Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Hell and conditional prophecy

In a recent talk at the Angelicum (which can be viewed at YouTube), Fr. Simon Gaine addresses the question of whether scripture teaches that some will in fact be damned.  He notes that certain prophecies of Christ might seem to imply this, but suggests that they may plausibly be read as conditional prophecies rather than descriptions of what will in fact happen.  Let’s take a look at his argument.

First, though, a comment on terminology.  Fr. Gaine uses the label “infernalism” for the view that at least some human beings will in fact be damned, and “universalism” for the view that all human beings will ultimately be saved, or at least may be.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this usage, but it seems to me that it does not correspond exactly to the way others have used these labels in recent online discussion of the topic of hell.  My impression is that “infernalism” is usually used in a broader way today, to include even the view that some might be damned, and that “universalism” is often used in a narrower way, for the view that all must be saved.  The view that we can reasonably hope that all human beings are saved but that it is nevertheless possible that some are damned – commonly associated with Hans Urs von Balthasar – would in that case count as a (more optimistic) version of infernalism.  The way Fr. Gaine uses the terms, though, it would count instead as a (more pessimistic) version of universalism. 

The issue is perhaps essentially semantic, but the differences in usage are worth calling attention to so that the listener does not misunderstand what Fr. Gaine is saying.  Hence, when Fr. Gaine suggests that the scriptural passages he refers to leave the debate between infernalism and universalism open, this does not entail that scripture is compatible with the view (put forward by David Bentley Hart and others) that the damnation of anyone is impossible, so that all must be saved.  Fr. Gaine is claiming only that these passages are compatible with the weaker thesis that it might be that all are saved, even if they also teach that at least some might be damned.

Where the scriptural evidence is concerned, Fr. Gaine’s focus is on Christ’s prophecies about the Last Judgment, such as his famous statement in Matthew 25:31-46 about separating the sheep from the goats and consigning the latter to eternal punishment.  Don’t such prophecies show that some will in fact be damned?

Fr. Gaine notes that there are two kinds of prophecy in scripture.  First, there is what he calls “Mosaic prophecy,” which flatly and unconditionally foretells that a certain event will occur.  He gives the example of Christ’s prophecy that Peter will deny him three times.  Second, there is what Fr. Gaine calls “Jeremianic prophecy,” which states only that a certain event will occur if certain conditions are met.  For example, in Isaiah 38 it is prophesied that King Hezekiah will die imminently.  But Hezekiah repents, and God adds fifteen years to his life.  Another example is the repentance of the Ninevites in response to Jonah’s prophecy of the destruction of their city.  As Aquinas notes (in Summa Theologiae II-II.171.6), prophecies of this kind are not false even though the predicted event does not come to pass, precisely because they are conditional.  Had Hezekiah not repented, he would have died very soon, and had the Ninevites not repented, their city would have been destroyed.

Fr. Gaine proposes that prophecies like Christ’s statement about the sheep and the goats can reasonably be read as Jeremianic in character.  If that is so, then while they certainly teach that it might turn out that some are damned, they do not flatly and unconditionally teach that some will in fact be damned.  They teach only that some will be damned if they do not repent – just as the prophecy about Hezekiah is to be understood as saying only that he would die if he did not repent, and the prophecy about Nineveh is to be understood as saying that the city would be destroyed if its citizens did not repent.  Fr. Gaine also acknowledges that one could instead argue for reading prophecies like the one about the sheep and the goats as Mosaic prophecies.  But his point is that either interpretation is compatible with orthodoxy, so that such passages cannot be said to settle the dispute between infernalism and universalism (again, as he is using those terms).

What should we think about this argument?  Since Fr. Gaine does not discuss most of the scriptural passages relevant to the issue, I am not certain that he is claiming that scripture as a whole is compatible with either infernalism or universalism, or only that certain specific scriptural passages are.  But even if we were to grant for the sake of argument that a passage like Matthew 25:31-46 might be Jeremianic or conditional in character, I think that that cannot plausibly be said of all the relevant scriptural passages.  And thus I think that, taken as a whole, scripture clearly favors infernalism over universalism. 

I have assembled and discussed the main relevant scriptural passages in another article.  Here I will focus on a few of them to show how Fr. Gaine’s argument is problematic.  First, there are a handful of cases where scripture seems clearly to teach that certain specific people will in fact be damned, not merely that among people in general, some might be damned. 

For example, consider Judas, of whom Christ says: “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).  It is hard to see how it could be better for Judas not to have been born if this were a conditional prophecy.  For if Christ knew that Judas would in fact repent (which, being omniscient, he would have known if that is in fact what Judas ended up doing) wouldn’t it obviously be good that Judas was born?

But even if someone were to claim that Christ was here merely trying to prod Judas to repent by way of an especially frightful conditional prophecy, that cannot be said of John 17: 11-12, where, praying to the Father, Christ says: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me… I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition.”  Notice that Christ not only flatly states that Judas is lost, but says this to the Father, and not to Judas or any other human being.  Now, the point of conditional prophecies, like the ones made to Hezekiah and the Ninevites, is to encourage repentance.  And that requires that those in need of repentance hear the prophecy.  But in this passage, it is the Father alone who is addressed, and needless to say, he needn’t have been warned about the need for repentance!

This brings us to a second problem, which is that a prophecy can plausibly be read as conditional only when it is addressed to listeners who might benefit from it.  And as we’ve just seen, this is not the case of all the relevant scriptural passages.  For another example, consider Revelation 20:10, which states that the beast and the false prophet of the end times will, together with the devil, be tormented day and night forever and ever.  Not only does this name specific people, but it does so in the context of a book addressed, not to those particular people, but rather to Christians who are being persecuted by those people, to reassure them in the face of the persecution.  Hence it cannot plausibly be said that this passage is meant as a conditional warning to the persecutors, the way that the prophecies to Hezekiah and the Ninevites were intended as conditional warnings to them (and thus were addressed directly to them).

A third problem is that in at least one case, people who were already dead at the time the passage was written (unlike the case of Judas or that of the beast and false prophet) are said to be damned.  Hence it cannot be characterized as a prophecy at all, let alone a conditional one.  Jude 7 states that “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.”  It can hardly be said that this was meant to prod the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah to repentance (as in the cases of Hezekiah and Nineveh), since those inhabitants were long dead when Jude’s epistle was written.  To be sure, the larger context of this passage plausibly contains a conditionally prophetic element, insofar as Jude’s readers are being warned what will happen to them if they follow the example of Sodom and Gomorrah.  All the same, the statement that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “a punishment of eternal fire” is not itself a prophecy but the assertion of a fait accompli.

A fourth problem is that even in the case of conditional prophecies concerning hell, we can reasonably hope that the people in question are not damned only if we can reasonably hope that they repented (as we know that Hezekiah and the Ninevites repented).  That means that we can reasonably hope that all are saved only if it is reasonable to think that every single person who has died so far in human history repented before death.  But it is not reasonable to think this.  There are simply too many people who have died in what to all appearances is a state of grave sin unrepented of.  True, of any particular person, no matter how apparently hardened in evil to the bitter end, we cannot be absolutely certain that he did not somehow find repentance in the nick of time.  It is, considered in the abstract, theoretically possible.  But it simply doesn’t follow that it is remotely plausible that every single person who seems to have died unrepentant really repented in an unseen way.  

Now, if we’re going to use uncontroversially conditional prophecies as our model for interpreting prophecies concerning damnation, then we should note, first, that the cases where the prophecy did not come to pass are cases where the people to whom the prophecy was directed clearly and explicitly repented (as with Hezekiah and the Ninevites).  Meanwhile, cases where such prophecies did come to pass (as with predictions about the punishment of the Israelites by way of foreign aggressors) are cases where the people, to all appearances, did not repent.  Therefore, where conditional prophecies concerning damnation are concerned, the reasonable interpretation is that, with people who to all appearances did not repent before death, it is highly probable that at least some of them are damned.

All told, then, Fr. Gaine does not seem to me to have made a plausible case that the view that all human beings might be saved can be reconciled with the scriptural evidence.  At the very least, the totality of the scriptural evidence clearly more strongly favors infernalism.

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

Popes, creeds, councils, and catechisms contra universalism

Geach on Hell

A fallacy in Balthasar

Hell is not empty


  1. I wouldn't use Sodom and Gomorrha as an example in favor of eternal conscious torment, because God promises to Ezekiel, via some mystical process to restore what the Sodomites lost through perishing in mortal sin.

    "However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them." (Ezekiel 16:53)

    1. And that's exactly the problem. The Bible frequently uses language of punishment and destruction, but rarely of the "eternal conscious torment" of infernalism. To simply assume that all the passages that refer to coming judgment must refer to some final, eternal judgment is to read into the text. The parable of the sheeps and the goats, for instance, is perfectly compatible (on a literal level, at least) with infernalism, annihilationism, preterism, OR universalism. That's why, incidentally, Dr. Feser's old sparring partner DBH prefers to translate what's usually rendered "eternal" as "of the Age;" N. T. Wright (an infernalist!) does the same thing in his "For Everyone" series, so Hart's not being purposefully obtuse. He's just trying to highlight the ambiguities that translations usually erase by standardizing the language of judgment according to theological categories. Different scriptural authors take a variety of views on what the final judgment will mean, and just because they're talking about judgment doesn't mean they're writing a systematic theological treatise on what the later tradition calls "Hell." We have to let "the punishment of the Age of come" mean "the punishment of the Age to come" before we decide it definetely means "the eternal punishment of Hell."

    2. That's why, incidentally, Dr. Feser's old sparring partner DBH prefers to translate what's usually rendered "eternal" as "of the Age;"

      I am sympathetic to the issue of translating a word that has multiple senses: if you translate it using just one sense, you might inappropriately narrow its meaning away from the meaning it had in its home usage.

      But we should also be sensitive to the opposite problem: just because a word CAN be used with many diverse senses over many different contexts, does not imply that it was ambiguous in a given specific context. There are many cases where the context itself narrows the allowable meanings to just one of the (otherwise) many options. A native speaker, in that time and place, would have no trouble identifying the specific, single meaning that must be intended for that specific context. Refusing to translate according to that narrowing (by using an ambiguous broad expression, one that permits importing any of the other meanings) is an equal error.

      As I recall, from the arguments Feser had with DBH, there were indeed places in the text where "of an age" was plausibly used and left open the options that maybe the author actual meant to leave open. But (again, this was my sense at the time, I am not going back to re-read the arguments) there were times when translating the word as "of an age" simply didn't make sense, or at least didn't appear to, and DBH refused to take that bull by the horns and deal with that as a real translation issue.

      One underlying difficulty is that even if one were trained perfectly to be (per impossibile) a speaker of Koine Greek as used in, say, Damascus in the year 0 AD, that does not necessarily mean that one would correctly identify all the nuances as they would have been applied by a Aramaic speaking Jew from Galilee in the year 33. Each of those factors might alter nuanced meanings: to Jews rather than to pagans or Buddhists; to those whose first language is Aramaic rather than Egyptian or Latin or Greek; to those in Galilee vs those in Jerusalem, Athens, or Damascus; to someone raised during the reign of Augustus vs someone raised during the reign of Claudius or Nero. It is very nearly impossible to be certain we can identify the contextual nuances those different factors would have on certain difficult-to-translate words in the various contexts, such as the word often translated as "eternal". It is not in the least impossible that the Greek word, on its own, CAN be translated as "eternal" or "of an age" or 2 or 3 other things, because it was used that way (i.e. variously) across all the variations I just mentioned, while at the same time Jesus's hearers would have understood by it "eternal" without any room for ambiguity.

      While early Fathers who lived in the year 200 or 300 would also have difficulty with SOME of the factors I just mentioned (Galilee vs. Athens), they probably had an easier time handling other factors than we have. We have a right to at least look to such Fathers for guidance, even if we take what they say with caution.


  2. Dr Feser
    I see that Rev. Dr. Simon Gaines, O.P is / was with Blackfriars Hall at Oxford, where you once lectured.

  3. My own personal view is one of humble ignorance with regards to the relative numbers. While I do think that people will be damned because of the words of Christ. Many will not be able (Luke 13:24) as well the the Last Judgement in (Mt 25:31-46) where our Lord says he will seperate the sheep from the goats. I think that we can infer that some people will certainly be damned from this passages.
    But with regards to whether they are in the majority or in the minority, the one sited the most to support the thesis that the majority will be damned is the one of the two roads. I think though that at some point of time all of us were on the wide road to destruction but we converted to the narrow road. So it's possible to switch roads. Pope Benedict in one of his interviews with Peter Seewald discourages interpreting this passage as Hell is over populated and goes on to interpret it as a practical warning.
    In Spe Salvi he even speculates that the majority may be saved. It seems to me that his conviction is rooted in the concept of vicarious representation. It has appeared in many of his writings over the years. He traces the concept throughout the Bible in Handbook of Theological Concepts. A minority in service of the majority. God uses the few to save the many. The English translation of it appeared in a book called "Letter and Spirit vol 7. The bible and the church fathers".
    The concept later appears in a treatise he wrote on "No Salvation Outside The Church". He tackles certain objections to his theory of representation in particular , why would we need to directly evangelise. He responds by citing Pseudo Dionisyius' formula of how the good must necessarily flow out of itself .
    Later in Meaning of Christian Brotherhood. He describes how the Church will always be called to suffer for the sake of the other.How the few will always be for the many like Jesus was one for all. I think that in Spe Salvi he gives a detailed exposition of what he wrote here. Particularly when he explains how we can suffer with the other.

    Pope Benedict restates his support for vicarious representation in an interview with Jaques Servaise in 2016. He cites the bible where God promises Abraham that 10 righteous people would be enough to save a city.It seems to me that Pope Benedict takes heart from the fact that there are still Catholics who sincerely practice the faith ,who are willing to die for it, so if God saves the majority, it would be due to the fact that there are many of us who are still sincere so that through our sacrifice, offering ourselves up in place of the other and the natural bonds that relates us, the majority may be saved. Since we are co-operators in Christ's saving mission in Pope Benedict's theory of representation, it should inspire us to an even more diligent practice of our faith. In Spe Salvi, he talks about how no man is an island and how we are all related to each other for better or for worse. So our prayer for the other is never in vain.
    Pope John Paul II also briefly comments on the issue in COTH and while he affirms strongly the reality of hell in the book and he also affirms that there will be people in hell primarily based on the sheep and goats passage.
    With regards to the numbers he takes a middle ground position and states that the extent to which it is realised is a great mystery. To quote
    "Eternal damnation is certainly proclaimed in the Gospel. To what degree is it realized in life beyond the grave? This is, ultimately, a great mystery."

    Cardinal Dulles also affirms that Jesus didn't not give us percentages in his article on the subject

    In light of all this, I think we can safely acknowledge that some will definitely be damned while remaining agnostic about whether they are in the majority or the minority and striving to spread the Gospel with zeal and vigour realising that we are servants in the vineyard of the Lord and will be held accountable.

  4. Once again, I would like to discuss some scattered reactions to this excellent new article by Feser on this blog.

    (1) I cannot help but agree and share Professor Feser's insightful analysis of Fr. Simon Gaine's talk.

    (2) I would like to emphasize that when analyzing a text by any author, although complete freedom should be given to the person conducting the analysis, it is clear intellectual dishonesty for a commenter to twist and distort the meaning of a text to make it express the opposite of what is actually said. For example, if a text states that many are called but only a few are saved, one cannot claim that the text means everyone is saved or that only a small minority might not be saved. Such reasoning leading to that conclusion must contain flaws and twisted explicit or implicit fallacies.

    (3) The Church cannot contradict herself, as doing so would render her untrustworthy as a guide in teachings. Therefore, all explanations She offers must abide by the principle of non-contradiction, never teaching something opposite to what Her previous teachings, including the New Testament, have stated. While the Church can deepen Her understanding of the Gospel, this deepening cannot ultimately express the opposite of what was taught. Thus, any "teaching" from scholars or churchmen that concretely ends up expressing the opposite of what the Holy Author wrote down can be joyfully disregarded by Roman Catholics as not being the Church's teaching. This discernment does not require a Ph.D. but rather good, Christian, Holy Spirit-inspired common sense, which compares the "new" teaching with the teachings of the Church.

    (4) More specifically, regarding the topic discussed here, there is a simple remark to be made: if everybody is saved, then there is no need for the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, as this sacrifice would not be proportional.

    (5) What is Hell? Hell is sin, separation from God. People who sin are already in hell, and this statement is ontological, not emotional or linked to sensations of pleasure, joy, or anything of that kind. It is an expression of freedom. Without hell, there would be no guarantee of freedom. The existence of people in hell is a guarantee of our freedom, especially if there are many of them.

    (8) In general, people who do not like the concept of hell do not do so out of a poorly understood concept of charity, but rather out of a desire to justify themselves and avoid the painful exercise of their freedom to convert. In general, there is always something deeply rotten (in the sense of lacking any desire to stop sinning) in their personal lives. It is not merely an intellectual matter.

    1. "Hell is sin, separation from God. People who sin are already in hell, and this statement is ontological"
      Wait, if had known that I would have converted to Christianity long ago!

      I mean if I sin by continually drinking and having wild debauched sex then I am already ontologically in hell, right?

      So, whoa, how great is that?! I can party my way into hell, and once I am in hell the sinful party just keeps going forever.

      I now plan to take up the sinful practice of smoking so I can go to hell even faster!

    2. The existence of people in hell is a guarantee of our freedom, especially if there are many of them.

      What a delightful way to look at things. May God bless you!

  5. One interpretation I've seen of Matt 26:24 is that Judas is destined to suffer a particularly terrible purgatory that he would have been spared had he died in his mother's womb. I don't find this interpretation all that plausible given that it is not a natural reading of the passage in question, particularly in light of John 17:11-12.

  6. I think one could plausibly understand Jesus' words, "...and many there are who find it..." and "... and few there are who find it ..." to mean "more than there should be" and "fewer than there should be." But not plausible to suppose that the number is zero for those who take the easy road. Or even that the number is very small.

  7. You write about scripture as if it were originally written in English. That's a problem.

    Catholic Universalist

    1. Hart tried to make that same objection about the English translation of the NT when he replied to Feser's criticism of him. His objection failed.

    2. The NT is published in English -Greek interlinear translation for anyone to read. There are many NT scholars who read koine Greek and are not Universalists

    3. Just an exegetical point, Ed. It is far from clear that Hezekiah repented or needed to repent in 2 Kings 20. His prayer in 2 Kings 20:3, paralleled in Isaiah 38:3, reads more like an affirmation of innocence/righteousness rather than a confession of sin. Neither Simon Gaine's youtube nor Aquinas's discussion (q. 171 in the second part of the second part of Summa Theologica) say that Hezekiah repented. I think you are harmonizing that passage to the Jonah passage. I would not interpret 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38 as Hezekiah repenting.

    4. "The NT is published in English-Greek interlinear translation for anyone to read."

      This, of course, begs the question.

      "There are many NT scholars who read koine Greek . . ."

      They read koine Greek in roughly the same sense that a high-school student reads Spanish. They've had a semester or two of crash courses in learning to read the NT. An undergraduate who majored in classics knows more about ancient Greek than they do.

      Catholic Universalist

    5. "The NT is published in English-Greek interlinear translation for anyone to read."

      For someone who doesn't know Greek, what good is an interlinear translation?

      "here are many NT scholars who read koine Greek . . ."

      They read Greek at roughly the same level as a high-school student reads Spanish. As part of their interdisciplinary degree, hey have had only a one- or two-semester crash course in NT Greek. Any undergraduate classics major has more expertise in Greek than they do.


    6. Anonymous,
      You are embarrassing yourself. This is what Harvard requires of NT scholars:

      Required Seminars: Students generally pursue coursework during their first two years in the doctoral program. In addition to two seminars required of all first and second year doctoral students in the study of religion, doctoral candidates in New Testament/Early Christian Studies will participate in Religion 3420hf/HDS 1980: Seminar for Advanced New Testament Students.

      Languages: Doctoral candidates are required to demonstrate competence in Greek at an advanced level by passing the department’s Greek qualifying examination, and intermediate to advanced competency in at least one additional ancient language appropriate to their plan of study (usually Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, or Syriac), as well as reading facility in two modern research languages relevant to their area of study (usually French and German). Prior language preparation is a significant factor in doctoral admissions. Once students have passed the advanced Greek examination, they will pursue a Greek reading course offered by the department, or, in rare cases, upon consultation with their advisors, can be exempted from this course for an alternative Greek course (e.g., in Classics) or a course in another ancient language relevant for their research. The above are only minimum requirements, since candidates will find they will need to use all of these languages currently in their studies and research; furthermore, each candidate's interests will usually dictate familiarity with several additional languages, ancient and modern.

    7. They read koine Greek in roughly the same sense that a high-school student reads Spanish.

      All of them?

      It's amazing how you know this.

    8. Catholic Universalist,
      One can make cogent comments on a literary work in translation without knowing the original language that the work is written in.
      I have a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible. I had three years of Hebrew before starting my Doctorate, which required knowledge of Hebrew and Greek before taking the first course. I had to take courses in Aramaic and Akkadian while there. I also had 2 years of Latin prior to my doctorate, and after learning Aramaic, taught myself some Syriac so that I could participate in a portion of one Text-Criticism course where several students had learned Syriac. I am all for learning original languages. I am an active member of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew. During the same doctoral program, however, we also had to take two world religions classes and we had to engage in arguments on texts we read in translation regarding Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It is possible to do this at a reasonable level without knowing the original languages. Numerous academic lectures make legitimate references to works by Tolstoy or Dante without knowledge of the original languages. Ed makes some important arguments in this post which looking at the original language do not undermine. I shall give a specific example or two in a future post.

    9. If you knew anything about graduate-school language requirements, you’d be less impressed with Harvard’s requirements. Such examinations can be passed by taking a single course, e.g. German for reading. And then Harvard requires one more course. So, as I said, a one- to two-semester crash course. This is standard. They are not trained experts in Greek. They have been taught the basics to translate with the help of a dictionary.

      Catholic Universalist

    10. Catholic Universalist,
      What Aquinas is discussing in the relevant question of the Summa, and what Gaine picks up for his argument is the concept of God prophesying a possible future if the addressee does not act (usually by repenting but not always) specifically to bring about such an act and thus avoid the fate prophesied.
      Feser argues against Gaines that this concept cannot cover all the cases where prophecies of eternal punishment are mentioned. Feser's first example involves Jesus's saying regarding Judas Iscariot, "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" (Matt 26:24). Do you think that Feser's argument rests on a mistranslation of that verse? I have looked at the Greek and don't think that the translation he gave is misleading, certainly not in a way that would undermine his argument. Do you disagree?

    11. Well said, Tim.

    12. Catholic Universalist
      I don't know about Harvard but I can tell you that the Hebrew exam at Claremont Graduate University was quite rigorous. If you did a doctorate in Hebrew Bible, you had to take it every semester until you passed and very few passed it first time. I remember a native Israeli woman passed it first time and prior to her, it had been twenty years before anyone had passed it first time; even a colleague of mine who had already done a Masters in Semitic Languages somewhere else failed the Hebrew exam first time at Claremont Graduate University.
      Anyway, back to the main point.

      Feser gives an argument that a prophecy can only be regarded as the sort of conditional prophecy discussed by Aquinas and Gaines if it is addressed to listeners who might benefit from it. He gives as an example Revelation 20:10 which he does not even cite in translation but merely paraphrases. Are you suggesting that there is a plausible translation of Revelation 20:10 which entails that the scripture IS written to persuade the beast and the false prophet to avoid a contingent fate? Do you know of any commentators you respect who hold this position?

    13. Anonymous
      Maybe this link can help you to understand more about more about NT studies and Classics
      This is about the Theology Dept at Marquette Univ.
      "In our department, everyone in biblical studies as well as ancient/late ancient historical theology is proficient in Greek, and we all have training in other linguistic traditions as well (Latin, Ethiopic, Syriac, Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Armenian, Coptic, Arabic). It is such proficiency that preserves the integrity of the scholarship in our field."
      Maybe this article from NT scholar Prof Bart Ehrman at Univ of NC can help you as well:
      Have you heard of N.T. Wright? He is one of the world's leading N.T. scholars. He is not classical scholar, but he did his own N.T translation
      Happy reading!

  8. Interesting point from Catholic Universalist. I would add that biblical scripture was written by divinely inspired men---and, a few women. For me, as a pragmatist, this is not helpful. The so-called leap of faith required here (see: Kierkegaard) is a bridge too far. But, Soren was a sufferer, as were Nietzsche and others. We are all destined to die. Belief instills hope while we live. And that, my friends, is as good as it gets. Yes, Nietzsche went quite mad before he died. Reward for thinking too much?

  9. Thanks for this piece, good sir.

    So, the biblical evidence is sufficient revelation that some will be damned (and this is unavoidable—it will be).

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t God’s antecedent/consequent will come into this, and actually help others in understanding it? God antecedently wills that all should be saved but consequently ensures that some are not saved (enter standard Catholic comments on human free will, sufficient grace, etc.). If we trust in the church’s doctrines on this teaching, why does one hesitate to speak of clearly determinate prophecy regarding hell?

    God’s antecedent will is a ‘velleity’, right? It’s not actual, it is not his determinate will as exemplified in creation. (And, it’s only from our vantage that we distinguish these two wills, for God’s will is not—in itself—so distinguished, but is rather eternally and ineffably one and cannot fail to come to pass.) Nevertheless, his antecedent will really is God’s, even as ‘hypothetical’ and not determinate.

    So, God (who is Good in all things, is the Good) can ineffably love some unto salvation and *not* love someone else unto salvation, and this truth can be found in Christ’s prophetic words. This is no cause to doubt God, but rather rejoice in his justice, no?

    Therefore, the antecedent/consequent will distinction is one that actually aids in understanding these determinate prophecies, rather than hinders, no? It is unfortunate that others find it difficult to take solace in this.

  10. When I was finishing grad school and preparing to defend my thesis, I was late at night in the lab the night before, and my advisor stopped by. I asked him: "Has anyone in our department ever failed a final defense?". He replied: "Not that I know of, but you wouldn't want to be the first!"

  11. Remember the three reasons that the Holy Ghost comes to the World.
    1 To convince the world of SIN!
    Because they have not known me (on purpose)

    2 To convince the world of Justice
    Because Christ ascending triumphantly into Heaven is the epitome of virtue that we are to imitate. (or the narrow way)

    3 To convince the world of Judgement!
    Because Satan has already been eternally condemned, and the same will happen to those who ignore the first two items.

    It seems as if all these universalist's are not convinced of judgement, just as so many others are not convinced that so many things that were always thought to be sins are now seen as virtue.
    It's not the first time this kind of situation has come up (Sodom, the Flood, etc), and it shows that we are under Divine Wrath even now.
    Has it not been the constant teaching of the Church in all ages, and all places, that Hell will receive the vast majority of created beings?
    The fact that this is not acknowledged is an indication that it's true! The fool sayth in his heart, hell? what hell?
    Our Lady Help of Christians, Pray for us.

  12. One point about the "Jeremianic" prophecies -- If we say that all will be saved, that includes non-Christians, i.e., people who probably haven't heard the Biblical prophecies, and probably didn't change their behaviour based on them even if they did. So apparently hearing those prophecies *isn't* actually necessary to prod people to repentance, because people can and do repent anyway.

  13. I have no personal knowledge of whether a Hell in the afterlife exists, or not. Though it is easy enough to argue that a psychological facsimilie of it exists in this life whenever one attempts to communicate with the so-called mind of a progressive. [The differentials on rates of mental illness and in basic values orientation in that population compared with "normals" are well established]

    But from the position of someone who has almost no interest in the phenomenon of religion per se, one is still prompted to ask, 'Christ was incarnated in order to save the willing portion of mankind [ " ...for the sake of many"], from what, exactly? Infelicititous life choices in the run up to a guarantee of eternal bliss? "

    Mr. Milquetoast, that just seems silly.

    If all faith and all morals and even the existence of natural kinds are nothing more than rhetoric emitted by self-seeking skinbags of wheedling, and even incoherent clusters of appetite, then, "it is what it is". But at least try, dear universalists, to come up with a more believable story to peddle.

    Not that it would not be, I admit, rather exciting to live in a reality in which one could lawfully do all the damage one wished, and smash or build as ruthlessly as one liked, knowing that feelings of remorse or guilt were an illusion; and then, to receive at the end of the day, a pat on the back from God himself for a job well done, and for all the annoying people who one has swept out of the way in the process of building a more personally tailored and congenial world.

    Yeah, universalism certainly has some attractions to recommend it. The question is, how do you actually sell it to people who can think?

    1. Exactly,
      What's the point of it all if there's no alternative to Heaven?
      Hell would only be for demons and we're all born in Purgatory on our way to eternal glory whether or not we even care.

    2. Well, as far as I know, universalists do not necessarily deny that there is some sort of Purgatory and that there is some sort of punishment for sin.
      What they deny is that there is everlasting punishment.
      A "person who can think" could perhaps think that God, ordering us to love our enemies, also loves His enemies and, in the end, forgives them all.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. DNW - tell me you've never read any universalist thinkers without telling me you've never read any universalist thinkers. Your reply is on the level of people who say "if everything has a cause, then what caused God" and think they've really done something.

      And if you want to talk absurdity, look no further then God encouraging people to be fruitful and multiply, but, oh right, failing to mention that a startling % of their offspring would end up being tormented without ceasing. 20 years of sin followed by an eternity of anguish seems like a sensible position. Hell, there's even those who've held to the conviction that miscarried babies end up in a variation of the same fate due to original sin. I'd be an anti-natalist if I believed that bit of moral stupidity.

    5. North Charlton

      For the record, I am an atheist, so I am not a universalist.
      A few quick notes.
      AFAIK, universalism isn't about the unrepentant. It's about people given more time to repent, e.g. in a kind of purgatory. the idea is that, provided one has the correct information, everybody will, at some point, repent.
      Which brings us to a second point. Whatever is meant by the goodness of God, it always entails justice. And, according to universalists, it isn't just to punish a person infinitely for finite sins.
      As for the world being "absolutely real at its base, meaning extending across the range of logical possibilities", hardly anybody thinks that God created such a world. It would entail that unicorns exist(existed or will exist), but also Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi and Borg and infinitely many more creatures.
      I don't think Ed will defend this idea, but I will stand corrected if he does.
      But even if God does/did create such a world, that would still mean that God gives infinite punishment for finite sins.
      Unless God also creates beings that cannot possibly repent, that would have been better "if they hadn't been born", but that means God isn't just after all, because a just God would do what is best for a person, and if that entails "not being born", he should not be born.

    6. He told them to multiply before the Fall.
      He then told them how badly they had acted and how they would be punished after they fell. (He did say they would die before too, when He forbid them.)
      They cannot pass on what they have thrown away. That includes Grace and Original Justice. They pass on what they adopted, which is sin.
      Now each generation must opt in to Grace and virtue following Christ (a heroic feat) instead of opting out since Adam has done it already.

    7. I wish to point out that the North Charlton comment was mine. NC was set up as an email account, named after my hunting camp, and keeps intruding itself as a default which I have to eliminate whevever commenting here. I have no idea why it keeps popping up when I access Ed Feser's site. #@$$^## Google. Apparently I skipped the routine of inserting an ID in the initial step this last time. I regret the lapse.

    8. "DNW - tell me you've never read any universalist thinkers without telling me you've never read any universalist thinkers. Your reply is on the level of people who say "if everything has a cause, then what caused God" and think they've really done something."

      So, how many Universalists should one read, and what is/are the canonical text/s?

      Universalists are all around us, afterall. Maybe they are not all especially subtle, but one would think that they are all using the same set of supposed facts, to make their cases ... or to express their feelinzzz, as as that case may be.

      Understand here, that the question at issue is the narrow one concerning the consistency and reliability of the Church's teaching, not whether the ruminations of some guy named, say, Hart are defensible if you assume X,Y, and Z because St. Dionysus the Phantasmagorian Troglodite, said so in his book of "higher visions."

      Thus, we have on the one hand what appear to be the seemingly plain words and implications of Jesus Christ both as presented in the Scriptures and as understood and taught by the Church for most of its history.

      And on the other hand we have theolgians who wish to explain away these passages in accordance with a number of theories they have about the nature of that God whose existence matches up with what they are willing to emotionally or intellectually accept; or, alternatively [as they would have you believe] grant on various grounds involving semantics.

      Now I suppose it is possible to do that if you are so determined; but in doing so, one is basically creating a new religion within the empty husk of the old. And there is no more reason to take seriously the happy new belief that is being peddled, than there is to affirm the doctrines which you imagine, and which we all hypothetically accept, you have just successfully impeached.

      In other words, "Christianity as taught was fundamentally false. But please believe my nice new version cobbled together out of Neoplatonic heresies, and my own extra-sensitive insights and perceptions.

      Frankly, I don't think that the historical Jesus Christ is all that essential to, say, the religion of David B. Hart, anyway; except as materiel. And given statements he has made regarding what kind of Christian God he is willing to accept, I think that he might agree.

      Much the same can likely be said for the other members of the tribe.

    9. Re-posted under correct ID

      "A "person who can think" could perhaps think that God, ordering us to love our enemies, also loves His enemies and, in the end, forgives them all."

      Ok. I'll bite, with a quick combox quality reply.

      To what effect? To start the process of conflict over again - infinitely? To embrace the unrepentant asp to the breast forever? To introduce subversion and malice back into the society of the beatified? To make a mockery of all the sacrifices and injuries which the faithful and penitent have suffered, and to then subject them eternally - forever - to a repeat of the undermining malice of the self-aggrandizing God haters ... who, if included, are to be kept in check in the kingdom while retaining their own unadjusted will, how exactly?

      Two or three problems stand in the way of that kind of - I would say - wishful thinking.

      1. The absolute "goodness" of God. Now, we have seen many arguments here about what "goodness" ought to be taken to mean. And quite a number of people have complained that "goodness" in reference to God must mean something comparable to what "goodness" means when some people use it to express attitudes of kindliness, or niceness, or some alternate concept aligned with the satisfaction of ordinary sensory pleasures.

      On the other hand, it is clear, to me at least, that the term Good in reference to God only makes sense - since we are by definition speaking of absolutes, insofar as we are able - in relation to His absolute self-consistency and expression; which, by a not too tortuous path, leads us to Feser's [and my old Jesuit metaphysics professor's] idea of the convertibility of Being and Goodness ... and also Truth. The latter, conceived of as the absolute relational reliability and consistency of His self-expression.

      Old fashioned uses of the terms true and good may help us in conceptualizing this kind of true and good in an analogical fashion. For at one time it was common to refer to a good sword. or to a true blade, or to any number of subjects as good and true which ideally expressed and fulfilled their own fine nature and purpose ... Yes, from our standpoint in relation to man's ends or utility. But importantly, in relation to the expression of the subject itself; its sufficiency, its capacity, its reliability, its trustworthiness ...

      I do not say that I know that this is how reality is: I merely claim that other formulations make no real sense at all.

      The next point, speaking of "real", is the nature of reality itself. Now, I suppose that a God who wanted to make a virtual world somewhat analogous to a video game, might just do what you suggest. But if a "reality" is to be absolutely real at its base, meaning extending across the range of logical possibilities, then unfortunately, certain unpleasant consequences will inevitably follow. One of them, is real consequences, at some ultimate point.

      The third point has already been alluded to. That is the problem of how the unrepentant are to be integrated into this, for the purposes of our discussion "hypothetical", Kingdom of the beatified.

      It is a simple matter of incompatibility if you take the goodness of God to be convertible with his unchanging self-identity, expression, and Truth.

      Now plenty of people have little to no interest in truth. And there are also some God "believers", certain Talmudists for example, who have a notion of a God who integrates deceit and evil into himself, in what looks to me like a kind of game.

      Catholics of course, so far as I recall, conceive of a God who by his nature, can neither deceive nor be deceived.

      Hence ... no deceivers shall enter into the Kingdom. Whether they flee to Hell of their own stubborn volition, or are dragged there by laughing enemies of mankind, is a question that I will leave to those interested in religion.

      As I have stated before. I am not. Or not much.

    10. Walter Van den Acker says,
      "AFAIK, universalism isn't about the unrepentant. It's about people given more time to repent, e.g. in a kind of purgatory. the idea is that, provided one has the correct information, everybody will, at some point, repent."

      Like Satan, you mean.

      "Which brings us to a second point. Whatever is meant by the goodness of God, it always entails justice. And, according to universalists, it isn't just to punish a person infinitely for finite sins."

      Finite sins? Well, you really don't know how sins ramify, do you. Nor then, can you estimate "justice"; or to use an old definition, "what is due". One may be due a recompense, without having universal and perfect knowledge; all you need to know are the applicable rules. That is, the Christian assumption

      "As for the world being "absolutely real at its base, meaning extending across the range of logical possibilities", hardly anybody thinks that God created such a world. It would entail that unicorns exist(existed or will exist), but also Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi and Borg and infinitely many more creatures."

      The answer to that is, "No." And as a result of what you have asserted here, I am sure you are not using the term "logical possibilities" in the ordinary sense. You seem to imagine that it means that whatever notion, or entity, no matter how vague or incoherent which can be dreamed up and given a label [and that, at the very least], must then necessarily exist. Where you got that idea from, I don't know. Still, even though that is not what logically possible means, if you looked at the history of life on planet earth, you might come to the conclusion that something like that - that every non-contradictory potential for life or material combinations was in fact eventally manifest here, there, or somewhere.
      But that is not what I was saying, or implying.

      "... even if God does/did create such a world, that would still mean that God gives infinite punishment for finite sins."

      You seem to still be laboring under the impression that what is temporally and materially generated initially, only ramifies in the same manner.

      "Unless God also creates beings that cannot possibly repent,"

      Again, with the haste: you seem to assume that repentance is somehow synonymous with remorse, and that a willing commitment to amendment will necessarily follow from the experience of observing consequences.

      In this you apparently know better than Milton and hundreds of others who have considered the same matter.

    11. DNW

      Yes, I mean like Satan. As I said before, I al no universalist, but some universalist do think that, eventually, even Satan will repent.
      If he doesn't, that means it is impossible for him to repent.
      And I am using 'logical possibilties' the way most People use that term. Something that doesn't lead to a logical contradictio is logically possible
      And where is the logical contradiction in Quark the Ferengi?
      And no, remorse is not the same as repentence, but it is a first step towards it.
      And no finite sin has infinite ramifications. And yes, I think I Knox better than Milton and hundreds of others, just like you apparently know better than hundreds of universalist.

    12. some universalist do think that, eventually, even Satan will repent.
      If he doesn't, that means it is impossible for him to repent.

      Traditional Catholicism teaches precisely that: he is unable to repent. And not because some meany named "God" won't let him repent even though he wants to, but because of his very nature: his will cannot be turned from its original choice. It is not a kind of nature capable of that change.

      e.g. in a kind of purgatory. the idea is that, provided one has the correct information, everybody will, at some point, repent.

      Again, traditional Catholicism disputes this head on: Satan's fault did not come about due to inadequate information: the fault was in his will, not in knowledge. Similarly, though with some grayness added: there are humans who simply reject God knowing that they are rejecting God, and the defect is in their will rather than intellect. In our experience, many people seem to get hardened into their POV and mere additional time would further cement their attitude, not change it. There is no good basis to say that everyone will, with certainty, turn to God "eventually", if they are given more time.

      And no finite sin has infinite ramifications.

      Finite acts have infinite ramifications all the time: when my wife and I conceive a child, that child will exist forever, either in heaven or hell.

      Whether Adam's sin was infinite in scale of evil or not, it had the infinite ramification that it led to the Second Person of the Trinity taking on human nature, to redeem us. And He will have that human nature forever, and will forever be our brother.

      But to speak more directly: you have a decidedly narrow idea of what sin is and what its consequences are. First of all, a deliberate choice to repudiate God has an infinite (unlimited) character at least in this sense: since God is infinitely good and deserving of our whole love, a rejection of Him is a rejection of infinite good, thus it has a kind of infinity from what it departs from.

      Secondly: our proper, hale and whole condition is to have God himself be directly present to our souls so that He is enlivening us toward eternal life (i.e. the condition of the soul with sanctifying grace). A conscious and deliberate sin in which one knowingly rejects that Life, makes His abode in the soul impossible, and thus one loses sanctifying grace and loses one's participation in God's life. Not only is that a loss of an infinite good in itself, that loss is of its own nature irreparable. That is: there is nothing a mere human person can do, by himself, with his own powers alone, that can recover from that state of loss. He cannot make himself be restored to the life of grace, only God by a supernatural intervention can accomplish it. Even true repentance takes an intervention of grace. If we enter Hell in this condition, and (if we allow, for the sake of hypothesis, that) in Hell God no longer makes possible the gift of repentance, then nobody in Hell can achieve the pre-condition that is necessary to be restored to grace and thus cannot be saved.

      Lastly: when you are sinning against God, surely it makes little sense to suggest that the punishment due for the sins ends before your sins end. But in Hell, the sinner's sins do not end. The sinner does not cease to rebel against God, he is permanently in rebellion. How then could the due punishment end before his rebellion ends? The punishment continues because the disorder of malice continues.

    13. Tony

      Just one quick reply. If Satan of anyone else is really unable to repent because of his nature then they cannot be blamed, because obviously, nobody choose his own nature.

    14. "AFAIK, universalism isn't about the unrepentant. It's about people given more time to repent, e.g. in a kind of purgatory. the idea is that, provided one has the correct information, everybody will, at some point, repent."

      " ... in a kind of purgatory ..."

      Well. being as you say, an atheist, it might surprise you to learn that purgatory is not where the obstinate are sent to learn to repent, but rather where the already penitent are purged, and made fit for entrance into the promised kingdom. So what you seem to be envisioning is "a kind of" pre-purgatory which will convince the recalcitrant to repent. But how this is to occur after they die unrepentant in the body and are incapable of reformation, rather than just undergoing the expurgation of a penitent, I will leave to your imagination.

      Regarding logical possibility and impossibility.

      The storybook characters you name are fictional. Fiction, is by its very definition not real. It is not logically possible that some referenced entity be both real and not real when defined in an unequivocal sense.

      Thus it is not logically possible that your Ferengi can be brought into existence by the concept of logical possibility; since this state of affairs does contain a contradiction.

      If you are just using "Ferengi" as a vague term for you know-not-exactly-what being entailed, but that you are certain that the doctrine of logical possibility grants it, then you are probably better off sticking to "physical possibility"

      So it is not a contradiction to say that God exists and not God but who existing as part of His creation and having choice, might choose, "Not Him". "Not Him" being a logical possibility of having choice.

      And if choices, imply differences, then different outcomes no matter how minimal, are also logically possible; in fact necessary, in order for the choice to make a difference. Otherwise you have what is in effect identity without real differences, or some kind of monism; which is undoubtedly where many universalists are coming from intellectually.

      And I am still not sure why when I speak of logical possibilities with regard to ultimate reality, you immediately interpret it as entailing physical necessity in the material world

      Perhaps at this point it might be useful to review what I actually said:

      " But if a "reality" is to be absolutely real at its base, meaning extending across the range of logical possibilities, then unfortunately, certain unpleasant consequences will inevitably follow. One of them, is real consequences, at some ultimate point."

    15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    16. I see that the difficulty I was having earlier today with the combox input text "sticking", delaying, and skipping, did leave at least one paragraph incomprehensible. I'll correct it tomorrow.. That will teach me to have several windows running at the same time, and probably to make my ID - this one - attach to an email, so I can avoid the contortions and delete.

    17. DNW

      I am well aware of what the official Catholic versions of purgatory entails, that's why I said "a kind of purgatory", as in "something similar to purgatory with the purpose convincing the recalcitrant to repent". If you wish to call this a pre-purgatory, then that's fine with me, as long as you get my point.
      That persons who die unrepentant in the body are incapable of reformation, is something most universalists will reject, of course. If people truly have free will, there is no reason to accept this. No need for any imagination here.
      I know what you actually said about "absolutely real reality" ranging across the range of logical possibilities but if you truly belive God is omnipotent, everything that is logically possible, is also physically possible.
      Yes, if God wanted this kind of material world, with people who, as soon as they die, lose their free will and are either saved or damned forever, then that is what God gets.
      The question is, would a good God (meaning a just God) create such a world?
      My "imagination" says "no".

    18. Tony

      Just another quick word on your claim that "the sinner's sins do not end". This is, of course, something universalists will not agree upon.
      If God creates sinners that cannot cease to sin, then, again, God is the one to blame for the sins.

    19. I had some self-caused trouble that left some text incomprehensible:
      Read: "So it is not a contradiction to say that God exists and not God but who existing as part of His creation and having choice, might choose, "Not Him". "Not Him" being a logical possibility of having choice."


      "So it is not a contradiction to say that God exists and he who is not God but who is existing as part of His creation and having choice, might choose, "Not Him". "Not Him" being a logical possibility of having choice.

  14. I could go on, but you get my point

  15. For anon,

  16. Well, I'll be d .. dogged.

    Yeah, "Speak of the Devil and he appears" as they say.

    From a site introduced to me by one of Ed Feser's trolls who sarcastically invited all to tune into some "Real Catholic TV" as it was styled way-back-when.

    Whether Ed Feser would agree with these people about anything at all, is one matter. That they might be thought to have taken pugnacity lessons off of him, is a somewhat more certain surmise.


  17. I would like to add a few reflections on this topic.
    (1) The natural (habitual) state of humanity is sin, which means being born in sin (the Original Sin) and dying accumulating additional personal acts of sin. Being in sin simply means being cut off from an intimate, friendly relationship with God according to the Bible. It is the definition of Hell.

    (2) In terms of justice, there is no duty whatsoever from God towards humanity, and He is not obliged to "save" anyone. His charity is abundantly expressed by the fact that humanity can choose to live according to its own nature and, possibly, achieve certain degrees of happiness by living dutifully towards each other if they wish.

    (3) There is no obligation from God to divinize any particular human, and this is what Salvation means.

    (4) One sempiternal teaching of the Bible, and including the New Testament, is that people who are "saved" are simply chosen or elected. The notion of election is particularly important and used by Our Lord Jesus Christ in practically all His teachings. Understanding what election means, in His terms, helps us to understand: (a) that no one has a right to it at any time, (b) that it is not God's duty to offer it, (c) that not so many people are called and even fewer are elected, (d) that acting rightfully according to human nature's laws can possibly lead to some degree of human happiness, but it does not guarantee divine election, (e) that being elected results in behaving according to the Will of God, which also encompasses the laws of human nature (and not the other way around), (f) that people's intentions, whether good or bad, may help evaluate the degree of malignity in a specific human action, but they do not earn any "right" to sanctity. Instead, it is sanctity, once one is freely elected, that purifies our intentions.

    (5) In light of all these points, someone who has a minimal spiritual life will not intellectually wander into obscure reinterpretations of the Gospel like those of Fr. Gaines cited by Prof. Feser. Instead, they will focus on how to proclaim the Gospel itself in order to increase the number, which is always too small, of people to be called: finally Christ, in His supreme freedom, will elect, among the later, those who will eventually share His Divine nature.
    There is no place for Universalist Unions in the Realm of God.

    1. Maybe there is no place for someone like you in the Kingdom of God.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Is there some reason why "it would be better for [Judas] to have never been born" should be construed to suggest his damnation?

    I realize that, colloquially, "to have never been born" is taken to mean "to have never existed at all."

    But I don't know why Jesus is required to be using the phrase in that way. It seems to me that He could be using the phrase to mean "conceived, then died by early miscarriage, and thus, never born."

    If Judas never existed, then surely that state is either (a.) neither better nor worse than damnation, since there's nothing to compare damnation to; or, (b.) clearly worse than damnation, if we take the view that existence-as-such is always superior to non-existence.

    But it seems to me that if Judas in fact died, underwent more (and more painful) purgation than any other soul in human history, and then went to Heaven, and if the alternative was to have briefly existed as a fertilized ovum, and then be miscarried and go to Heaven without purgatory, well! ...between the two options, being "never born" seems the superior option.

    For that reason, I don't see the "never born" phrasing as implying Judas must be in hell.

    BUT...somehow I doubt Ed has never thought of that. Perhaps there's some reason NOT to construe the phrase that way?

    What am I missing?

    1. I will offer one possible rationale. I don't know that it works perfectly, or is the best response.

      St. Paul says, of the elect, who will enjoy heaven, "all things work for their good". While it must be said, of each human choice, that the choice to commit the sin in front of you is worse than the choice to avoid the sin and do the good act, we don't have to say the same of a whole life. This is why we often say "God writes straight with crooked lines": God will produce a totality of the glorious Providential order, in which the sins of an individual (who is elect and will, eventually, become perfect and be in heaven) are used to good effect somehow or other. And so, while I must regret my past sins, I can (sometimes) see good things God has done through them. And not just "goods for someone somewhere", but even (if indirectly) for me, through God's ineffable mercy: ALL things work for the good of the elect.

      If Judas is really going to be in heaven, then God will be using his sins to produce good effects, and indeed, it was in the providential order that God was producing good things for Judas in allowing those sins: his eventual perfection in heaven will be a better perfection than that of a baby dying in utero. Thus, if Judas is (or will be) in heaven, then it will NOT be true that "it is better if he had never been born" but had died in utero.

      (To support that: when we are in a state of grace and do good acts which gain us merit, then commit a mortal sin depriving us of all merit, and then repent and are restored to the state of grace, we recover the condition of merit we had already been in, and become now ready to earn still greater merit. And thus to become more perfected. Our eventual condition in heaven (after being cleansed in purgatory) will reflect the good which we reached during life, perfected, and this good will be different for different people depending on the good acts (with good intentions) they accomplished in life: an adult with many virtues will have a greater perfection than an infant.)

      A second comment can raise separate doubts about "better if he had died in utero": a person cannot commit mortal sins until he reaches the age of reason. If Judas had been born but died as an infant (i.e. before the age of reason), that too would be a time - a much longer time than his 9 months in utero - that he could have died before committing a mortal sin that would condemn him to eternal fire. Why pick out "before birth" as the controlling criterion?

    2. It is irrelevant to the post, which is not (contrary to what some commentators above seem to think) a general discourse on universalism but an examination of one particular strategy for interpreting Scriptural texts like Mt 26:24 in a universalist way despite common anti-universalist readings (namely, by treating relevant texts as conditional prophecies). But the core of your argument is unclear. You say:

      But it seems to me that if Judas in fact died, underwent more (and more painful) purgation than any other soul in human history, and then went to Heaven, and if the alternative was to have briefly existed as a fertilized ovum, and then be miscarried and go to Heaven without purgatory, well! ...between the two options, being "never born" seems the superior option.

      As stated, this seems (1) to be straightforwardly false, since the "more (and more painful) purgation" seems to be entirely swamped out in the comparison in light of the infinite good of Heaven; (2) to require us to say that it would then be true of the entire human race that it would have been better for us not to be born, which is contrary to the implicature of the statement; (3) to require a set of assumptions about what happens to those who die in the womb that goes beyond what we know and also don't seem remotely in view in the context of the verse even if we assume them to be true.

      It seems that a much more viable strategy for the universalist in this particular passage would be simply to take the passage as a figure of speech for the depravity of Judas's betrayal; but, again, this is not the kind of strategy being considered in the OP.

    3. I think that would be an odd way to read it. First of all, it’s not reasonable to suppose Jesus was using this statement in such an oddly technical sense. Second of all, why miscarriage? Why not infant death? Third, if Jesus wanted to suggest that it would have been better for Judas to die before betraying Him, there are a multitude of more natural ways of doing so such as “it would have been better to die than betray Me” to name one.

    4. On top of the arguments already made, this Matthew passage traditional reading seems to combine with John 17, 11-12, that Ed quoted.

  19. Even conditional prophecies go a long way to undermining universalism. After all, a conditional prophecy of hellfire is sufficient to show that hell is not per se unjust or inconsistent with an all-loving God. Consider that there could ever be even a conditional prophecy of God sanctioning idolatry. It would do no good to say "it's only conditional, God doesn't *actually* sanction idolatry".

    Now, if that's right - and it is - then the *arguments* for universalism are undermined if even conditional prophecies of hell fire exist. This is because the best versions of those arguments turn on (would-be) metaphysically necessary ethical claims about justice and love. Since conditional prophecies show those ethical claims to be false. We know that all such arguments are unsound.

  20. OP,
    Among the many incoherent assertions of Christianity in general and Thomism in particular is this assertion set:
    God is all good
    God is all loving
    God is the creator of all things except himself
    God is omnipotent
    God created an existence that includes souls in eternal torment

    The incoherence, I would say laughable absurdity, of that assertion set is obvious to any person not suffering cult induced or otherwise induced psychological and rational infirmities.

    Not all Christians are so psychologically deficient as to attempt to justify such a specious assertion set.
    Dr. David Bentley Hart on That All Shall Be Saved

  21. WCB

    Inthe Pentateuch, there are no souls. No heaven, no hell, no life after death. Nor in the prophets. Only later, with the witch of Endor, do we get any hint of a life after death. But not heaven or hell.

    Not until the New Testament do we start getting ideas of an after life, or heaven and hell. Both ideas, contradictory, confused, and not well thought out with clarity. Some will be chosen elect, others, not some created vessels of wrath, some vesels of mercy. God hardens the hearts of the Jews not to believe Jesus was messiah. Why not harden all the hearts of Jews to believe? Why not all mankind? None of this makes sense.


    1. In the time of the Old Testament, it was understood that God corrected or deterred the people of Israel in temporal existence, so there was no need for discussion of consequences: God knew how to correct or deter bad behavior, so people trusted that they would be directly guided to the right destination. That's why all the consequences were temporal punishments: if you disobeyed God, He would cause your crops to fail (Deuteronomy 28:15), your finances would be ruined (Haggai 1:6), etc....

      Due to the change in how the universe works, just like how idolatry is now invisible and no longer manifesting as literal wood and stone statues, so it is the case that sin does not directly have consequences today in temporal existence (unless you break social rules and juridical ordinances), which is why additional revelation is needed to remind people that, yes, it continues after you leave the world.

      You should take advantage of the fact that your natural needs are taken care of by impersonal universal laws instead of by God directly by using the allowance to reflect, improve, and repent through meditation.

    2. Furthermore, if you are interested in means to help you reflect, improve, and repent, I recommend the 15-mystery Rosary and the Seven Sorrows chaplet:

      1. For the graces associated with the seven sorrows chaplet...

      2. This quote by St. Louis de Montfort is also relevant regarding the Rosary: “Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if-and mark well what I say-if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.” ~St Louis de Montfort

      A common objection to Pascal's Wager is that belief is not merely a matter of intellectual ascent and that "valid belief" in Christianity requires a lot of work and extraordinary amounts of self-control. Because of this, it is not guaranteed that choosing to be a Christian will lead to your salvation and if anything could even make you liable to greater wrath than if you remained an atheist.

      But what if St. Louis de Montfort was telling the truth? What if salvation is as simple as kneeling and praying fifteen decades of the Rosary every day never skipping and the Blessed Virgin Mary automatically causes this to result in glory, honor, and immortality? Even if it's not true, it would be pretty foolish to turn down something that a holy man claimed to be a fool-proof, guaranteed path not only to Heaven, but to a high reward there as well.

    3. if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day

      But...as kneeling and praying fifteen decades of the Rosary every day never skipping and the Blessed Virgin Mary automatically causes this to result in glory, honor, and immortality?...fool-proof, guaranteed path

      While I do not wish to denigrate saying the Rosary - quite the opposite - I would point out the defect in the argument here: Louis de Montfort explicitly said "devoutly". It is, and remains, "a lot of work" and is not "guaranteed" apart from saying the prayers with devotion. Nobody can set their will, today, on saying the Rosary with devotion every single day without fail into the future, and then successfully pull that off, without an enormous amount of work of self-control and self-discipline, including lots of other kinds of devout acts to train yourself into the self-control needed. The Rosary is an amazing gift, but it is not a magical get-out-of-work card to becoming holy, nor to a guaranteed ticket to heaven without holiness.

    4. @Tony

      It's still an amazing claim. It only takes an hour to kneel and pray through the 15 mysteries, and if you're doing that without overtly thinking sacrilegious thoughts, then you're probably saying it devoutly as well.

      Considering the level of scruples and self-control religions like Judaism or Buddhism require for their practitioners, it is an automatic ticket-to-Heaven by comparison (even if the process of receiving those graces might feel like burning, depending on how bad of a sinner you are or have been).

      That's an extremely tiny investment for something that will result in grace for literally anybody no-questions-asked who's willing to make such a (by comparison to Judaism or Buddhism) tiny investment.

    5. and if you're doing that without overtly thinking sacrilegious thoughts, then you're probably saying it devoutly as well.

      After hearing the story of St. Bernard regarding the difficulty he had staying focused for even a single Hail Mary, instead of on distractions...I doubt that the term to be used is "devoutly," even of you aren't thinking sacrilegious thoughts.

      But I don't expect to persuade you, so I am willing to let it drop: praying the Rosary is very good.

  22. To Ed Feser: Thanks for introducing a "delete" option under my longer NC posting. Or at least I assume that you did; never having seen that option before.
    I re-posted the text under my proper ID, or so I believe.
    Have a good weekend. The holiday starts in 10 minutes.

    1. DNW,
      If you post anonymously (not linked to an email) there will be no delete option because the system has no way to verify the author after the message is posted.

      If you link your message to your email account the delete option will automatically show, but only for you because the system detects that you are logged in with that same email account, thus verifying your identity. Dr. Feser does not have to explicitly work in each instance to do this, rather, the system does it automatically.

      "First, there are a handful of cases where scripture seems clearly to teach that certain specific people will in fact be damned, not merely that among people in general, some might be damned."
      Right. Christianity is incoherent.

      God is perfectly good
      God is omnipotent
      God created everything except himself
      God damns souls to eternal suffering

      Dr. Feser cannot, nobody can make make that assertion set coherent.

      If one wishes to hold to the first 3 assertions then it is logically necessary to get rid of the 4th assertion making universalism a logical necessity.

      Dr. David Bentley Hart on That All Shall Be Saved

    2. Stardusty,
      Many Christians who believe that Hell is not empty hold to the position that the wicked damn themselves to eternal suffering, i.e. that they continually choose to place themselves apart from the love of God and that God honors their decision. This is the position of C.S. Lewis, for example, who claims that Hell is locked from the inside. It is not incoherent (at least not clearly incoherent) to hold this claim alongside the first three claims you mention.

    3. Tim,
      "Many Christians who believe that Hell is not empty hold to the position that the wicked damn themselves to eternal suffering,"
      That is the "reasoning" of self hatred, of the abuse victim who blames herself or himself, when applied to oneself.

      Alternatively, that is the "reasoning" of the abuse enabler, that callous petty sort who cares nothing for the suffering of the victim and rather supports the abuse perpetrated by the abuser.

      Such Christians would do well to listen to David Bentley Hart at the above link, or any moderately articulate atheist familiar with the subject.

      God knew, it is claimed, every detail of every bit of the entire cosmos for all time before he even began to create. Such is the claim of omniscience.

      God had his free will option, it is claimed, to create the cosmos in any manner he chose.

      God chose to create the cosmos in a manner, with malice of forethought, that the natures of some men would lead them to eternal suffering, and god had the option to create otherwise and still achieve his end. Such is the claim of omnipotence.

      God is to blame for all suffering in the cosmos because he knew that the nature of the cosmos he was about to create would entail terrible eternal suffering and he had the power to create otherwise but he chose of his own free will to create such that the damned would suffer eternally.

      How eager such Christians are to give god the credit for all that is good yet affix none of the blame for all that is bad to the one who created it all, the good and the bad. For god, to such Christians, it is a case of heads god wins and tails we lose.

      "that they continually choose to place themselves apart from the love of God and that God honors their decision."
      Aside from the obvious incoherence of the Christian assertion set that includes hell, there is this profound lie about the victims of god's creation of suffering. Nobody hates god and therefore chooses to suffer for eternity, people either do not believe in the Christian god and/or have destructive natures god created them to have.

      "This is the position of C.S. Lewis, for example, who claims that Hell is locked from the inside."
      Lewis made many false claims, so I am not surprised of this one.

      "It is not incoherent (at least not clearly incoherent)"
      You are in need of some refreshers in logic. I realize you are fully capable of rational thought on other subjects, and you are able to reason clearly on matters of responsibility in civil and criminal law as well as administrative and personal ethics, but few Christians are capable of maintaining their full rational capacities when discussing the ethics of god's evil acts.

      David Bentley Hart has at least made some small progress in the most obvious case of Christian incoherence, the assertion set I outlined above. He is correct that the matter should be settled in about one paragraph, yet it isn't for those with minds clouded with Christian doctrine.

      David Bentley Hart is an example of how much it can take for a Christian to break free of incoherent thinking. In his case a PhD, a long life of erudite study, scholarly multilingual research, even his own translation of the New Testament.

      It seems it might take such enormous rational efforts for a Christian to reason his way to what is clear to a rationalist materialist in just that one paragraph.

    4. Alvin Plantinga argues that even an omnipotent being cannot do literally everything. For example it cannot create a squared circle, because it is contrary to the nature of the circle. In the same way, even God cannot create a world without suffering/evil/whatever AND with freedom.
      I find it a reasonable position regardless of what one thinks about hell.

    5. Stardusty
      You have not pointed out the logical incoherence in the following four claims:
      God is perfectly good;
      God is omnipotent;
      God created everything except himself; and
      some people damn themselves to eternal suffering.
      Now point out a clear contradiction or stop slandering Christians in a vile manner!

  23. WCB


    Matthew 6
     But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
    8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.


    1. Of course, we know that that verse has nuance, because Jesus Himself repeated the same words when He prayed: "And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words." (Matthew 26:44) And He taught His disciples to pray a formulaic prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). So no, it is not the case that all repetitive formulaic prayer is bad.

      The type of prayer He spoke against was the vain, repetitive prayers characteristic of those who have no faith in their idols, like this scene depicted in the Book of Kings: "And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention." (1 Kings 18:28-29)

    2. WCB, do you ever stop to think that if your talking points are lifted directly from a Jack Chick tract that maybe they're not as intellectually airtight as you may initially believe?

    3. WCB

      Jack Chick Comic? Did you actually read my post? I read the Bible, Old and New Testament carefully. Have you ever read Augustine's "City Of God - Book XIII" carefully. The Kingdom of Heaven is on Earth. We will be immortal. We will all be given healthy bodies aged about 24. Hell is deep below the Earth. This is what Augustine gleaned from the Bible. God's Holy Mountain. Isaiah 60 - 66. Ever read that? Carefully? How about Revelation.

      Who needs Jack Chick when we have weirdness like this?

      Your homework assignment for today. Read Augustine's "City Of God - Book XIII" about the nature of The Coming Kingdom Of Heaven and the nature and location of Hell.

      Now, what do you know about heven, hell, souls, and immortal life and where did you get that. And where ever you got where did that come from.


    4. WCB


      Just when and how did heaven go from being The Kingdom Of Heavan On Earth to some otherworldly realm. A little history for you.


    5. Dude, did *you* read your post? I'm replying to your comment about rosaries, not the one about Hell.

  24. Fr. Gaine proposes that prophecies like Christ’s statement about the sheep and the goats can reasonably be read as Jeremianic in character.

    AFAICT, Gaine doesn't give any reason why Matt. 25:31-46 could be read as Jeremianic, apart from saying that prophecies can be either Mosaic or Jeremianic, therefore Matt. 25:31-46 may be the latter. It is like saying,"We know that people can tell the truth or lie, therefore I have reason to believe you might be lying to us". Hardly a convincing argument.

    What hermetical principles would Gaine (or others) apply to give a Jeremianic interpretation, which goes against a prima facie interpretation, of the passage? To put the question differently, if Christ's statement in Matt. 25:31-46 is conditional not absolute, what (more) could He have said instead to render it absolute?

    Gaine then stated that since the Scripture cannot settle the debate, we need to consult the Fathers. I chuckled to myself immediately, "I know where this is going: If people won't agree on how to interpret the Scripture, they won't agree on the Fathers either". Sure enough, Gaine argued to that effect before closing his talk.

    His talk is not entirely void of interest, however. Conditional prophecies are an integral part the Scripture. The Mosaic Covenant can be understood as a conditional prophecy. "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deut. 30:19). In contrast to paganism, where even the gods are subject to Fate, and all attempts to circumvent Fate are futile, Christianity, as I understand it, teaches that people can change their future, because the God who created the world and directs the paths of men hears their prayers.

    On the one hand, the Scripture shows repeatedly that God hears those who call upon His name, on the other hand, it also shows repeatedly that there are peoples who do not call upon His name, and judgement await them, both in this life and that which is to come.

    If I remember correctly, Hart conceded in his book that the judgment Christ prophesied in Matt. 25:31-46 will be carried out, but the judgment is only for an age, perhaps for millions of years, and eventually all will repent and be saved. In other words, Hart asserts some knowledge of the far distant future that is not revealed in the Scripture, but only he (and those who agree with him) possess, for they are gods after all.

    I would argue, from a Christian perspective, that to conjure up a notion of God that is contrary to what is revealed in the Scripture is idolatry, for it replaces a real Image of the divine with a figment of man's imagination. Man has usurped the place of God as the ultimate Arbiter of truth. If I may borrow the words of Luther, Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I cannot bow down to these idols.

  25. " My impression is that “infernalism” is usually used in a broader way today, to include even the view that some might be damned, and that “universalism” is often used in a narrower way, for the view that all must be saved. "

    Prof Feser,
    I suspect this is why You & I had our disagreements about hoping God will save everyone.
    I never thought of Universalism (Von Balthazar version) according to this definition.
    Hell must always be a threat and possibility.

    1. Thus "Universalism" in the VonBalthazar sense is that everyone somehow ends up being saved.
      I always assumed the "Must be" version has been condemned.

    2. "Hell must always be a threat and possibility."
      Yup, that's what Allah demands, see you in hell bro.

  26. We see once again that not every version of Christianity is worth being followed