Friday, July 31, 2020

Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism

A rhetorical game that universalists like to play is to suggest that in the early Church there was from the beginning a robust universalist tradition running alongside the standard teaching that some are damned forever, and that the latter view simply became dominant at some point and pushed aside the former.  Indeed, they claim, this non-universalist view is rooted in only a handful of scriptural passages, in illustration of which they will quote two or three of the best-known texts explicitly threatening everlasting punishment.  They will then claim that there is, by contrast, a mountain of scriptural passages implying universalism.  Origen, on this narrative, was simply giving expression to what was already clearly there in the tradition, indeed what was perhaps the dominant tendency in the New Testament itself.  This is standard David Bentley Hart shtick, both in his book That All Shall Be Saved and in earlier work.

The whole thing is sheer fantasy.  The reality is that from the Old Testament all the way through to the time of Origen, there is a loud, clear, and consistent emphasis on precisely the opposite of universal salvation – on the condemnation and perpetual exclusion of those who fail to repent of evildoing in this life.  Origen and the very few orthodox writers who sympathized with him beginning only in the third century represented a novelty – and a tentatively proposed one that was immediately resisted as such – not some longstanding mainstream loyal opposition.

The universalist sleight of hand vis-à-vis scripture is accomplished via two main moves.  First, when considering the scriptural evidence against universalism, the universalist tends to focus primarily on passages that on a natural reading threaten perpetual suffering.  He then argues (not plausibly, but put that aside) that these passages don’t really entail such suffering.  And then he claims thereby to have defused the scriptural evidence against universalism.  But that is to conflate the debate over universalism and the debate over annihilationism.  If you take account of all the passages that indicate final exclusion of the wicked (bracketing off the question whether those excluded are annihilated or suffer perpetually) the collection of anti-universalist scriptural texts is massive. 

Second, the universalist piles up passages that say things to the effect that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), “has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32), and so on.  (Hart does this at pp. 95-102 of That All Shall Be Saved – where, it should be noted, narrowed margins and big block quotes from the Greek artificially jack up the page count.)  It is then suggested that these passages somehow support universalism, and that the question of how to reconcile them with passages that threaten damnation is a real chin-puller, unless we read the latter non-literally.

In fact it is nothing of the kind.  That God desires all men to be saved no more gives reason to think that all will in fact be saved than the fact that God desires all men to avoid sin shows that all men do in fact avoid sin.  That God has shown mercy on all entails only that he has offered to all the way to salvation, not that they all will in fact take it.  And so on.  There isn’t one passage in scripture – not one – that asserts or implies the universalist thesis that all will in fact be saved.  Meanwhile, there are many passages which, taken at face value, clearly assert the opposite – passages to the effect that “the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14), that the wicked “shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), that they “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10), and so on. 

The overall picture is in no way whatsoever either mysterious or friendly to universalism.  Christ offers salvation to all, on the condition that they repent.  But those who do not repent will be lost, and the clear indication is not only that some will in fact be impenitent and thereby lost, but that many will be.  That is what scripture clearly and consistently says, and for two centuries after the time of Christ, the earliest of the Fathers – the people closest in time to Christ and the Apostles, and thus best placed to know what they taught – say the same thing.  It isn’t remotely complicated, and you have to tie yourself in intellectual knots to pretend otherwise.  Someone might not like the fact that this is what Christ and the early Church taught – for example, someone might think it morally abhorrent, or intellectually indefensible.  But that they did in fact teach it is beyond any reasonable doubt.

Let’s take a look at some of the relevant texts.  I will not try to be comprehensive but will focus on the clearest examples.  I also will not confine myself to scriptural passages that threaten everlasting fire or the like.  To be sure, passages that threaten everlasting suffering certainly imply that some are lost forever, but not every passage that implies that some are lost forever threatens everlasting suffering.  Sometimes they just imply that some will be lost, without addressing whether they suffer perpetually or are annihilated.  (I have addressed annihilationism elsewhere, e.g. here.)  What the scriptural passages that follow have in common is that on a natural reading, they imply that impenitence in this life will condemn you forever.


The earlier parts of the Old Testament are famously obscure at best on the topic of the afterlife.  But some later passages clearly imply that the wicked are punished forever:

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

And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:24)

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

Woe to the nations that rise up against my people!  The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; fire and worms he will give to their flesh; they shall weep in pain for ever. (Judith 16:17)

The Lord will laugh them to scorn.  After this they will become dishonored corpses, and an outrage among the dead for ever; because he will dash them speechless to the ground, and shake them from the foundations; they will be left utterly dry and barren, and they will suffer anguish, and the memory of them will perish. (Wisdom 4:19-20)

You can argue about whether any of this should be understood to imply literal perpetual suffering or if instead the references to everlasting burnings, weeping in pain forever, etc. are meant poetically.  I’m not addressing that particular issue here.  What you cannot reasonably deny is that on a natural reading, these passages imply that some are lost forever.

Now, in the Jewish tradition during the period between the Old and New Testaments, this general idea developed into an explicit thesis of eternal loss and even of everlasting suffering after death.  As Hart acknowledges, “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” (That All Shall Be Saved, p. 117). 

Here are some examples:

Here their spirits shall be set apart in this great pain, till the great day of judgement, scourgings, and torments of the accursed for ever, so that (there may be) retribution for their spirits.  There He shall bind them for ever. (1 Enoch 22)

The destruction of the sinner is for ever, and he shall not be remembered, when the righteous is visited.  This is the portion of sinners for ever.  But they that fear the Lord shall rise to life eternal, and their life shall be in the light of the Lord, and shall come to an end no more.  (Psalms of Solomon 3)

And from one of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

The judgment of all who walk in such ways will be multiple afflictions at the hand of all the angels of perdition, everlasting damnation in the wrath of God’s furious vengeance, never-ending terror and reproach for all eternity, with a shameful extinction in the fire of Hell’s outer darkness.  For all their eras, generation by generation, they will know doleful sorrow, bitter evil and dark happenstance, until their utter destruction with neither remnant nor rescue.  (Community Rule 1QS 4)

Though these last three texts are not canonical scripture, they are important because they indicate how the more harrowing language Christ uses when threatening the impenitent with judgment and hellfire is liable to have been understood by the audiences of his day.  There was already, by Christ’s time, an established usage which associated notions like those Christ deploys with final exclusion and even perpetual suffering.


Let’s turn to Christ’s words, then, and then to other New Testament passages.  I will pause to comment here and there:

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)

Note how the urgency of Christ’s warnings in the first and third of these passages would not make sense if hell amounts to some temporary punishment.  The natural reading of these texts is that hell has both a maximal degree of awfulness and a finality to it that it would lack in that case.  If universalism were true, it would make sense to reply to Christ: “But Lord, what if I opt to preserve my eyes, hands, and life and accept the risk of having to tough it out in hell temporarily?  That would be an option too, right?”  I submit that it is absurd to suppose that Christ intended his words to be understood in a way that would be open to such a response.  And again, such an interpretation would not fit with the way such apocalyptic imagery was understood in intertestamental sources like the ones quoted above.

Note also how the second passage is almost as clear a denial of universalism as one could expect.  (I say “almost” because the parallel passage from Luke is even clearer, as we’ll see below.)  To state the obvious (though never, it seems, obvious enough for universalists): If universalism were true, Christ’s teaching would have been that everyone, and not just a few, would find the gate that leads to life eventually.  Certainly to say “those who find it are few” is extremely misleading if what you really mean is that everyone is ultimately saved.  As I have said before, the universalist makes of Christ the most incompetent possible communicator.

The next passage is no less clear:

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)

Once again to belabor the obvious for those with no grasp of it: If some sin will not be forgiven either in this age or the age to come, then it just won’t be forgiven, full stop – contrary to the claim of some universalists that all sins will and must eventually be forgiven.  If such universalists were right, one could respond: “Yes, Lord, but in the age after the age to come, it will be forgiven, right?  Or if not then, then the age after that one.  Or maybe the one after that…”  And once again, it is simply ridiculous to think that Christ intended to be understood in a way that would permit that.

With this passage and with the “those who find it are few” passage, universalists who insist that all must in the end be saved have to say, in effect: “Never mind what Christ actually said; he didn’t really mean it!”

Really, just who the hell do they think they are?

But this is just the beginning of the problems scripture poses for universalism.  Let’s move on to the next set of passages:

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)

Once again, the natural reading is that Christ is warning his listeners that they had better repent now, in this life, or there will be condemnation, weeping and gnashing of teeth, etc.  There is no indication that this condemnation is anything other than final, no hint that after a little weeping and gnashing of teeth, you’ll get another chance in some future age. 

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

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 say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” … 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: 41, 45-46)

In a previous post, I discussed the “parallelism problem” facing the suggestion that the Greek word rendered “eternal” in the first and fourth of these passages should be translated “for the age.”  And given that “eternal” is the correct translation, then we once again have teaching in direct conflict with universalism. 

In the second passage, notice that “I do not know you” would be an odd thing to say if everyone is ultimately forgiven.  If hell is temporary, Christ should have said merely: “You’ll have to come back later.”

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

As I noted in that same previous post, while some have claimed that this is a warning to Judas rather than an assertion that he is in fact damned, that doesn’t help the universalist who claims that God must save everyone.  For a warning against eternal punishment would be pointless unless there could be such a thing.

Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. (Mark 3:28-29)

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)

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

For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born. (Mark 14:21)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

He who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.  And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:9-10)

And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’  He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’  There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. (Luke 13:23-28)

Notice that in this passage, Christ is explicitly asked how many would be saved, and he gives a straightforwardly non-universalist answer.  He says that “many …will not be able” to enter heaven, indeed will be “thrust out.” 

Here too, even if we read this as a warning rather than a prediction, it does not help the universalist who claims dogmatically that all must be saved.  It makes no sense to warn someone of what cannot happen.  If all must be saved, then what Christ should have said in response to the question put to him is: “All will be let in eventually, but in stages.  Repent now or you’ll have to wait in line a long time.”

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.  (Luke 16:24-26)

Notice here that Abraham says “None may cross.”  He does not say “All may cross from there to us, but you’ll have to wait a long time,” as he should have said if hell were temporary.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him. (John 3:36)

The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away… If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 14:1-2, 6)

If all must eventually be saved, then in the first of these passages from John, what Christ should have said is that those who do not obey will not see life yet; in the second, that all will come forth to the resurrection of life, but not at the same time; and in the third, that the branches that don’t bear fruit will be nursed back to health until they do, for as long as it takes, rather than being burned. 

As with the passages from the other Gospels warning of condemnation, judgment, punishment, etc., the natural reading is a non-universalist one.  Even if one were to concede the possibility of a universalist interpretation of one or two such passages, that there are so many passages, spread across all four Gospels, the natural reading of which is non-universalist, makes the universalist position simply incredible.  Again, you’d have to believe that Christ was the most incompetent or dishonest communicator imaginable – constantly saying things that seem to imply that you will be condemned forever if you fail to repent in this life, when in fact (according to the universalist) what he really meant is that you’ll be given all the chances you need until you finally come around!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9)

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)

God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.  (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

Note that in context, the natural interpretation of the first three of these passages from St. Paul is that you’d better repent of all of these sins, now, in this life, or you will not inherit the kingdom of God.  It is perverse to suggest that what he really meant is that if you do not repent of them, you will not inherit the kingdom yet, but will have to wait for some future age to get another chance.  The passage from 2 Thessalonians even more clearly warns of final and everlasting “exclusion.”

It is worth noting that these examples give the lie to Hart’s ridiculous claim that the notion of everlasting punishment is “entirely absent from the Pauline corpus, as even the thinnest shadow of a hint” (p. 93).  To be sure, I imagine that Hart might deny Paul’s authorship of Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians.  But since the question of their authorship is controversial, and since 1 Corinthians and Galatians are clearly Pauline, it is (to say the very least) nevertheless quite a stretch for Hart to claim that there isn’t “even the thinnest shadow of a hint” of the idea of hell in St. Paul. 

Moreover, Hart goes on to say that the idea of eternal hell is also not “anywhere patently present in any of the other epistolary texts” (p. 93).  Which is also patently not true as we can see just from 2 Thessalonians, if we counted that as non-Pauline.  It’s also obviously not true in light of some of the other non-Pauline epistles.  Let’s take a look:

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.  For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.  (Hebrews 6:4-8)

For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

The significance of these passages cannot be overstated.  Hebrews tells us that if at first you heed the call of repentance but then fall back into impenitence, “it is impossible to restore [you] again to repentance,” and that “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”  If, as the extreme universalist claims, all must eventually be saved, then it would not be impossible, and your sins would always be covered by Christ’s sacrifice no matter how many times you fell away.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled…

But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed, reviling in matters of which they are ignorant, will be destroyed in the same destruction with them, suffering wrong for their wrongdoing…

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.  (2 Peter 2:1-2, 12-13, 17, 20-21)

Like Hebrews, 2 Peter tells us that it is worse for those who at first repent and then fall away from the faith than it would have been had they never repented.  The obvious implication is that they’ve had their chance and blown it.  Now all that is left for them is “the nether gloom of darkness” (and some texts of 2 Peter add “forever”). 

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

These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever. (Jude 12-13)

Jude speaks of “eternal fire” and “the nether gloom of darkness… for ever.”  Yet, as we have seen, Hart claims that the idea of an eternal hell isn’t to be found “anywhere patently present in any of the other epistolary texts”!

Now we come to the scriptural coup de grace to the thesis that all must be saved, namely the book of Revelation:

If any one worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also shall drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (Revelation 14:9-11)

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

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Also another book was opened, which is the book of life.  And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.  And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Revelation 20: 12-15)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.  He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son.  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21: 6-8)

And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… They shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:10, 26-27)

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done… Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:12, 14-15)

This is, needless to say, all about as harrowing and high-octane as warnings of damnation get.  I have in a previous post addressed the “parallelism problem” that afflicts attempts to reinterpret Revelation’s references to torments that last “for ever and ever.”  I also there discussed why it will not do to pretend, as Hart does, that the book is too mysterious to draw any conclusions from.  Whatever one says about this or that detail, what cannot be denied is that the point of Revelation is to tell us how the whole story of salvation history ends, and that what it ends with is a Great Divorce between the saved and the damned (to borrow C. S. Lewis’s phrase).  Whether you think the fate of the damned is annihilation or perpetual suffering; whether you think the damned are few or many; whether you think that Revelation is a prediction of what will in fact happen or merely a warning of what could happen; whether you think we may at least hope that all are saved or regard such hope as wishful thinking and a poor fit with what scripture indicates; there can be no question that Revelation is warning us at the very least that it is possible that some will be lost forever. 

Yet universalists like Hart claim that no one can possibly be lost forever.  It is clear why Hart wants to beat a retreat into obscurantism when it comes to this book.  Revelation all by itself completely destroys his case.  It is absurd for Hart to admit that texts like 1 Enoch teach eternal damnation, and then go on to deny that we can draw any such lesson from Revelation. 


The earliest Church Fathers pick right up with the theme we see in Revelation, without skipping a beat.  Here are some key texts:

The Didache (1st or 2nd century):

Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven; then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the dead; yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.

Though this text lacks the harrowing imagery of Matthew or Revelation, we nevertheless see in it the reiteration of the idea of a final separation of the faithful and the wicked.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 110):

Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified!  Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. (Epistle to the Ephesians 16)

Epistle of Barnabas (c. 130):

But the way of darkness is crooked, and full of cursing; for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul, viz., idolatry, over-confidence, the arrogance of power, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, adultery, murder, rapine, haughtiness, transgression, deceit, malice, self-sufficiency, poisoning, magic, avarice, want of the fear of God. (Epistle of Barnabas 20)

Second Epistle of Clement (130-160):

For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments

The righteous, having succeeded both in enduring the trials and hating the indulgences of the soul, whenever they witness how those who have swerved and denied Jesus by words or deeds are punished with grievous torments in fire unquenchable, will give glory to their God. (2 Clement 6:7, 17:7)

Martyrdom of Polycarp (150-160):

And, looking to the grace of Christ, they despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by [the suffering of] a single hour.  For this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them.  For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and never shall be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart to those good things which are laid up for such as endure

The proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.”

But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.  But why do you tarry?  Bring forth what you will.” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, Chapters 2 and 11)

Shepherd of Hermas (100-160):

They who have known God, and have seen His mighty works, and still continue in evil, shall be chastised doubly, and shall die forever. (Shepherd of Hermas Book III, Similitude 9, Chapter 18)

St. Justin Martyr (100-165):

We believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed. (First Apology, Chapter 17)

For reflect upon the end of each of the preceding kings, how they died the death common to all, which, if it issued in insensibility, would be a godsend to all the wicked.  But since sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up (i.e., for the wicked), see that you neglect not to be convinced, and to hold as your belief, that these things are true. (First Apology, Chapter 18)

Some are sent to be punished unceasingly into judgment and condemnation of fire; but others shall exist in freedom from suffering, from corruption, and from grief, and in immortality. (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 45)

Tatian (120-173):

And as we, to whom it now easily happens to die, afterwards receive the immortal with enjoyment, or the painful with immortality, so the demons, who abuse the present life to purposes of wrong-doing, dying continually even while they live, will have hereafter the same immortality. (Address to the Greeks 14)

Athenagoras of Athens (c. 133-190):

We are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we shall live another life, better than the present one, and heavenly, not earthly… or, falling with the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere by-work, and that we should perish and be annihilated. (A Plea for the Christians 31)

Theophilus of Antioch (died 180):

I believe, obedient to God, whom, if you please, do you also submit to, believing Him, lest if now you continue unbelieving, you be convinced hereafter, when you are tormented with eternal punishments; which punishments, when they had been foretold by the prophets, the later-born poets and philosophers stole from the holy Scriptures, to make their doctrines worthy of credit… But do you also, if you please, give reverential attention to the prophetic Scriptures, and they will make your way plainer for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God… To those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek immortality, He will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest, and abundance of good things, which neither has eye seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive.  But to the unbelieving and despisers, who obey not the truth, but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they shall have been filled with adulteries and fornications, and filthiness, and covetousness, and unlawful idolatries, there shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish, and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men. (To Autolycus I:14)

St. Irenaeus (died c. 200):

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith… that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow… and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send… the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. (Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10)

That eternal fire, [for instance,] is prepared for sinners, both the Lord has plainly declared, and the rest of the Scriptures demonstrate.  And that God foreknew that this would happen, the Scriptures do in like manner demonstrate, since He prepared eternal fire from the beginning for those who were [afterwards] to transgress [His commandments]. (Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 28)

Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the face of our Lord… entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it – the elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavour to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and that it were better for them if they had not been born

Thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal.  For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity, these do receive the kingdom for ever. (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 28)

Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (130-200):

Then shall you condemn the deceit and error of the world when you shall know what it is to live truly in heaven, when you shall despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when you shall fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it.  Then shall you admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and shall count them happy when you shall know [the nature of] that fire. (Epistle to Diognetus 10)

St. Clement of Alexandria (died c. 215):

All souls are immortal, even those of the wicked, for whom it were better that they were not deathless.  For, punished with the endless vengeance of quenchless fire, and not dying, it is impossible for them to have a period put to their misery. (Fragment)

Tertullian (died c. 220):

These have further set before us the proofs He has given of His majesty in His judgments by floods and fires, the rules appointed by Him for securing His favour, as well as the retribution in store for the ignoring, forsaking and keeping them, as being about at the end of all to adjudge His worshippers to everlasting life, and the wicked to the doom of fire at once without ending and without break. (Apology, Chapter 18)

But the profane, and all who are not true worshippers of God, in like manner shall be consigned to the punishment of everlasting fire – that fire which, from its very nature indeed, directly ministers to their incorruptibility. (Apology, Chapter 48)

St. Hippolytus (died c. 236):

To those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment.  And the fire which is unquenchable and without end awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which dies not, and which does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain.  No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice of interceding friends will profit them.  For neither are the righteous seen by them any longer, nor are they worthy of remembrance. (Against Plato 3)

Minucius Felix (fl. 200-240):

Nor is there either measure or termination to these torments.  There the intelligent fire burns the limbs and restores them, feeds on them and nourishes them.  As the fires of the thunderbolts strike upon the bodies, and do not consume them; as the fires of Mount Aetna and of Mount Vesuvius, and of burning lands everywhere, glow, but are not wasted; so that penal fire is not fed by the waste of those who burn, but is nourished by the unexhausted eating away of their bodies. (Octavius, Chapter 35)

St. Cyprian of Carthage (200-258):

An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source whence at any time they may have either respite or end to their torments.  Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. Thus the man will be for ever seen by us who here gazed upon us for a season; and the short joy of those cruel eyes in the persecutions that they made for us will be compensated by a perpetual spectacle, according to the truth of Holy Scripture, which says, Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be for a vision to all flesh. (Treatise V, 24)

Lactantius (240 - c. 320):

But, however, the sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment.  For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding for ever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire, the nature of which is different from this fire of ours, which we use for the necessary purposes of life, and which is extinguished unless it be sustained by the fuel of some material… The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment.  (Divine Institutes, Book VII, Chapter 21)


This brings us to the time of Origen (185 - c. 254), with whose lifetime that of Lactantius overlaps.  Let’s take stock of what we’ve seen so far.  The centuries prior to the time of Christ saw the development of the idea of eternal damnation.  Christ and the New Testament authors make many statements that on a natural reading clearly teach eternal damnation, sometimes using language that echoes that of the intertestamental authors who taught it.  For two centuries after the time of Christ, the Fathers also teach eternal damnation, often using the same language, and often representing their teaching as that of scripture.  The obvious conclusion is that the reason the New Testament so often seems to be teaching that some will be damned forever is that it is teaching that.  That is the sense that readers of the time would have given the relevant language.

In order to resist this conclusion, you have to ignore not only the natural reading of the relevant scriptural passages but also all of this historical context that clearly supports the natural reading.  You have to say that all of the earliest Church Fathers simply got scripture badly wrong, even though they were the readers closest in time to Christ and the Apostles, and even though their reading is the natural one and fits in with the apocalyptic literary tradition that preceded the New Testament.  That’s more than a stretch.  It simply doesn’t pass the laugh test, and no one would take it seriously for a moment who wasn’t desperate to find a way to reconcile universalism with Christianity.

Hence, when Origen comes along two centuries after the time of Christ and teaches universalism, what he is proposing is a novelty, not the expression of some loyal opposition view that had always been there in the orthodox tradition.  Here several points need to be emphasized.  First, the only clear precursors for Origen’s universalism are to be found in the writings of gnostic heretics – not a good provenance for those wanting to sell the view as orthodox.  As Michael McClymond writes in his comprehensive two-volume history of universalism, “if one omits these second-century gnostics, the connecting links are not there to span the roughly two centuries from the New Testament until the time of Origen’s Peri archōn (ca. 220-ca. 230)” (The Devil’s Redemption, p. 234).  Clement of Alexandria is sometimes said to be an orthodox precursor, but it is not clear from the relevant statements that he really was suggesting that all will be saved (see McClymond, pp. 239-46), and as the passage cited above shows, Clement said clearly anti-universalist things too.

Second, Origen himself presents his view tentatively and as a hypothesis, not as the reiteration of some longstanding option.  He writes: “These subjects, indeed, are treated by us with great solicitude and caution, in the manner rather of an investigation and discussion, than in that of fixed and certain decision” (De Principiis, Book I, Chapter 6).  (Contrast this with the dogmatism of writers like Hart, who insist that no rational and decent person could possibly disagree with them, and indeed who claim that Christianity stands or falls with universalism!)

Third, Origen’s universalism is connected with other suspect ideas, such as the preexistence of souls.  And this was a tendency in other universalists of the era.  Universalism isn’t a standalone error, but tends to presuppose and/or lead to others.  For example, as McClymond notes, in the Platonic tradition that influenced Origen, there was sometimes a tendency “to assign quasi-divine status or eternity to the human soul,” as an extrapolation from its preexistence (p. 335).  The idea of the universal salvation of all souls was in turn a byproduct of this divinization.  (In this connection, it is worth reminding the reader of the pantheistic tendency to blur the distinction between God and human beings which, as I have shown, is to be found in Hart’s book.  In a non-denial denial, Hart dismisses the charge of pantheism while in the same breath acknowledging: “There are many ways in which I would proudly wear the title.”)

Fourth, the handful of later Fathers sometimes lumped in with Origen as fellow universalists are not all in fact unambiguously so.  For example, though St. Jerome was at one time sympathetic to Origen’s position, he later rejected it.  St. Ambrose taught only that some, not all, could still be purified and saved after condemnation.  St Gregory of Nazianzus did not take a definite position. 

Even St. Gregory of Nyssa, the great hero of universalists like Hart, is not entirely unambiguous on the issue.  As the introduction to the volume on Gregory in Schaff and Wace’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers says:

Nevertheless passages have been adduced from Gregory’s writings in which the language of Scripture as to future punishment is used without any modification, or hint of this universal salvation.  In the treatise, De Pauperibus Amandis, II. p. 240, he says of the last judgment that God will give to each his due; repose eternal to those who have exercised pity and a holy life; but the eternal punishment of fire for the harsh and unmerciful: and addressing the rich who have made a bad use of their riches, he says, ‘Who will extinguish the flames ready to devour you and engulf you?  Who will stop the gnawings of a worm that never dies?’ Cf. also Orat. 3, de Beatitudinibus, I. p. 788: contra Usuarios, II. p. 233: though the hortatory character of these treatises makes them less important as witnesses. (p. 16)

In one place Gregory writes:

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?  (On Infants’ Early Deaths)

(For discussion of the scholarly debate over whether Gregory really was a universalist, see McClymond p. 281, 288-90.)

Fifth, Origen’s universalism was in any event decisively rejected by the vast majority of the Fathers who succeeded him.  St. Athanasius, St. Hilary, St. Ephrem, St. Cyril, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and so on and on, reaffirm the anti-universalist teaching of Origen’s predecessors.  As, of course, does St. Augustine, whose views on the issue would become so influential.  As what we’ve seen demonstrates, the idea that Augustine somehow foisted onto Christianity an anti-universalist hegemony that didn’t previously exist is absurd.  Augustine’s position became influential not because it was novel but because it gave a systematic articulation, against the universalist novelty, of a position that was already firmly embedded in tradition.  Augustine’s triumph is not that of an innovator, but that of a loyal son of the tradition who decisively smacked down the innovators who would upend it.

As McClymond concludes, “a full examination of the views of the early church authors, both before and after Origen, does not support the concept of a universalist ‘minority report’” (p. 40).  Origen and his handful of admirers are a blip, not an orthodox counter-tradition.

Nor does scripture give them any succor whatsoever.  I’ve already explained what is wrong with some of the scriptural appeals made by universalists.  The others are no better.  For example, universalists often try to make hay out of Christ’s remark in John 12:32 that he will draw all men to himself.  But Christ doesn’t say that all men will actually heed this call, and as we’ve already seen, there are other passages from John’s gospel that unambiguously imply that they won’t all heed it.

I Corinthians 15:22 tells us that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  But the context is an argument for the reality of the resurrection of the body, not the question of who will be saved.  Moreover, as we have seen, St. Paul also explicitly says in the very same epistle (at 6:9) that some will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

In Matthew 5:25-26, Christ says:

Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

It is sometimes suggested that that last line indicates that punishment in the hereafter will be temporary.  But how does such an interpretation of this one passage square with the obvious contrary implication of the mountain of other passages from Matthew considered above?  And why suppose that Christ is even talking here in the first place about the reward of the wicked in the afterlife, or of all of the wicked? 

This is all quite pathetic.  You need to strain mightily to read universalism out of this handful of passages, and even more mightily to avoid reading eternal damnation out of the gigantic pile of other passages cited earlier.

But, finally to let you out of this long purgatory of a post, let’s end with a few other passages that universalists – and all churchmen and theologians who think it merciful to preach complacent reassurance rather than dire warning – are well-advised to heed:

From prophet to priest, every one deals falsely.  They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13)

For they are a rebellious people, lying sons, sons who will not hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, “See not”; and to the prophets, “Prophesy not to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions.” (Isaiah 30:9-10)

If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 33:8)

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

No urgency without hell


  1. Damn, son. So many words. Glad you're so certain. Glad you're emotionally unaffected by eternal torment. At least you're safe. What would God do without men like you?

    1. I think it is precisely BECAUSE Dr. Feser is affected by the prospect of eternal punishment that he takes the time to warn people like you of the real possibility of such. He could just be silent and not care whether or not you burn in Hell.

    2. Lot of words for a "U mad bro?"

    3. Scott, how could Prof Feser be silent, as he himself quotes the famous Ezekiel 33:8? (This is the one that might cast me headfirst into the Pit. Alas.)

  2. What do you say to someone who finds it emotionally impossible to cope with the idea that their loved ones are forever excluded from heaven and are to be tormented for all eternity? I'm genuinely asking. There are people for whom the idea of eternal hell is so suffocatingly horrific that they cannot function. There are also others who find the idea so repulsive that they cannot, literally cannot believe in it regardless of any arguments trying to show it's possibility. What council do you have for them? Or what about the person who hopes and prays daily that somehow all will be saved because they have cultivated a heart that loves everyone and desires salvation for all? Are we to tell them to stop praying that because we already know that it isn't in God's plan? God is ok with eternal torment so we should be too? God loves more perfectly than we can and he's fine with it, so it's an imperfection in us that craves the salvation of even Hitler and Judas?

    1. I saw a crowd—priests and laymen—speeding, hurrying, darting away, up a steep, crumbling height. Mitres, hoods, and hats rolled behind them to the bottom. Every one for himself, with hands and feet they scramble and flee, to save their souls from the fires of hell which come rolling in along the hollow below with the forward ‘pointing spires’ of billowy flame. But beneath, right in the course of the fire, stands one man upon a little rock which goes down to the centre of the great world, and faces the approaching flames. He stands bareheaded, his eyes bright with faith in God, and the mighty mouth that utters his truth, fixed in holy defiance. His denial comes from no fear, or weak dislike to that which is painful. On neither side will he tell lies for peace. He is ready to be lost for his fellow-men. In the name of God he rebukes the flames of hell. The fugitives pause on the top, look back, call him lying prophet, and shout evil opprobrious names at the man who counts not his own life dear to him, who has forgotten his own soul in his sacred devotion to men, who fills up what is left behind of the sufferings of Christ, for his body’s sake—for the human race, of which he is the head. Be sure that, come what may of the rest, let the flames of hell ebb or flow, that man is safe, for he is delivered already from the only devil that can make hell itself a torture, the devil of selfishness—the only one that can possess a man and make himself his own living hell. He is out of all that region of things, and already dwelling in the secret place of the Almighty.

      He trusts in God so absolutely, that he leaves his salvation to him—utterly, fearlessly; and, forgetting it, as being no concern of his, sets himself to do the work that God has given him to do, even as his Lord did before him, counting that alone worthy of his care. Let God’s will be done, and all is well. If God’s will be done, he cannot fare ill. To him, God is all in all. If it be possible to separate such things, it is the glory of God, even more than the salvation of men, that he seeks. He will not have it that his Father in heaven is not perfect. He believes entirely that God loves, yea, is love; and, therefore, that hell itself must be subservient to that love, and but an embodiment of it; that the grand work of Justice is to make way for a Love which will give to every man that which is right and ten times more, even if it should be by means of awful suffering—a suffering which the Love of the Father will not shun, either for himself or his children, but will eagerly meet for their sakes, that he may give them all that is in his heart.

      –– George MacDonald

    2. This is also consistent w/Scripture. St Paul says he would be accursed for his brothers and Moses asks that God would blot him out as well if God wasn't willing to forgive Israel. what if the sheep in Matthew 25 are meant to intercede for the condemned goats? What am I to do with the Fatima prayer? I think what I'll do is pray for myself as I am hopeless and for Judas.

    3. Unknown,

      I'm not a psychologist, nor a priest, so I'm really not in a position to offer counsel. Dr. Feser is wise in not accepting this type of request. My apology for making an off-topic comment, but I couldn't resist a challenge.

      "What do you say to someone who finds it emotionally impossible to cope with the idea that their loved ones are forever excluded from heaven and are to be tormented for all eternity?"

      I would first ask how they know their loved ones are excluded from Heaven. Only God knows the eternal destiny of each person. I'm honestly curious why people are emotionally troubled by something that they have no way of knowing.

      There are also others who find the idea so repulsive that they cannot, literally cannot believe in it

      I would ask on what ground they make such a moral judgment. Our emotions are not the supreme arbiter of moral truth. There is plenty of evidence of that in our divided culture today.

      Are we to tell them to stop praying that because we already know that it isn't in God's plan?

      That's a non sequitur. Charity compels us to pray for all, that God's will be done for all. Keep in mind that we don't know the heart and mind of men, nor do we know what is best for each person. But we can have the assurance of faith that God's will is best. Otherwise, He wouldn't be God.

    4. "What do you say to someone who finds it emotionally impossible to cope with the idea that their loved ones are forever excluded from heaven and are to be tormented for all eternity?"

      Your idea reminded me of this passage.

    5. What do you say to someone who finds it emotionally impossible to believe that their bank account doesn't have $10M, or that they are not President Washington? I am not sure, but you can't just pretend that truth is not truth because they have a hard time with it. If they really are UNABLE to deal with truth, that is a form of mental or emotional illness, and they need treatment, I would suggest. If, however, they find it difficult, then they should be supported in the process of taking on a difficult but necessary duty. With patience and kindness and charity.

  3. Anonymous and Unknown,

    Are you really incapable of seeing how silly and fallacious such responses are?

    The post is concerned with a single topic: What do scripture and the early Fathers actually teach? The question has absolutely nothing to do with what I personally think about what they teach, whether some people find their teaching difficult to deal with emotionally, etc.

    If you don't like the message, don't blame the messenger. Whether you or anyone else prefers the universalist position is completely irrelevant to whether that is what scripture and the Fathers actually taught.

    1. “Whether you or anyone else prefers the universalist position is completely irrelevant to whether that is what scripture and the Fathers actually taught.”
      Indeed, appeal to emotion, or blaming the messenger does not constitute sound rational arguments.

      Thus, Dr. Feser, David Bentley Hart turns to that which is or is not rationally coherent in saying, “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.”

      Presumably, in that quote Dr. Hart is referring to the combined asserted attributes of god as omniscient, omnipotent, the creator of all (except himself), god’s free will, the existence of a hell of eternal torturous suffering, all with the addition of omnibenevolence.

      I believe Dr. Hart’s position can be (somewhat informally) summarized as the assertion that omnibenevolence cannot be coherently asserted along with all those other assertions of god’s nature, therefore something has to go, and the thing that must go is the notion of eternal damnation.

      Now, you make a case that annihilation could serve the logical purpose of eliminating the eternal aspect of an otherwise incoherent attribute set, but Dr. Hart has further arguments against that.

      One somewhat more pleasant take on the many rather odious passages you cite is that perhaps they could be interpreted as applicable after death, not merely in this life. So yes, all those who seek salvation must go to Christ, but perhaps Christ will allow post death conversions.

      So sure, right now it seems glaringly obvious to me that scripture is simply incoherent, that is, taken as a whole, there are so many books written by so many different people over so many years that the authors simply contradict each other in intrinsically irreconcilable books of mythology.

      But, after I die, and I start flying about in the clouds, and perhaps I join a harp ensemble, and look down on my children and all humanity and start exploring the universe flying from place to place, well, I like to think I will be flexible enough to change my mind in that case and Jesus will give me a friendly hug and say jovially “see, I told you so” and David Bentley Hart will have the last laugh on us all.

    2. (My comment has been lost due to a bug so I write it again).
      Their comments are not fallacious IMHO.
      In your numerous blog posts, you deal only with the truth of the doctrine and its implications about conversion.
      My point is that it is, I dare to say, irresponsible to drop such an hard truth without spending as much time to deal with the "how no to fall into profond despair" problem. To make matter worst, you are defending the "eternity of hell" and the "most are damned" thesis, which is one the worst version of the doctrine from the despair point of view.

    3. Edward Feser:
      The question has absolutely nothing to do with what I personally think about what they teach, whether some people find their teaching difficult to deal with emotionally, etc.

      But this is merely a dodge. No, as a scholastic dogmatician I suppose it doesn't matter what you personally think, or how difficult it is to deal with emotionally. But as a man and as a Christian – it does matter. And this is the weakness of the scholastic tradition generally, viz. it favours the abstract side of man's intelligence so heavily that an integral application of our humanity is easily discarded & lost. The Christian faith is not a list of propositions which we have to give a mere intellectual assent to so we can pride ourselves on being "orthodox". It is a revelation of God to man, which we each have to give a personal and living account of. So yes, you do have to have a personal stake in the doctrine of eternal punishment, and you do have to make it emotionally palatable to your hearers, if you're going to teach it as divine revelation. That may not be your duty as a scholastic; but it as a man, a Christian, a teacher, and a public figure.

    4. Inquisitor, why in your post did you not express concern for my elderly grandma who has covid?

    5. Don, your argument doesn't work I think.

      That Dr Feser doesn't adress the "emotionnal" problem is relevant to the subject, contrary to what you imply.

      First, because the doctrine defended here has an huge emotional impact on people and you can't separate the theory and practice so easily here.
      Secondly, I suspect that Dr. Feser is adressing this subject because he is concerned about the spiritual fate of people. But, if he is concerned that people may lose their soul by embracing a specific doctrine about hell, and therefore adresses this problem at length, it is reasonable to expect that he will adresses the emotional consequence of embracing the traditional position.
      That presumption about own's salvation AND despair are a sin is just sound catholic theology. So it is just a matter of logical consistency to ask Dr. Feser to adress both sides of the problem.

    6. Dealing with the emotional issue was outside of the scope of Feser's argument here. Plenty of other theologians and apologists have addressed that elsewhere. Here, Feser was concerned only with refuting Hart's view that universalism was taught by the early Church and by Scripture.

    7. I am not fully equipped to handle this issue, but I think one essential part of the resolution is to remember who and what God is. If we know that God is perfectly good and just, and furthermore that He desires all men to be saved (all of which are asserted by Scripture), then we can at least know that nobody will go to Hell "by accident", or "unfairly", as seems to be the real fear behind most who find the idea of Hell intolerable. We can be certain that the Holy Spirit is tirelessly working for salvation, and that God will do everything possible to lead Man to salvation, if only Man would listen.

    8. Anonymous,

      What Cantus said (in both posts but especially the first).

    9. Dealing with the emotional issue was outside of the scope of Feser's argument here. Plenty of other theologians and apologists have addressed that elsewhere. Here, Feser was concerned only with refuting Hart's view that universalism was taught by the early Church and by Scripture.

      It's still a dodge. The main thrust of Hart's argument is that Eternal Conscious Torment is not humanly acceptable. The scriptural and patristic data is circumstantial. The whole point of Hart's book is that we can't just rest on received dogmas and stock arguments to make palatable to our conscience what is intrinsically unpalatable. The demands of the theologian here go beyond proof-texting, old syllogisms, and appeals to authority. To lock yourself up in the fortress of scholastic deductions because the real debate is too frightening, is a dodge. Hart is trying to prick the conscience of the dogmatists. He's saying you can't just threaten us with institutional force and fear of eternal punishment anymore; you have to listen and answer to the voice of a Christian conscience. To say, "it doesn't matter what you feel, it doesn't matter what you think, tradition and orthodoxy say otherwise", is precisely the bullish way of doing theology that is being rejected. You can force a man to recite a dogma with his lips out of fear of excommunication, but you can't force it upon the conscience. In the end, aren't theologians supposed to make the faith more attractive, approachable, and comprehensible to the soul? "Suck it up, the truth has no need for your feelings", sounds brave but is really cowardly, because it means you refuse to approach the truth you're preaching with adequate openness and sensitivity.

    10. Sorry for the cliche, but it's exactly the gross conscience and puffed up mind of the scribes & pharisees to dogmatically teach religious ideas he has little to no existential awareness of and moral appreciation for. If you're going to open your mouth about something like the eternity of hell, you better have fully lived and digested that belief yourself first. Otherwise it's better to pass over in silence and say, "this is something I don't understand."

    11. It's a "dodge" to not address the full implications of a position in an argument meant purely to show that this position was taught by such and such? Put the shoe on another foot - imagine someone who really really wants to believe that casual sex is ok, and hijacks a thread where you lay out the Scriptural data against fornication, demanding to be comforted because he finds this position offensive and will not accept it unless you work through his issues with him. You, rather bewildered, explain that you were only intending to lay out the data, and did not mean to persuade him personally, so his feelings are outside the scope of the post. He accuses you of being an evil Pharisee who demands that you should not do anything that pricks his conscience unless you are willing to talk him personally through his emotional difficulty and demands that you instead act as if you "don't understand" Scripture, essentially demanding that you muzzle yourself for his comfort.

    12. In addition, you are vastly overstating things. Scripture is not ambiguous on the topic, the natural readings clearly support non-universalism, and it's painfully obvious that the attempts to reread them are motivated by an emotional need, an inability to accept the reality of the words. So it isn't true that the data is ambiguous. If it were, why does Origen specifically call his universalist view tentative and speculative? Why did the Church settle firmly on the reality of Hell, if things were truly as murky and ambiguous as you claim?

    13. First, Cantus easily carries the day here against Inquisitor Benedictus.

      Second, no one in Hell will say, "This is unjust!" They'll do plenty of lamenting, but demons do that, as well. Yet no demon, via exorcism, has ever said its punishment was unjust. They'll admit they were stupid, yes, and that Hell is painful, certainly, but never unjust. They're "lock in" in eternity, and confirm God's Judgment.

      Similarly, no one in Heaven will say the eternal punishment of the damned is "unjust", but rather merited. An individual now, on Earth, may not see that, may not comprehend how that could be, but in Heaven (and Hell) all will have perfect clarity, perfect understanding, and all will admit the Lord has given Justice Itself (Himself) to all, both those who humbled themselves to do His most holy will, and those who refused to do so.

      Finally, those in Heaven are in the Beatific Vision. God will so fill (and fulfill) them that they won't be thinking about the Lost. It'll be like when Job met the Lord God, face-to-face. Difficult to imagine now, but not impossible, really.

    14. Cantus,
      "Why did the Church settle firmly on the reality of Hell, if things were truly as murky and ambiguous as you claim?"
      Some of the more obvious motivations of the church:
      1.To sell indulgences, either directly, or in the form of support in connection with church communion and confession (forgiveness).
      In other words, to extort money from the population on the threat of eternal torture.
      2.The church is made up of irrational people who fail to see the obvious incoherence of the set of properties and creations attributed to god.
      3.The church is made up of dishonest people who knowingly sell nonsense to the rubes.

    15. I think that telling that Dr Feser way of presenting things was irresponsible was excessive, so I have to apologize.
      Cantum: I would be interested in the ressources you are talking about.
      I just would like to restate my point to make it better understood.
      With regards to hell, I think that most priests, preachers and theologians in my country, when speaking about this issues would do it in a very cautious way and with a great deal of pastoral care during their preach. In particular if they were preaching about hell, the "most are damned" thesis and other stuff like that. That's a way of paraphrasing my point, if it helps.

  4. Really the only scriptural text that gives me, a non-universalist, even slight pause is 1 Corinthians 15:22. But, as noted, the material in scripture overwhelmingly points to a final judgment followed by permanent separation from God, however one interprets that.

    1. Most evil doers would be fine with that.

      That's where the fire comes in. Notice how it's prominently featured in most of these passages.

    2. Well, there is the Parable of the Lost Sheep and that of the Lost Coin. In isolation, they would not only imply that we are all saved but that the vast majority of us are the sheep and the coins that aren't lost and so don't particularly need saving. Given this contradicts everything else, and the context it appears in, they could also be read as making the point that the saved will include flagrant sinners.

    3. Of course some of the saved will include those who had been flagrant sinners. St. Paul was one. A number of the declared saints were, formerly, flagrant sinners. What matters is your character at your death.

  5. Some universalists try to get around the finality of the soul's disposition after death by saying that a person will be able to change again once reunited with their body in the resurrection. This is actually the weakest part of the Thomist arguemnt, at least in the very sketchy forms I have seen. But there are problems.

    Presumably, once a person is joined again to his or her material body and able to change again, there really is no guarantee that that person will actually choose God during this second period of bodily existence. And, since a material body, especially that of a person persisting in sin, has no tendency to persist, and so the person will presumably die at some point and have to be resurrected again. But, of course, there is no reason to believe that the person will choose God anytime soon in this whole process. So, you end up with something like the Hindu cycle of endless rebirth, followed by eventual liberation.

    Needless to say there is no indication whatsoever of this whole rigamarole in scripture.

    There are other philosophical problems with this sort of argument, but I only wanted to point this one out.

    1. "Some universalists try to get around the finality of the soul's disposition after death"

      I think this argument against universalism is extremely weak. Besides the suggestion that the change and regeneration might happen after the soul is reunited with the body, there is the much simpler fact that this kind of stuff wouldn't really stop an omnipotent God.

      If the soul's final disposition cannot change after death, so what? God could ordain the world in such a way as to take that into account. If God truly wants to save everyone, He won't be prevented from doing so because the soul cannot change its orientation after death.

      God could give mystical experiences to people, slow down their perception of time, or whatever, in the brief moments before their deaths, talk with them, give them a "road to Damascus" experience or whatever right before death. Or perhaps God could just order or choose a world in which everyone is saved while taking this into account - making sure that everyone gets to somehow accept God before death. And so on.

      God is omnipotent, omniscient, maximally resourceful. If God knows that a soul's disposition cannot change after death, the most that implies is that God's salvation plan will have to accomodate this fact, so God would have to be more creative, witty and strategic in making sure people can be saved before they die. And this is no problem for a maximally resourceful God.

    2. He could for example reincarnate a proportion of individuals , maybe repeatedly, until their experiences and life circumstances led them to repent ( I am assuming that it is not possible to order the world such that all do this first time around ). Reincarnation would pose no difficulty for an omnipotent God, which begs the question as to why the Christian God does not do this. Or maybe he does sometimes?

    3. Edward does have a post on reencarnation:

      There is also a cool post that is not about the subject, but is a interesting take on the more cartesian view of the soul reeincarnation needs:

    4. Atno, after this post, I'm not seeing any possibility for universalism. It does seem very clear that the Church has always taught that you can't get back from Hell.

      I get the feeling you don't like this, but what if it's true actually?

    5. St. Thomas Aquinas is quite clear that God can change the human will as he sees fit: "And He [God] alone can change this inclination, Who bestowed on the creature the power to will: just as that agent alone can change the natural inclination, which can give the power to which follows that natural inclination" (S.T. I.106.2). Hence "God alone can move the will efficaciously" (S.T. I.111.2). So there's no doubt that on Aquinas's view, God could save everyone from damnation by moving them to a sincere repentance, if He so wished.

      Despite that, Aquinas also believes (as does Ed, apparently) that the majority of humans are damned, citing Matthew 7:14 ("For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few") - see S.T. I.23.7, ad. 3: "Since their eternal happiness, consisting in the vision of God, exceeds the common state of nature, and especially in so far as this is deprived of grace through the corruption of original sin, those who are saved are in the minority."

      I don't doubt that a strong prima facie case can be made for eternal damnation (or at the very least, annihilation - see Ehrman's "Heaven and Hell") on exegetical and patristical grounds. Ed's post shows that. But a God Who expects me to stop loving members of my own family in the event that they choose damnation, even though He could have made them freely choose salvation without doing any violence to their wills, is surely no God at all, but a Devil. That is Hart's one good argument against what he calls infernalism. The rest don't amount to much.

      And no, it won't do to reply that counting on God to save us at the last minute would make us all morally lazy. If God can move the human will efficaciously, He could also prevent us from being lazy and ensure that we all "work out our own salvation, in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), without slacking off.

    6. Vincent,

      If I'm not surprised you find the gospels to be hopelessly unreliable which means you shouldn't find any significant reason to think ECT is true over universalism.

    7. Vincent's argument basically boils down to the Argument from Evil, which every Christian has to contend with. Hart's attempt to circumvent the problem is self-contradictory. AFAIK, the doctrine of free choice of will is still the most reasonable and coherent response.

    8. Vincent Torley:
      One would have to look up the Aquinas quote in context for more of a comment on it. However, God could remake the Human Race in whatever way He "wishes" -- but of course, God doesn't "wish". One of the problems in these arguments is from our perspective, arguing from a Fallen human state, and not from "higher ground". We're just like the friends of Job, trying to help him but making ourselves foolish.

      "But a God Who expects me to stop loving members of my own family in the event that they choose damnation, even though He could have made them freely choose salvation without doing any violence to their wills, is surely no God at all, but a Devil."

      God would have to simply, and utterly, remake His Creation to do that. He doesn't "do violence to our wills" but honors us in our unique nature in being able to make such a pronound, free-will choice to begin with. In a profound sense, univeralists refuse the free-will gift. They don't want it. It is too dangerous, to perilous, to high a tight walk to balance on, or so they feel.

      But God created Creation the way He did, then blessed it, making a covenant with it (first verses in Genesis chapter 2), and then it was, AFTER that, that Adam and Eve failed, so God, to keep His side of the covenant, began "Salvation History". And we have the free will inherent in us, that by which we are what we are, as God made us, to participate in that Salvation History, or not, as do "our loved ones".

      Freedom is a perlious gift, indeed.

  6. I doubt that, if Origen were alive today, he would support Hart's position. Origen vigorously defended the doctrine of the free choice of will, which Hart dismissed. Even if Origen believed all will be saved in the end, he would not assert that the doctrine of eternal punishment is immoral. Moreover, it is one thing to argue that something is possible, it is quite another to argue something will happen. Augustinians would agree that universal salvation is possible from a philosophical perspective. But did Origen argue that all will be saved? I found no evidence of it, and would be glad to be corrected.

    If the Scripture can be interpreted in different ways, so too can the writings of the Church Fathers. Since the two sides don't agree on what the Scripture says, they won't agree on the Fathers either. It would be a tremendous undertaking to go through all the relevant writings of the Church Fathers one by one, and try to determine what each Father is really saying on the subject, and how it fits in with the rest of the Father's theology and philosophy.

    1. If all of the foregoing is not enough to convince you, you're right back to Pascal's wager.

      Better to live as if there is a God and Eternal Heaven and Hell for each and every soul than to find out the hard way.

      Being in a position to need Pascal's wager is never a good sign.

    2. Living on a wager is living on fear, the opposite of a Christian life.

      Pascal's wager is wry joke.

    3. Inquisitor, why a joke? Always seemed like an actual argument to me.

  7. Three posts in a row on hell? Man, Catholics are morbid....

    1. Not really. Catholics just push back on whatever truth is being denied at any particular time and place. As long as the truth is denied, Catholics defend it and are accused of being obsessed with it, when it is really the innovators that are obsessed with it. The textbook case of this of this is, of course, abortion, which was long understood to be a moral abomination until the 70's, when it was transformed into a secular sacrament. When the Church refused to go along with denying eternal moral truth, it was accused of being "obsessed with sex." Now Catholics are accused of being obsessed with hell, but it is really the dissidents who are obsessed with denying it.

    2. Well said David T. !!

    3. David T. Yes just like Catholics all of the sudden became obsessed with the Real Presence during the Protestant Reformation.

    4. As I say to people who say the Church is "obsessed with sex": If there is ever a Thieves' Pride Parade and courts of law start recognizing a person's "alternative property-rights orientation" I assure you that you will see lots more "obsessive" Church commentary on the wrongness of stealing.

      Ed's commentary on the errors of universalism are entirely proportional with the onslaught to approve it.

    5. Thank God that a man like Prof. Feser rose up to defend the orthodox Catholic teaching in a time where the world seems to have gone mad and even, sad to say, squeamishness and fecklessness seem to be the paramount virtues for many Catholics.

      May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Destroyer of Heresies, by her continual supplications, send more defenders of the faith.

      In the meantime, buckle up, the heretics are inside the citadel and it is about damn time to kick them out.

  8. My view is that scripture/tradition favor DH, but philosophy/reason favor DU. Ed ably spelled out the former, but the latter seems equally decisive. Here's a paraphrase of Reitan/Kronen:

    1. God wills what is best for all rational creatures
    2. It is best to be ultimately saved and not experience eternal damnation
    3. Therefore, God wills that all will ultimately be saved
    4. If God wills that all will ultimately be saved, then all will be saved unless it is metaphysically impossible or morally impermissible for God to bring this about
    5. It is not metaphysically impossible for God to bring this about, and there are some means God could use to do this that are morally permissible.
    6. Therefore, all rational creatures will be saved

    In addition, DU better deals with intuitive concerns about punishing people for eternity for making finite mistakes, and the absurdity that, under DH, it would be better to abort children before they can make such mistakes, since letting them grow into adults puts them at greater risk at not being saved.

    None of these arguments/concerns have been adequately addressed in my opinion, which leads me to think that some form of DU is probably true. By I agree with Ed that scripture/tradition support DH.

    As a parting thought, is it possible that God wants us to follow Feser and most Catholics in thinking that DH could be true, as a warning to repent now, but that God is actually planning DU? In other words, we should act as if DU is not true, due to scripture/tradition, and to prepare ourselves for heaven in this life, even though ultimately God will bring all rational creatures to heaven?

    This is sort of where I am at now. Like Balthasar, I hope for DU and think it is plausible, but I do not confidently hold to it, and in fact act as if it is not true.

    1. Michael,

      Why accept (5)?

      Assuming: DH includes that it would be better for a person to die while saved than while not saved. It doesn't follow, even on DH, that it would be better to murder saved persons than to not murder saved persons. Moreover, if we're saying the ends justify the means then on DU it would be best to murder everyone since all are going to heaven and heaven is better than earth.

      Your second to last paragraph is addressed by Dr. Feser in the above blog post and the previous "No urgency without hell" post. Basically, that idea it likens Christ to a paranoid conspiracy theorist who says don't go outside because the air will kill you when in fact it won't.

    2. Michael wrote,

      1. God wills what is best for all rational creatures
      2. It is best to be ultimately saved and not experience eternal damnation

      In my view, these universalist arguments have the same problem as Hart's: begging the question. They all start with the presumption that they know what is the Ultimate Good, but that is precisely the issue being debated.

      Just a couple of points for consideration:

      Is it good to hold a man responsible for his actions? If so, wouldn't God will that all rational beings be held responsible for their actions?

      Is it good to force a man to live with another against his will? If not, why would God force men to live with Him against their will? After all, to be saved is to live in fellowship with God.

    3. This is may not sound pleasant, but remember God expects to be taken seriously.

      Mercy and justice would not be among God's perfections if they were not infinite. They must be eternal.

      God is glorified both in rewarding the Just,

      AND in punishing the wicked, eternally.

      God shows mercy in creating when he need not, and shows justice in giving what is deserved.

      The whole point of free will is to test and reward those who have it. He knows the out come, or He wouldn't have created the world. We need to accept the highest Graces offered to us at every turn; not just in choosing good over evil, but in choosing to highest good possible.

      No matter what happens God will be glorified. The question is, will YOU be Glorified?

    4. Nemo,
      "If so, wouldn't God will that all rational beings be held responsible for their actions?"
      Is it loving to "hold me responsible" for using my intellect to conclude that books of mythology are just that, just stories among thousands of stories told?

      Does a loving god at first hide himself, then give me the intellect to realize he is not in evidence, and then "hold me responsible" by torturing me for all eternity?

      David Bentley Hart has some very reasonable words to bring into perspective what eternal torture would be, proportionately,

      "Can we imagine—logically, I mean, not merely intuitively—that someone still in torment after a trillion ages, or then a trillion trillion, or then a trillion vigintillion, is in any meaningful sense the same agent who contracted some measurable quantity of personal guilt in that tiny, ever more vanishingly insubstantial gleam of an instant that constituted his or her terrestrial life? And can we do this even while realizing that, at that point, his or her sufferings have in a sense only just begun, and in fact will always have only just begun? What extraordinary violence we must do both to our reason and to our moral intelligence."

      Indeed, is that "an eye for an eye"?

      If somebody, say, steals your car, would you advocate for their eternal gruesome torture?

      Perhaps you would be the "loving" torturer of every criminal who shows no remorse?

      No, I don't think so, I wager you have basic human compassion, that you love others as fellow human beings, that you could not bring yourself to inflict extended retributive torture on another human being.

      Yet I see on this thread a very great deal of ill conceived talk of what others "deserve" or how the sinful must be held "responsible", with one poster even expressing the twisted notion that every moment god tortures a soul for all eternity god is thus glorified.

      Really, is there such glory in torturing a soul for a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion...years, for the perceived slights that occurred during just a few years on Earth?

      Is that your just god? Is that an eye for an eye?

      God has hidden himself. Perhaps you think you have found him, but the Muslim says you found the wrong one, and on and on with the thousands of different gods humans have thought they have found.

      Suppose the Muslim is right and Allah puts you into the Allah hell, and tortures you for eternity while all the Muslim souls cheer on from above in paradise, reveling in the glory of their god holding you responsible and giving you the eternity of torture you deserve, they say.

      Perhaps you are right, and the tables will be turned, and you will spend eternity in heavenly bliss, looking down on all those horrible Muslims in hell, those filthy creatures who actively denied Jesus and refused his love in spite of all evangelical efforts. Will you look down as they scream and writhe in agony for all eternity thinking your angelic thought about how yes, they only believed what they were taught to believe, prayed as they were taught to pray, read the books they were taught to read, interpreted the universe in light of all the things they had been taught since they were a small child, yet they were wrong.

      So, it is good, and it glorifies god, and those Muslims in hell will deserve to be held responsible for their failure to come to Jesus as the son of god, and your angelic torture lust will be well satisfied for all eternity.

    5. SP wrote,

      "David Bentley Hart has some very reasonable words to bring into perspective what eternal torture would be, proportionately"

      No, Hart's argument there is another example among many of begging the question: He asserts that sin is finite, and therefore proportional punishment must be finite. But nowhere does Hart establish that sin is finite, nor that sin must be finite.

      I've written a somewhat lengthy review of Hart's book (at my blog), where I also gave my personal impressions of him. I'd rather not repeat myself here.

    6. Nemo,
      "But nowhere does Hart establish that sin is finite"
      How much sin can one perpetrate while shackled and imprisoned as one receives the "love" of your god in the form of excruciating suffering?

      What happens to me when I say "uhm, hey big guy upstairs, I didn't think you were for reals, but, yep, all these burns and screaming agony you have lovingly inflicted upon me definitely has me convinced, yep, I was was wrong, my bad, sorry, really, I mean it, for reals, so, howzabout you just stop with the lake of fire and stuff and let me up into heaven and I will bow down the praise you all the time, like, 24-7, I mean it, really, sorry, I was wrong."

      Ooops, no dice. Your infinitely loving god is gonna torture me for all eternity, and that's that.

      Yes, my "sin" was finite, just a blink of the eye on a cosmic scale, but your god's "love" of torture is infinite.

    7. SP,

      The following are some examples of how sin manifests itself in a person. Judge for yourself whether a man can sin as long as he lives, even when imprisoned.

      self-seeking, pleasure-seeking, lustful, covetous, envious, abusive, wrathful, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, malicious, slandering, lying.

    8. Nemo,
      All of which are finite, for a human being on Earth.

      Those sins are infinite for your "loving" hell god.

      Your god is the most self-seeking individual in the universe who demands endless praise on pain of eternal torture, he sought the pleasure of creation including endless booby traps for those he created for damnation, the bible tells us god is a jealous god, he is most abusive with his hell, most wrathful with his flood and plagues and hell.

      God's sins are eternal and vast. My sins are finite and tiny.

      You have not answered the question of how I will supposedly keep sinning for all eternity in hell and therefor somehow deserve torture for all eternity.

      What happens when I repent in hell? Can I get out then? If not, why not? Is it just to continue to torture a person for all eternity for the tiny finite sins of a relative blink of the eye, a human lifetime?

      Is eternal torture an eye for an eye compared to the infinitesimal span that is a human lifetime?

      I went to your link, but you have no answer for this most basic question.

    9. Nemo,

      If you look at something like this:

      What happens to me when I say "uhm, hey big guy upstairs, I didn't think you were for reals, but, yep, all these burns and screaming agony you have lovingly inflicted upon me definitely has me convinced, yep, I was was wrong, my bad, sorry, really, I mean it, for reals, so, howzabout you just stop with the lake of fire and stuff and let me up into heaven and I will bow down the praise you all the time, like, 24-7, I mean it, really, sorry, I was wrong."

      You can see Stardusty is just a total troll.

      One issue with Bentley Hart appears to be that his writing provides troll-food for such as Stardusty.

    10. Anonymous wrote,

      "You can see Stardusty is just a total troll."

      Speaking as someone who was treated like a troll on another blog, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. As long as there is something reasonable in SP's comment, I'll respond to it. I do this for two reasons: First, other readers might have the same questions and concerns, and might benefit from the discussion. Second, I try to articulate the doctrines as I understand them, so that others can correct me if I'm mistaken.

    11. SP,

      The question I'm addressing is whether the doctrine of eternal punishment meets the criteria of proportional justice.

      If there is an afterlife, which is the premise agreed upon by both sides, then there is a distinct possibility that a person will keep on sinning, as he has in this life.

      My point is simple: if a person does not repent of his sin, he will endure punishment as long as he lives, even unto eternity. This is proportional justice.

    12. Nemo,
      Ok, so then you agree with David Bentley Hart, everybody does get saved.

      People are punished by god until they repent, then they are saved, that is your idea of proportional justice, right?

      That means everybody will be saved because nobody is going to just hang out in a torture chamber for all eternity, as opposed to repenting.

      You have a very strange view of human psychology if you think there are actually people who will prefer eternal agony of being continuously burned alive.

      So, now that we have established you are a universalist can you point out the ways in which the texts Dr. Feser cites in the OP can be re-interpreted to fit your universalist stance?

    13. SP,

      Many people are suffering torment every day, emotionally, physically and mentally, and yet they would not receive the Gospel.

      As I wrote in another thread, the question is not whether hell exists - we're living in it, the question is whether we're willing to call upon Christ to deliver us from this misery.

    14. Nemo,
      This is hell? Are you suffering agony and torment every day? Well, maybe if you are in a burn ward right now or something, dunno, if so, I hope you get better soon.

      But even in a burn ward they can give you morphine or Fentanyl or whatever. Does Jesus give you an eternal prescription for opioids in hell? No, that would kind of defeat the torturous intent of god, now wouldn't it?

      Most of us are not in hell, in fact, I enjoy my life a very great deal. Life is a grand adventure full of so much to learn and discover. Of course there are painful times, but they pass.

      I don't need or what Christ to deliver me from this "misery". You think most people are in misery as in hell?

      You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. You have a sort of disjointed whack a mole theology.

      It's pretty hard to reason with somebody who equates ordinary life with the lake of fire hell. and somehow because people find that your irrational mythology is of no use to better themselves that means to you they would choose an eternity of agonizing torture as opposed to repenting in the Jesus hell.

      You are one mixed up person, but if your life is really all that bad, well, best of luck to you to get yourself back on your feet. I'm not a hater. If you really feel that bad about your life, that you are suffering so much pain it seems you are in hell, I hope you get some help for whatever your problems are and get past it all.

    15. SP,

      You just refuted your previous argument that people will repent when suffering torment, by giving a counter example of a person (i.e. yourself) not repenting despite living a life that is "painful" at times.

      Will such a person change his mind, if the level of pain is increased and intensified manifold?

      My point is that people who end up in Hell might feel the same way about their life as you do about yours, and therefore see no need for repentance.

    16. Nemo,
      "You just refuted your previous argument that people will repent when suffering torment, by giving a counter example of a person (i.e. yourself) not repenting despite living a life that is "painful" at times."
      Your equivocation is so blatant that I now suspect intentional sophistry.

      "Will such a person change his mind, if the level of pain is increased and intensified manifold?"
      Of course. You don't know very much about human beings, or the difference between your life now and some imagined afterlife in hell, do you?

      As I said, it is pretty hard to reason with a person who cannot differentiate between living a good life on Earth with some bumps along the way, versus an afterlife of eternal excruciating torture.

      You equate the two and fail to see the differences. How bizarre, or intentionally dishonest.

      "My point is that people who end up in Hell might feel the same way about their life as you do about yours, and therefore see no need for repentance."
      What a profoundly idiotic rationalization.

    17. SP,

      "excruciating torture" is your idea of afterlife, not mine, Remember, my idea of hell is proportional justice.

      Do you have any proof that people will repent because of their punishment? Or because of excruciating pain?

    18. Nemo,
      ""excruciating torture" is your idea of afterlife, not mine, "
      No, it is not my idea, that is the traditional idea of scripture, you know, "their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur ",
      "They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
      "The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

      So, according to the bible in verse after verse, everlasting punishment in hell means being burned alive, thrown into a furnace, placed in a lake of burning sulfur for all eternity.

      Not my words, not my ideas, it is in the bible, just look it up.

      Dr. Feser is correct in citing the verses that he cites.

      Dr. Hart is correct in pointing out that those verses make the assertion of a loving Jesus incoherent.

      The reason both Dr. Feser and Dr. Hart are correct is that the bible is intrinsically incoherent mythology.

      Obviously, yes, of course. Everyone either breaks under torture or dies if the torturer is persistent.

      If I die, and I then find myself in the lake of burning sulfur it will take me about 2 seconds to repent.

      The reason I don't bow down to your god now is the same reason I do not bow down to the monkey god or the Ju Ju Up The Mountain god, or any other absurd mythological being, because I am not a gullible fool.

      But toss me into a lake of burning sulfur after I die and I will finally have the evidence nobody could provide here on Earth, so yep, it's gonna be mea culpa time in that case.

    19. SP,

      The passages in Revelation (you quoted) say that those who are punished don't repent; Faking repentance to escape punishment doesn't work in this life, and won't work in the hereafter either.

      Your flippant attitude toward repentance only shows your willful ignorance of Christian teachings of sin and repentance. You quote Dr. Hart, yet you've completely missed his point about salvation.

      You're free to keep spouting atheistic claptrap, but you won't be able to learn anything, not even make straw man arguments, when people ignore you completely.

    20. 1. God wills what is best for all rational creatures

      There is a prior, more important premise, which I will number (0):

      (0) God wills the good of the whole order more than the good of a specific member of the order of creation.

      Thus, for example, God wills the life of living things, but for carnivores the life of one involves the death of another animal. God loves the whole order and thus "wills" the death of the prey in willing the life of the predator.

      4. If God wills that all will ultimately be saved, then all will be saved unless it is metaphysically impossible or morally impermissible for God to bring this about

      You need to read the Book of Job. Since we weren't there when God laid the foundations of this created order, we don't know EXACTLY what his goal is for this created order. One thing we do know, because he has told us, is that he will ensure final justice, which entails that merit will be rewarded and evil will be punished. He has not granted perfect insight as to how he will carry that out - rather, he has said otherwise.

      With respect to any single sin, God COULD HAVE given to the sinner such grace that he WOULD HAVE turned away from evil and embraced the good. But he manifestly does not do so. Therefore, God manifestly wills to permit sins to occur that He (metaphysically) could have prevented - since which can damn a man for eternity. Account for this, and we will show how your premises are not solid.

    21. "Faking repentance to escape punishment doesn't work in this life, and won't work in the hereafter either."
      You really do not understand the logic here, do you?

      This life is, well, this life. I am an ape, living on planet Earth. I will die in a very short time, relative to the cosmos.

      That is real human life. There is zero sound evidence for a god of any sort in this real human life here on Earth, and all published arguments for the existence of god are rubbish I can refute immediately, they are all that bad, and there just are not so very many of them such that I have yet to be surprised by a new one.

      The afterlife, as it imagined, is vastly different. Just supposing some mythology, and your mythology is no better than any other that has been told around an ancient campfire, somehow turned out to be true.

      Well, surprise surprise, that would be rather amazing, to die yet to remain somehow living. That would kinda change perspectives, dontchya think?

      I mean, right now hell just seems like a silly story in some ancient texts, best explained as originating in the nightmares of men, and perpetuated as an extortion tool so the powerful pope could fund the palace he lives in.

      But, just supposing I die, and your mythology, or Islamic mythology, or the monkey god mythology turns out to be true. That's going to be some pretty strong evidence, right? I mean, if I die, and then I go to meet the monkey god I will be, like, I always thought you were just some silly ignorant story, but now that I meet you, uhm, can I get you a banana?

      Death kind of changes things, don't you think?

      So, you think people will die, get thrown into a lake of burning sulfur, and then just be all stubborn and say nope, I'm just going to exist forever in excruciating agony and never admit maybe I was wrong.

      Yes, getting burned in a lake of burning sulfur, or whatever nightmare your particular mythology calls for, after death, will evoke real repentance.

    22. Don, Nemo, Tim, and Tony

      Here is how one could defend the premises:

      God's willing all to be saved seems to follow from his benevolence. And his ability to save seems to follow from his omnipotence. Furthermore, refuting 5 means coming up with some plausible reason why God would not or could not eventually save all. It seems that God is able to create the conditions in which one, eventually, freely chooses to enter the kingdom.

      Remember the DU only holds that all will be saved eventually. Hell still exists, justice is still served, but it is temporary. This makes sense, since finite creatures can only commit finite crimes, and thus the punishment itself must be finite.

      To argue otherwise, and suggest that finite earthly sins require infinite punishment, and that this is actually best for everyone, seems odd. Moreover, to say that we cannot speculate about this since we don't know (obviously, no one knows for sure) would end up refuting much of philosophy, including the arguments for God's existence in Ed's books. All we are doing is using our God-given faculties to try and figure out what is likely to be the case in the next life.

    23. Michael,

      You haven't addressed any of the points we raised, but basically repeated your assertions. So I suspect whatever I say below won't make any difference either. But, in the interest of dialogue, let me offer another point for consideration

      I'm assuming that you're a Christian and believe "that Christ died for our sins". If sins are finite, such that all men will eventually be released from Hell after having endured finite punishment. Why the Crucifixion?

  9. Well first you deserve some credit. That was a thorough run through from the old testament to the patristics.

    I will agree with you, as an annihilationist, that the strongest position is one of final exclusion. However, a few points of push back on particular padsages;

    Its common amongst old testament scholars to see that resurrection was commonly used as an analogy for national resurrection (during and after the exile) as opposed to individual resurrection. Isiah is a prime candidate here. At the same time, the concept of destruction was not a personal afterlife either but again, national (consider that christians would sometimes use resurrection as an analogy for baptism too).

    "And why suppose that Christ is even talking here in the first place about the reward of the wicked in the afterlife, or of all of the wicked?" This is a well made point that I think applies to such texts as Isiah.

    Another case would be Luke's example of the narrow gate. A quote from NT Wright's commentary;

    Jesus’ warning in this passage sounds as though it’s every bit as unreasonable as the airline regulation was that night. If you’ve got a confirmed place, surely you ought to be allowed on board no matter where you are in the line. It seems unfair for the householder to let people in up to a certain point and then, when he’s shut the door in the faces of the next people, to protest that he never knew them. But a moment’s thought about the whole sequence of teaching in Luke up to this point will reveal that the warning is very much needed. The question about how many will be saved sends us to the question of ultimate and final salvation. Interestingly, Jesus refuses to answer this question directly; he will not give statistics and figures to satisfy mere human inquisitiveness. What he gives is a stern warning, not least because in the setting of his journey to Jerusalem ‘being saved’ is not simply a matter of ultimate destination after death, but the more immediate and pressing question of the crisis that hangs over the nation. In this setting, his warning is both appropriate and necessary. As he goes about his mission, he is holding open the gate of the kingdom and urging people to enter it. The door isn’t very wide, and it will take energy and commitment to get in; no question of strolling in by chance. One day, and not very long from now, the door will be shut, and it will be too late. God is giving Israel this last chance, through the work of Jesus, but he is the final messenger. If he is refused, there will be no further opportunity. The disciples in Acts urge people in his name to ‘save themselves from this crooked generation’ (Acts 2.40); if they do not respond to Jesus’ call, they will pull down on themselves the judgment that ‘this generation’ has incurred. Those who wait to see what happens later, and who then presume that because they once shared a festive banquet with Jesus they will somehow be all right, will find that there are no promises for those who did not take the chance when it was offered. The promise, and warning, of Jesus is that the very people his contemporaries were eager to fight – the Gentiles from east and west, north and south, who had over the centuries oppressed, bullied and harried them – might at this rate end up in God’s kingdom ahead of them. The strange workings of God’s grace, in which, though some are chosen for particular roles, none is assured of automatic privilege, mean that some who are first will be last, and vice versa. We should be cautious about lifting this passage out and applying it directly to the larger question of eternal salvation. Jesus’ urgent warnings to his own contemporaries were aimed at the particular emergency they then faced.

    1. Interestingly, Jesus refuses to answer this question directly; he will not give statistics and figures to satisfy mere human inquisitiveness.

      It was human inquisitiveness through the woman that brought eternal damnation to the human race. That is not me being sarcastic: inquisitiveness is antithetical to creativity, wisdom, or intelligence. Inquisitiveness is being a Peeping Tom except on a metaphysical scale instead of a girls' dressing room.

      I hate inquisitiveness.

    2. Callum,

      You wrote, "Its common amongst old testament scholars to see that resurrection was commonly used as an analogy for national resurrection (during and after the exile) as opposed to individual resurrection"

      Could you briefly explain how this distinction between national vs individual resurrection is relevant to the debate?

      A related question is how the resurrection of the nation of Israel relates to the salvation of the Gentile, but I guess that's off topic.

    3. Theres a symmetry between resurrection and judgement in how it is used in the OT. That is, there are passages on judgement which are actually about events in history concerning a nation as opposed to an afterlife for each individual. So such passages won't support ECT.

      This isnt to move indirectly through the resurrection of the nation to infer judgement upon nation. Its pretty settled that Isiah (or Jeremiah I forget) is speaking about that nation.

    4. Callum,

      In your view, does Isaiah/Jeremiah say anything about how God would judge the Gentile nations in contrast to Israel?

  10. another point to make is that "kingdom of God" is not solely a way of speaking about the afterlife but, in the Jewish context which was mainly Jesus' ministry, also a way of speaking about a nations relationship with God.

    This is to say that some of the passages quoted in the body of the post may well not be speaking about an afterlife judgement (indeed christ often spoke of God's judgment on Israel which was an event during history, say the destruction of the temple).

    But to repeat, though I think the number of passages supporting final exclusion is smaller than those cited above, i nonetheless accept that there are texts that support it.

    For support of universalism, I think biblical support is quite empty actually. Perhaps one or two in Paul but as you've showed just as many which clearly disagree.

    The best case for universalism is philosophical, not biblical.

  11. Ed Feser, I think correctly, charges annihilationists that they “take for granted that the person who is damned wants to be annihilated.” Ed agrees with C. S. Lewis that the damned are those to whom God says “Thy will be done” and takes for granted that the damned person is IN EVERY CASE the person whose will is fixed at death on being a person who wants to live a certain type of sinful life forever no matter the cost in personal misery. My strong intuition is that this is unlikely to apply to every single person who is damned. There are some who would want to be annihilated. Let assume for a moment that there are annihilationists (class Y) who will be saved and annihilationists who will be damned (class Z). It seems highly likely that at least some of class Z would choose annihilation over suffering eternally and if they do suffer eternally then God is not granting them their will. Ed mentions the suicidal but does not give us a reason why, at least in some cases, their will is not fixed on annihilation.
    I submit that the position that makes best sense of all the scriptures and of most people’s intuitions is that some of the damned will choose infernalism and some of them will choose annihilation.

    1. Tim,

      What if someone dies willing to destroy God? Is God to grant them their will?

    2. Tim Finlay wrote, "Ed mentions the suicidal but does not give us a reason why, at least in some cases, their will is not fixed on annihilation."

      Some of the suicidal think that when they die they will no longer suffer, some think that their loved ones would no longer suffer and the world would be a better place without them. Their mind are not fixated on annihilation, but on seeking relief, which they take to be a good.

      However, the assumption that death provides relief is false. We know for a fact that suicide actually brings more suffering to the ones left behind, and there is no telling what happens to the departed.

      I'm inclined to think that annihilation is even less reasonable than universal salvation, and might cause more pain than eternal punishment (here)

    3. Do you know for certain that no suicidal person seeks annihilation? You just said "there is no telling what happens to the departed"; we really don't know the motives of everyone. If some are annihilated and some suffer eternally, that makes sense of all the biblical passages in a way that neither annihilationism for all the damned nor eternal suffering for all the damned does.

    4. Tim Finlay,

      I mean we don't know what happens to people after they die, whether they suffer more or less. However, to the extent that we can know anything at all, we know, both from a philosophical and psychological perspective, that no suicidal person seeks annihilation. I'd be happy to engage further if you like.

      Which biblical passages do you think would make more sense if people are annihilated?

    5. The passages that talk about the wicked perishing, the wicked being ashes under the feet of the righteous, about God being able to destroy both body and soul etc.

    6. Nemo,
      What would count as evidence that someone sought annihiliation? Would a suicide note saying "I seek oblivion; I seek to be annihilated" count as evidence that the person sought annihilation?

    7. Tim Finlay,

      Those same passages would also make sense if physical death is separation of soul from body, and the Second Death separation of both soul and body from God.

    8. That is not the natural way to read "destroy."

    9. Tim Finlay wrote,

      What would count as evidence that someone sought annihiliation?

      We can tell the difference between seeking annihilation and using annihilation as a means to an end. For example, if there is a way to relieve the person's (emotional and physical) pain, or change the condition of his life, is he still suicidal? If not, then he does not seek annihilation. I've yet to come across evidence of people seeking annihilation for its own sake.

    10. Tim Finlay,

      That is not the natural way to read "destroy."

      How doe the "natural" meaning explain why people's spirits survive their physical death?

    11. Nemo, "ashes under the soles of your feet" implies that the bodies of the wicked have perished, not that they are separated from God.

    12. Consider this passage (Job 30:19-20):

      19 He throws me into the mud,
      and I am reduced to dust and ashes.

      20 I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
      I stand up, but you merely look at me.

    13. Tim, what about the people that will to rule God? Why are you assuming all wills must be granted by God in their specific (rather than general) aims?

    14. By "general" will/aim I mean for or against God. Which is why there are two final destinations, heaven or hell.

    15. Don

      You cannot what is in itself impossible. It is in itself impossible to rule God, so no one can will it.

    16. The same could be said about annihilation.

    17. Don, I am challenging the claim that EVERY damned person would choose living a life of their favorite sin knowing it meant eternal suffering over annihilation. I find this no more plausible than the claim that EVERY damned person would choose annihilation.
      There are people (who know nothing of Jesus and who were never baptized) who live a life of sin and find that it results in misery, become horrified at who they have become and who commit suicide, for example.

    18. If both are not possible then how is choosing annihilation different than choosing to rule God?

    19. How is choosing annihilation not possible? Don't many at least think that is what they are doing when they choose to die?

    20. Tim Finlay,

      It might help to think of it this way:

      People lost and scorched in a desert see a mirage, and choose that as their destination. They are not really choosing the mirage, but what the mirage (mis)represents to them.

      Similarly, people do not choose annihilation, but what it misrepresents to therm, whether it be relief from pain, freedom from slavery or preservation of honour, etc.

    21. Tim, everything you're saying in regards to annihilation also applies to ruling God. Satanists, and probably others, will to rule God. I don't disagree with you about what annihilists THINK. (Nemo shows one way to interpret this.). I would also say the same about Satanists.

      An analogous way to view the thinking of annihilists (I mean people that desire it to happen to them) is to think of the person that says "I want to be a chicken." That's not possible. YOU (I'm speaking to chicken-guy) can't be a chicken; at least in part because chickens aren't rational animals. If some wizard turned you into a chicken-shaped animal then it either wouldn't be you or it wouldn't be a chicken. Chicken-guy would say, "Yeah okay can you make me a chicken or do I need to find someone else?"

  12. Wow, that was a lot of research. To be honest, the best debate is about what Scripture actually says. If Scripture is not ambiguous, them that is it, is Christianity of Universalism.

    A related question: do we find much about the resurrection of the body on the Old Testament? I only recall that passage on the Book of Daniel, the rest looks more like a resurrection on the national level.

  13. *is Cristianity OR Universalism.

  14. When you have a really long post with dozens of Scripture quotes, and you STILL forget passages that go against Universalism:

    Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

    Matthew 7:21

  15. With opinions like these, Ed must be fun at parties!

    1. The main problem here is that he ventures out of his field of expertise, but do not waste any of your precious time debating on this blog, good sir. Debating with a brick wall is often more productive than debating with some of those who wander around this blog, in my experience.

    2. Well Feser does agree with Michael McClymond, who, writing a 1200 page volume on the history of Universalism certainly is an expert. He also wrote a pretty scathing review of Dr. Hart.

    3. Are you really going to try the "man, your view is unpopular" card? We *know* it's unpopular. Feser himself undoubtedly knows it isn't nice. We hold it purely and simply because God has said so, end of story.

    4. Scott,

      1) If you think Dr McClymond has the last word on that issue, perhaps you should read Dr Ramelli's answers to him.
      They can be found on the Internet.

      2) Mere quantity does not an expert make : if a book contains a lot of falsehoods and if the theory that it seeks to defend is actually completely wrong, the fact that it has 1200 pages or even 120 000 does not magically make it reliable... nor does it make its author an "expert" on whatever it is that he's writing about.

      3) Dr Ilaria Ramelli is a renowned patristics scholar who has been working on Universalism in the Church Fathers for about 20 years.
      She's able to read Koine Greek, Latin, and (I believe) Syriac, and she understands full well the nuances of these ancient languages.
      Thus, she has been reading the Church Fathers' works in their *native language* : it is *not* translations she's read.
      Dr Michael McClymond, on the other hand, is *not* a patristics scholar/expert : he's a scholar of religion in America, which is (needless to say) very different.
      He has *not* spent 20 years of his life on Universalism in the Church Fathers.
      He does *not* (to my knowledge) speak the ancient languages that I've just mentioned (or at least, not as well as Dr Ramelli).
      Therefore, he has *not* read the Church Fathers in their native language and even if he had, I seriously doubt he was able to understand all of the subtleties and nuances of these languages.

      My conclusion : between McClymond and Ramelli, I'll take Ramelli's word.
      As should any rational human being.

      Thanks for reading (if you're still around).

    5. I take it for granted that Dr McClymond cannot read Koine Greek, Syriac, etc, (or at least not as well as Dr Ramelli) precisely because he's a scholar of Religion in America while Dr Ramelli is a patristics scholar.

      Obviously, Dr McClymond's area of expertise (Religion in America) has *nothing* to do with ancient languages... contrarily to Patristics Studies.

      Just because somebody has a PHD, that doesn't mean he's an expert on everything he decides to write about.

    6. Could you link Ramelli's response to McClymond?

    7. Hart has also written a very scathing review of McClymond's book.

    8. Callum,

      You can immediately stumble upon several websites where her answer to him are available just by typing "Ramelli to McClymond" on the Internet.

      Such websites include :
      Several more websites.

      I once stumbled upon her whole answer to McClymond (the whole scholarly article she had written to answer him) on a website that did *not* require me to suscribe to it in order to read the whole piece.
      However, it was a couple months ago...
      ... so I'm afraid I can't recall *which* website it was.

    9. "Where her answer to him *is* available (...)"
      Since I found that website, I guess anybody else can find it as well without too much trouble (hopefully).

  16. And then he claims thereby to have defused the scriptural evidence against universalism. But that is to conflate the debate over universalism and the debate over annihilationism.

    Is there something in the theodicy of strict universalism that also does this? It seems that strict universalism holds that it would be preferable to create nothing then to create a world where some are lost to eternal torment; in other words, it holds it preferable to exclude everyone by non-being than to exclude some by condemnation to hell.

    If that's the case, then the theodicy seems only capable (on it's own) of excluding the possibility of an eternal hell, not the possibility of annihilation.

  17. DB Hart on eclectic orthodoxy:

    ”Hilarious, isn’t it? Of course, the poor guy doesn’t actually know the scholarship for either the scriptural or the patristic texts, doesn’t know what universalists actually claim, doesn’t know the languages, and clearly doesn’t know the difference between scholarship and collecting arguments from web sites. This is the work of a man with sub-Sunday-scool education making arguments that have been dealt with a million times.

    Let Feser be Feser. In the world of textual and theological scholarship, he is the equivalent of Richard Dawkins making philosophical arguments. And, like Dawkins, he’s protected from knowledge of what a fool he makes of himself by the sheer immensity of his ignorance and mental laziness. Send him all the links, bibliographies, well worn arguments you like, he’ll never look into it. As I say, he’s Dawkins.”

    1. So DBH is a sad little man. But you ought not to spread more widely than necessary such gross examples of his petty and spiteful inanity. What good does that do?

    2. Snore. Exactly what I expected. Standard DBH argument from (his own) authority. "I'm an expert on this stuff, ergo you're wrong and an idiot and a cretin and I needn't bother actually addressing the arguments." High fives from the fan base and on to the next thing.

      And I'm the one who's like Dawkins?

    3. I'd love to see DBH's response just focusing on Paul (which is where universalists will all look to for most of their positive evidence).

      Here's a quite whip through by NT Wright concerning Pauline passages and universalism. Hes not impressed. I think there may be one or two passages which are stronger than Wright claims but by and large he lists enough plausible readings to disarm most Pauline passages.

      Give it a read its only around 7 pages;

    4. I’m not an expert on koine Greek, early church or Patristic history. But if I had to choose between DBH and Ed, I know which one is the expert. I say this as someone who ”converted” from theistic personalism to Classical theism because of Dr Feser. I have my highest admiration towards Ed. I just think that on this particular issue he is wrong and Hart is right. Ilaria Ramelli is someone else that has convinced me.

    5. Tuukka,

      Hart and his fans constantly try to divert attention from the substance of the arguments and talk instead about who is an expert in this or that and thus who should be listened to and who ignored. It's sheer sophistry.

      If something is wrong with some specific argument I have given, then show that and stop wasting time going on about who is an expert in what. If your criticism is correct, then it is correct, and whether I or Hart or anyone else knows koine Greek, patristics, etc, doesn't make it more correct. And if it is incorrect, it is not made less incorrect by the fact that so-and-so knows koine Greek, patristics, etc. This is just basic logic.

      And judging from Kimel's combox, it seems that some people over there cannot read even English, let alone koine Greek. E.g. when I cited Judith, I explicitly said that it is irrelevant to the specific point I was making whether one interpreted the passage as a reference to literal postmortem suffering. My point was merely that what it conveys is the idea of the wicked being cut off forever -- whether that entails eternal sleep or annihilation or perpetual suffering or whatever -- and that it comes at the beginning of a tradition that runs through the intertestamental period, the NT, and the early patristic period, where the idea of everlasting loss and suffering becomes progressively more explicit. All of that is true, and this childish "Oh dear, he's not a biblical scholar!" stuff doesn't make it less true.

      Similarly, whether or not I am a patristic expert is completely irrelevant to the point I was making by citing all those passages from the Fathers between the NT and Origen. They show that there is a clear and consistent theme, for two centuries, of the final loss of the wicked. Saying "Oh dear, he cut and pasted a bunch of passages, but he isn't a patristic scholar!" doesn't change that a whit.

      Honestly, dealing with DBH and his fans is like arguing with high-schoolers about who's the coolest, who made the sickest burn, and other such puerility. I'm increasingly baffled that people remain impressed by this phony.

    6. Honestly I find Hart's insistence on his own expertise to be rather more reminiscent of Dawkins than anything in Ed's post. You oughtn't simply to defer to experts (except defeasibly) for the reason that experts are as capable of motivated reasoning and dishonesty as anyone else. (And if I'm allowed to hold a view as long as I find an expert to hold it, then fine, I'll find an expert who disagrees with Hart. Not hard to do.)

      I agree with Ed. Punishment in the New Testament is routinely treated as something final. That's the whole spirit of certain parables (Lazarus and the rich man) and of the fire metaphor. People with degrees in ancient languages would like the issue to be over how to translate aionios, as though that can bridge the gap between their views and the broad picture, but it can't.

    7. Having watched this back-and-forth exchange and giving a fair reading through all all the arguments put forth by Feser and DBH, I have to say that I’m at a loss.

      Take it all to prayer, leave it in God’s hands and let Him hold that mystery and guide your understanding (the way any good theologian would do it). I get that both of these guys have two very different ways of approaching theology and the Church. At some point, though, one must realize that there is no way of humanly understanding the mechanics of salvation and I’m beginning to think it’s a waste of time lingering in this territory for too long. It’s like peering into the dark glass and making a game or a spectacle of discerning the scene and figures on the other side.

      Yesterday I was given the gift of hearing Fleming Rutledge do a beautiful exegesis of David’s election in 1 Samuel. She tied it up, eventually, with Paul’s passage in Romans 11:32 about all being bound in disobedience so God can have mercy on all. There is a hope there, but we can say nothing more. Nor can we humanly know what divine punishment will entail and for what greater purpose. I don’t care which Doctor of the Church one appeals to, it’s beyond the bounds of human knowledge and that alone should be enough for us to repent, live virtuously, and strive to live in communion with God and His Church.

      Later in the evening I happened upon a reading of Julian of Norwich’s Shewings. The mystical wonder of it! Go and read ch. 15 and 16 (I believe?) where God tells her that “All shall be well” in the end without for a moment denying the danger of sin and the reality of divine wrath. He tells Julian to be content with this knowledge only in a general sense. There is always hope, but there is always a need to be people of deep prayer who strive to live in accord with the divine will. However cliche it may be, St. Thomas’ “all I’ve written is like straw” moment is still instructive in these places. Words ultimately fail, we must trust ourselves to God’s mysterious will.

      Idk who needed to read that, but I hope it resonates with anyone who has been putting too much energy into this debate and coming away drained.

    8. Ed quoted Michael McClymond's historical work. Its hardly as though he just skipped through a Bible and picked passages that sound like they agree with him.

      Theres more than a few examples where secondary literature by experts was cited.

    9. Dr. Feser
      “I'm increasingly baffled that people remain impressed by this phony.”
      It might be related to his clear statements regarding the incoherence of the eternal torturous damnation assertion on a god of infinite omniscience, omnipotence, free will, and omnibenevolence.

      Clearly, it is incoherent to ascribe so many mutually exclusive properties and creations to a single entity.

      David Bentley Hart calls out that incoherence is vivid and explicit prose, so that is one plausible for reason to be impressed by this “phony”.

      Other reasons would be his academic credentials, his position as Templeton Fellow at the University of Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, the translation work he has done, his publications, and the recognition among peers he has garnered in his path to becoming a “phony”.

      You have referred in various contexts to “the wicked”. Do you suppose I am wicked? And by wicked I mean deserving to be tortured for eternity, as Dr. Hart would say, a trillion vigintillion years as only just the beginning of my torment. Is that your notion of an eye for an eye? Is that just punishment? Would you be personally willing to inflict excruciating agony torture on me for eternity because I am an atheist, by that I mean to ask, would you have the stomach to do the job yourself?

      I very much doubt it. I have never met you and it is highly unlikely I ever will, but I have seen you in somewhat candid interactions as they were captured on video and I was not surprised that your teacher ratings are very high. You seem like an affable, keenly aware, and empathetic individual.

      Why is it that your moral sense is so vastly superior to that of the god you profess to worship?

      Perhaps the deep understanding or what Dr. Hart calls “moral intelligence” is related to why it is “that people remain impressed by this phony”.

      One of the great advantages Catholics have is that they have a man who is believed to be able to alter our human interpretation of scripture and then go back to being infallible again.

      So, maybe the early church fathers got it wrong and David Bentley Hart has it right. Perhaps the blatantly incoherent assertion of an all loving god who created eternal torment for most can be set right with a better translation and a deeper understanding of the totality of scripture.

      Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

    10. Andyroo, good post. "Take it all to prayer" is always good advice.

    11. I now understand why DBH claims universalism is true: because he is an insufferable a-hole, and its his guarantee that his own bile won't be the end of him. Talk about making a virtue out of a necessity.

  18. Professor Feser cares about your emotions. He just had more important things to write about.

  19. It's posts like this that cement my opinion that Catholicism is right up there with extremist forms of Islam like Wahhabism as the most malignant religion on the planet.

    You're actually in favour of condemning billions and trillions more humans to unspeakable suffering lasting billion year upon billion year, with no end in sight. Think of it, Catholics in seeking to forbid contraception and abortion while maintaining the belief that eternal condemnation is a substantial risk, and presumably a high probability outcome in such places as Saudi Arabia and India, actually do believe that those humans born who don't meet the mysterious requirements for entry into Heaven (apparently belief in Christ is vital, but there are many disqualifying factors such as being too rich) can and should face this grotesque punishment. Can I think of anyone who deserves this punishment? Hitler, Pol Pot, Josef Fritzl perhaps? Of course not, no being deserves this. It's cruelty beyond imagination. And yet you think it's proper that you should make children who might well be subjected to this fate, and that billions and trillions of humans should be made, most of whom will never hear a word of Christian thought, who too shall have to go to this place because not bringing them into existence in the first place is even more wicked!! Are you going to tell me the fate of the aborted or never-existing is worse than this?

    And, as Bart Ehrman has made clear in his latest book 'Heaven and Hell', it was never Jesus's belief either. That 'afterlife' depended on the imminent resurrection of corpses, destruction of those unworthy, and return of Earth to the pristine Garden of Eden state in which the worthy believers would live forever. Curious how unsatisfactory this notion is to modern Christians who prefer to believe in magical soul-stuff in which all our conscious life is apparently occuring, and apparently makes a seamless transition from demented state in the final years of life to full awareness in Heaven or Hell soon absolutely silly this is.

    You disgrace yourself utterly by seeking to defend this. As did the three very intelligent Catholic chaps that debated these issues in some depth with Bart Ehrman. As an ex-Christian of the typically superficial sort who didn't at the time actually know anything about scriptural criticism and the history of the religion I enjoyed this a great deal. Watch it, the video is on his channel. I think he knows plenty more about the allegedly Good Book than you do and refutes many of these passages you have selected here.

    1. I would like to point out that it is not taught that being outside the visible Church necessarily and always means that someone is damned. That was the Feeneyite heresy, which was condemned. It is a long-established belief that those who are truly ignorant of Christ through no fault of their own will not be held accountable for this (traditionally this has been called "invincible ignorance"). You can see discussions of it here:

      Secondly, I would urge you to consider that Catholics believe that God is absolutely good. You do not, of course, but please keep in mind that we believe we have good independent evidence that God is absolutely good, and therefore can have confidence that He will not do anything unjust, will not look for "gotchas" to try and trip people up into Hell with.

      I do not expect you to like me or react well to my post, but I felt obliged to try and reach out to you nonetheless. Whether you hate me or not, go in peace.

    2. Also relevant is the notion of baptism of desire:

    3. However, I must admit after all of this, that I am no theologian, being neither learned in philosophy nor skilled in the consoling of hearts. I may be wrong about much, and it's possible I may have given a wrong exposition of some points, or, for instance, one could debate whether someone living in an overwhelmingly non-Christian country such as India is the same as one living in the times before Christ. But I wanted merely to point out to you that your conception of Hell is not quite correct.

    4. Darryn,

      Catholicism does not require such a position. It is very hard (I think impossible) for a Catholic to accept Hart's brand of universalism with hell lasting only a finite time. But there are many forms of universalism which are open to Catholics, including Balthazar's (one of the greatest Catholic theologians) hopeful universalism: while it is possible for people to be damned forever, we can have a plausible hope that all will in fact be saved. Or quasi-universalism as I myself hold: while some people go to hell, it is only a very few; the vast majority of people end up going to purgatory (where they receive some finite restorative punishment for a time) and then eventually heaven (when they are purified). So the vast majority of people are saved. This view seems to even have been endorsed by pope Benedict XVI, for instance.

      So your comparison of Catholicism with those extremist sects is very uncharitable. Especially when you consider that most theologians are open to milder forms of universal salvation.

      And it's not even just a modern phenomenon; there has always been acceptance of things such as baptism of desire, baptism of blood, etc. Catholics also believe that if someone gets a perfect contrition before death, they are saved from hell. Perfect contrition is when you repent of your sins/hate them because they offended God - this is not so hard as might seem at first glance either, when you consider what God actually is (the Good).

      There will always be traditionalist sectors in the Church who will keep quoting such and such hagiographies or reports or whatever, trying to push the massa damnata idea, and so on. They can do that, and their arguments do have some weight from tradition, but they're very far from definitive. Many Catholics believe in mild forms of universalism or at least have plausible hopes that most people will be saved, and this following the Church also (as I said, even recent popes have expressed such views).

      I in fact agree that if most people we see in this world are damned, this would in fact be quite ridiculous and make God a kind of incompetent fool - am I really supposed to believe He could not have saved most people we see here, that everyone is so psychopathic to the point of firmly rejecting all trace of God's love and good to the very end, or that God couldn't care less? I find it utterly ridiculous. But Catholics are not required to believe that. So hold your horses.

    5. Also, here are some interesting words by Saint Edith Stein - that powerful, brilliant saint and martyr that we all should read more of:

      "Grace can come to man without him seeking it. The question is whether it can complete its work without his cooperation. Its seems this must be answered in the negative…it can find no abode if it is not freely taken…

      And we know that many men occupy themselves with salvation in this life, but don’t accept grace…

      But we still do not know whether the decisive hour might not come for all these somewhere in the next world, and faith can tell us that this is the case…

      All merciful love can thus descend to everyone - we believe that it does so. And now, can we assume that there are souls that remain perpetually closed to such love? As a possibility in principle, this cannot be rejected. IN REALITY, it becomes infinitely improbable …Grace can steal its way into souls and spread itself more and more…

      Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom but it CAN be “outwitted”…The descent of grace to the human soul is a free act of divine love…And there are no limits to how far it may extend…

      The faith in the unboundedness of divine love and grace justifies a hope for the universality of redemption, although, through the possibility of resistance to grace that remains open “in principle”, the possibility of eternal damnation also exists."

      Later on, she became a little less optimistic; she appears to have written in her diary saying that the possibility of damnation appeared to her as more real than an "infinite improbability". I think that, in the end, she may have believed in quasi-universalism - which, of course, is the best view :^)

    6. "of the typically superficial sort who didn't at the time actually know anything about scriptural criticism and the history of the religion"...

      So what changed?

    7. Well, Atno, I'm glad for your contribution. However, I'd like to propose something to you. I don't think it's necessary for someone to be a complete psychopath to reject God. Even in my own life, I've had times when I was immersed in masturbation and felt the easy urge to rationalise my sin away, tell myself "oh it's fine, engage in sin, you can just confess it later!", or some similar such bunk. From the outside it might be hard to see my wickedness, but I can tell that I was deeply enmeshed in sin and, if I had persisted constantly in that without turning back to God, I find it easy enough to believe that I could find myself unwilling to choose God over my disordered lust, even knowing the consequences. So, like Edith Stein, I have come to realise that our initial assumptions about what it would take for us to reject God are often wrong. I just thought it would be worth it to give my perspective.

    8. "I find it easy enough to believe that I could find myself unwilling to choose God over my disordered lust, even knowing the consequences."

      This also makes perfect sense to me. Substitute with your vices of choice. Really interesting comment.

    9. Fair enough, I still find it absolutely unbelievable that ordinary people would absolutely reject God and that He wouldn't have any legitimate ways or scenarios to get them to understand and accept Him. Especially when taking away mitigating factors which blind us, add to our ignorance and finite conditions, limit our freedom (addiction being a good example), etc.

      The way I read Saint Edith Stein, it seems as if she ended up near my camp - perhaps even being a bit more optimistic than I am (after all, it seems like she endorsed hopeful universalism, I only believe in quasi-universalism).

      My position shouldn't be taken to imply that people don't have to worry about their salvation, in any case. It's just, I'm convinced, the necessary rational consequence of theism (which itself entails optimism as Leibniz saw).

    10. "I still find it absolutely unbelievable that ordinary people would absolutely reject God and that He wouldn't have any legitimate ways or scenarios to get them to understand and accept Him. Especially when taking away mitigating factors which blind us, add to our ignorance and finite conditions, limit our freedom (addiction being a good example), etc."

      I tend to think that everyone is capable of this kind of satanic evil - and it seems to me that in many ways we choose "for God" as incoherently as we might choose against Him. And, given that Jesus' ministry in earth seems to demonstrate that God can visit us in person and still fail to win the Judases and the Pilates of the world, I don't tend to think of the difficulty as being one of misunderstanding at all. I simply think that some of us - maybe many, possibly most of us - are just not going to listen and love God, no matter what we think or say we are doing. You may reject this as unbecoming of God's goodness, but I think the fact that any of us might be saved - or worth anything to God at all - to be the more remarkable. At all events, thanks for the interesting comments.

  20. There are some passages in the gospels and in the other books of the New Testament that on plain reading are universalist, others which on plain reading are non universalist (namely infernalist or annihilationist [1]). There are some writings by early Fathers and other respected Christians that are universalist and some that are non universalist. So here is what we should do: Prepare an exhaustive list of all universalist passages and of all non-universalist ones. And then count them! By this method we shall surely arrive at the truth of the matter.

    Of course I am joking. Such a method wouldn’t even lead us to the historical truth about whether universalism was or wasn’t believed by many Christians during the first centuries (and even perhaps by the majority at least in the Greek speaking part of the world).

    But what should one do if one finds this historical question to be particularly significant? Unless one is prepared to do the work oneself one will presumably search what widely respected scholars who have studied that period think about this question. And here I find that Catholic Ramelli and Eastern Orthodox Hart agree that universalism was indeed widely believed during the first centuries. For me that’s evidence enough.

    The key question though is whether universalism is true or not. The main argument in David Hart’s “That All Shall Be Saved” is not based on scripture nor history. It is based on the observation that if the creator of the world made it so that some of his creatures would be condemned to never-ending suffering in hell then he is not good in any intelligible sense of “good”, and thus is not God. Hart mentions other important arguments, but I think this is the main one. I find it rather striking and perhaps telling that Feser and other infernalists instead of dealing with the main arguments in Hart’s book keep beating around the bush.

    [1] Thus the passages about Gehenna appear to point towards annihilationism. Perhaps the reader will be interested in this short and interesting paper which discusses the evolution of the idea of hell in Christianity. It’s messier than one might thing – history usually is.

    1. "based on the observation that if the creator of the world made it so that some of his creatures would be condemned to never-ending suffering in hell then he is not good in any intelligible sense of “good”, and thus is not God."

      I think non-universalists deny this premise right off the bat. There's nothing to discuss on that note.

      So far, the undertone of much universalist critique in these comments seems to be orbit around how morally benighted non-universalists might be in order to 'desire' people to be damned.

      This line of thinking also isn't of much interest to non-universalists.

      I think it makes sense that we stick to evaluating history, scripture and church teaching rather than the above.

  21. "There isn’t one passage in scripture – not one – that asserts or implies the universalist thesis that all will in fact be saved."

    This is disingenuous at best. 1 Timothy 4:10 couldn't possibly imply universalism? Romans 11:32?

    Yr citations of Isaiah & Judith do not prove what you think they do. Or do you suppose the Hebrew Bible has a conception of final judgment & damnation? Read those verses in context—you're reading them as if they were written with later Christian theology in mind.

    1. 1 Timothy 4:10 couldn't possibly imply universalism? Romans 11:32?

      Of course not. First, 1 Timothy 4:10 is not addressing the question of how many are saved. It's telling us who God is. The expression "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe" is like referring to me as "the teacher of all students who take this section of PHIL 1 this fall, especially those who stay in the class." The latter phrase tells you something about me, but it doesn't tell you whether all students will be taught (i.e. will actually stick around and learn). Similarly, God is the Savior of all in the sense that he desires to save all, but that doesn't tell us whether all will in fact be saved.

      And I addressed Romans 11:32 in the original post. That God has mercy on all entails only that he offers salvation to all. It doesn't entail that all will take it, any more than the fact that I teach everyone in the class entails that all will actually listen, take notes, etc.

      So, what I said stands. Such passages neither assert nor imply that all will in fact be saved.

      Re: Isaiah and Judith, I already commented on that. No, I am not claiming that they have a full-blown theology of final judgment etc. in mind. I am saying that what they imply is that the wicked will be cut off forever, however one conceived of that (annihilation, soul sleep, perpetual suffering, being collectively forgotten, etc.).

      Seriously, really think about these passages instead of focusing on this DBH red herring about whether they are saying exactly what medieval writers were saying (which no one claims). They are meant to contrast the reward of the righteous with the fate of the wicked, and they imply that the latter is bad and final. Even if you think that all that is in view is a poetic way of expressing the idea of some collective happy memory of the righteous and some collective perpetual ill-repute for the wicked, it doesn't change the point, which is that we see even in these early texts is the idea that the final fate of the righteous and wicked will be a Great Divorce rather than a Great Group Hug.

      If you find that appalling, take it up with Isaiah and Judith, not with me.

    2. Ah yes, a perfectly natural construction that might occur to anyone. I often say things like "All these books are mine, especially the ones I don't plan to give away."

      Such a contortionist reading requires no response.

      As for Isaiah & Judith, my point stands: the finality spoken of there is of an altogether different order than eternal damnation. These passages tell us nothing about whether hell is eternal or even exists.

      These questions just aren't as simple as you believe.

    3. Such a contortionist reading requires no response

      That you're unable to come up with one doesn't entail that it doesn't need one.

      You fail to see that the unnatural construction is yours, not mine. Consider that curious phrase "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." What does that mean?

      Does it mean that some are saved more than others are? I'm sure you'll agree that that would make no sense. One is either saved or not, just as one is either pregnant or not. It makes no sense, except as a joke, to say "Lucy is pregnant, but Ethel is especially pregnant." Similarly, it would make no sense to say "Lucy is saved, but Ethel is especially saved."

      So, we have to come up with some other reading. And I submit that the only one that makes sense is that God is "the Savior of all" (in the sense that he offers salvation to all) but "especially of those who believe" (because they are the ones who actually take him up on the offer). And that is, of course, a non-universalist reading.

      So, to make your case, you need to give us some alternative way to read that curious phrase. And I mean an actual alternative, not hand-waving trash talk.

      Re: Isaiah and Judith, your stubborn insistence on ignoring what I actually wrote is mystifying. I just got done saying, yet again, that the point I was making does not stand or fall on the question of whether "hell is eternal or even exists." As I said in the original post (did you actually read it before commenting?) I was not addressing there the question of whether the fate of the wicked is annihilation, perpetual suffering, etc. I was addressing only the universalist claim that all will in fact be saved, and arguing that scripture and the first two centuries of patristic writers all say the opposite. And Isaiah and Judith clearly fall on that the non-universalist side, because they both teach a final separation of the righteous and the wicked (however one interprets the nature or details of that separation). Or are you seriously going to claim that Isaiah and Judith, on a natural reading, leave it open whether the wicked will end up having the same fate as the righteous?

    4. I accidentally published this as a separate comment.

      Oh my Lord. The point, of course, is that Isaiah & Judith are discussing an entirely different meaning of separation, so what is the relevance to the question that we are actually discussing? Obviously no one can be a universalist with respect to a belief system according to which death is final. Obviously no one wonders whether the wicked & the righteous go to separate Sheols.

      As for 1 Timothy 10:4, the whole damn point is "What does that mean?" You are the one who claims to know exactly what it means, since you deny that it can even *imply* that all are saved. Yes, you "submit that the only one that makes sense" is one that favors yr position, even as you admit that the line is mysterious. If you would have written something like "Although some passages seem as if they could imply universalism, I would argue that this is incorrect," we wouldn't be here.

    5. (And, as you know, the distinction of Sheol and paradise postdates the Hebrew Bible, though probably not Judith.)

    6. The Gospel shows that the Jews were wrong in their understanding of much of their own Scripture, which was why Christ opened the Scriptures up to Peter. Exegesis of the Old Testament cannot be done purely on what the Jews at the time believed, it has to be interpreted in light of the New Testament where it is revealed that death is not final, but there is life beyond the grave. There is not only the human author, but the Divine Author, who (being of one substance with Christ) obviously intends to teach what Christ was teaching; the New Testament helps us understand what God was saying in the Old.

      The Old Testament was there to pave the way for the New Testament. Under what seems to be your method of Old Testament exegesis, Christ's own exegesis doesn't actually have support from the Old Testament since the Jews at the time did not believe in the implications that Christ drew from them.

    7. Thank you, Tim, for that remarkably anti-Semitic comment.

    8. What is anti-semitic about it? Christ Himself corrected them a number of times. Matthew 22:29:

      And Jesus answering, said to them: You err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.

      Mark 2:25:

      And he said to them: Have you never read what David did when he had need, and was hungry himself, and they that were with him?

      just to name a couple. Paul also corrects the Jews in their understanding of (for instance) the value of circumcision and how Abraham was justified. And the Jews were obviously mistaken in their looking for a political savior.

    9. I think our conversations at EO have shown that we have nothing to say to each other, Tim. I find yr brand of Christianity repellent. Peace be with you.

    10. TimFinnegan,

      FWIW, I was following the discussion in this thread. "M. Robbins" offered no explanation or justification for his charge against you. Critiquing people's understanding of Scripture is not the same as "showing hostility toward or discrimination against" them. So I don't think your comment is anti-semitic, but unfortunately, name-calling has replaced constrictive criticisms in our divided culture.

    11. I think the "saviour of all men, especially those who believe" makes more sense like this: Christ truly saves everyone, but "especially" those who have faith because those can already be restored in this life explicitly, recognizing God's sacrifice and love in the cross. Those who do not believe are also saved by Christ, but not in the same open, public, explicit way that believers are.

      I think the verse supports universalism. But other verses fit better with universalism being false. I still think Scripture is not very clear on this matter.

    12. I also don't think it makes sense to say Christ is the savior of the damned, since He doesn't in fact save them. Infernalists read "savior" as a title indicating a part that Christ plays, that of *offering* salvation to all man. This is fine by me, but I don't think it works past a certain point. Christ *was* the savior of the damned, but they rejected him, and he therefore is not, in fact, their savior.

      It's like reading "Christ IS the savior of all men, including those who are damned forever and will never be saved, but especially those who believed and are in fact saved". This doesn't make anywhere near as much sense as the universalist reading I mentioned, imo.

    13. "I find yr brand of Christianity repellent. Peace be with you."

      Nobody can be proud of this kind of comment for very long. And to say that to a stranger?

    14. It is not a question of pride. I don't refer to Tim's personal brand, but to the widespread understanding of Christianity he confesses—of biblical inerrancy & eternal damnation, according to which Jews are sadly misguided in their adherence to their own religion. Those beliefs are not mine; I find them repellent. I'm sure Tim is a fine person; I speak only of the kind of Christianity he apparently follows. I'm sorry if this upsets you.

    15. Atno wrote,

      "Those who do not believe are also saved by Christ, but not in the same open, public, explicit way that believers are."

      If a person doesn't believe, how is s/he saved?

      As for "Savior" being a title, it is valid as long as the person holding the title lives, even when he isn't actually executing his office. A president is still a president, even when he is on vacation, for example.

      Christ *was* the savior of the damned, but they rejected him, and he therefore is not, in fact, their savior.

      If one has to save in order to hold the title of "Savior", why "was" Christ a Savior, if he never saved the damned?

    16. Two verses in 1 Timothy have been cited as possible support for universalism, 2:4 and 4:10. To my mind, they can be interpreted as saying Christ is the Savior of all, regardless of race, gender, national origin, occupation, or observance level of the Law. There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, Greek and Barbarians, Pharisees or Tax collectors. Just as all are equal before the law, but not all are law-abiding citizens. So all are equal in standing before the Savior , but not all are saved.

    17. "If a person doesn't believe, how is s/he saved?"

      By accepting God's Grace; desiring the true Good. Such people might not know that the Good is in fact Christ, they might not make such a connection, but Christ and the Good are still one. The person could roughly share the same "reference" (Bedeutung) (to borrow Frege's term) for her desire as that of the believer, only with a different "sense" (Sinn).

      By accepting Grace in truly desiring the Good, the person can be saved through a baptism of desire. We might also consider such people as "anonymous Christians", to use Karl Rahner's theological idea.

    18. "If one has to save in order to hold the title of "Savior", why "was" Christ a Savior, if he never saved the damned?"

      That might be further problem for infernalism, but my point was simply that the typical infernalist reading appears clearly more truncated in my mind.
      "Jesus is the savior of all, especially those who believe" then becomes something like "Jesus offers salvation to all, especially those who believe". It still fails to account for the "especially" and the distinction; it also changes the plain meaning of savior from the one who saves into the one who simply *tries* to save or *offers* something.
      Meanwhile, the universalist interpretation I pointed out makes more sense to my mind. Christ is the savior of all men (He truly accomplishes or will accomplish His salvific work in all men), especially those who have faith (because those who have faith are aware of Christ's salvific work already; they already call him their savior. While those who have no faith are still saved by Him, but don't know it and don't explicitly recognize Him as their savior).

    19. Atno,

      We agree on something for a change. :) And yet, I would call those "anonymous Christians" believers (in the Good), although they may not believe the doctrines articulated by the Church, considering how many Christians actually understand these profound doctrines.

    20. You haven't addressed my second question: Why do *you* say Christ "was" a Savior to the damned, if they were never saved?

      If one takes the position that Savior is a title or office, as Feser suggested, then it is not necessary for him to save everyone, just as the title of doctor doesn't mean he necessarily heals everyone, for he can't heal those patients who are not willing to consult him.

    21. Then perhaps the title should be retracted? The universalist could argue the title makes sense only under universalism.

      I think the biggest issue is that it would certainly be very awkward in the passage in question. It's like saying a fireman went inside a burning building and managed to save some people while the rest were devoured by flanes. Then "That fireman was the savior of all in that building, especially those whom he rescued". It's extremely awkward. If he didn't in fact rescue some of the victims, he wasn't their savior even if he wanted to be. We can't say he is the savior of everyone, "especially" those who survived. That'd be a bizarre statement.

      I am not sure anymore whether I should say Christ was Savior to the damned. He did intend to save everyone. But as a title - that of Savior - over people he did not in fact manage to save does seem suspect now. Which I think reinforces the universalist reading of the passage. It's very awkward to have to imagine "The Savior of all men, including those he did not in fact save, and especially those who believe and in fact are saved". I think it's one of the better verses for universalists.

    22. " am not sure anymore whether I should say Christ was Savior to the damned"

      Actually this makes a ton of sense to me - guess I'll pick it up if you're putting it down.

      As one of the damned who could by no means save themselves, I am assured that Christ would be my savior of I am to be saved at all. If for my sins I go to Hell anyways, that's against all possible effort on his part, I figure. No onlooker would deny that Jesus made a perfect effort to save me even if I burned up in the building.

    23. "I'm sorry if this upsets you."

      I'm as upset as you are sorry.:)

    24. Atno,

      I understand the universalist argument as you explained it. But I'm still not sure why you think Ed's proposition that "Savior" is a "title" awkward: If the author meant to convey the idea that Christ is the Savior of all peoples (regardless of race, gender, national origin, and all the other human distinctions), but only those who believe will be saved. Would he have said anything differently than Tim 4:10?

  22. I'm so saddened and disappointed by both Hart and Feser's engagement with sacred Scripture and Biblical scholarship around this.

    The basic situation is that strong, plausible, deeply researched, and respectful scholarship can be found that articulates both universalist-friendly and ECT/infernalist-friendly readings of every single prooftext that both Hart and Feser have invoked in their respective works. Infernalists have plausible readings from respected scholars for all of the Pauline prooftexts (and universalist counter-readings are also present.) On Paul, for example, see the work of Beverly Gaventa on Romans to see a very strong, contextualized, universalist reading of the letter. Or of course you can look to Wright or others who have also truly immersed themselves in the material and who come to other conclusions.

    But while we're on Wright: his voluminous scholarship on the Gospels, contrary to his own interests, does a lot to strengthen the view that many of these texts that are taken as "hell texts" are quite plausible read instead as having a more immediate historical reference point: the destruction of the Second Temple. Prooftexting these as hell texts isn't something that is even done by some of the more prominent advocates of traditional positions.

    Anyway, I'm deeply disappointed in Hart's engagement with Biblical studies, and I'm deeply disappointed with Feser's imitative response. Lining up prooftexts is just prejudicial and unhelpful.

    What we find if we try to have even a passing respect for those scholars who utterly devote their lives to these texts and their contexts is an understanding that this is complicated. Smart and earnest and hard-working Biblical scholars of various stripes produce insightful and contextually sophisticated works for a variety of positions. What this teaches us is that the way the texts "obviously" seem to one person today (Feser/Hart etc) tells us shockingly little about what the texts might have meant to their original authors and audiences.

    A more humble and respectful discussion would emerge quickly from real knowledge of Biblical scholarship and the range of perspectives present there. And selective mass prooftexting quickly becomes a clear illustration of what it is: a propaganda strategy for Hart/Feser to rile up their core audiences, in a sad display of scholars not respecting scholarship.

    I could get into some specific examples, and gladly will if there's interest. But it is really important to establish the broader issues first, because it is terribly easy to get lost in the weeds on a particular passage. Most importantly, there's an unfortunate tendency in highly polarized environments to take ANY objection at all as fully adequate warrant for one's own views. So strong arguments may meet weak objections, and come to be dismissed. Or strong arguments may meet strong objections, and instead of trying to resolve the issue, the warring camps just walk away feeling vindicated. This isn't how one pursues truth.

    1. I think, per the quotes here, the early fathers also did the kind of 'proof texting' you think is so 'disappointing' - no?

    2. Some of them did, and they did it in various ways and to various ends. Insofar as that's the case, though, then Hart and Feser are both in the clear. Hart does much the same thing with universalist prooftexts in TASBS. So insofar as it is okay because the Father's did it, then it is fine for both Hart and Feser to do it.

      For what it is worth, I think it is a commonplace that the Father's disagreed on a great many things, including the very issue here. In this sense, both Hart and Feser ALSO prooftext the Fathers in their own respective ways.

      A nice solution, in a world where comprehensive and integrative works aren't available, is to read the various texts assembled and interpreted by experts with various views. So alongside these statements from the Fathers, one should also read those assembled extensively and interpreted carefully and expertly by Illaria Ramelli in "A Larger Hope." I wouldn't JUST rely on Ramelli. But in a world where selective cherry-picking is used to create false impressions, it helps to have an extensive selection and contextualization on the other views as well.

    3. The thing I'd add about Ramelli, for those unfamiliar with this work, is that this book is mostly just a collection of similar texts from prominent Fathers of the church, tracing back the thread of these ideas to some of the earliest patristic sources (Clement, Iraneus), and behind that to Paul, who provides us with the earliest Christian documents of any sort.

    4. And while Ramelli's word is certainly not law, she is generally acknowledged as a highly respected expert in the field, deeply immersed in the relevant materials and deeply familiar with the relevant languages. That isn't to say that no one else can contribute to the discussion! But it certainly must count for something that she knows the scholarship and the relevant languages and produces work that is informed by that and accessible to a general audience. It is, frankly, kind of boring because it is so repetitive, but that's also what makes it a useful historical resource.

      There's a not-too-fine-line between "We must take every word from an expert as law" and "Maybe people who have spent their lives studying the languages and materials are worth a hearing, and maybe they have more insight that people who haven't".

    5. This would be fine if she were a contemporary of the church fathers, but we are at such a cultural and linguistic remove from them - and the Revelation they espouse - that I don't think we have much reason to be confident that we can come to a better understanding - if universalism is such - than was common to the church then, particularly if the fathers' authority doesn't depend on "spending their lives studying", but rather actually being there and doing the evangelism. It seems
      to me anyway that they have a privileged position in history that no amount of scholarship which depends on their authority should be presumed to unseat.

      I have yet to see Hart or anyone here proofing the universalist case effectively with Scripture or references to the early church.

      I also don't understand why this debate - were it really debatable - would not have come to the same kind of acrimoniousness in 100 AD as it obviously does today. They certainly had plenty of conflicts in the church even then. Along with this, it seems worth asking that if it were true in fact, why didn't universalism win out
      and and become a commonplace view thousands of years ago?

    6. Holy run-on sentences, Batman.

      Where's an edit button when you need one?

      If the above is too hard to follow, please disregard. Serves me right for trying to comment from my phone.

  23. Does the traditional view of hell as a place of fire and torture even makes sense biblically?

    Jesus clearly says that Hell(or other thing, i can't read greek to know the right word used) is prepared to "Satan and his angels". The angels don't have bodies, the death right now also don't have and the ressurected deaths will have bodies that can't be damaged, so, how fire would hurt anyone? It seems that the view that hell is eternal separation from God makes way more sense.

    1. Talmid, your question seems weird to me. Do you believe it's possible that Jesus actually has no idea what he is talking about? Alternately, do you think that rather than sharing new information he is deliberately misdirecting us (me, certainly) as to the conditions of the damned? It seems to me that Jesus - preparing to die for my sins - wanting to dissimulate on what he is saving me from, is hard to believe; harder to believe though is that the sort of 'gotcha' observation you've made would be the sign that I have got ahold of the 'deeper' truth.

      I expect Satan and his angels to turn out to be as flammable as anyone else in Hell based on the same authority that tells me that Hell exists in the first place. I have no independent corroboration of the latter, so I think it makes sense to accept both if you accept either.

    2. This is ludicrous. Jesus speaks in metaphors *all the time.* It was his natural idiom as a teacher. Do you suppose Jesus was literally a vine? Or a lamb? Countless Christians throughout the ages have interpreted the fire metaphorically, so yr finding Talmid's question weird seems weird to me. I'm not a Catholic, but that Pope John Paul II said that the Bible employs "symbolic language" to describe hell should tell you something.

    3. It seems obvious per the quotes that church fathers have taken this literally - "literally" literally, even. They don't seem to be expositing this text as meaning something other than face value. As a Catholic, I think I should take Jesus to be saying something relevant about an actual Hell in the same way he would tell us about eating his actual body and drinking his blood for eternal life, and I tend to think the church fathers are doing the same in imitation of Jesus. As a non- Catholic, you can take or leave this argument as a bit fallacious, but it seems to me that I don't have the authority to contradict the precedent set in my church, and don't see scholarship in principle as being enough to do so.

    4. @Pl0

      Well, as mentioned by M. Robbins, Jesus did speak in parables a lot, in fact, most of His references to Hell are on the middle of parables, so we should not go full-blown fundamentalist on them.

      To give a easy example: on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, there is fire to the dammed, yes, the thing is that the parable is not in the end of world, but in the middle of our normal life, since the rich man relatives are living normally, and they have bodies!

      We have two options them: Or every death person RIGHT NOW already have his body like they do on the parable, or we should not take the parable as a literal description of the afterlife.

      I let you choose.

    5. Your example of the Eucharist in John 6 is not a good one, since in this situation some jews got confused about the meaning of Our Lord words and He just turned the language stronger, so Jesus made explicity that His words where literal. On most of His talks about Hell and fire, Jesus is already speaking on parables, so is weird to think He would just change is meaning from non-literal to literal so fast, especially because He hardly talked literally and clearly to someone.

    6. Talmid, I tend to think hell needed no further 'literal' exposition, specifically because before and after Jesus, people seem to have believed in a literally warm Hell. I mean, it's unambiguously not the majority position in historic Christianity that hell is not a literal burning place, and I suppose we inherit this understanding not because we have missed Jesus' meaning, but because we have accepted it. If universalism was an acceptable and 'universal' position in the church, we wouldn't be having this conversation, I think.

  24. I am glad you mentioned Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement. They were apostolic fathers who knew the apostles themselves. Their words should given plenty of weight, though I know many Christians do not agree with this. Historical evidence shows that Polycarp and Ignatius were taught by John; and Clement is mentioned in the bible in Philippians 4:3 The Sola Scriptura of Protestants often insists that only the bible can show us the truth. But we should remember that the events in the lives of the apostles did not end with the book of Acts.

  25. God has given sufficient grace to all that is somehow in some mysterious way able to really save the persons to whom it is given. Salvation is a real possibility for said persons. So I would at best concede some form of semi-universalism is possible & even if it was somehow realized the threat of Hell would still have been real. But that is it. Hope all you want for the salvation of all but you or I could still go to Hell even if everybody else is saved. So enough blathering about it.

    God is not morally obligated to stop me in the most absolute sense from going to Hell by abusing my free will in a wicked manner. Especially since if I do go He gave me truly sufficient grace to escape my freely chosen fate so I am without excuse.

    God did not have to create me. God has no obligations to me other that what He has willed for me. God only has obligations to Himself.

    Am I the only person here who sees what a Theistic Personalist pile of poo comes from this nonsense?

    God is not a moral agent. God is not a moral agent unequivocally compared to a virtuous rational create who is a moral agent. At best God is the Moral Law Itself but God is not a moral agent.

    Theistic Personalism sucks! It really truly sucks. The of Classic Theism is the only God.
    The God of Abraham and Aquinas.

    1. Son of Ya'Kov
      "God is not morally obligated to stop me in the most absolute sense from going to Hell by abusing my free will in a wicked manner."
      So, it is better that he wickedly abuses you and billions of others in an eternity of agonizing torture?

      "God did not have to create me."
      Nor did god have to create hell. Hell was god's choice, so god is responsible for the foreseeable suffering inflicted on others by his choice.

      "God is not a moral agent."
      Ok, so god is not good or evil, just a sort of robot.

      "God only has obligations to Himself."
      So god is the most narcissistic sociopath in the universe. Yes, that matches scripture, gotta give you that one.

      "Theistic Personalism sucks! It really truly sucks. The of Classic Theism is the only God. The God of Abraham"
      Uhm, a personal god spoke to Abraham, you can read it in the bible, so it must be true, right?

      And doesn't making and judging moral covenants make god a moral agent?

    2. SP is going to be automatically dismissed by some as a "troll" even though he makes much more sense than Ya'Kov... which isn't exactly a big achievement, of course, but...

  26. Son of Ya'Kov,

    "God did not have to create me. God has no obligations to me other that what He has willed for me. God only has obligations to Himself."

    Replace "God" with "My parents".

    Is your paragraph still true?

    If it is, are you sure that's not what *most* people would call "authoritarian parenting?"

    If such parents would be bad parents (as most people would clearly agree), how can you call God "good"?

    In what sense?

    1. Oh boy, a post directly to Son of Ya'kov where someone puts God on the same moral situation as a human.

      This will be fun.

    2. For a strong classical theist God means something like infinite perfect Being, so rewrite the sentences in that light:

      "Infinite perfect being did not have to create me..."

    3. It's not personalism, tho. Brian Davies's view that "God is not a moral agent" (which I personally find terrible, and unthomistic) is not representative of Classical Theism as whole, and Hart discusses it in the book.

      I think the only way to avoid Hart's strict universalism really is through a free will defense that somehow allows for rational creatures to consciously choose hell. Such a defense is complicated, but it can be done, I believe.

    4. It's not personalism, tho. Brian Davies's view that "God is not a moral agent" (which I personally find terrible, and unthomistic) is not representative of Classical Theism as whole, and Hart discusses it in the book.

      I think the only way to avoid Hart's strict universalism really is through a free will defense that somehow allows for rational creatures to consciously choose hell. Such a defense is complicated, but it can be done, I believe.

      Various monastic spiritual writings seem to suggest that the sin of pride, considered as the root of all the others, is of such a nature to cause a person to choose to damn themselves, possibly for eternity. Satan and demonic angels could be in this situation, they are much more spiritually powerful and have much more knowledge than humans but still apparently choose to persist in this sin. The idea of being certain that there is no such sin as this and that God is compelled to offer people or demons Theosis seems suspect, I don't know if DBH argues for this.

  27. Talmid,

    Well, you cannot call God good if He exhibits some behaviour or tendencies that would make a man wicked or evil.

    The language of theology being analogy, in order to describe God and His nature, one needs to use adjectives that they use to speak of men.

    Given this, if the adjectives that we use to speak of God do not have the same meaning as those we use to speak of men, then it seems to me that the whole theological enterprise crumbles and is rendered barren.

    I'm ready to be proven wrong if I actually am, though.
    Please go ahead.

  28. If it is true that everyone is eventually saved no matter what, then isn't it futile to try and convince people of the thruth of universalism ?

    1. This is the most revealing response to universalism, a variant of "Why bother being a Christian if all are saved?" It discloses that many are Christians not because Jesus is the light & the truth but because they're scared of going to hell. That all shall be saved is all the more reason to want to share God's love with all. "And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full."

    2. M Robbins, this seems like you are uncharitably reading ole's question. Can you answer it?

    3. Um, I answered it: "That all shall be saved is all the more reason to want to share God's love with all. 'And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.'"

      This is the second time you have policed one of my responses on this blog. It's tiresome. I shan't engage with you further.

  29. ole,

    How can it be FUTILE to convince people of *any* TRUTH?
    That must be the weakest argument (if that's even an argument) I've ever heard against universalism.

  30. Kudos to Ed for the overwhelming scriptural case he's presented.

    I confess that I do not want to believe in everlasting punishment, but the case against what I want to believe is so overwhelming as to render laughable any rejection of said case.

  31. Your post contains a lot of question begging. Some scholarship on the meanings of the Hebrew olam and the Greek aionios would be instructive. Here is a good place to start: