Thursday, August 6, 2020

Popes, creeds, councils, and catechisms contra universalism

One more post on the topic of universalism before we give it a rest for a while.  Whatever other Christians might think, for the Catholic Church the matter is settled.  That it is possible that some will be damned forever is the de fide teaching of the Church, so that the thesis that it is necessary that all will eventually be saved is heretical.  This is why even Hans Urs von Balthasar and Catholics of like mind argue only that we may hope that all will be saved, not that we can know that they will be, much less that it is necessary that they will be.

It is worthwhile gathering the key magisterial texts on the matter.  In an earlier post I cited many passages from scripture and many statements from the Fathers of the first two centuries of the Church, before Origen introduced the universalist novelty.  Many more statements from the Fathers of later centuries could be cited, as well as many statements from the Doctors of the Church.  In Catholic theology, that the Fathers and Doctors are nearly unanimous on some point of doctrine by itself gives it enormous weight, even apart from formal magisterial pronouncements.  But here I will just concentrate on magisterial statements and related texts.

Some critics of the previous post objected to its “Denzinger theology” style of piling up quotations, and will no doubt object to my piling up some more in this post.  But like most critics of this style, they miss the point.  Yes, a deep understanding of Catholic doctrine cannot be had merely by accumulating and reiterating formulas from the past.  But before you can probe Catholic doctrine at depth, you first have to know what it is.  And noting that a doctrine has for millennia been reiterated consistently, especially in scripture, the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors, creeds, conciliar pronouncements, papal statements, catechisms, etc. is an excellent way of determining that.  “Denzinger theology” is not the last word, but it must always be the first word.  It determines the boundaries within which orthodox theological discussion must take place.

I have not tried to be comprehensive.  In particular, I have not quoted every magisterial statement on the reality and nature of hell, but only the statements clearly asserting or implying the falsity of the universalist claim that none can be damned forever: 

Pope St. Anastasius I (399-401):

The reverend and honourable Theophilus our brother and fellow-bishop, ceases not to watch over the things that make for salvation, that God's people in the different churches may not by reading Origen run into awful blasphemies.

Being informed, then, by a letter of the aforesaid bishop, we inform your holiness… to the end that no man may contrary to the commandment read these books which we have mentioned, have condemned the same… [W]e have intimated that everything written in days gone by by Origen that is contrary to our faith is also rejected and condemned by us.

I send this letter to your holiness by the hand of the presbyter Eusebius, a man filled with a glowing faith and love for the Lord.  He has shewn to me some blasphemous chapters which made me shudder as I passed judgement on them.  If Origen has put forth any other writings, you are to know that they and their author are alike condemned by me.  (Letter to Simplicianus)

The credal formula Fides Damasi (or “Faith of Damasus”) (5th century):

It is our hope that we shall receive from him eternal life, the reward of good merit, or else (we shall) receive the penalty of eternal punishment for sins.

The Athanasian Creed (5th century):

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.  Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly

He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.  This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Pope Vigilius (537-55):

If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.  (Canons against Origen)

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216):

The punishment of original sin is the deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torment of eternal hell.  (Maiores Ecclesiae Causas)

Fourth Lateran Council (1215):

He will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and to the elect.  All of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear, so as to receive according to their deserts, whether these be good or bad; for the latter perpetual punishment with the devil, for the former eternal glory with Christ.

Pope Innocent IV (1243-54):

But if anyone dies unrepentant in the state of mortal sin, he will undoubtedly be tormented forever in the fires of an everlasting hell.  (Letter to the Bishop of Tusculum)

The Council of Trent (1545-63):

The council texts concerning justification make reference in several places to “eternal punishment” (Session VI, Chapter 14 and Canons 25 and 30), and those concerning penance refer to “the loss of eternal happiness, and the incurring of eternal damnation” (Session XIV, Canon 5).

In addition, the falsity of universalist claims to the effect that we cannot forever resist God’s grace and that we can be assured that we will ultimately be saved is implied by the following passages:

In adults the beginning of justification must be attributed to God’s prevenient grace through Jesus Christ… In this way, God touches the heart of man with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, but man himself is not entirely inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he can reject it. (Session VI, Chapter 5)

If anyone says that the free will of man, moved and awakened by God, in no way cooperates by an assent to God’s awakening call… and that man cannot refuse his assent if he wishes, but that like a lifeless object he does nothing at all and is merely passive, let him be anathema. (Session VI, Canon 4)

If anyone says that he has absolute and infallible certitude that he will surely have the great gift of perseverance to the end, unless he has learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema. (Session VI, Canon 16)

The Roman Catechism, promulgated by Pope St. Pius V (1566):

Turning next to those who shall stand on His left, He will pour out His justice upon them in these words: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

The first words, depart from me, express the heaviest punishment with which the wicked shall be visited, their eternal banishment from the sight of God, unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good.  This punishment is called by theologians the pain of loss, because in hell the wicked shall be deprived forever of the light of the vision of God.

The words ye cursed, which follow, increase unutterably their wretched and calamitous condition.  If when banished from the divine presence they were deemed worthy to receive some benediction, this would be to them a great source of consolation.  But since they can expect nothing of this kind as an alleviation of their misery, the divine justice deservedly pursues them with every species of malediction, once they have been banished.

The next words, into everlasting fire, express another sort of punishment, which is called by theologians the pain of sense, because, like lashes, stripes or other more severe chastisements, among which fire, no doubt, produces the most intense pain, it is felt through the organs of sense.  When, moreover, we reflect that this torment is to be eternal, we can see at once that the punishment of the damned includes every kind of suffering.

The concluding words, which was prepared for the devil and his angels, make this still more clear.  For since nature has so provided that we feel miseries less when we have companions and sharers in them who can, at least in some measure, assist us by their advice and kindness, what must be the horrible state of the damned who in such calamities can never separate themselves from the companionship of most wicked demons? (McHugh and Callan translation, pp. 85-86)

For sin deprives us of the friendship of God, to whom we are indebted for so many invaluable blessings, and from whom we might have expected and received gifts of still higher value; and along with this it consigns us to eternal death and to torments unending and most severe. (p. 281)

Catechism of Pope St. Pius X (1908):

The Angels banished for ever from Paradise and condemned to hell are called demons, and their chief is called Lucifer or Satan

The Last Article of the Creed teaches us that, after the present life there is another life, eternally happy for the elect in heaven, or eternally miserable for the damned in hell

The misery of the damned consists in being for ever deprived of the vision of God and punished with eternal torments in hell.

After the resurrection of the flesh, man in the fullness of his nature, that is, in body and in soul, will be for ever happy or for ever tormented

The bliss of heaven in the case of the blessed, and the miseries of hell in the case of the damned, will be the same in substance and in eternal duration; but in measure, or degree, they will be greater or less according to the extent of each one's merits or demerits.

Pope Pius XII (1939-58):

The revelation and the magisterium of the Church firmly establish that after the end of this earthly life, those who are guilty of grave sin will receive from the Supreme Lord a judgment and an execution of punishment, from which there is no liberation or pardonThe fact of the immutability and eternity of the judgment of damnation and its execution is beyond any discussion… The Supreme Legislator… has decreed that the validity of his judgment and its execution will never cease.  Therefore, its duration remains fixed without any limitations.  (Address to the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists of February 5, 1955, quoted in Francis Sola and Joseph Sagües, Sacrae Theologiae Summa IVB, translated by Kenneth Baker, S.J, at pp. 376-377)

Pope St. John Paul II (1978-2005):

In point of fact, the ancient councils rejected the theory of the “final apocatastasis,” according to which the world would be regenerated after destruction, and every creature would be saved; a theory which indirectly abolished hell.  But the problem remains.  Can God, who has loved man so much, permit the man who rejects him to be condemned to eternal torment?  And yet, the words of Christ are unequivocal.  In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment. (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 185)

(While Crossing the Threshold of Hope is not a magisterial document, it is worth citing as evidence of the pope’s thinking on this topic.)

Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II (1992):

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

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI (2005):

Satan and the other demons, about which Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church speak, were angels, created good by God.  They were, however, transformed into evil because with a free and irrevocable choice they rejected God and his Kingdom, thus giving rise to the existence of hell. (sec. 74)

Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice.  The principal suffering of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long. Christ proclaimed this reality with the words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). (sec. 212)

The final or universal judgment consists in a sentence of happiness or eternal condemnation, which the Lord Jesus will issue in regard to the “just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15) when he returns as the Judge of the living and the dead.  (sec. 214)

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

Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism


  1. Though the possibility of Hell and it's eternal nature is doctrine, what about it's nature?

    Specifically, are Catholics obliged to believe in literal fire and brimstone in Hell, or can they hold different views on the nature of Hell - of course holding that it's an eternal loss.


      I think you would be hard pressed to say Catholics are obliged to believe anything specific about its nature (apart from the fact that it is very bad). There seems to be a variety of opinions on the matter, although many Fathers seem to take a mite literal view.

      I personally think that the fire of Hell is going to have some important differences with being literally burned alive. We at least know that the demons can engage in rational activity while suffering the fires of Hell, but humans are practically incapable of reason while being burned alive. I think the CS Lewis Great Divorce Hell is not quite Hellish enough though. I think it will probably be something like a combination of the two. I would definitely err on the side of literal fire though, since we do not really know for sure.

    2. "...are Catholics obliged to believe in literal fire and brimstone in Hell..."?

      Seriously? Apparently you have Catholics confused with American evangelical Protestant fundamentalists for whom everything in the Bible is "literally" true. A big problem with Protestant sola scriptura from the beginning was the reductive nature of its biblical interpretation and the loss of the traditional 4-fold method of interpreting scripture (such as Dante described in his Letter to Can Grande).

      Of course Hell is not about "literal" fire and are thinking in earthly material categories which would be inapplicable in Hell.

    3. God’s love fills all creation, including heaven and hell. But while the saved experience it as ecstasy, the damned feel it as torture. Fire is symbolic, that is why the diabolically possessed feel burned by holy water.

    4. DLW, I think it's probably firey for a few reasons but one that comes to mind is how we are frequently reassured in the Bible that heaven is unimaginably good, but Hell is described as bad in the same emphatic terms - hot and full of demons, etc.

      If it were not so, I would think the Church would not have gone to the trouble to confuse us on this point.

  2. Fair enough, Ed.
    But then that was doing the real work, not the non sequitur, appeal to authority, no true Scotsman fallacy thing.

    1. Hi Tim,

      Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, or maybe you're just joking around, but it simply doesn't follow -- and it's not not true -- that those other points were doing no work.

      For example, the parallelism problem for attempts to re-interpret Matthew 24:46 is a problem whatever one thinks about Catholicism. If someone says "Yeah, but Feser only hammers on it because he's committed for independent reasons to the doctrine of hell," then he's just guilty of an ad hominem fallacy of poisoning the well. Whether I would like for something to be a problem for the universalist view is irrelevant to whether it really is a problem.

      Similarly, I gave reasons for the claim that certain exegetes are guilty of non sequiturs, fallacious appeals to authority, and the No True Scotsman fallacy. Those reasons are not magically negated or shown not be doing any work merely by pointing out that for independent Catholic reasons I affirm the eternity of hell anyway. To think otherwise is itself fallacious.

    2. It was not meant seriously; I was pulling your leg about your disinclination to look up lexicons, commentaries etc., do concordance searches, even though I know you have the capability to do that. It was very badly worded.

    3. Tim, Dr. Feser,
      Since you are both on the subject of logical fallacies I have yet to see either of you, and perhaps I just missed it, address a core assertion of Dr. Hart.

      The Roman Catholic doctrine of eternal damnation in hell is incoherent, that is, despite the long list of quotes from popes, despite the various bible passages cited, that doctrine is incoherent.

      In other words, to oppose universalism and hold to eternal damnation in hell is a logical contradiction with the other properties attributed to god, most especially his all loving nature exemplified by the life and resurrection of Jesus.

      Consider this set of properties attributed to god:
      1.Onmincient, especially, god knew every detail of the universe he was going to create before he even created it.
      2.Omnipotent, capable of creating or not creating anything in any manner of his choosing.
      3.Free will, god acts of his own free choice.
      4.Perfectly good, all god does is for an ultimate good.
      5.Infinetly loving, acts with love and care for all.
      6.Infinetly just, god has judgment that is fair, as in an eye for an eye.
      7.Creator of all except himself, god is ontologically prior to all that exists except himself.

      Now, just supposing there really is a god with all those traits, another bit is added:
      8.God created hell as a place of eternal damnation and torture and god created the universe with malice of forethought such that he knew vast numbers of human souls would be tortured for all eternity.

      God intended before he created anything at all that for the damned even as they suffer in agony for a googolplex years their sufferings would only just be beginning, and always their sufferings will only just be beginning, all because in the span of a comparatively infinitesimal amount of time they did not profess the Catholic Faith, and for all eternity there will be no chance to learn or change or come to Jesus for these eternally damned souls, as intended by god as he foresaw it.

      Now, god acts in free will, so he chose to create all this suffering, because he is omnipotent and therefore could have created otherwise. So god is responsible for all this evil, since he foresaw it, and freely chose to create it, and could have created otherwise.

      Thus, on his creation of hell filled with damned souls being tortured for eternity, god cannot be all good and cannot be all loving and cannot be perfectly just, and is in fact the most evil, hateful, unjust being in the universe.

      Clearly, the positions of the popes over the centuries have been incoherent. Dr. Feser is repeating those incoherent positions without addressing how logically self-contradictory they are given the whole of the attribute set ascribed to god.

      Fortunately, we have a scholar such as Dr. David Bentley Hart who clearly points out that the Roman Catholic conclusion is logically incoherent, and then applies his considerable language skills and biblical scholarship to show how the often cited passages that appear to mandate eternal damnation can be reconciled with the only coherent Christian position, that all shall be saved.

      Yet nobody here on these recent threads has been willing to take up the issue of the incoherence of the Roman Catholic popes. Why is that?

    4. Feser mentioned that you can believe eternal hell to be incoherent or something to that effect but that you can't deny the Church has always taught it.

    5. That hardly constitutes taking up the issue that the position of Dr. Feser and of the popes quoted is logically incoherent.

      When one arrives at a self contradictory conclusion the logical thing to do is to go back and figure out where one went wrong.

      That is what Dr. Hart has done, but Dr. Feser, at least as far as anything I have read of his, refuses to do so.

      Either he has reasons that I have not read that to be opposed to universalism is somehow coherent, or he realizes his position is incoherent and simply wants to avoid the subject.

    6. @stardustypsyche

      The Roman Catholic Church's perspective is not contradictory; an assertion that it is, is more a reflection of ones own misunderstanding of love, mercy, and justice than it is a rebuttal to the Church's position. Allow me to explain:

      God, of course, is simple -- there is no actual division in His nature. Hence, His justice and His mercy are really one and the same, the two words are simply ways of describing two different details or instantiations of God's nature. But the two points are certainly not contradictory or opposed. What does justice mean? Justice means rendering to one what is due to them. Now, because man has sin, he deserves death, for "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Not only physical death, but likewise spiritual death; that is, the loss of sanctifying grace, the life of the soul. Sanctifying grace is a free-gift of God, one which man does not earn but which God gives freely. Thus, it is not contrary to either justice or mercy to take it way. Analogously, a man gives a homeless man some money. The homeless man then insults and degrades the gifter. Can it be said that, if he subsequently takes back the money, the gifter is unjust? Not at all, it was entirely a free gift in the first place.
      As an extension, we must remember that a spiritual death, to an eternal spirit, is an eternal death, i.e. hell. Man has merited hell by his sins. God, in His mercy, gives us the gift of grace -- like gifting money to a homeless criminal -- to help us. If we then reject God, His withdrawal of the free gift is not contrary to mercy, for He showed mercy by simply offering it, nor is it contrary to justice, for he does not owe it to us. In fact, it is only in keeping with justice, in that we justly deserve hell and by our own free will have rejected God's mercy. This is a spiritual death, it is a "sin unto death," (1 Jn. 5:16), and, the spirit being eternal, it is an eternal death.

      God Bless!

    7. William,
      ”God, of course, is simple -- there is no actual division in His nature. “
      Incoherent, but let’s continue.

      “Hence, His justice and His mercy are really one and the same, the two words are simply ways of describing two different details or instantiations of God's nature.”
      So, god has different details or different instantiations, yet god is simple. You have contradicted yourself already; hence, your position is incoherent already.

      “ But the two points are certainly not contradictory or opposed. “
      They certainly are contradictory; the words you just wrote contradict each other directly. You said that X has differences or different instantiations, yet X has no differences (is perfectly simple). Your statement is blatantly self-contradictory.

      “Now, because man has sin, he deserves death,”
      Sin is god’s fault because god created everything in the universe except himself. God created sin. God created evil. Therefore god is sinful and evil.

      “ for "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).”
      Argument from authority is a logical fallacy.

      “ Sanctifying grace is a free-gift of God, one which man does not earn but which God gives freely. “
      Apparently not freely given for the masses god damns to hell. All men sin, yet god damns some, so god is not all merciful, god is not all loving. God created man’s nature as it is, and god created the universe as it is, with malice of perfect foreknowledge and free will and omnipotent capacity to have created otherwise. Therefore god is responsible for the suffering of the damned in hell and thus god is the most evil being in the universe.

      “Analogously, a man gives a homeless man some money. The homeless man then insults and degrades the gifter. Can it be said that, if he subsequently takes back the money, the gifter is unjust? Not at all, it was entirely a free gift in the first place.”
      It can be said that if you are hurt by the words of a deranged incompetent you are not all wise, all loving, or all merciful, rather, petty, small, vindictive, and childish. Are you really so petty that upon hearing the rantings of a homeless man you would take your gift back? If you had a shred of serenity and charity you would wish the man peace in spite of his rantings and leave him with your charity hoping he might find some small solace from it in his obvious misery, especially if you were a trillionaire who had given the man a mere dollar, as any gift from the almighty would be in proportion.

      Your vindictive petty god hasn’t the slightest compassion by your own example.

      But god does not merely take the money back, as it were, god kicks the man in the groin, squirts lighter fluid on him, and sets him on fire. Then god keeps the man alive so he can continue to burn him over and over and over again for a trillion trillion trillion years of agonizing torture, which is only just the beginning of the torture that is to last an eternity.

      There is your loving god.

      “Man has merited hell by his sins.”
      All sin is god’s fault, because he had perfect foreknowledge, omnipotent capability to create otherwise, free will, and created both man’s nature and the structure of the universe as it is, knowing billions of souls would suffer in agony in hell for eternity with no chance to learn or change or repent.

      “ If we then reject God, “
      God hides himself. God sends a multitude of false images to Earth. God does almost everything one could think of to encourage disbelief.

      “His withdrawal of the free gift is not contrary to mercy, “
      Of course it is. If your son rejects you do you write him off? Did you learn nothing from the story of the Prodigal Son? The Prodigal Son’s Father is infinitely more wise and merciful than your god who created hell.

      Dr. David Bentley Hart stated that the stance against universalism is incoherent, he is right, and you have only proved his point here.

  3. Look... why? Listen to St. Teresa of Àvila:

    To her brother's wish to meditate on hell, she answered, “Don't.”

    You're grossing everyone out here. "And if you look at this bull you can see how the sausage is being made..." Nobody wants to watch how the sausage gets made.

    1. Speak for yourself. I'm not grossed out and I have a community of hundreds of Catholics reading these who aren't grossed out.

    2. Well, St. Teresa of Àvila was. The subject is just something not meant for anyone to think about. Understand it exists? Yes. Think about it, speak its name (e.g. H***, D***, G*****m) or write philosophy on it? Never.

    3. Her spiritual advice is not binding and other saints obviously are not "grossed out" meditating on hell and the last things. Indeed, Teresa of Avila famously meditates on hell in a vision written down in her own autobiography and distributed for general reflection, in which case I don't even really believe you and your account of her nevertheless your general spiritual advice. I mean we can't mention of Christ in the apostles mention it? Get out of here.

      As far as I can tell you have a personal problem.

  4. Dr. Justin Shaun Coyle has attempted to defend a version of strong universalism that could be acceptable to Catholics:

    I'm not endorsing him or anything, but I think it's pretty interesting, and some folks will like to read it.

  5. One of the main arguments against universalism is that the Church has taught against any form of universalism for the past 2000 years, the only issue i have with that argument is that 2000 years may not be a long time as far as the Church is concerned, we may still be in it's early days seeing as we have been on this planet for 200,000 years our Christian era may last for a million years for all we know. That is why i don't think it is unreasonable to hope that the teaching of the church regarding universalism will change as the arguments in favour of universalism just make pure sense to me having read David Bentley Hart's book i find his arguments often based on emotion but still very convincing and rational.

    1. This seems to be an infallible belief of the church. If the church we're to reverse its position it would destroy it's own authority. Not sure why any Catholic would wish that?

    2. @PI0 "This seems to be an infallible belief of the church."

      Does the CC actually claim that infernalism is an infallible of belief?

      If so, where exactly? I ask because the CC is quite careful about what it teaches infallibly.

      If not, is it your opinion that this is an infallible belief?

    3. Oliver, doctrine can change, but only in terms of development. This means that later, more fulsome teaching is ROOTED IN the earlier teaching, and can never contradict it. If the teaching Church taught for the first 2000 years that the punishments of Hell will go on forever, then later development cannot unravel that foundational teaching. And it doesn't matter how long AFTER the first 2000 years the Church continues, whether a 1000 or a billion, it remains rooted in what was first taught.

      The only time the Church can teach later differently from what was taught earlier is when there was dispute or ambiguity from the beginning, and not yet settled. When that's the case, the Church can settle a dispute on one side, rejecting the other side. But that doesn't dislodge a settled teaching that had been unequivocally taught from the beginning.

      The evidence Prof. Feser gave in this post and the prior one would have to be taken to establish, making wholly manifest, that the Catholic Church has made the teaching an infallible one. First, because wide agreement of the teaching in the first teachings of the Fathers, and the constant reaffirmation of the popes, and even more so in the explicit teachings of the Councils, which are extraordinary acts of the magisterial office to settle doctrine. When you see the Council of Trent repeating in even more detailed explanation what had already been taught for 15 centuries by the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Councils, yes, that's infallible.

    4. Dianelos, Tony said it as well as anyone could. Yes, I believe the church teaches infallibly that those of us who reject God have destined ourselves for a real, burning fire for eternity.

      I am a pretty lazy and pain-fleeing sort of person, so I don't myself find this to be a reassuring doctrine. Unlike some polemicists on this topic, I don't think a person's 'comfort' with this doctrine tells on their moral status - I'm lazy indeed, but not THAT lazy. :)

      If the church were to reverse its teaching on this, I would have to conclude that the church has abdicated it's authority, and in fact I would probably reconsider it's original claims to authority to begin with.

    5. Tony i appreciate your answer but what we are seeking here is for what is possible for God to do, is it possible for God to give enough grace to every sinner to eventually repent? yes it must be possible unless God has revealed otherwise, now the mechanics of what happens just before death to every sinner are not explained specifically but there is no reason why God could not give someone perpetual chances to seek forgiveness in the moment's just before death takes place. The greatest saints have revealed that it is a mystery as to why one sinner gets the gift of final perseverance and the other does not, some are quite happy to live in peace with such mysteries, i suppose i should be myself! but i do think that the church can hopefully see a way by which Christ can save every person, after all there is no such thing as unrighteous or righteous, just those that are given the chance to persevere to the end.

    6. What about dr. Coyle's hypothesis which I shared here?

    7. Atno, I don't see any reason to hold out hope in Dr. Coyle's hypothesis. The idea seems to be to generate a split between the "I" who is saved and eventually in heaven, and the "I" who is damned to hell. If it even means anything at all, that is. But I think it fails on one of two difficulties, (or both). First, even if there is such bifurcated "I"s who can be discerned, the theory just posits that Christ saved only one and not the other. It is irrelevant that the idea was structured in order to explain that everyone is saved AT THE EXPENSE of a one - the one in slavery to sin and death - who is to be eternally consumed in self-immolating death: THAT one will not be saved. Thus denying universalism.

      The other is of course that the person cannot be bifurcated in that way. The subject of sin and the subject of grace are the same underlying substrate, a subsistence of a rational nature. Christ saves us sinners by meriting for us grace, so that we become (like Adam had been before sin) the receptacles of and participants in God's own life. Mortal sin does not inhabit such a soul, and when a person commits a mortal sin, such grace does not inhabit such a soul. The subject of sin and of grace is the same underlying unity, the person.

      Maybe I didn't half understand Coyle, but that's what I took away from the very cursory explanation of the idea.

    8. Atno, I don't see any reason to hold out hope in Dr. Coyle's hypothesis. The idea seems to be to generate a split between the "I" who is saved and eventually in heaven, and the "I" who is damned to hell. If it even means anything at all, that is. But I think it fails on one of two difficulties, (or both). First, even if there is such bifurcated "I"s who can be discerned, the theory just posits that Christ saved only one and not the other. It is irrelevant that the idea was structured in order to explain that everyone is saved AT THE EXPENSE of a one - the one in slavery to sin and death - who is to be eternally consumed in self-immolating death: THAT one will not be saved. Thus denying universalism.

      The other is of course that the person cannot be bifurcated in that way. The subject of sin and the subject of grace are the same underlying substrate, a subsistence of a rational nature. Christ saves us sinners by meriting for us grace, so that we become (like Adam had been before sin) the receptacles of and participants in God's own life. Mortal sin does not inhabit such a soul, and when a person commits a mortal sin, such grace does not inhabit such a soul. The subject of sin and of grace is the same underlying unity, the person.

      Maybe I didn't half understand Coyle, but that's what I took away from the very cursory explanation of the idea.

  6. Does the Eastern Orthodox Church have a similar consensus (or majority view) regarding this issue? I'm curious which of Hart's arguments in his book reflect his personal opinions only, and which ones reflect a majority view.

    1. Yes, it is similar, though there is a small-moderate amount more room for theorizing due to the relative lack of clear condemnation of it.

    2. Could you provide some references?

      I'm curious how an average Eastern Orthodox could or would determine what the majority view of the Church is regarding a particular controversial issue.

    3. The EO simply hasn't condemned one view over any other. Eternal torment, annihilation or universalism are all allowed theological opinions.

      As to the majority view, I'd say most will be in eternal consciousness camp but that's absolutely speaking, if we were to look at the ratio amongst the eastern orthodox scholars who have studied the issue i think the ratio would be different.

    4. Callum, Nemo, et al: I don't think we can speak of THE Orthodox Church, but rather The Orthodox Churches, as there are 14 autocephalous Churches, so I suppose they have a wide variety of teachings by now, having no central authority to adjudicate issues. Perhaps they view that as a strength, but as a Westerner, I don't. Also, DBH strikes me as a sui generis Western-based believer, and not "Orthodox" at all. (Sort of like those Westerners who say they're Buddhist, but who obviously believe in their own, individual existence.)

    5. Raghn Crow,

      While the Eastern Orthodox churches are autocephalous, they share communion with one another, and so are one Church in that sense at least.

      I tend to agree with you that there might be a wide variety of teachings, hence the question about consensus. Even without a central authority, a consensus can be reached through spiritual fellowship and rational discourse, and Ecumencial Councils provide a venue for these. I think they would say this is the way it should be. :)

    6. Nema, except, they can't call and ecumenical council, b/c there is not "primal" authority to ratify it.

      "While the Eastern Orthodox churches are autocephalous, they share communion with one another, and so are one Church in that sense at least."
      Except the Russian Orthodox and not in communion with the so called 'Ecumenical Patriach' becuase of a dispute over the status of the Ukranian Orthodox church, and whose right it is to declar autocephaly.

  7. There is a Universal Conscious Force that is Indivisible, Acausal, and Absolute. And everything and everyone is arising as an apparent modification of That.

    Reality is a prior unity. Therefore, everything that is arising is part of a prior unity. It is not just that things and living beings, both human and non-human, are connected to one another in a unified sense. Everything is spontaneously arising IN That which is Indivisible and self-evidently Divine.

    This is a Spiritual matter. Not a religious matter and as such has nothing to do with the dogmas of institutional religion. Ii is a profoundly human matter, not a subject for disputes or tribal differences. That which is One and self-evidently Divine transcends all religions, all differences. And "It" is not itself different from anything.

  8. How can you be sure you aren't once again begging the question with these English translations of aeternus and perpetuus?

    As late as the early 5th century, aeternus had the same semantic range as the Greek aionios, and hence could mean "indefinitely long but not unending." We can be certain of this because Augustine's argument denying that aionios has that meaning in Matthew 25 is, of course, made in Latin. And if one of the possible meanings of aeternus was not "indefinitely long but not unending," his argument would have been unintelligible to his readers. (See City of God, Book 21, Chapter 23.) Did this possible meaning fall away in later usage? If so, when? The 6th century? The 8th, the 10th?

    And are you sure that a similar question cannot be raised about perpetuus? What if there were a use of perpetuus in modern ecclesiastical Latin that strongly implied that a poena perpetua could come to an end? Consider Canon 1336, which says that the penalty of laicization can be perpetuus, together with Canon 293, which says that any penalty of laicization can be lifted by the Pope. Doesn't it follow that such a perpetual penalty can come to an end, and therefore, that perpetuus need not mean "unending"? And if so, is this a recent development in the usage of perpetuus, or does it go back centuries?

    1. I forgot to mention that aeternus was the standard Latin translation of aionios (naturally, since both descend from the same Indo-European ancestor.)

    2. Origin was condemned in the 6th century for holding that "the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men." This seems to be quite good evidence that punishment aeternus was not understood around that time in the sense you are seeking and that speakers of the language naturally took it to mean "everlasting punishment" in context.

    3. Origin was condemned in the 6th century . . . ? Condemned by whom?

    4. Canon 9 of the 543 synod mentioned in the article you cited, which was convened in reference to Origenist and Origen. The author makes two objections to this canon's forming a dispositive case against Origin. The first is that the main targets of the anathemas were Origenist monks rather than Origen himself, and so they "cannot be taken as a condemnation of the real Origen but only of the 6th century 'Origenist Origen' then being promoted by a group of monks in Palestine," for some of the anathemas condemn theses which Origen himself did not hold. The trouble with this is that the synod was evidently not held in ignorance of Origen himself, and it is actually just not plausible that "[a]nathema 9 ... is intrinsically joined to anathema 1." The point of the anathematic form is precisely to issue general condemnations of several theses, which may of course be related to each other in some ways and held in common by some people, but which are considered as distinct. It is hardly a serious defense that one only holds one of the anathematized propositions.

      The other worry is about the political situation of the synod, as being convened by Justinian. But that is irrelevant to my purposes, because I was not appealing to its authority, just citing the terms in which it condemns universalism.

    5. Surely the interesting question is not whether someone, somewhere, has condemned anything having to do with Origin's universalism, but rather, whether there is any extraordinary magisterial condemnation of universalism.

      It is my view that, unless and until we know the possible meanings of the relevant Latin terms, aeternus and perpetuus, it is impossible to conclude what the de fide teaching of the Church on universalism (or if there even is such a teaching).

    6. Anon, many of the expressions above in the canons of Trent are not in terms of "eternal" or "perpetual", but with other kinds of expressions, such as "unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good" and "he damned who in such calamities can never separate themselves from the companionship of most wicked demons".

      And by the time of Trent the Latin that THEY meant to use was well understood in reference to other modern languages, such that they would have been forced to choose other terms than "aeternus" if they had meant "for an age" in order to communicate to their contemporaries.

      Consequently, even if there might theoretically have been room for ambiguity in the earlier Councils usages, there is no longer any in Trent's language.

    7. Therefore, as through [a]one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one[b] Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

    8. Tony,

      I've been told that annihilationist views of hell are incompatible with Catholicism primarily (though im not sure id say solely) due to the fourth lateran council cited above were it in fact *does* mention perpetual torment.

      Which strengthens your point, I'd say

  9. Thank you Ed, great post.

    I say this with much admiration and respect for non-Catholics, especially Eastern Orthodox and conservative Protestants, but this debate and a few others have made me realize how quickly, without a Magisterium, even traditional-minded Christians are able to go from considering some doctrine "essential" to considering it "non-essential." I'm not trying to construct an argument here, just noting that this fact has been illustrated more vividly to me lately.

    (Of course, many conservative non-Catholics think it is simply misguided to think we need to settle these matters decisively. I disagree, but leaving that aside, it is just an interesting observation that things many conservative Christians would have before considered essential and heretical to deny are now considered within the realm of reasonable opinion for conservative Christians.)

    Ironically, I've also become convinced that only Catholics are really in a good position to defend the inerrancy and integrity of Scripture together with a strong view of divine inspiration. Even conservative evangelical biblical scholars frequently no longer ascribe to inerrancy, and often consider it "non-central." Ironically, I think the practical effect of rejecting the Magisterium has been to undermine belief in the inspiration and integrity of the Bible.

    Again, I'm pointing this out right now more as a descriptive observation than as an argument. And it of course goes without saying that not all non-Catholics fall under this observation.

  10. Hope away for the Salvation of all. Yes even pray for it. But don't run around saying going to Hell is impossible otherwise you might find yerself there wither it is crowded or yer lonely.

    Just saying....

    I hope for the Salvation of probable nor going to happen. But if Christ can pray His cup be taken from Him and the Father didn't answer that prayer it can't hurt to pray for the salvation for all or as many as possible and just a wee more.

    Cheers all. Remember Classic Theism rulez and Theistic Personalism blows chunks.

  11. Ed,

    Would you say that hopeful universalism is an allowed theological opinion for catholics then? Though certain universalism is not.

    1. Dr. Feser's comment in another thread (here) suggests to me that the answer to your question is No. But I'd like get some clarification from him as well.

    2. I imagine he'd say it's inadvisable, but not impermissible. The weight of scripture and little-t tradition seem to be against it, but that doesn't mean you're in heresy or even a "bad Catholic" for thinking otherwise.

  12. I wonder sometimes if existentially speaking there is some significant difference between hopeful universalism (which a Catholic may embrace) and strong universalism (which according to many a Catholic may not). After all hope and faith go hand in hand, so I am not sure I can conceive hoping that God will save all his creatures without having faith that God will save all his creatures.

    Two more points: First, several of the passages Feser mentions above are compatible with strong universalism. Secondly, my own hope and indeed faith is that the CC and the other great Christian churches will find the light and overcome the deception of infernalism. It will be an act of humility that will make them much stronger. And will make the spirit of Christianity much brighter.

    1. One is about a dispositional state with regard to the praying petitioner and the other is about a state of knowledge with regard to the world.

      So yes.

    2. @iwpoe: "One is about a dispositional state with regard to the praying petitioner and the other is about a state of knowledge with regard to the world."

      I see. "Knowledge" has become a central concept of epistemology and is a difficult one. The human condition is such that certainty about the truth of theism is *not* an existential possibility. So, given this fact, I wonder if one can coherently speak of propositional knowledge about God. In other words, if one must doubt that theism is true then what sense does it make to speak of one's *knowledge* about God? The human condition, at least in this life, is such that certainty is given only to our direct experiences (including our experience of God, or that which we take to be the experience of God). In general I think it would be helpful in theological discourse to avoid the concept of knowledge and concentrate in our epistemic reality, namely that we hold beliefs for some reason (whether good or bad) and with various degrees of certainty.

      I am saying that in the religious context (and to large degree in our relationship to our neighbour too) the truthful description of our epistemic state is not that of knowledge but of faith. What I am saying does *not* contradict the premise that theistic belief can be grounded on reason alone. Faith is not belief in the absence of reason as some foolish atheists think. I'd say faith can be an utterly reasonable belief one ultimately *chooses* to embrace by an act of sovereign will. As an orientation of the soul if you like. As a way of being. Actually a way of being such that the alternative is pretty much irrational.

    3. "I'd say faith can be an utterly reasonable belief one ultimately *chooses* to embrace by an act of sovereign will."

      I read your post a couple of times but can't tell if you're actually saying something or if you've confused yourself. Would you be willing to rephrase yourself in simpler terms?

    4. Dianelos Georgoudis

      When I spoke of knowledge I meant knowledge by way of divine revelation. It was not necessary for the sake of what I was talking about to distinguish between revealed knowledge and natural knowledge and to speak of faith and knowledge.

      For is not particularly important with respect of the distinction if one thing is about our petitionary prayerful disposition to X and the other thing is about natural knowledge of X or else if one thing is about our petitionary prayerful disposition to X and the other thing is about revealed knowledge of X.

      The point is that the acceptable interpretation of the Balthazar view is holding that we should in petition and prayer etc dispose ourselves such that we earnestly hope that every single man we consider is saved. We should not reserve our desire with respect of the salvation of others.

      The other, universalism, is saying that we know in some way, either because God has told us or by way of natural reason or some combination of these, that God will in fact save all men and no one shall be damned. This is very different from the former view.

      this distinction strictly speaking does not require much of an excursus into knowledge except the basic acceptance which any Catholic is going to hold that we can know that stuff is of such and such a character and we can know in some respect things like "Jesus Christ descended into hell" because God has revealed it to us. This second category of knowledge is not merely dispositional. We do not merely sincerely desire that Christ descended into hell. And if one thinks that this is all that's going on, then you've already rejected Revelation altogether and we had a much larger problem then the distinction between Balthazar and universalism.

  13. "Eeeeeeeed! If you want to quote historical documents, yOu hAVe tOo TaKe NoTe oF tHe ExPeRts, like me." ~David Bentley Hart

  14. Queue confusing comments from pope Francis.... now. LOL

  15. I don't think the bounds of 'orthodoxy' are as extensive as the Denzinger theology would imagine. Perhaps it would be comforting to have a Summa Theologiae of Catholic dogma — which is more or less the aim of Denzinger — but I don't think Christian teaching is (nor do I think Christ intended to be) so systematic and scholastic. What we have is a divine revelation handed down roughly to us in scriptures, summarised in creeds, clarified at general councils, and interpreted in theological schools. And I think what we have had too often in the Church is the scribes of the theological schools dictating their opinions to the pharisees in the ecclesiastical prelacies, in order to exclude, condemn, and persecute (even violently) those Christians who think differently about divine revelation. And what I don't think Feser takes into account is how much theological opinions can seize vast swathes of the Church for centuries, and perpetuate as dogma what is mostly a prejudice. Just think how many souls, how many baptised Christians, have grown up and lived under the shadow of Calvinism and the dark doctrine of double predestination. For hundreds of years that's the version of Christianity that many have known. Now universalism was one of the theological schools in the early Church, for the first few centuries. Perhaps it was a minority tradition (though apparently in some places it was a majority), but it was an early tradition regardless. Therefore, we shouldn't underestimate the possibility that the doctrine of eternal hell is only one tradition, one school of thought, one theological prejudice, that has seized the greatest portion of the church for the last 1500 years or so in large part due to political and sociological reasons. If that seems extraordinary, just look around and see how stupidly divided Christianity is into so many branches and sects, and how this division has risen for usually very carnal reasons of pride, power, and rivalry.

    1. Based on the material Feser presented in the last couple of posts, there was a roughly 2-century gap before universalism showed up as a proposal. On what basis do you say that it was present in "the first few centuries"? If it wasn't proposed until 2 centuries after Christ, on what basis could one argue that it is "just as ancient" as the opposed teaching of infernalism? And on what basis could one argue that there is a continuous tradition from the Apostles forward to (say) Gregory of Nyssa in favor of universalism, if there is a 2-century gap?

  16. I wonder what universalists would think of this claim: "It is not an absurd hypothesis to think of Christ's great act of atonement as having an exclusively divine side -- that is to say, Christ could have died on the Cross with the exclusive purpose of giving back to the Father all the glory which the Father had lost through man's transgression, without the human race being in any way the better for it." (Dom Anscar Vonier) IOW, consider the possibility that it's not metaphysically necessary that even one man be saved, never mind that not even one may fail to be.

    1. That God is unworthy of worship. It might as well be the blind gibbering gods of Lovecraftian fiction. Ill pass on the worship of Moloch, thanks, lol.

  17. Probably what will happen is the Church will continue to deemphasize hell and it will take up less and less real estate in people's minds and other aspect of Catholicism will be more important and discussed. Hell won't be abandoned just tabled and if in 1000 years the teaching on hell is again viable or useful it will be put back in play.

  18. Very interesting post. For me Christian doctrine is just crazy: "After the resurrection of the flesh, man in the fullness of his nature, that is, in body and in soul, will be for ever happy or for ever tormented…"

  19. Stardust,

    Hell is not in contradiction universalism makes God a spiritual rapist. God cannot spiritually kill nor spiritually rape us and still be all good.

    Heaven is a relationship much more intimate that the degraded view we have of sex and higher even than death due us part marriage. With love her as Jesus loves his Church. You know die (turn your will) towards her daily and physically if it comes to it.

    For God to force this on us would make all the murder ever on this earth look like nothing.

    I think as a theological opinion that if it will do any good he may if He desires or in response to prayers make a last ditch effort to save people between the bridge and the water so to speak. However that effort needs co-operation. If most of us look into our hearts we don't really truly want Heaven we want to play God and make the rules.

  20. Stardust, continued

    If you don't want to follow the law then your declared an outlaw outside Gods full embrace in the outer darkness where other outlaws live. Unfortunately ex humans won't be the biggest meanest things in that jungle. Outside the law (natural law/Gods love) it is only the "law of the Jungle", the war of all against all, Hell is other people/Deamons. Chaos because there is no conductor no Lord of the dance just will to power and strife. If you think Guatamalan prison sucks Hell is much worse.

    I don't think God does anything for you but grant you your hearts desire to be left alone and to not be reformed by grace. He gives you what you allowed him to by you refused to serve so He is not your sovereign Lord and protector. He is Good so he will not destroy you but sin will eat away at your bearing till you are an unman an Orc instead of an elf. He will not torture you He does not need nor want information from you. Separation from all good is worse than any other punishment so there is not need for any other punishment satisfy justice. While this may not seem bad it is way way worse then being burnt alive. So a mite to literal view served as a better deterrent than a more enlightened view. The fires of Gehena are a trash heap. If you refused to be cleansed of sin and fixed you are a broken toy that refused your final end.

    Those that choose their final end will receive justice/tempered with Christs mercy in purgatory and will probably scream as the rabbit is teared away so the man may emerge. The fully cognizant chosen orientation of your will decides your fate.

    God all powerful He can make a universe with more ease than you can make a stickman. Smarts, Brawn theses are mean less to Him he can make everyone brilliant or everyone strong with ease. A person that is a being that has the fundamental option to choose to serve the High King. He will pursue and ty to win over/back all the creatures that are made on the way (in time.) Who got cut of from zoe(spiritual life) when the 1st vine withered and the branches were cut off. By grafting those who choose unto the new vine. He has made you without your permission but he is a gentlemen and he will not save/marry you without permission. From us to God we are spiritually feminine which may be why women have an easier go of it.

    Now you may find this all hard to believe but then you think a mind (yours) calibrated in an unjust world this one knows justice accurately. Evolutionarily speaking Genhis Khan is best man ever very philogrogenative. But its almost certian your view of Justice is shaped more by Jesus than any other thinker. You afterall live in a culture still drenched in Christian thoughts. You also think there is true Justice (order) without an orderer. You treat reason which on an random evolutinary account is a tool as a master. You apeal to reason to tell people how to live but reason while parts may have helped us survive on your account is like an ants instinct to sacrifice for the colony. Once the ant realizes this why obey it?

    Man had an illusion of a lawgiver in his mind but you have slain the lawgiver why follow the rules?

  21. Stardust, conclusion

    Democratic command theory fails for the same reasons as DCT plus it tries to make large amounts of subjective opinions an objective fact seems a large argument ad popularum. As well it seems circular since where the principle that what most people want is true morality came from it can't have been most people but some other authority which would be? Plus if pain is bad pleasure is good is your only standard then why not pleasent untruth?
    Also if there is no purpose in human life our minds don't have purpose. If our mind is fully material it's no more free than any other bit of matter and so can there be any freethinkers given materialism? Further is survival calibrated your mind you can at best be 50/50 on non survival binary answer questions. Given that evolution created religion and religious longing and experiences plus phobias blindness and mental deficiencies. All in systems that are needed for survival how are you certian about anything that is non survival related. For a strict materialist it seems to me intense skepticism is what ine needs to remain in that view. Perhaps so much skepticism that science is impossible. If you can't do the preambles to science on your worldview. Must you not discard it (the worldview.)

    Is democratic slavery ok?

    * I'm not arguing to throw out morality of Scince but to throw out a worldview that cannot support or undermines one or both. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  22. Filozofia,

    If you choose never to eat of the only fruit that is provide you starve. Is that the fault of the man who holds it out and day take and eat? What do you call eternal starvation save torment?

  23. Daniel,

    Care to explain why you think that? Do you fully understand the doctrine on what it takes to commit a subjectively mortal sin?

  24. Inquisitor Benedictus,

    Yes it is decided even though Christ didn't want it that way. Did he not understand human nature enough to make an effective mechanism for knowing truly what he taught?

    Yes double predestination is terrible it creates 2 logical problems of evil. Both oaths are not due to human choice one to separation though no fault one to spiritual rape.

    Because it raises up God in a Pagan way to not work though his creatures but have puppets.

    I don't think hell needs to be presented carefully to the young. He fire speeches are more appropriate for hardened reprobates not sensitive souls.