a condition that God should ever want in his worlds; He should do his best to avoid it. The very Incarnation and Sacritice of Christ makes sense in light of that; God was going to the greatest pains and extremes to avoid the eternal loss of souls.

    9. Well, to be very clear, sin and eternal enslavement to sin, or eternal separation from God, are not on the same level.

      I agree that they are not not on the same level. But I don't think it matters for my point: even ONE sin is a problem on that universalist account.

      I also think that it could very well be at least possible for it to be better for some souls to be "previously broken, now restored" than "never broken in the first place".

      Better for that specific sinner? I don't think so. When we look only at one person and his story, in forecast (before he sins), sin is ALWAYS bad, to be avoided. After he has sinned, God can bring good out of it, but we in no way can we say adamantly that God could not have made this person an even better saint without that specific sin. All we can say is that God can bring good out of it. In the Catholic Church, we teach and pray that God gloriously lifts sinners out of sin by His redemption, but He still more gloriously preserved Mary from the stain of all sin.

  8. QUOTE: "Now, I submit that anyone reading these for the first time and with no knowledge of the dispute over universalism would naturally take Christ to be saying that there will be a day of judgment where the wicked will be condemned forever, that there are sins that will never be forgiven, that this sorry fate cannot be escaped, that few will avoid it, that it is so dire that it is better to lose an eye, a hand, or even one’s whole body than to fall into it, and that there is a finality to this judgement that entails an urgency to repent now in order to avoid it."

    Except that if the aforesaid person were to come upon these passages written in Greek instead of mistranslated into Latin then English, he might very well go away thinking that there is a hell, but it only lasts for an age, yet he would be wise to avoid it.

    Look, what is your problem with punishment ending, anyway? It seems like you (and just about all Western Christians) get offended right down to your socks with the idea that punishment should meet the terms God set forth in Scripture - lex talionis - the punishment is equal to the offense. Why does the idea of a limited punishment that is rehabilitative in nature get your knickers in such a twist??

    You keep tilting at windmills. No Universalist (except the heretical Unitarians) denies that there is a punishment for wrongdoing and it is equivalent to the evil done in this life. This whole post is so much nonsense. Why not just make a post in which you state unequivocably that you hate the idea that hell comes to an end and that God is actually bound by the same lex talionis justice that He binds us to?

    1. "Look, what is your problem with punishment ending, anyway?"

      (1) Because it is the Faith of our forefathers as taught infallibly by the Church our Lord Jesus Christ founded.

      (2) Because of the reasons stated in the article.

      It is said of Abba Sisoes that some Arians came to him and started speaking against the Faith. He answered nothing but asked his disciple to bring the book of the most blessed St. Athanasius and started reading from it. At this, the Arians fell silent, their sophistry confounded and their heresy unmasked, and he send them away in peace.

      "However, if one concede that all punishments are applied for the correction of behavior and not for anything else, one is still not forced by this admission to assert that all punishments are purgatorial and terminable. For even according to human laws some people are punished with death, not, of course, for their own improvement, but for that of others. Hence, it is said in Proverbs 19:25: "the wicked man being scourged, the fool shall be wiser." Then, too, some people, in accord with human laws, are per­petually exiled from their country, so that, with them re­moved, the state may be purer. Hence, it is said in Proverbs 22:10: "Cast out the scoffer, and contention shall go with him, and quarrels and reproaches shall cease." So, even if punishments are used only for the correction of behavior, nothing prevents some people, according to divine judg­ment, from having to be separated perpetually from the society of good men and to be punished eternally, so that men may refrain from sinning, as a result of their fear of perpetual punishment, and thus the society of good men may be made purer by their removal. As it is said in the Apocalypse 21:27: "There shall not enter it," that is, into the heavenly Jerusalem, by which the society of good men is designated, "anything defiled or that worketh abomina­tion or maketh a lie."
      -- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 144, ad11

    2. Let me try your technique on behalf of those poor Unitarians:

      Look, what is your problem with the heretical Unitarians denying that there is punishment for wrongdoing? It seems you get offended right down to your socks with the idea that there should be no punishment for wrongdoing.

    3. The faith that was taught by the Fathers was Apokatastasis for the first 500 years of the Church. It did not start to wane until the thug emperor, Justinian, closed the three theological schools teaching it and imposed his 15 bogus canons against Origen on Constantinople II. You need to take some time from here and do a little historical research.

      Aquinas - I take no note of much of anything he says. He is a product of Western culture and influenced in his thinking by the same. His theologumenon regarding the inability to repent after death is laughable. But since you appear to love him so much, I'll ask you the same question I have posed to Dr. Feser.

      Aquinas states that the lack of a body, with the passions therein, is what keeps a soul from repentance (change of mind) in the next life. But then how do you explain the change of mind of Satan from good angel (light-bearer) to evil angel?

      Aquinas also states that at the moment of their creation, the angels immediately decided for good or evil and were locked forever in that state. Yet this is again not what Scripture teaches. Lucifer was a good angel (the light bearer) so apparently his first choice, which he should have been locked into forever, according to Aquinas, should have been for good, but at some point, he turned to evil.

      Kinda destroys Aquinas's premise, don't it?

    4. "The faith that was taught by the Fathers was Apokatastasis for the first 500 years of the Church. It did not start to wane until the thug emperor, Justinian, closed the three theological schools teaching it and imposed his 15 bogus canons against Origen on Constantinople II. You need to take some time from here and do a little historical research."

      Ah yes, now we have the Conspiracy Theory, universalist version, where Christianity was really universalist but then the Great Apostasy came that sunk the Church in great darkness, ignorance and sin, until the lihgt shone on "that hero of yours", that pretentious gasbag D. B. Heart.

      And if you are not interested in what Aquinas says why exactly are you posting questions about what he says? Your bad faith is transparent.

      Go away, troll.

    5. Well, IrishEddie, I guess it's a good thing for me that having wrong opinions doesn't matter.

    6. I take it that you are neither Orthodox nor Catholic, since it's not customary for either to criticize saints on the calendars so intemperately.

      Aquinas states that the lack of a body, with the passions therein, is what keeps a soul from repentance (change of mind) in the next life. But then how do you explain the change of mind of Satan from good angel (light-bearer) to evil angel?

      (1) Angels are not souls; any parallel between them needs to be justified, not assumed.

      (2) On Aquinas's account, Lucifer didn't 'change his mind'; he made up his mind. Angels have free choice; unlike ours in the body, their free choice is not temporal and discursive, and so doesn't continually unfold like ours: every free choice an angel makes he is making for the whole of the rest of his life.

      (3) On Aquinas's account, all angels were good angels by creation, because they were created by God in grace; those who remained good are good not just by creation but by choice. But being good by creation and being good by choice are distinct things. So on Aquinas's account, you go completely wrong with the "apparently his first choice". Lucifer was created good; he introspected himself in his first evening knowledge, and was good, and he impeded what would have been his first act of morning knowledge, and therein was his fall.

      All of this is quite straightforwardly stated by Aquinas.

    7. Interesting story Brandon, not sure why I should believe any of it is true. God is the final cause of all things, you can't choose something else besides God as if He were some other object in the world. Every sinful choice has some amount of ignorance in it.

    8. Why would I care whether you believe it is true? The question at hand is what Aquinas's account is.

    9. Tanner,

      You can choose to believe anything you want. And we can choose to believe that you're wrong.

    10. At best I would say the earliest church father who was a universalist was clement of alexandria. I think the only areas of the NT which might clearly be universalist is in Timothy but I think some extra philosophy is needed to supplement that.

      I think when Augustine or Athanasius speak of most being universalists in their time they are talking about lay people.

    11. Brandon -

      Nice dodge. You utterly ignore what I said. Would Scripture convince you? Probably not. No wonder Dr. Hart gets filled with such written invective when he has to deal with people who will not directly answer a question. Or who, like grodriguez, think that offering insults and name calling somehow wins the argument.

    12. (1) Angels are not souls; any parallel between them needs to be justified, not assumed.

      Brandon and Aquinas totally miss the whole point I made. Aquinas was stating that it is the passions of the body which are causitive to reflection and repentance. Neither souls nor angels have bodies, and yet the angels, without bodies, make a choice. If they made a choice without any input from an external, physical choice, what keeps them from making another choice. A choice is an exercise of the intellect, not of the body. The experiences of the body may have some input into the choice, but ultimately, the intellect chooses.

      Furthermore, Aquinas states that the angels upon creation made a choice based on full and complete knowledge. This would make them like God, wouldn't it, and you know this is a blasphemy. Did they know the Fall was coming in chronological time? Did they foresee the creation of human beings and the cosmos.

    13. One more thing, Brandon. In the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a child of the Roman Catholic Unia, they celebrate Josaphat Kuntsevych as a "saint." This was a man who went about murdering in cold blood Orthodox priests and people. For this, he got a well-deserved killing by an irate mob when his thugs were beating an Orthodox priest.

      But the Roman Church insists he is a "saint."

      Really? The last time I looked, saints didn't behave like pagan idol-worshipers. And that goes for Justinian as well, who ordered the murder of 5,000 Saxon prisoners of war because they refused baptism. Oh, and he forced his way into Constantinople II, attacked and imprisoned the pope, and generally acted in great hubris and pride. I don't see this as saintly behavior either.

      As for Aquinas, is disagreeing with his premises the same as attacking him? Meeaaah, I guess so when Thomists hold his thoughts to be on a par with the revealed truth of Scripture.

    14. Dear oh dear Eddie, have some humility and read more on Aquinas' position!

      "Similarly, angelic volition differs from human volition in that angelic choice does not emerge from a process of inquiry and consultation, as is the case with human deliberative judgment, but rather issues immediately upon a glance at some truth.19Aquinas asserts that the free choice ofangelic will instantaneously tends to its object.20It follows that angelic election must be irrevocably permanent, since the angel will never discern any more facets of the object than are included in the angel’s original, naturally exhaustive penetration into the object’s essence (with all the relevant ramifications of that selection). The angelic mind and will are so powerful that, once the angel has attached itself to a choice, it will forever be tenaciously confirmed in that inflexible decision, with no possibility for adherence to the contrary -in stark contrast to the vacillation often marring unstable human fixation on an object of predilection"

    15. note here that 'issues immediately upon a glance at some truth' does not mean a choice made without thinking, rashly or some uncontrolled impulse.

      Rather, due to the angels incorporeality, when using an intelligible species to think of something it knows all at once what follows *from that intelligible species* you could say all of the necessary conditions of reason for a choice to be made are present in an instant.

    16. What makes an angels choice irrevocable? Think of it like this. Before the choice is made an angel knows everything relevant to a choice except the rule which orders goods according to reason. There's literally no new knowledge after a choice that could change its mind (apart from the divine rule).

      Its the fact that an angel can only think of one intelligible species at a time which 'fetters' the angelic intellect - it cannot think if everything it knows at once. This means an angel is capable of choosing something good or evil based on how it *uses its knowledge*.

      This is irreversible because the difference between the angel before it made its first choice and after is that its will is now habitually evil with no competing habits (passions) to allow other apparent goods to be chosen.

      Its desires are now evil which tilts its perspective. Whereas before it could consider a good that was within order with the divine rule and accept or reject it - now its completely habituated to desiring the apparent good it chose before with nothing that could sway it.

    17. "Or who, like grodriguez, think that offering insults and name calling somehow wins the argument."

      So speaketh an heretic that insulted ("intemperately", lovely word used by Brandon) a Saint recognized by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Who has no understanding of Aquinas' position or any interest in doing any due dilligence in understanding what he says, by his own admission, but is engaging in transparent intellectual dishonesty.

      Yeah, I am shot through the heart by your rebuke.

      Begone troll.

    18. Eddie,

      I'm amused at your claim that I utterly ignored what you said, followed by your mentioning one point and then utterly ignoring two of the three points I made against your claims. Since you need to be spoonfed through the argument, despite its elementary character:

      Aquinas was stating that it is the passions of the body which are causitive to reflection and repentance. Neither souls nor angels have bodies, and yet the angels, without bodies, make a choice.

      No, this is precisely the point: As I explicitly said, angels are not souls, and therefore parallels must be established, not assumed as you are doing here. We have passions because we have souls; angels don't work that way in Aquinas's account, and therefore what is to be said of them must be different.

      As I explicitly noted (and you ignored), on Aquinas's account, Lucifer did not change his mind, as you claimed; he made a choice. As I explicitly noted, and you ignored, on Aquinas's account, Lucifer was not originally good because of his choice, as you claimed but because of his creation. Thus your original argument is based on false premises. Fortunately for your reputation, you manage to continue this streak:

      Furthermore, Aquinas states that the angels upon creation made a choice based on full and complete knowledge. This would make them like God, wouldn't it, and you know this is a blasphemy.

      This is again incorrect. The only 'full and complete knowledge' that is relevant here is that required for genuine responsibility in the choice; it is not Aquinas's view that angels are omniscient, as your argument here requires.

      One more thing, Brandon.

      I have no interest whatsoever in your looney-tunes views on saints; it's simply relevant, when considering how to proceed in the argument at hand, that you are both anti-Orthodox and anti-Catholic. But I suppose I should thank you for this comment in which you insist that you are not only prejudiced against the Eastern Orthodox and prejudiced against Latin Catholics, you are prejudiced against Eastern Catholics, as well; perhaps it's good to cover all your irrational biases, so everyone has a better understanding of how seriously to take your argument. Are there any Oriental Orthodox or Church of the East saints you want to insist on insulting before you get around to something relevant?

    19. I know it's uncharitable of me but I always feel a frisson of excitement when a newbie/troll decides to poke Brandon. It's like watching a YouTube video of children trying to throw stones at a hornet's nest.

    20. I know it's uncharitable of me but I always feel a frisson of excitement when a newbie/troll decides to poke Brandon. It's like watching a YouTube video of children trying to throw stones at a hornet's nest.

  9. There's a result in psychology that states that the human brain can't distinguish between "I wish that X were true" and "X is true." I know a ostensible Christian who insists that there's a fag marriage ceremony in the Bible. He wishes it were true, which means those verses self-evidently describe a fag marriage as simply and clearly as Ezra-Nehemiah describe the end of the Babylonian exile.

    You might be a great philosopher, but you don't know jack shit about human psychology, Dr. Feser!

    1. There's a result in psychology that states

      Translated: There are psychologists who claim, and pretend, that the human mind cannot distinguish between "I wish X were true" and "X is true". There is a mass of evidence that shows that under plenty of conditions, it IS possible for the mind to distinguish between the two. One of them being that you just wrote them out distinctly.

      but you don't know jack shit about human psychology,

      Neither do the psychologists who would assert the above idiocy. You have just established, to my satisfaction, that you are a troll, in your unwillingness to attempt to consider even the slightest hint of hesitancy as to whether this "finding" by some psychologists might not be the entire truth of the matter, and to intemperately attack Feser on it as if he must know even the most outre, implausible and far-fetched theories to "jack shit" about psychology.

    2. I don't think BalancedTryte is a troll. It's just that his posts are usually idiosyncratic and cryptic. A little weird.

    3. Yeah, having seen him on John C Wright's blog also, I don't think he's a bad faith actor, just a little misled.

  10. Universalism owes much more to Rousseau and his progeny than to the ancient faith. It’s just one of the latest attempts at building that ever illusive utopia on earth: The City of Man. The never dying belief in the perfectibility of man will always just take a little more mass murder to make it a reality.

  11. Paul in the book of Romans lays out a heavy comparison between Adam, Christ, and their impacts on mankind. Not a single one of us chose the nature of sin, yet by Adam we all got it. By one man did sin enter the world, and all have sinned.

    Paul then compares that with Christ and says that his work is far more powerful than that of Adam. So if we describe the work of Adam as so powerful that it became our inheritance whether or not we chose it, then how is the work of Christ more powerful in salvation, when perhaps the vast majority of people will be ruled by Adam's choice and not Christ's?

    I'm not a universalist, since the scriptures Feser lays out are impossible to ignore and I've yet to see a satisfactory reinterpretation, but I also fail to reconcile Christ's work to be so evidently more powerful when Adam's had a 100 percent application rate, against our will.

    1. Which is greater, life or death? The natural or the supernatural?

      Adam's sin destroys, but Christ's victory saves in spite of it. No one need go to Hell due to sin and it's effects when they can now be saved by Grace. Christ gives us the choice to be saved despite the sin of Adam, to rise from Adam's sinfulness just as he rose from death. Many will not use that grace, but that is they're own fault. Sin is now more evil in the New Testament because we have been redeemed compared to the Old Testament before people had that advantage.

    2. The universality of the effects of Adam's choice is so not because of Adam being powerful, but simply because we are his descendants. So I don't think it is quite correct to think of there being some kind of "contest" between Adam and Christ.

    3. Legion of Logic wrote,

      I also fail to reconcile Christ's work to be so evidently more powerful when Adam's had a 100 percent application rate, against our will.

      As I understand it, the work of Christ is more power than Adam in all respects:

      Firstly, Christ restores to us the choice that Adam's sin took away. Each person can choose for himself/herself whether to obey or disobey the calling of God, as Adam did in the Garden.

      Secondly, in term of "application rate", Adam's work affects all his descendants, and Christ's work affect all His spiritual descendants, so to speak.

      Thirdly, Adam's work can be reversed and overridden, as it has been overridden by Christ, whereas Christ's work cannot be reversed or overridden.

      Fourthly, Christ's work gives man "the power to become children of God", which is higher than what Adam had, and would have been Adam's if he hadn't sinned. In other words, no matter how low man has fallen in Adam, no matter how wretched he has become, Christ can still raise him up, and heal him completely.

  12. All the patristic universalists seemed to think that universalism didn't entail non-urgency. They seemed to think the opposite, just read them. Also, they seemed to think Scripture taught universalism.

  13. So, Universalism seemed a pretty common view back them, i believe St. Augustine did mention that it was in his time, do we have some text of some universalist church father where he deals with the texts that implies that some will go to Hell?

    Because Scripture really seems to say that Universalism is false, at least is what a casual reading says. Do we know how people back them read these passages?

    1. I've heard Hart say Origen and Nyssa do but i haven't read them

    2. From what i found, they did defend Universalism, but i can't find anything where they directly explain the passages Dr. Feser cited and others:

      A shame. Some, like Hart, defend that our view of Hell as eternal is the result of mistranslations or problems to understand how certain passages where understood on their context, so having texts from greek fathers about these passages would help a lot to see if they say or not that some will be lost.

      I notice a thing, though, it seems that only some greek fathers where Universalists even before St. Augustine, this does cast doubt on the idea that a smart greek speaker from back them would understand that these passages do no imply Infernalism. If that where the case, we would expect that most of the greek fathers would be universalists, and i don't think that was the case(i don't know much, though).

    3. Honestly, there was just no consensus on the nature if judgement in the early church (surprising as it may be). You will find annihilationists, internalists and universalists all in the second century. Helpfully, someone quoted Augustine below as describing it as a friendly controversy.

  14. If I was told my actions would lead to a deadly disease, or maiming, or burn, etc., I would seriously reconsider my actions. In other words, I don't need a threat to be infinite and everlasting for me to take it seriously.

    1. Great! I'll get right on Twitter and just ask everyone to be nice! Problem solved.

    2. Consider, however, how this works in the context of the attractiveness of sin. Sin can be very attractive indeed in the heat of the moment - witness the fact that many people who believe sincerely that mortal sins merit Hell still perform them. If you were strongly tempted to commit adultery with a woman you were desperately in love with, would the idea that you might go to prison for ten years dissuade you? At the least it would be a much less urgent prompt than the idea that you might get life imprisonment. A lot of people will take the immediate sinful pleasure and comfort themselves that the distant punishment is temporary anyway.

    3. I don't think "heat of the moment" sins are mortal. In such cases it's not the sin incited by passion that spiritually corrupts us, bit the evil conscience that is unwilling to repent afterwards.

    4. I disagree, Jack. From the Catechism:

      "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

      Full knowledge is almost certainly going to be present in the case of just about any well-informed Catholic (we should know that, say, masturbation is a grave sin), though I admit that in our deeply unChristian modern culture that is far less certain than it used to be. The key, then, hinges on "deliberate consent". Even the strongest passions cannot totally enslave the will - there is no passion strong enough that the will *cannot* overcome it, and I doubt that any heat-of-the-moment temptation is so strong that it completely absolves you of responsibility. It might mitigate culpability, but remove it? I doubt it.

  15. Why should we grant the metaphysical fondations of the thomistic views on afterlife: after all, IMHO, recent magisterial teaching seems to oppose it in some way.
    Laudato Si seems to endorse animal salvation, against what thomists teach on that matter.

    1. Such teaching is the result of modernism. This is quite evident by exact opposite of the entire Tradition of the Faith despite being cloaked Catholic language and taught by Catholic authorities. These errors should be discarded on that basis.

    2. I don't think that this argument is very plausible.
      If this interpretation of Laudato Si is correct (I didn't read it but at least some theologians think Laudato Si endorses animals salvation), it means animals salvation has been taught at a very high level of magisterial authority.
      Someone could then charge you for cherry picking magisterial statements, which raises the possibility for universalists of all trends to pick any part of Tradition that fits their view.

    3. It's been a while since I read it, but my recollection is that LS does NOT assert animal "salvation" (a misnomer, since animals cannot sin) as being certain and definitive, but suggests it. And LS is, in its nature, an exhortation, which means that by its type it is not meant to lay down definitive teaching anyway. So it would be a mistake to over-read the comment about animals as constituting a very firm mandate that we are required to submit to firmly: it stands as a lesser affirmation. (Religious assent, by the way, is capable of degree. This is an example of a lesser degree: one mention, in an exhortation, does not comprise a Tradition, not by a long shot.)

    4. Thanks for your interesting answer.
      However what do you mean when you say that LS is an exhortation? It's an encyclical, so do you mean that most of its content is exhortative?

  16. Much has been made of Gregory of Nyssa, but there are plenty of examples of his affirmation of an eternal Hell. For example:

    “Certainly, in comparison with one who has lived all his life in sin, not only the innocent babe but even one who has never come into the world at all will be blessed. We learn as much too in the case of Judas, from the sentence pronounced upon him in the Gospels; namely, that when we think of such men, that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin. For, as to the latter, on account of the depth of the ingrained evil, the chastisement in the way of purgation will be extended into infinity; but as for what has never existed, how can any torment touch it?” (1)

    Here is an Orthodox priest’s argument (2) referencing the Synodikon of Orthodoxy read at Orthodox liturgies on the first Sunday of Lent which explicitly affirms the eternity of Hell.

    And an Orthodox theologian’s argument on Gregory Nyssa and the eternity of Hell (3).




    1. @T N:

      "Much has been made of Gregory of Nyssa, but there are plenty of examples of his affirmation of an eternal Hell."

      Was about to make a comment on exactly this, but you beat me to it.

      Exactly. Interpreting St. Gregory of Nyssa as a Universalist is at the very least a controversial claim. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't, maybe the Saint was inconsistent, maybe his views changed over the course of his life; I myself am not competent to judge the matter, but I am certainly not buying this bill of goods.

    2. Grodrigues,

      In the third link I provided, the author argues that Gregory of Nyssa’s language is confusing because he seeks to express the mystery that the rejection of God entails: eternal destruction, or as Gregory says it, nonbeing. So the author’s argument is that Gregory is expressing that the damned experience “nonbeing”, which a reader could interpret as going out of existence. But this is a confusion of the language because we know from other writings that he affirms eternal Hell, so he is, therefore, pointing to the mystery that evil is parasitic on “the good” and Hell is eternal rejection and destruction. It is difficult to understand how something can be eternally destroyed, but that is why that imagery is used: to convey the utter incomprehensibility of the evil.

      IMO, understanding early Christian writings is difficult because they lack the refined language we take for granted centuries later.

    3. I have wondered whether the way to understand the Gospel description of hell is the condition like that of constantly being in the moment of dying, an unending feeling like your soul and body are ripping apart, but never finishing that ripping apart. This would explain (to some degree) the use of "destruction" - not as something completed, but something happening, eternally.

  17. Dear Professor Feser,

    I come as an outsider to the present quarrel between you and Dr. Hart. I have not read his book, and do not know the arguments within it. I have not read the Fathers sufficiently to be able to determine whether, as Hart asserts, the doctrine of the apokatastasis was taught by the Fathers of the first five Christian centuries, nor have I read enough of later Fathers to determine whether that doctrine is harmonious with the choir of their teachings, or with the choir of the apostles. These are all lacks which I hope to remedy in the next three years, but at least I think I know what I do not know.

    I thank you, however, for pointing out that, as Blessed C.S. Lewis has said, "Most of the statements of Scripture that refer to the existence of Hell are Dominical." In short, they are the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. While I have not read his argument in toto, the statements that Dr. Hart makes in the course of his several apologiae of his book sound suspiciously like the arguments of the serpent in Genesis: 'Surely the Lord has not said this...' While this gives me little confidence in his arguments, I am willing to reserve judgment until I have thoroughly examined them.

    Nonetheless, outside of the Schwartzchild radius of my ignorance, I will note that most of the arguments I have read, either on Fr. Kimel's excellent website, or elsewhere, orbit around the concept of Hell as a penal institution, that it is for the punishment of sinners, that that punishment is eternal, and that it would be both unjust and unmerciful for God to permit such a 'cruel and unusual punishment'. Sometimes I even think that the arguers have again put God in the dock, on trial for violations of the Eighth Amendment.

    That said, I would like to thank you for pointing out that there may be other bases for Hell than as a penal institution. Your analogy of warning a driver against driving off a cliff is an apt one: there are laws of gravity, and those who ignore them are likely to suffer a great and fatal fall. By your analogy, those who ignore similar spiritual laws are apt to suffer from the Fall, and fall themselves into Hell. They may not be in a position to extricate themselves from the spiritual death which ensues.

    I would like to offer another analogy: a developmental one. We know that if a human being does not physically grow before puberty, it is unlikely that he or she will grow any further afterwards. We know that if a human does not learn to read, or to speak a language, before puberty, that he or she is unlikely to read well, or speak that language well. And we know that if a human does not learn to speak before that crucial age, he or she is unlikely ever to be able to speak.

    I sometimes wonder as to whether our mortal life on Earth is a spiritual infancy, and whether we are called upon after the death of our bodies to go on to some greater development. My Church teaches the concept of theosis: that we are called to be united with God, and to be fashioned again after His Image and Likeness. My Church also teaches synergia, or the cooperation between us and God, which leads us to that theosis.

    What if we have only during our mortal lives to work through synergia to be ready for this theosis. What if also, whether we want it or not, we are given eternal life after our mortal lives? What if, like poor Marley in 'A Christmas Carol', we lose all capacity for synergia after our deaths, if we have not practiced it in our lives? What if the state after death for those who have not made friends with God is to live forever like the Sybil of Cumae (a myth spoken illiterately by Trimalchio in Petronius Arbitor's 'Satyricon', and briefly quoted by T.S Eliot in the preface to his 'Waste Land') where we are given eternal life, but have unwisely refused to ask for eternal youth? Or what if that life is like life under Tolkein's One Ring, where we are forever in darkness, swimming about with foul things?

    Just a thought.

  18. Sorry, by the bye, for misspelling J.R.R. Tolkien's name above. My bad.

  19. (I'm the same anon of 2.05AM)
    By the way, I think the post is a bit crude in presenting the universalist view.
    Sure, by denying the eternity of hell, repentance is made less urgent.
    But universalist, as I read their argument on Fr. Kimel blog, do not deny the existence of hell.
    Hell is still an extremly dire reality, in part because sin itself is terrible indeed. So it is still very much important to repent as early as you can given the Universalist view.

  20. Hi Ed,

    Two quick questions.

    (1) As you're doubtless aware, Bart Ehrman's Heaven and Hell was recently published, to great acclaim. Ehrman's book has been reviewed here:

    Ehrman makes a pretty strong case that most of the New Testament authors (except for Luke and possibly the author of Revelation) were annihilationists, and that belief in an eternal hell only became popular in the second century. Would you care to respond?

    (2) In your review of Hart's latest book in The Catholic Herald (7/10/2020), you wrote: "A line of argument developed by Aquinas holds that it is impossible for the will to change its basic orientation after the death of the body. The reason is that the intellect’s attention can be pulled away from what it judges to be good and worth pursuing only by the senses and imagination, and these go when the body goes." But Aquinas acknowledges that Augustine (Gen. ad lit. xii, 32) holds that imagination remains in the separated soul (S.T. I.77.8 obj. 6), although Aquinas himself disagrees. Moreover, Aquinas himself grants that the separated soul retains a memory of forms (S.T. I, 79.6) and that by virtue of Divine infusion, it is even capable of knowing individuals (S.T. I, 89.4). Aquinas even thinks that the souls of the blessed know what happens on earth (S.T. I, 89.8). So my question is: how airtight is Aquinas' argument for the final impenitence of the damned?

    1. Vincent Torley wrote,

      Ehrman makes a pretty strong case that most of the New Testament authors (except for Luke and possibly the author of Revelation) were annihilationists,

      If the New Testament authors believed in the existence of Sheol, a place where the dead go, regardless of whether Shoel is conceptually equivalent to Hell, death is not annihilation, and the NT authors were not annihilationists. I would think this is simple logic.

      If someone can interpret the plain words in the New Testament, "eternal punishment", to mean annihilation or universal salvation, he can make the NT authors believe anything. No amount of arguments or evidence to the contrary will suffice to change his mind.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I would never put reliance on Bart Ehrman as a source about "what the NT writers thought". He is one of the most notorious of modern NT writers whose theories lack grounding in any decent or justified approach to the NT. He might make a valid point on occasion, but it's going to be an isolated point in service to a nonsense theory.

    4. Tony,

      Bart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who has written and edited 30 books, including three college textbooks. His baccalaureate and doctorate were conferred magna cum laude, and he is currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More to the point, he never loses his public debates - not even against Tim McGrew, who's a pretty good debater himself. Here's Bart Ehrman in a lively discussion (not a debate) with three Catholic speakers on the Christendom College podcast, Reason and Theology.

      I'm not saying he's right; I'm just saying that he makes a strong case.

    5. Vicent Torley wrote,

      "More to the point, he never loses his public debates"

      Just out of curiosity, how do you judge who wins a debate?

      In some debates, they decide the winner by counting the number of people in the audience persuaded by the speaker to change his/her mind. I'm not sure if this was done for the debates Ehrman participated in.

      Come to think of it, it would be interesting to see how many people changed their minds after reading the exchange between Feser and Hart.

    6. Vincent, I am aware of his public standing. As to the public, he has the credentials and bona fides of an expert in the field. But the whole field is rife with "experts" who spout drivel and nonsense. Lydia McGrew, Tim's wife, spent 2 years showing how empty many of the modern NT theories are, over at She didn't directly deal much with Erhman's theories, but they have a very similar cast to the ones she debunked so well.

      I'm not saying he's right; I'm just saying that he makes a strong case.

      I admit that on occasion has a good point, strongly made. Overall, I would not say that. To my recollection, he indulges in far too many individual points that are clearly silly, "arguments" that he should know are empty and not worth advancing, to respect his overall body of work.

      More to the point, he never loses his public debates - not even against Tim McGrew,

      Well, that's going to be a matter of opinion, and in my poor estimation (I think I have seen 2 Erhman debates) he doesn't exactly WIN all debates, but he does achieve apparent ties.

    7. I don't know, Tony. You may be too generous there. I think Tim won that one.

  21. I think the universalist / "dare we hope" position rests on more than that God wills all be saved insofar as it is implicitly believed that God is all good and all powerful. I don't think your car analogy takes this into account; it would if it were stipulated that the car's manufacturer (or sustainer of its operation) would take control of the steering (or by some other means) prevent the car from going over the cliff. But, this, as you say, would eliminate any urgency to drive well. It is also open to debate whether God's goodness and power would "take control" of free agents to prevent their eternal damnation. Or perhaps, the world has no cliffs, but only indefinitely long roads whereby all drivers are eventually allowed to find their way onto the right path. Again, as you say, there are good reasons to believe in cliffs given the nature of beatitude and human free will.

  22. I don't know if it's just me, but as far as I can tell, it is universalism which turns God into a moral monster.

    We will all end up in heaven some day, some quickly, some after a long wait, some with little suffering, some with more. So why do we have to have this mortal life? Why doesn't God just chuck every human being into Heaven when we are born? Why all the suffering and all the wait?

    The only decent explanation I can find for why we need mortal lives at all is that, for God, our choices matter. If they ultimately don't, for us to have a mortal life is just pointless suffering.

    1. Being a creature entails becoming. Finite suffering is not as bad as eternal suffering. God Himself suffered on the cross.

    2. Tanner, you seem to be shooting from the hip with these answers. I'm not sure the objections people are making are sinking in with you.

    3. Being a creature entails becoming. Finite suffering is not as bad as eternal suffering. God Himself suffered on the cross.

      Nice, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote. We will still be human beings in Heaven. So why have a mortal life if no matter what we do, we'll still get there?

      And why did God choose to suffer on the Cross? If universalism is true, that was wholly unnecessary and, again, turns God into a moral monster.

    4. Hmmm. I'm not sure that this is a sound argument because even were we all saved, our choices in life would not be erased to make us all interchangeable saint-widgets.

  23. Is the argument that universalism seems unlikely to be true, or that it is actually best if it is untrue? In a way, I sort of hope that universalism is true, and that Ed is wrong here (not in general, but just on this particular doctrine).

    If we got to heaven and it turned out that DBH was right (again not in general, just on this topic) would we be happy? I think I would be.

    1. I think so too. BTW the new heavens and the new earth is just this universe transfigured in glory.

    2. Wouldn't you be happy either way?

    3. PI0, no only total victory makes joy complete. Everything short of that is failure and is cause for sorrow.

    4. Not sure I understand. Are you suggesting this is relevant in Paradise?

  24. why should any Catholic go to hell? All you need to obtain forgiveness is IMPERFECT contrition,i.e., be sorry for your sin because you fear going to hell. Then go to confession. Resolve to sin no more, say your penance, and go on with your life. Easy.

    1. It is easy, or rather, it would be, if not for the fact that sin is attractive and encourages us to rebel against God and not seek forgiveness. Believe me, I know it, and doubtless there are dozen here who've been fighting that battle longer than me.

  25. OP
    "point is that it is a mistake to interpret the threat of hell as a mere scare tactic "
    Hell is god's scare tactic. You speak of hell as though it has the inevitability of death in the case of driving off a cliff. Your analogy is false because god can make the "cliff" of hell not the case.

    God chooses to employ the scare tactic of hell, thus corrupting true moral goodness of the individual and substituting mere fear of punishment.

    "...(Matthew 11:24)..."
    This is the disappointing part about Thomism, the use of scripture. It inevitably leads to a host of irrational assertions.

    Aquinas described the essence of his methodology in his (failed) attempts to prove the existence of god, the rational analysis of that which is manifest and evident to our senses. At no point does Aquinas refer to scripture as the basis for his attempted proofs. That aspect of his core methodology was highly respectable.

    Living by scriptural analysis is nothing more than basing ones life based on mythology.

    "There is a kind of Orwellian perversity to the universalist’s way of dealing with texts like these."
    Agreed, reading DBH is like listening to homosexuals who call themselves Christians try to justify the unrepentant acts in their lifestyle against clear scripture to the contrary.

    The reason seems simple to me. The bible is cover to cover mythology, with the god that is portrayed in it being a most evil, sadistic, vicious, unjust, and cruel being. Human sensibilities of altruism and fellowship recoil at the wanton cruelty of this mythological being, so people of good will with altruistic sensibilities struggle mightily to negate the relentless debauchery of the god of the bible.

    Of course, if one considers the bible to be the true inspired word of god such efforts to make god into a good being by basic standards of decency are doomed, because the viciousness of god is clearly written and cannot be made right.

    1. Please don't feed the StardustyPsyche troll.

    2. Thanks for stopping by, in the spirit of the subject of this thread, whoever the aych eee double toothpicks you are.

      Perhaps you can explain how Dr. Feser's analogy is not false, since it is not the case that "In reality, of course, going off of the cliff (of going to hell) is the inevitable result of the bad behavior".

      Nothing is inevitable for god, correct? God could have chosen otherwise, don't you think? Since hell is not inevitable for god Dr. Feser's analogy fails, correct?

      "Everyone knows that this is true in everyday life – that the prospect of prison, or financial ruin, or death, or loss of reputation or friends or family, can lead a criminal, a drug addict, an adulterer, or a greedy person, to reconsider the path he is on. There is no reason at all why fear of hell might not do the same."
      Or, I don't know, say, excruciating torture for all eternity without any hope of respite, ever. Sure, there is your "loving" god.

      What do we say about a god that creates the universe according to his own liking, and declares that it is good, knowing since before its creation that "those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)", and thus most of his creation will suffer in eternal agony.

      Yet, god, having free will, having perfect knowledge, having infinite power could have created a universe where "All Shall Be Saved".

      DBH seems to be a man with such a good heart, who so firmly believes that god truly is all loving, that he has devised an apologetic that supports the only possible universe of a truly all loving god, that "All Shall Be Saved".

      Dr. Feser, however, insists that Hart is merely engaging in unjustified wishful thinking. Scripture clearly states that Jesus came to tear families apart if they did not all come to him, that most would not find salvation, and therefore most will be damned.

      And yes, of course, on a god with free will, omniscience, and omnipotence that makes such a god the most evil, sadistic, cruel, and vicious being who has ever lived, by far, making the death camps of Hitler and the cultural revolution of Mao and the gulags of Stalin and the slave ships to America all tiny specs of debauchery compared the vast masses of eternal suffering under the father, the son, and the holy spirit in his hell.

      There is your "loving" god, torturing most of humanity for all eternity by design and intent, most viciously and cruelly since he could have created otherwise and instead chose to torture most of us forever, and well pleased with his own work of eternal suffering damnation.

      Poor David Bentley Hart, stuck with a belief in a mythological being as described in a book of debauchery, desperately flailing about with tortured apologetics in a vain attempt to repaint a most evil being as somehow loving after all.

    3. You are very perceptive StardustyPsyche, and as someone who has only very recently discovered this site, I find you to be one of its more worthwhile contributers.Most repugnant is the 'Anonymous', who - police like - keeps asking folk to ignore you. Folks, ignore this self appointed would be censor instead

    4. Folks, do not ignore Anonymous. Stardusty was banned by the owner of the blog himself, but since he has no shame, no knowledge or anything relevant to say, his verbal diarrhea will just derail the thread clog the combox with pointless and fruitless discussions.

      Thanks for the attention.

    5. You are quite welcome, grod.

      Although, I did notice that your post lacked any on-topic content.

      For example, since nothing is inevitable for god, therefore hell is not inevitable for god, thus Dr. Feser's analogy of the cliff fails, correct?

      How do you reconcile god's omniscience, omnipotence, his self satisfaction with his work of creation, his creation of hell knowing most would suffer eternal agony in it, with god's asserted perfect goodness?

      How perfectly good could a god of infinite knowledge and power be who, with malice of forethought, makes of his own choosing an eternity of agony for billions of souls, when he could just as easily have created otherwise?

      David Bentley Hart acknowledges that my objection is an extremely serious problem, and he solves that problem by offering his own apologetics such that "All Shall Be Saved".

      Yet, Dr. Feser strongly rejects those DBH apologetics, but then the problem of god being the most evil being in the universe, on his omniscience, omnipotence, and creation of hell, remains, does it not?

    6. Stardusty

      I welcome your contributions. But as someone who, for many years posted on a variety of message boards on a variety of topics, I look back on it now as a sheer waste of time. It was intellectual arm wrestling. It felt good at the time to "take down" someone, but what did it all matter? What did it all mean? Nothing.

      But go at Feser's acolytes. They deserve it. You get under their skin, and that's good

    7. 23:59: "Oh, there is only matter and nothing else, morality is but a ilusion".

      00:00: "Man, this religion sure is bad".

      Classical materialist.

    8. But Stardust do have a point here, on a Augustinian/Thomist view of predestination, God CAN give enough Grace to everyone but do not. This is not unfair, because no one has a right to it, but is bizarre if God wants everyone to go to Heaven.

      In fact, this is why i think think Molina was right after all, but i admit that i did not studied the subject.

    9. Talmid,
      That is the point, if god CAN save all and if god is perfectly good then he must save all.

      As DBH said:
      “If Christianity is any way true, Christians dare not doubt the salvation of all…any understanding of what God accomplished in Christ that does not include the assurance of a final apokatastasis in which all things created are redeemed and joined to God is ultimately entirely incoherent and unworthy of rational faith.”

      It is incoherent to assert god is perfectly good, omniscient, omnipotent, and created eternal damnation.

    10. Oh, i agree with you then.

    11. To the Unknown who values Stardusty's contributions:

      Trust me, as someone who's been around here for years, Stardusty's ramblings always end up merely being combox filler, and rarely produce any actual enlightenment.

    12. He might have gotten a little better in recent years, but his method of trolling his never been the angry kind, but merely the airy reams of sophism type.

    13. So, Cantus, apparently you have been a student of my postings for years ("He might have gotten a little better in recent years").

      Yet, you offer no on-topic comments on this subject.

      Perhaps you could enlighten us all. Who is correct here?:
      1.Dr. Feser, by citing passages in scripture that clearly show that most human beings will suffer eternal damnation, the denial of which requires "Orwellian" manipulations of the texts.
      2.David Bentley Hart who points out that on the assertion of a perfectly good god, and omniscience, omnipotence then to assert eternal damnation is "incoherent".

  26. Met. Kallistos Ware (in his "DARE WE HOPE for the SALVATION of ALL?") quotes St Sophrony of Essex quoting St Silouan of Mount Athos:

    It was particularly characteristic of Staretz Silouan to pray for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God... He could not bear to think that anyone would languish in “outer darkness.” I remember a conversation between him and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, “God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.”

    Obviously upset, the Staretz said, “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire—would you feel happy?”

    “It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,” said the hermit.
    The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance. “Love could not bear that,” he said. “We must pray for all.”


    The words of St Silouan move my heart. I see nothing in Scripture which contradicts them. Did the words "do not pray for him, for he is beyond hope" ever pass through Christ's lips? That is found nowhere in the Gospels.

    Some Catholics might not care for the words of St Silouan the Athonite, since he is only recognised as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But, Hart, as Eastern Orthodox, would I think take more heed of them.

    1. Anonymous wrote (quoting St. Silouan):

      “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire—would you feel happy?”
      “Love could not bear that,” he said. “We must pray for all.”

      Charity commands that we should pray for all. But the assumption that prayers would alleviate the suffering of people (in Hell) is questionable, if not demonstrably false.

      An Eastern Orthodox Christian once told me they believe that in the end God will be all in all, and His Presence will be Heaven to the faithful, and Hell to the unrepentant.

      IF that is true, then prayers of the saints will not relieve, but actually intensify, the "suffering" of people in Hell.

    2. I would also question the assumption that people in Heaven would (or should) feel sympathy for those in Hell.

      Firstly, sympathy comes from shared nature, feeling and experience. By rejecting God, those who end up in Hell will have forfeited everything, including all the good that we take for granted in this life, affection, joy, hope, love. They will have nothing in common with the blessed in Heaven, just as there is no sympathy between a decomposed corpse and a living being.

      Secondly, as it is written, "When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation." (Proverbs 11:10 NRSV) If justice on earth is in any way analogous to justice in Heaven, then why shouldn't the blessed in Heaven rejoice at the punishment of the wicked, which is good and just in itself?

    3. Some Catholics might not care for the words of St Silouan the Athonite, since he is only recognised as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

      A number of saints in the Western Church, Roman Catholics, expressed not dissimilar sentiments. I think St. Teresa of Avila expressed a willingness, nay even a desire (in a sense) to suffer the pains of hell so that some other sinner would not have to. However, I added "in a sense" because she qualified what she meant by words to the effect of "I would have done so if it were possible, but it would be impossible to charitably desire separation from God so that another soul could return to God". That is to say, since she recognized the impossibility, she didn't actually desire to be in Hell so another would not have to be there.

      Which raises a point I would make to one of the universalist arguments, specifically the one that DBH makes about what God is really like and thus what true love of God is really like. Many of the Western Church saints (including, I suspect, some who were elevated to the rank before the definitive split between East and West, and thus were revered by both parts of the Church) were completely convinced that God would send great sinners to an eternal Hell, and still they found no problem loving God with a pure love that allowed the Church to declare them saints, some very quickly. (St. Thomas a Becket was declared only 3 years after his death, I think.) But this means that their love of God (according to the Church) was not damaged by believing fully in the eternal damnation of the wicked. Some, like St. Vincent Ferrer, seem to have made a POINT of believing in such a Hell, as part of why and how they loved God. And their conformity to that apprehension of God did not preclude their becoming so pure in love that they were saints. I fear that, at least as put forward in these commboxes, some universalists would then be forced to declare such "saints" were not really saintly at all, due to their warped, degenerate, even wicked understanding of God's love.

    4. Anonymous fan of St SilouanJuly 27, 2020 at 6:31 PM

      @Nemo: "An Eastern Orthodox Christian once told me they believe that in the end God will be all in all, and His Presence will be Heaven to the faithful, and Hell to the unrepentant."

      There is a question: "Who in hell is there permanently?" There are at least four possible answers (1) Everyone (2) No one (3) Some but not others (4) We don't know. Many Catholics insist that (1) has been definitely taught by the Catholic Church (although a few disagree). But, I think the debate in the Eastern Orthodox Church is much less settled. DBH's position, (2), is very much a minority, but not a clearly condemned one. The other three are all more common in my opinion. (The third position is expressed by Mark of Ephesus; it makes sense if you deny a distinction between hell and purgatory.)

      So-called "infernalism" comes in different varieties. A "hard infernalist" says that everyone in hell is staying there forever, 100% iron-cast guarantee. A "soft infernalist" might say that there is a chance some might be saved eventually, but we should not assume that must apply to all (or even most), or to any particular soul in hell. A "soft infernalist" could easily agree with some combination of answers (3) and (4). A "hard infernalist" would say that prayer for the salvation of those in hell is absolutely futile, one might as well pray that God would make "1+1=3". A "soft infernalist" would say that such prayer is not futile, because there is a chance that for some souls in hell it might one day be answered, even if only for a few. Such a "soft infernalism" seems more compatible with the words of St Silouan than "hard infernalism" does.

    5. Fan of St. Silouan wrote,

      There is a question: "Who in hell is there permanently?"

      Perhaps a better question is what would cause people to end up in Hell (permanently), and the answer to this question also answers the question whether prayer for them would be effective.

      From an Augustinian perspective, a person ends up in Hell because he willfully rejects God. For such a person, knowledge of the Good would drive him away from the Good, like creatures of the night fleeing the light of the Sun. Prayers of the saints to such a person would be like fire to straw, and the result is petrification instead of purification.

    6. Nemo,
      "a person ends up in Hell because he willfully rejects God"
      No, a person ends up in hell because god created hell and pre-ordained every damned individual to go there.

      God knew that person X would go to hell before god created hell and the universe, and therefore person X.

      Since god knew person X would go to hell from before the beginning of the universe, therefore person X had no other choice but to fulfill god's knowledge, else god would not be omniscient.

      On an omniscient god no damned person has any choice other than to fulfill god's knowledge of damnation.

      Hell is god's fault since god created that trap for most of humanity when he could have created a universe with no hell at all.

      God chooses to send most people to hell. The individual is blameless for damnation. Eternal suffering is all god's fault.

      David Bentley Hart understands that on an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good god universal salvation is the only *coherent* position.

      Nobody here, most especially not Dr. Feser, has made any sound argument to support the coherence of asserting an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good god that damns most souls to eternal suffering.

      Even as a child I understood that it simply made no sense that a person, any person, even the worst person, deserves to go to hell.

      Nobody chooses to go to hell, that being a most preposterous assertion. How ridiculous that anybody in any sense choose to go to hell, or that any person is to blame for going to hell. DBH understands that because his powers of reasoning have not been entirely corrupted by his religion.

    7. SP,

      You wrote, "Since god knew person X would go to hell from before the beginning of the universe, therefore person X had no other choice but to fulfill god's knowledge, "

      No, knowing someone's action beforehand is not the same as forcing them to take it. We can know this from experience. For example, I know the sun will rise tomorrow, but it is certainly not I who makes it rise; Two friends know each other so well that each can tell what the other will say or do in certain situations, but this does not mean that they make the other do it. In other words, foreknowledge is not preordination.

      You wrote, "Hell is god's fault since god created that trap for most of humanity when he could have created a universe with no hell at all."

      This is where Dr. Feser analogy might come into play. Perhaps God could create a world without cliffs, but by the same token, humans would probably not survive in such a world, because the "laws of nature" would be different. Perhaps God could create a world without moral law, but then we wouldn't be having this conversation, for nobody would have any notion of right and wrong, good or evil.

    8. Nemo,
      "No, knowing someone's action beforehand is not the same as forcing them to take it."
      You are conflating human knowledge with god's knowledge prior to creation.

      I assume you will agree, you are not god, correct?

      "I know the sun will rise tomorrow"
      No, you do not know that because, and again I assume you will agree, you are not god. You are not omniscient. You do not have certain knowledge of the future.

      Perhaps a large object will strike the Earth and there will be, for all of what used to be Earth, literally, no tomorrow.

      "Two friends know each other so well that each can tell what the other will say or do in certain situations,"
      No they don't, they only infer by inductive reasoning what they think will be likely to occur in certain situations.

      Nemo, it would really do you some good to tighten up your reasoning, a lot, I think.

      "foreknowledge is not preordination."
      Yes, it is.

      You have not thought this through very much at all, have you?

      On perfect foreknowledge there is only one possible future, the future the omniscient one has foreknowledge of.

      On perfect foreknowledge, god's omniscience, the probability of those events occurring is 1, and the probability of other events occurring is 0.

      OBTW, the one with perfect foreknowledge is not required to be the actor, only the knower. The causal mechanism might be independent of the perfect knower, in general.

      On a perfect knower those future events deterministically must happen, even if the knower does not make them happen, in general.

      But that is not your Christian god. God is said to be antecedent to all of creation, and to be the cause of all creation, and to have had perfect knowledge of all he would create before he created any of it, and could have created anything in any manner of his free choice.

      Obviously, god created hell, god created sin, god created evil, and god is responsible for all the evil he created, which is to say all the evil in the universe, and god is responsible for the eternal suffering of billions of souls, and he could have created otherwise, so he created eternal suffering for billions with malice of forethought while he could have created otherwise.

      Obviously, your god is the most evil being in the universe. No other being is more than a spec of evil compared to the overwhelming evil of the Christian god and his grotesque debauchery that is his freely created eternal hell of suffering for billions.

      You should get on your knees and thank David Bentley Hart for showing you an honorable path away from your present worship of the most evil being in the universe, your hell god.

    9. SP,

      I'll address the one point in your long-winded response I think is relevant, and ignore the rest. Spare me the tirade, if you wish to continue this conversation.

      Having foreknowledge is knowing what will happen, which is different from what must happen.

      To give an example, I'm reminded of a movie involving time travel: A person travels to the future and knows exactly where the ball will fall on a roulette. The probability of the ball falling in that spot is less than 1, but the person can know for certain that the ball will fall exactly there.

      Similarly, God has given us the free choice of will to choose from a wide variety of options, while He also knows all the choices we will ever make in life.

      None of us knows what it is like to have "perfect knowledge". I'm only explaining what is reasonable and coherent to me, nothing more nothing less. I expect readers to judge for themselves and correct me if I"m wrong.

  27. I'm a little skeptical of using Christian tradition and biblical exegesis to argue for either side of the debate. I think Hart makes a good point that Scripture is not very clear about this matter as some people might think; Balthasar also makes a similar point. There's no clear-cut passage that definitely teaches hell. There simply isn't. If there was, we wouldn't have had so many universalist saints and Fathers from very early centuries of Christian tradition. (I think, correct me if I'm wrong, even Augustine used to be a universalist at one point, before changing his mind?). But there are passages that are suggestive of eternal damnation. But also some passages that are suggestive of universal salvation.

    I think, as a whole, Christian tradition favors the infernalist picture - but not by too much, especially if we consider that a lot of anti-universalist thinking might have been motivated by misinterpreted condemnations of Origen.

    So I don't think either side could conclusively refute the other simply by using Scripture or Tradition. I think both infernalism and universalism are respectable and have had able and serious defenders in Christian history. I think philosophical arguments might be more important here - and with that in mind, I take the correct view to be a sort of via media; quasi-universalism.

    1. @Atno:

      "So I don't think either side could conclusively refute the other simply by using Scripture or Tradition."

      I will not speak for the Eastern Orthodox (and it would be impossible to speak for Protestants even if I wanted to), but the Catholic Magisterium spoke authoritatively about the matter.

      Here is Bauckam's appraisal of Apokatastasis:

      "The history of the doctrine of universal salvation (or apokatastasis) is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated (in its commonest form. this is the doctrine of 'conditional immortality').[1] Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included same major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches.[2] It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment.[3] Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians.[4] Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument."

      This is hardly "I think, as a whole, Christian tradition favors the infernalist picture - but not by too much". I am not an historian and cannot conclusively judge the matter, but this historical revisionism is starting to get on my nerves.

      (typos corrected I hope)

    2. I am not totally sure the Magisterium has ruled out universalism authoritatively, if we look back at the condemnation of Origen and how messed up it actually was. Not every form of universalism, I mean.

      And yeah, sure, but I think Bauckham's analysis is a little biased there. There were actually a lot of universalists in the Early Church, as we may gather from what the Fathers wrote. It wasn't just "a few", especially in the East. Some of the greatest saints and theologians had been universalists so it is hardly surprising that lots of Christians followed them as well.
      But, most importantly, I don't see how any of that refutes what I've said. I do think Christian tradition as a whole tends to favor the infernalist picture, but not by a lot. Even if most Christians have been infernalists (which I never denied).

      Measuring support from Tradition for a specific doctrine is not just a matter of counting how many people believed in such and such. It is not a numbers game. The vast majority of Christians (especially in the West) from the 5th century up until the 18th century have tended to believe in an eternal hell. That is very true. But how reflective was this belief? How crucial? A great number (perhaps even most) theologians have tended to absorb the infernalist picture by osmosis. They also believed that the Earth was very young and that God literally created the world in 7 days. You could rewrite Bauckham's entire text replacing "hell" with "Young Earth Creationism". It was only a few theologians who rejected the literalist picture. Does that mean Tradition clearly dictates that something as ridiculous as YEC is to be accepted? Of course not. For the most part, belief in YEC and literalist reasings were unreflective and automatic. It was what most people believed, so it went by without much questioning or worry. This is hardly decisive evidence in favor of infernalism, anymore than it could be in favor of Young Earth Creationism; limbo; a global flood; the death penalty for heretics; and a number of other things that have been widely rejected in recent years.

      So it's not a matter of historical revisionism, but of critical assessment of the kind of assent that was given to these doctrines over the centuries.

      And, I maintain, Tradition does favor infernalism, but not by too much, I think. Certainly not enough so as to make origenists, or followers of Saint Gregory, or Maximus, Saint Isaac, and so on, feel as if they're surely heretics or have no place in any discussion. Universalism is a respectable Christian position.

    3. @Atno:

      I disagree with just about every point you make, but it is not that terribly important to pursue the discussion, so I will leave it at that.

    4. Well, I am curious howevet. What do you disagree about what I said pertaining to people's acceptance of infernalism? Because I do think that Bauckham's statement could be read with YEC taking the place of belief in hell. Or the execution of heretics. Or a global flood. Among other things which we now tend to reject.

      How much of the acceptance of a certain doctrine X was unreflective and just the product of the cultural conditions, inertia, ad populum or conservatism? Instead of being properly reflected upon and compared with different views; argued for; critically assessed; etc. I maintain that when we take that into consideration, infernalism gets considerably less support from Tradition than if we just decided to count it as among a proposition which "most Christians, including theologians" blankly believed in.

    5. I have actually emailed Bauckham about that essay because he has apparently praised illaria Ramelli's work defending universalism.

      Bauckham is still not a universalist, but he replied that that essay was written a few decades ago (ill try and check) but with a bit of renaissance of scholarship recently he didnt feel competent to maintain the comments you cited

    6. @Atno:

      Apologies for responding only now.

      "What do you disagree about what I said pertaining to people's acceptance of infernalism?"

      To make it short and hopefully sweet:

      1. "I'm a little skeptical of using Christian tradition and biblical exegesis to argue for either side of the debate." How exactly do you think the question is to be settled? Maybe you have that much faith in the powers of philosophical argumentation, I don't, even if, and to dovetail back to the matter at hand, I tend to think that Apokatastasis is either impossible or necessary.

      2. I do think that Universalists can bypass some of the more common objections, including what has been termed somewhere in the thread, "the free will sniff test". The issue to me, philosophically speaking as it were, hinges on the fact that Universalism deflates the urgency and decisiveness of this mortal life in this vale of tears, basically the content of the OP, and on the fact that any serious Universalist must defend the redemption not just of the human kind but of the fallen angels as well.

      3. "I am not totally sure the Magisterium has ruled out universalism authoritatively" I think it is pretty much a settled point that the Magisterium has spoken definitively on the matter: Hell is eternal.

      4. "Because I do think that Bauckham's statement could be read with YEC taking the place of belief in hell." This can be used to justify anything whatsoever including the reversal of any authoritative teaching whatsoever. That is not the way proceed, not all questions are tackled in the same way.

      5. "And yeah, sure, but I think Bauckham's analysis is a little biased there." Allow me to return the favor, your analysis is a little biased here -- and I hasten to add that Bauckam was the first example I picked up. I have already said I am not an expert in history and exegesis, so my words are to be qualified by the constant remembrance of that limitation, but that the vast majority of Christians "from the 5th century up until the 18th century" have believed in the eternity of Hell is itself a good reason to believe in the eternity of hell. What are the two names that constantly pop up as defending Apokatastasis? Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa. That Origen defended it seems incontrovertible, but St. Gregory? Not at all clear to me -- there is a comment in the thread about it.

      And I said this would be short so I will leave it at that.

    7. 1- Yes, through philosophical argumentation. I do have a lot of faith in it, and I think that philosophically we can at least show that it's more likely that at least the vast majority of people will be saved, as I've argued before;

      2- fair enough, I think it's a good point in favor of infernalism (but far from decisive imo). Universalists such as Hart and co. also believe that the fallen angels will eventually be saved;

      3- Universalism, not the eternality of hell. Universalism can come in different forms; there are those that deny in principle the existence of an eternal hell; there are those that accept the existence of hell, but hold that - contingently, at least - it will be empty; and so on. Balthasar's hopeful universalism, for instance, is certainly acceptable. I think a stronger form could perhaps also be acceptable, provided it maintains all the dogmas. That's what I meant; so I really don't think the Magisterium has ruled out every form of universalism out there;

      4- yes, but that cuts both ways; just pointing out that most theologians, saints etc. have affirmed X throughout history does not make it so that Tradition decisively supports X. It's not the way to proceed with YEC, with a global flood, with the execution of heretics, and so on; it is also not the way to proceed with universalism, methinks;

      5- fair enough, though as Callum mentioned, Bauckham himself doesn't stand by his comments anymore, as there has been a lot of new historical work which has made strong arguments for universalism being much more prevalent in Christian tradition than previously thought (Ramelli's work is an example).

      I'm not a universalist, btw. I'm a quasi-universalist; I think some people will end up in hell, just very few. I think universalists have good arguments though, and I think it is hard to settle simply with Scripture or Tradition.

    8. @Atno:

      Just a point of clarification.

      "Universalism, not the eternality of hell."

      Yes, my bad. When I spoke of what the Magisterium has pronounced on, I had in mind (1) Hell exists and (2) it is eternal (3) It signifies the complete and utter separation of God (as far as that is possible, e.g. God still sustains those beings in Hell in existence, etc.). The limited, temporal punishments that say, D. B. Hart speaks of, I translate in my mind as Purgatory. You are quite right though, that the Church's Magisterium has not pronounced definitively on whether Hell has lots of occupants, few or even maybe none as Balthazar proposed -- at least as far as I know, someone may correct me on it. My opinion of Balthazar, as an old fashioned Thomist (Viva Banez! Viva Garrigou-Lagrange!), should be obvious. St. Augustine and St. Thomas certainly thought that a lot of people ended up there. I presume that Ott would classify it as "common opinion". Emptyness seems to me to be highly implausible and not really a live option because in practice it ends up having the same problems as just straight up denying the existence of Hell, but otherwise I have no thoughts on the matter.

      Ha, and all this rigmarole just to end up saying I have no great qualms with your quasi-Universalism, which after all is the heart of the matter. Discussions are dangerous I tell you, we may end up agreeing.

  28. Professor Hart’s latest:

    I am a universalist, so I agree with Hart’s position. Unfortunately, he repeated his accusation that Dr. Feser didn’t read his book. I love watching a good fight, but I don’t enjoy watching hitting below the belt, which that accusation is doing. I imagine that Dr. Feser will need to respond to that accusation, which will distract from the real issues.

  29. From the first sentence:

    I confessed my bafflement at Edward Feser’s strange assertion that, when discussing the structure of rational freedom in That All Might Be Saved, I do so in order to deny that human beings are truly culpable for their sins.

    Even if it's granted that Feser has misstated what Hart said in the book, if his misstatements are proof that Feser has not read the book than this misstatement (explicitly corrected in Feser's reply) is proof that Hart has not actually read Feser. That knife cuts both ways.

  30. The Comments to these posts about that sad figure, DBH, and the Universalist theory, are -- like Caesar's Gaul -- divided into three parts: the erudite, the ignorant (mostly trolls or cranks), and of course, the genuinely curious. As an old-school trained journalist who has spent 40 years in myriads of writing fields, I remain astounded that such widely differing understandings can result from such plain writings as the Four Gospels, plus Revelation.

    Aside from that, the simple thought experiment suffices: if all the major Christian Churches embraced Universalism on a Monday, would anyone bother to attend their churches the following Sunday?

    1. Raghn,
      "I remain astounded that such widely differing understandings can result from such plain writings as the Four Gospels, plus Revelation."
      Why astounded? Yes, taken at face value certain portions of scripture seem plain enough in relative isolation.

      Taken together the combined assertions attributed to the Christian god are incoherent.

      God is described variously as perfectly good and the most evil being in the universe. Of course there is wide variation in understandings, because scripture, taken as a whole, is incoherent, so people who have faith that scripture is true labor endlessly trying to make sense out of nonsense, an endless task that is intrinsically doomed to never bear rational fruit.

      " if all the major Christian Churches embraced Universalism on a Monday, would anyone bother to attend their churches the following Sunday?"
      You seem to be implying that the Church is bound to continue to teach incoherent messages because if they began to make sense, as DBH does on the subject of salvation, their attendance, and therefore their income and power would plummet. Therefore, the church, you seem to be saying, has a selfish interest in preaching what it knows to be false nonsense.

      I agree.

  31. Feser continues to ignore more comprehensive defenses of Christ-mediated universalism by Reitan and Kronen (2011), Parry (2008 and the 2003 volume he edited with Partridge), and Talbott (second edition of 1999 and also his contributions to the 2003 volume by Parry and Partridge). See their *rejoinders* as well. And other universalism works by the authors.

    Feser is brilliant on natural theology, but he continues to raise awful objections against Christ-mediated universalism that have already been dealt with.

    Also, many within his own Catholic Church have made cases for universalism with approval. e.g. Dennis, Matt, and Sheila Linn wrote a pro-universalism book called "Good Goats" which received an imprimi potest. Granted, their book is not as persuasive as the aforementioned works, and imprimi potest isn't all that much, but this is still relevant.

    1. I also recommend reading the discussions in the Evangelical Universalist forum at

      There are lots of discussions that Catholics can find value in as well.

    2. Amazon links to aforementioned books for convenience:

      Talbott's "Inescapable Love of God" (2nd edition): 2nd edition is 2014, but I cited the original. See 2nd edition instead.

      Also see Talbott's website

      Parry and Partridge's "Universal Salvation? The Current Debate:" . My copy says 2003 while Amazon says 2004

      Second edition of Robin Parry's "The Evangelical Universalist" (under pseudonym Gregory MacDonald):

      Reitan and Kronen's book "God's Final Victory: A Comparative PHILOSOPHICAL Case for Universalism (Continuum Studies in Philosophy of Religion):" My copy says 2011, but Amazon has 2013

    3. Patrick, lot's of work linking to various worthies, and a polite comment to the Professor F. Thanks. But has it crossed the mind of none of your mavens that one can simply NOT want what God is offering? That Hell might look attractive to certain folk -- would a man eaten up by carnal lust choose Heaven, full of beautiful people but NO lust, over Hell, full of lust the likes of which the lustful man has never remotely dreamed of? Also, honestly, what is God, anyway, an old bore who just won't take "NO" for an answer? I should think a Deity like that would garner a never-ending host of refusals.

    4. What God is offering is nothing but Himself, which nothing short of The Good itself. Interesting choice of using lust as the example here, which I take to mean “sexual fulfillment” (but please correct me if I’m wrong). What most people I know are looking for through promiscuity, through pornography, through serial dating is the very kind of union, fulfillment, and bliss that they THINK comes from mere sexual fulfillment. It’s perverted desire, to be sure, but it’s the desire of a restless and partially empty heart looking for a kind of lasting joy that cannot be experienced in this fallen world. Why is it that two people fall head-over-heels in love and years later begin moving apart and looking for fulfillment elsewhere? I see certain friends hop from one sexual partner to the next because they get high on an infatuation that’s meant to die and turn into abiding love and charity. My own uncle discovered this very late in life and suffered serious remorse.

      Only in the context of genuine love can sexual union bring about actual fulfillment, but in this life (in a fallen world) that is only ever going to be partially known. Hence we need ascetic discipline and sacramental marriage as bounded means of allowing God to channel desire to it’s proper end, which is Himself. What God is offering, if our faith tells it right, is absolute wholeness: fullness of life in goodness, truth, and beauty that will not fall apart. Many theologians have speculated that the intimacy we have with souses and our closest loved ones will be the kind of intimacy we will share with the entire human family in heaven. God “not taking ‘No’ for an answer” might better be said as “God always leaving the door open for desire to find its full and proper end”. There won’t be lust in heaven of course, but perhaps (I certainly hope) a kind of Holy promiscuity

    5. No, sorry – I didn’t mean lust in a “sexual fulfillment” sense (would that be “lust” at all, but rather a desire in the sense of “longing”?) but rather the absolute craving of the carnal predator, a blind rage of a lust, sort of what a T-Rex might “feel” toward a plump hadrosaur, mixed liberally with a sociopath’s “lust” to kill. In general, reviewing much of the discussion here, I get the feeling the Universalists don’t appreciate evil, how alluring it can be, and how one can go over into it. Lust proper wouldn’t seek “the Other” for some more normal, everyday urge to be together with some compatible soul, but a wild will to dominate, crush, rape (really, that’s what true lust would come to if it could). Police, prosecutors, students of crime, they face this worst aspect of humanity all the time – consider the “rage” of the Antifa terrorists, etc., and honestly, Universalists, nice, caring folks all, I’m sure, would be raped and beaten to death by these fellow humans who are an amazing simulacrum of demons straight out of Hell.

      That’s what I meant. Universalists seem to believe such evil is a chimera, a fiction made up by horror writers, or maybe a temporary madness, and don’t appreciate that many would embrace such a state if they could. In a way, I’m glad they “don’t have it in them” to lust or hate, or – THE mental state of Hell: spite – remotely like what we see happening all around us today. But then, when David Bentley Hart (I have a number of his books) seems increasingly to be motivated by pride and a growing spite, as evinced by his endless ad homineming, well, that I find terrifying. He seems to be more and more a “my way or the highway” sort of guy, and of course the theme song of Hell is “I did it my way.”

  32. Who put the cliff there?

  33. Hoping everybody will somehow be saved is in my estimation morally different than saying it will absolutely happen that everybody will be saved & eternal Hell is not at all possible since no such potential state exists.

    As I said elsewhere at least VonBalthazar's speculation still has Hell as a real threat (at least on paper). Indeed given his presuppositions there is no reason why God might not save everybody but you and I. So make with the Holy Fear. Hart's new dogma OTOH.....yikes!

    Yeh I can examine my conscience and try to follow the Gospel and pray and repent & hope for my salvation. I might have a reasonable belief I am in a state of grace but I cannot have an absolute one. We are not Calvinists or Baptist here.

    I might hope somehow God saves Everybody else but even then I don't know & I personally believe I was not meant to know.

    Fear of Hell is vital to yer spiritual life. It is better to fear going to Hell and be wrong than not fear it and be wrong. It matters little to me if God forbid I ever end up there if it is crowded or lonely.

    So repent & believe the Gospel.

    But more sickening than Hart's absolute Universalism dogma is the implied Theistic Personalism.....God is a "moral agent" to him who is somehow morally obligated to keep us from ever abusing our free will to the destruction of our souls?

    No! God is not a Moral Agent(in the unequivocal way a virtuous rational creature is a moral agent)! God is the Moral Law Itself but God is not a moral agent!

    Hart is gonna give the rest of us Theistic Personalist cooties. Yuck!

    1. And in swoop misguided souls like Son of Ya'Kov to give everyone in the vicinity diabolist cooties.

      Look Yachov, if there is an eternal hell, then, in light of God's omniscience, something like Calvinism must be true. If there is an eternal hell, then God is worse than Satan. What's more, Satan comes out to be a noble figure, a rebel fighting against a tyrant who expresses power for the sake of nothing but power.

      Thankfully, you and the other gleeful apologists for the depraved notion of everlasting torture are misrepresenting classical theism, because if your portrayal was at all accurate, then the appropriate response from us human beings is to ache, ache with all that we are for the death of such a God. Satan is preferable to such a God. Atheism is infinitely preferable, as well.

      Your "Christianity" is darkness repackaged as light -- the worst form of nihilism -- and if it were true, I myself would love nothing more than to go back in time two thousand years and crucify the sick bastard myself.

    2. Of course Satan is a rebel. THE rebel, as Saul Alinksy knew perfectly well. Satan is a rebel against God's creation, God's love/giving of self, and ultimately, of course, against God's Being, God as God. Satan himself wants to be God. "Move over, Old Guy, outta my way!" An insane "triumph of the will" that does indeed see God Himself as a "sick bastard", as you way. And history is full of PEOPLE reflecting a will like that. Even just local types, "everyday" folks. The Irish-language writer, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, in one of his writings describes a local man, a villager, so mean he'd "drive a nail through the back of the donkey that carried Christ into Jerusalem."

      If a Universalist meets God and sees that the "love of God" is such as to actually present us this most profound of choices, Heaven or Hell, rebellion against God or servitude to God, an actual REAL and eternal choice, some Universalists might be so appalled as to say, "Whoa! How cruel! Satan IS preferable to such a God." That could easily happen.

      That's not "darkness repackaged as light", but a statement of everyday reality; oh, and your final words are quite telling, in light of the allure of "rebellion".

    3. @Raghn Crow

      You rock! God bless!


      Awe! Wee Lamb!

  34. The biggest motivation behind Universalism is simply the fact that it is an idea far more pleasant to the human mind than Hell. But this has been known for thousands of years, and makes no difference to the truth of the matter. If God has pronounced something, then it's so, regardless of how much we'd prefer to wriggle out of it. Shall we not mind Our Lord's words about finding ourselves false teachers to fill our burning ears with flattery?

  35. Something confusing to me is that at Ecclectic Orthodoxy, DBH makes these statements about Scripture:

    At the literal level, it’s neither true nor false; it’s not even a unity...

    Anyway, I don’t believe in scriptural inerrancy. Inspiration is not dictation, and it is not infallibility.

    Neither do I believe in scripture’s internal consistency at the literal level. Neither do I believe that interpretation ever ceases.

    In addition, in response to Peter Leithart (Good God? A Response) he says this about the Old Testament:

    Most of the Hebrew Bible is a polytheistic gallimaufry, and YHVH is a figure in a shifting pantheon of elohim or deities...

    in most of the Old Testament he is of course presented as quite evil: a blood-drenched, cruel, war-making, genocidal, irascible, murderous, jealous storm-god...

    Each is a psychologically limited mythic figure from a rich but violent ancient Near Eastern culture—or, more accurately, two cultures that progressively amalgamated over many centuries.

    Given this view of Scripture, which to me seems completely foreign to any really Christian understanding of Scripture, I don't see how the exegetical argument can even be had with him.

    1. @TimFinnegan:

      If scripture is not internally consistent, than anything can be read into it, which is the same thing as saying that nothing can be read from it and no interpretation, genuine interpretation, is possible.

      At any rate, this settles the matter if any doubt there was. The man needs prayers, not arguments.

    2. Indeed. One wonders how he manages to accept and/or understand the Fathers of the Church on what Christianity is, since they invariably ground Christianity in the Scriptures, taking first the primary meanings of the individual human writers, and then the allegorical and anagogical meanings thereafter. Or, perhaps, one might say that we don't have to wonder, since he apparently doesn't accept them as a body.

    3. ...gallimaufry...? Props, DBH.

      Mt 13:52: "Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his thesaurus things new and old."

  36. The real problem with the cliff analogy seems to be that these days the person heading towards the cliff/hell generally doesn't believe in cliffs/hell. So it's not that scare tactics are cynical and manipulative; it's that they're ineffective, because in light of the actual dialectical situation they just beg the question against the person who is headed for perdition and so won't impress him to change course. Not that such a person is likely to bother about whether he's reasoning soundly, any more than DBH or John Milbank do; but practically speaking it's still a conundrum. Indeed, the "inner transformation through the beauty of love"-people might have a point, in that the person headed for perdition certainly needs an inner transformation so that he is able see that perdition is something possible for him and/or that his Todestrieb is worth overcoming. So the question is just, what's the better way to bring about the transformation, i.e., to provide the occasion for the working of grace? The universalism people seem very much to think that teaching universalism is the better way (often based on their own experience) and they often seem pretty exclusively pragmatically oriented (they don't much care about the transcendent truth of the matter).

  37. David McPike wrote,

    The real problem with the cliff analogy seems to be that these days the person heading towards the cliff/hell generally doesn't believe in cliffs/hell

    I would think that anyone with a modicum of self-knowledge would realize that he or she is presently living in hell. The real problem is not whether the person believes hell exists, but whether he or she is willing to accept the way of delivery provided by Christianity.