A common matter I’ve found online regarding baptism is the question of whether babies or children who die unbaptized are saved. It’s a somewhat sordid subject in my opinion. Even I, who am convinced that children are capable of cruelties and completely selfish activities, understand that it pulls at the heartstrings and quite naturally so – even mine. In plenty of blogs and other websites out there one can find a large body of church testimony that says they are damned or are in some sort of limbo-ish hellscape that is not that bad – something along those lines in any case. An honest answer would be that there are numerous answers to this question within Christian tradition.
Some people today are prone to nail the answer down with certainty and deride testimony that contradicts their position. As a universalist, the answer seems clear to me. But I realize not everyone falls into my camp on the question, so it is important to highlight evidence and testimony that unbaptized children are saved that would appeal to a wider audience. And so, I would like to briefly highlight one testimony, a testimony of a martyr no less, which indicates that unbaptized dead children are saved. The testimony is found in the Passio sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, whose present Latin text as it currently survives dates to 206 to 209 AD.
The martyrdoms of both Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas occurred in 203 AD at Carthage. A free online English translation can be found here. To quickly summarize and truncate the passio at the expense of the other martyrs, Perpetua was a nursing mother and Christian catechumen who refused to renounce her Christianity before the Roman procurator Hilarianus. Her pagan father begged her to renounce her faith and to think of her nursing child. She refused and was eventually martyred in a public spectacle and game.
What I would like to focus on, however, is St. Perpetua’s dream visions. The passio itself has multiple authors. Perpetua wrote much of it, but there is also the testimony of Saturus, and then the editor. In short, the text has three authors. In particular, St. Perpetua’s visions of his dead brother, Dinocrates, who died unbaptized at the age of seven:
7. A few days after, while we were all praying, suddenly in the midst of the prayer I uttered a word and named Dinocrates; and I was amazed because he had never come into my mind save then; and I sorrowed, remembering his fate. And straightway I knew that I was worthy, and that I ought to ask for him. And I began to pray for him long, and to groan unto the Lord. Immediately the same night, this was shown me. I beheld Dinocrates coming forth from a dark place, where were many others also; being both hot and thirsty, his raiment foul, his color pale; and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother in the flesh, seven years old, who being diseased with ulcers of the face had come to a horrible death, so that his death was abominated of all men. For him therefore I had made my prayer; and between him and me was a great gulf, so that either might not go to the other. There was moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, a font full of water, having its edge higher than was the boy’s stature; and Dinocrates stretched up as though to drink. I was sorry that the font had water in it, and yet for the height of the edge he might not drink. And I awoke, and I knew that my brother was in travail. Yet I was confident I should ease his travail; and I prayed for him every day till we passed over into the camp prison. (For it was in the camp games that we were to fight; and the time was the feast of the Emperor Geta’s birthday.) And I prayed for him day and night with groans and tears, that he might be given me.
8. On the day when we abode in the stocks, this was shown me. I saw that place which I had before seen, and Dinocrates restored, clean of body, finely clothed; and the font I had seen before, the edge of it being drawn to the boy’s navel; and he drew water thence which flowed without ceasing. And on the edge was a golden cup full of water; and Dinocrates came up and began to drink therefrom; which cup failed not. And being satisfied he departed away from the water and began to play as children will, joyfully. And I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from his pains (tunc intellexi translatum eum esse de poena).
This passage has been interpreted many ways. St. Augustine of Hippo understood it to mean that Dinocrates was baptized and then induced towards apostasy of some sort by his pagan father (De anima et eius origine libri quator I.12). This speculation has been rejected on the grounds that the details of the text indicate nowhere that Dinocrates was baptized and furthermore that the circumstances of Perpetua’s family run against that conclusion. As Jeffrey A. Trumbower writes addressing both St. Augustine’s objections and the idea that this passio alludes to purgatory:
Perpetua does not have a vision of “purgatory,” at least as purgatory comes to be defined in later centuries. If Dinocrates were a baptized Christian suffering punishment to purify him of his sins, then we could say that Perpetua saw purgatory. Such an interpretation of Perpetua’s visions, though later championed by Augustine (De natura animae et eius origine 1.12; 3.12), is virtually impossible for the historical Perpetua. It is inconceivable to imagine the pagan father of Dinocrates allowing his child to be baptized, and the boy died so many years earlier that probably no one in the family had yet become a Christian (remember, Perpetua was still a catechumen at her arrest). It is equally unlikely that Perpetua would envision postmortem agony for Dinocrates if he had been a baptized Christian. Even if Dinocrates had been baptized, there is no reason to think that notions of purgatorial punishment had developed in Carthage by Perpetua’s day; Tertullian’s postmortem scenarios do not include them. Thus, Perpetua cannot be connected with the doctrine of purgatory, except in the sense that later generations reinterpreted her visions in that direction. She did offer to posterity a notion of the efficacy of prayer for the dead, which became incorporated into the cultural construction of Purgatory, but only with limits on who could be helped that were not part of Perpetua’s original conception.
Jeffrey A. Trumbower, Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christiantiy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 83
Trumbower ultimately concludes that Perpetua saved Dinocrates, but whether or not Dinocrates merely had his pains relieved until the Final Judgement or was saved then and there depends on whether one understands the fountain to convey baptism. Trumbower favors the former and finds the latter highly unlikely (Trumbower, pp. 81-85). In either case, Dinocrates is saved. Other scholars, concur that Dinocrates is saved. Ilaria Ramelli believes the fountain does represent baptism (Ramelli, pp. 78), while Thomas J. Heffernan more generally states that Perpetua saved Dinocrates through the power of the Holy Spirit for all eternity (Heffernan, pp. 54). Either of these interpretations strike me as quite plausible. Let the reader decide I suppose, though I am heavily inclined towards the latter interpretation for the simple fact that punishment (poena) is often associated with hell and it is clearly stated that he is delivered from this punishment. The phrase “Then I understood him to have been moved over from punishment (tunc intellexi translatum eum esse de poena)” strikes me as unequivocal. The word translatum zooms in on the idea of crossing over. Recall that earlier in the first vision that a chasm separated Dinocrates from his sister (et inter me et illum grande erat diastema ita ut uterque ad invicem accedere non possemus). Therefore, being translated or moved over from punishment ought to be understood as that Dinocrates crossed over to the other side of the chasm. In any case, salvation of dead unbaptized children is attested to fairly early on in Christian history.
Recently, I’ve been reading the poetry and prose works of St. Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century Italian who later immigrated to Merovingian Gaul. There he published many books of poetry that also included the occasional prose. He later became the bishop of Poitiers. I won’t belabor the reader with too many details about his life, but one work particularly struck me in his poetry collection – his prose commentary on the Nicene Creed. The commentary is especially interesting given how St. Fortunatus conceives of the procession of the Holy Spirit. He says the following:
“‘I believe in the Holy Spirit.’ By the mention of this the mystery of the Trinity is brought to completion: one Father, one Son, one Holy Spirit. In order that there be a distinction of persons their names are differentiated: the Father, from whom are all things and who has no father; the Son, born from the Father; the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the mouth of God and making everything holy (spiritus sanctus de dei ore procedens et cuncta sanctificans).”
Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but it seems to me that St. Fortunatus is making an allusion to John 1:1-5. To proceed from the mouth of God (de dei ore procedens) is in reference to the words or rather the Word, ie Jesus, that come from God the Father. Therefore, the procession of the Holy Spirit is related to the Son, though in St. Fortunatus’ formulation the clear hypostatic origin remains the Father alone as the mouth belongs to the Father. In short, the mouth belongs to the Father, what comes out of the mouth is the Son or the Word, and what the Word conveys is the Holy Spirit. This formulation strikes me as similar if not the exact same in meaning as that of St. Augustine of Hippo and the Council of Blachernae (1285), which I have previously spoken of here and here – namely that the Holy Spirit proceeds in a fashion of receiving its hypostatic origin from the Father alone while also being eternally mediated through the Son. Just a brief thought in any case.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Fortunatus, Venantius. Opera poetica. MGH: AA 4.1. Edited by Frederick Leo. Berlin: 1881.
Fortunatus, Venantius. Poems. Edited and Translated by Michael Roberts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
George, Judith W. Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Craig Truglia recently addressed my earlier blog post. I have decided to give a response. Originally there was an audio recording, but given its poor quality, I have decided to take it down and just summarize with text. First, I should say that I retract my suppositions regarding the editing of Wikipedia (and I have since removed that portion from my blog post). From there I address a number of his concerns, though not all.
The run down response:
1.) Contrary to his allegations, I never said that Origen was not condemned at Constantinople II. In fact, in an earlier edition of the blog post, I said quite the opposite. Upon further reading of the scholarship, however, I changed my answer from yes to maybe and said that the reader is free to decide. I think either conclusion is plausible.
2.) I did not mischaracterize Ware’s position at all on canon 1 of the 15 anti-Origenist canons. I deny the allegation. Ware quite literally says:
Apart from that, however, the precise wording of the first anathema deserves to be carefully noted. It does not speak only about apocatastasis but links together two aspects of Origen’s theology: first, his speculations about the beginning, that is to say, about the preexistence of souls and the precosmic fall; second, his teaching about the end, about universal salvation and the ultimate protology of all things. Origen’s eschatology is seen as following directly from his protology, and both are rejected together….
Now, as we have noted, the first of the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas is directed not simply against Origen’s teaching concerning universal salvation, but against his total understanding of salvation history – against his theory of preexistent souls, of a precosmic fall and a final apocatastasis – seen as a single and undivided whole.
Ware, DWSA, pdf 4 (see earlier post for full citation)
My critic disagrees with this reading of the canon. Fine, disagree. But my position is not a one-off or a strange one. I would argue the alternative is the strange one.
3.) Regarding the idea that Constantinople 1351 confirms conciliar fundamentalism, I draw a different conclusion. Conciliar minutes are important and should be read, but they don’t have the same authority as canons. It has never been my position not to read the minutes. To give an analogy, in Constitutional law in the USA, the Constitution is the document of law. Yet, before the judges, lawyers often argue for this, that, or the other interpretation of that law using a variety of documents – the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist papers, and even 17th and 18th century English common law. These other documents aren’t considered as having the same binding force as the Constitution. They are only used for further understanding and providing a platform for debate and consideration.
4.) *said in a lighthearted manner* Regarding the allegation that McGuckin was confused by Ramelli, it would be hard for McGuckin in his 2004 book to have been influenced by Ramelli’s 2013 book, unless he possesses the ability of time travel. *said in a light heartedmanner*
5.) Regarding that the internal references to Origen in the conciliar minutes are referring to Constantinople 543 (a local synod), not the preconciliar session of 553, Diekamp makes a compelling case against reading the internal references to Origen in the Fifth Ecumenical Council’s minutes or acta as being to the local synod of Constantinople 543 on pp. 114 (again, see original post for full citation). Vigilius was not in Constantinople at the time for the local synod. Being present at the time to the pre-conciliar session makes it far more likely that Vigilius was responding to preconciliar session. For me, there is also the problem of why Vigilius would need to respond to a local synod without an appeal to Rome.
As to why Vigilius may have condemned Origen in such close proximity to objecting to the condemnation of dead people in his First Constitutum, it isn’t that hard to imagine. Vigilius has a long record of flip-flopping, which I make reference to in the updated version of my previous post. Furthermore, it can be established through the evidence that Vigilius operated through some measure of motivated reasoning. Vigilius had an incentive to prevent Ibas, Theodore, and Theodoret from being condemned personally or in their writings because these figures were a part of Chalcedon. Many felt that doing so, especially in the Latin West, would be to condemn Chalcedon. Origen wasn’t a part of Chalcedon, so it is easy for Vigilius to condemn him, even though it made him a hypocrite.
6.) Regarding Vigilius’ strained reading of Chalcedon in his Second Constitutum, I have addressed this matter in my revised post.
7.) Regarding the allegation against me that I make an idol of reason, I would suggest actually reading the posts I link to. My position is quite patristic.
8.) Regarding the allegation that I appeal to authority by citing scholarship, this is pure nonsense. I cited scholars who do the work. Others are free to disagree with their arguments, but people should be aware of what people spend years on for public benefit and education.
9.) Regarding Cassian as believing in eternal hell, read Ramelli’s 2013 book pp. 676-686. Also, Conference 3.9 says, “intolerandis gehennae ignibus et aeterno deputatur ardori,” meaning, “they are condemned to the intolerable flames of Gehenna and the eternal flame.” In Orthodoxy, Hell is the experience of God for a person whose heart is not right. God is experienced as a flame and of course God is eternal. Conference 1.14 is not interesting on this matter. Lastly, Conference 13.7, which Ramelli highlights, literally says, “ac properantes ad mortem retrahit ad salutem et de inferni faucibus extrahit ignorantes,” meaning, “God drags back those approaching death towards salvation and drags out the mistaken ones from pit of hell.” Here the imagery of hell as a place is used and is shown to be emptying.
10.) Holding up Jerusalem 1672 as dogmatically binding, which my critic does, places great difficulty on an Orthodox believer. The critic acknowledges that Ware is on record as stating that it does not have the same level of authority. The critic admits that they disagree with Ware. But the problem with this position is twofold – first the Russian Orthodox Church, as Ware states in his book, changed the language of portions of decrees of Jerusalem because they did not like the scholastic language of the council. I think that is even more significant in the context that papal claims at ecumenical councils had historically been massaged by their translators into the Greek. It reveals that someone thinks something is wrong, but is too polite to say it. More importantly, however, is that by holding up Jerusalem 1672 as dogmatically binding, one is required to believe that unbaptized babies burn in hell forever, which that council proclaims. This is a problem because it abandons any meaningful distinction between personal guilt and original guilt, thus making it more akin to Augustine’s understanding of the matter. Augustine’s understanding on this subject is not Orthodox.
11.) As for the accusation of plaigiarism, I initially addressed this part in the audio edition but did not recapitulate it here in text because I thought it was a rather ridiculous charge and had hoped that Truglia’s listening to my response would have been sufficient. Yet, days later this accusation was repeated in Truglia’s own text version on his blog, which admittedly was just a posting of the script. Nonetheless, I take exception to the repetition of the accusation, especially after I have formally withdrawn some of my own.
So I will repeat myself here: I cited a footnote of Hombergen’s in my initial article which contains a list of subsequent scholarship since Diekamp’s book that suppports Diekamp’s position. I did not have access to all of that said scholarship listed in that footnote. Therefore, I cited Hombergen’s footnote. Truglia seems to be under the impression that because Price cited the same footnote, I ought to cite Price citing that footnote. Such a practice is in fact not in comportment with scholarly practice unless I never directly consulted Hombergen. True, I found out about Hombergen’s work through Price, but I then went and got a copy of Hombergen’s book myself and verified the matter. I do not therefore need to cite Price citing a footnote that cited other scholarship. This is all regular scholarly practice. Accusations of plaigiarism in this instance reflect a deep misunderstanding of scholarly practice. I cite scholars whom I have directly consulted and read, such as Diekamp, while those I am unable to directly consult, I cite from the footnotes of others, as I have done with Hombergen.
For about the past year or so now, some corners of the Orthodox blogosphere has been consumed with this question. In my experience, most who have dealt with the issue have been quite hostile to the idea of apocatastasis or universal salvation. By universal salvation, I do not mean the denial of hell, but rather the belief that all people will be saved and that the experience of hell is temporary, not eternal. These critics of the doctrine go as far as to declare it inadmissible and heretical for Orthodox. Many universalists, meanwhile, have be wont to declare such critics as generic Orthodox converts still suffering from typical American Protestant fundamentalist rigor and so forth. Perhaps these universalists are right in their accusations – who knows. But it probably is not a very good rebuttal, given the fact that Orthodoxy in the USA already has enough of an image problem of being viewed as a series of ethnic enclaves and unwelcoming to outsiders or converts. It is not their intention to feed into that image, especially those universalists such as myself who are converts. But it probably does feed into that image anyways. In any case, what follows are smattering of quick, sometimes acrid and impolite rebuttals of those Orthodox infernalists who insist that we are heretics. They can disagree with us Orthodox universalists, as is permissible in Orthodoxy, but branding us heretics relies on faulty premises, faulty arguments, and faulty history. These are not intended to be full-detailed or full-throated counters to every point. Rather they are meant to simply be a starting place. I would only warn the reader that if the subject seems too deep or complicated for you, then it probably is. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you recognize it. Begin from there with patience.
Claim 1: The Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemned Origen and Universalism
A complicated maybe to the first, no to the second. Many apologists make the mistake of simply reading too quickly through acta and canons of Constantinople (553). Was Origen condemned centuries after his death in 553? Maybe, but the story is complicated. According to Franz Diekamp, later corroborating evidence seems to suggest that Origen was condemned around this time. But the question precisely is, when and where was he condemned? The 15 canons drawn up against a form of Origenism – a broad term – were likely the result of a preconciliar session that began shortly before Constantinople (553) or the Fifth Ecumenical Council formally convened. The internal references within the acta of Constantinople (553) that reference Origen as condemned then are not to local synodal canons from Constantinople 543, but to the preconciliar session of 553 (Diekamp, pp. 82-115). This position has subsequently been endorsed by many other scholars (Hombergen, pp. 21fn2). If you read through the acta, you’ll find some occasional mentions of Origen in passing without any formal discussions of the matter paired with the 15 anti-Origenist canons. Origen does happen to be mentioned in the 12 official canons of the council (not to be confused with the 15 anti-Origenist canons). In the official Canon 11 (again, not part of the 15 anti-Origenist canons), specifically, Origen is condemned by name alongside others, but without reference to specific beliefs or writings. This discrepancy is unusual, as councils generally discuss what they condemn before proclaiming canons. On the issue of this specific form of Origenism, this regular process did not occur, which is partly why many modern scholars now regard the 15 canons as being formed before the ecumenical council began.
These references found against Origen throughout the acta then would seem to indicate some sort of post-facto approval during the formal council of the preconciliar session. However, this post-facto approval process is not officially recorded if it really happened. We do have some indication of what it might have looked like in a later 7th century sermon given by (?pseudo?)-Anastasius Sinaita. According to this source, Pope Vigilius agreed to St. Justinian’s condemnation of Origen by means of a letter (Pitra, pp. 264-265). The letter itself is now lost. Accordingly, (?pseudo?)-Anastasius says (I’m translating from the later Latin translation, not the Greek original, as I don’t read Greek):
But indeed the most holy Pope Vigilius of Rome by no means was present at that synod [that is during the preconciliar session], nor did he command his legates [to attend] it [during the preconciliar session]. But he adhered to the acts in it regarding all things. There were two causes for why there was the synod: First, indeed is on account of Origen Adamantius (indeed producing capitula which were ascribed to Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus – first touching upon the capitula themselves, then upon Origen himself by anathematization). And indeed on these things that the most holy Pope Vigilius of Rome had assented to, were written by argument, which Vigilius wrote to Justinian, and which are revealed in the synod and are extant in his action in the literary record.
Some might object that these canons therefore are not technically part of the council and that Origen was not condemned. Regarding the issue of Origen’s condemnation, Richard Price in his translation and summary of the council does believe that Origen was condemned. He is quick to note that Canon 11 of the official canons mentions Origen, which he regards as authentic (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 280). Price, however, relegates the 15 anti-Origenist canons to the appendix, summarizing the scholarship over the past century with more detail than what I have written above (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 270-280). In his translation of the acta of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, Norman P. Tanner goes further than Price by omitting the 15 anti-Origenist canons entirely, stating, “Our edition does not include the text of the anathemas against Origen since recent studies have shown that these anathemas cannot be attributed to the council” (Tanner, pp. 105-106). Notably, however, Tanner still holds the Canon 11 to have condemned Origen by name in his edition and translation (Tanner, pp. 119). Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, believes that even this mention of the official canon is a later interpolation, since St. Justinian does not mention Origen’s name his imperial edict, known as the Homonoia – the first draft of those anathema written by Justinian (Ramelli, 2013, pp. 737fn210; McGuckin, pp. 166). This is basically the position of Henri Crouzel, whom she cites, and whom is worth quoting in full in his conclusion to the said article:
In the anathemas against the Three Chapters which are the work of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, we find the name of Origen solely in the following of a list of heretics in [the official] Canon 11. And it is still necessary to remark that he [Origen] is not found in the corresponding list [id est Homonoia] drawn up under the name of Justinian under number 10. Origen is the last on the list, although the other names ought to be ranked by chronological order and that Origen is the most ancient [name]. What is the sense of this addition [of Origen]? Perhaps this is an allusion to the discussions which had taken place earlier about this subject? Does this permit one to say that by speaking a strict language of the canonical point of view that Origen ought to be considered as having been condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council which had followed from the month of May 553 at the assembly of bishops who had condemned the doctrine of the Origenists of the fifth century, the inheritors of Evagrius and of Stephen Bar Sudhaile, rather than that of Origen [himself]? No, on account of what these canonical texts themselves say and their significant differences with his [Origen’s] actual doctrines.
My translation from Henri Crouzel, “Les condamnations subies par Origène et sa doctrine,” in Origeniana septima: Origenes in den Auseinandersetzungen des 4. Jahrhunderts, edited by W. A. Bienert and U. Kühneweg (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1999), pp. 315
So maybe Origen was condemned then or maybe not (I leave that matter to the reader), but this subject is quite separate from whether one regards the 15 anti-Origenist canons to be part of the Fifth Ecumenical Council in any serious sense. That these canons were written up before the council formally began is beyond doubt now. This process is highly unusual to say the least and no primary record exists of these 15 canons being accepted. What survives are second-hand reports in later accounts, such as the sermon above (again, for a full overview, see Diekamp, pp. 82-115). Internal evidence that is highly suggestive of the preconciliar thesis can be found in Session V.87 of the council, where it is detailed that Vigilius and many other bishops had denounced several people, including Origen (Price, vol. 1, pp. 337-338) – again without detail of specific doctrines. However one wishes to adjudicate this issue of their place in the Fifth Ecumenical Council I leave to the reader (Note: A more thorough and lengthy treatment of this issue can be found at Eclectic Orthodoxy).
Moving on, two questions immediately arise. First, the more important question, what do the 15 anti-Origen canons actually say? Second, less so importantly, were these condemned beliefs really Origen’s?
In answer to the first question, the most relevant canon to the subject at hand states the following:
1. If anyone advocates the mythical pre-existence of souls and the monstrous restoration that follows from this, let him be anathema.
Translation taken from Richard Price, The Acts of Constantinople 553, vol. 2, pp. 284
The specific form of universalism condemned here is the one that also advocates the pre-existence of souls. This position is not one advocated by any Orthodox universalist that I know today. Orthodox universalists merely believe that punishment is not eternal. Their belief does not flow from a belief in the pre-existence of souls. Orthodox infernalists will object that both beliefs listed in the canon are to be read as being condemned separately. However, the canon itself makes that reading impossible (Ware, DWSA, pdf. 4). To argue otherwise is absurd. Fr. Aiden Kimel bolsters this point even more in his reading of St. Justinian’s letter that was paired with these 15 anti-Origenist canons. St. Justinian’s letter accordingly places its concern on the combination of pre-existence of souls with universal salvation (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 282-284; Kimel, Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?).
I have read some Orthodox bloggers objecting that this defense, that only a certain form of universalism was condemned, declaring it specious. They say something like, “It is ridiculous to expect a council to declare every form of universalism heretical. Earlier councils did not have to declare every form of Arianism as heretical.” I don’t find this objection all that convincing. First, I Nicaea (325) did indeed endorse the term homoousios, meaning of the same substance or consubstantial (consubstantialis). And while this term was eventually used later in the century, particularly at the Second Ecumenical Council, otherwise known as I Constantinople (381), as the standard of Orthodoxy, the exact meaning of this term was heavily debated between the time of Nicaea and that of Constantinople (For more on this matter, see: Barnes, pp. 47-67; Ayres, especially pp. 98-104; passim). In any case, while the meaning of homoousios took time to settle after Nicaea, the term homoousios later in the same century came to exclude many other theologies, which had been attributed the broad umbrella of Arianism under the term semi-Arianism (a controversial term). Semi-Arianism included many groups such as the homoians, anomoians, and the homoiousians (For more on the variants of Arianism and semi-Arianism, see: Elm, passim; Amann, pp. 1790-1796; Wiles, pp. 27-34; Ayres, in toto). The Nicene Creed came to preclude those forms of Arianism. Long story short, we see neither a general terminology or canon whose language would exclude all forms of universalism (rather only just one form), nor do we see a long drawn out and complicated battle against universalism in the aftermath, as one saw with Arianism. As such, this defense of universalism is not specious, rather the objection to the defense is specious because it relies on a fairly simplified history devoid of full or even general accuracy.
Now, in answer to the second question, I give an emphatic no. If one reads G. W. Butterworth’s translation of Origen’s On First Principles, they will find many unorthodox beliefs, such as the preexistence of souls, etc. But Butterworth’s translation of the text is based upon Paul Koetschau’s edition of Origen’s text. Koetschau’s edition contains extracts from those hostile to Origen, sometimes as though Origen actually said them. These extracts and fragments are in fact dubious imputations, often at the hands of hostile writers. Fr. John Behr’s recent edition and translation of On First Principles replaces Koetschau’s edition. The result of this new edition and translation is, in fact, an Origen free from these unorthodox beliefs so often imputed to him. This edition and translation has been universally praised by scholars as superior, long overdue, and more faithful to the true Origen (Kostopoulos; Edwards; Hart 2020). It is apparent then that the Fifth Ecumenical Council made a mistake in condemning Origen’s person – a separate issue, I must stress, from whether the 15 anti-Origenist canons correctly condemn a certain set of beliefs and whether those canons belong properly to the Fifth Ecumenical Council. To these latter issues, I leave the reader to decide. Orthodox are required to uphold the doctrinal content of the ecumenical councils (Ware, OC, pp. 196), not their historical claims.
Claim 2: The Seventh Ecumenical Council Condemned Universalism via Conciliar Fundamentalism
The answer is an emphatic no. Admittedly, those who make this claim acknowledge that no canon from the councils condemn it. Rather they contest that it was condemned during the proceedings in passing. During Session 6 of II Nicaea (787) or the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Deacon Epiphanios of Catana replies to the various statements made at the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754), as read by Bishop Gregory of Neocaesarea. The relevant passages are the following:
Bishop Gregory read out:
“If anyone does not acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, and the judgement and the requital to each according to desert through the just criteria of God, and that there is no end to punishment nor to the kingdom of heaven, which is the enjoyment of God – for the kingdom of heaven is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, according to the divine apostle – let him be anathema.”
Deacon Epiphanios read out:
“This is the rule of the leaders of our true faith, the holy apostles and inspired fathers. This is the confession of the catholic church and not of heretics. But what follows is their own, since it is chock-full of ignorance and stupidity, and buzzes as follows….”
Translation taken from Richard Price, The Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea, vol. 2, pp. 535-536.
The crucial problem with the infernalists’ claims about the importance of this statement lay in the fact that it is not a canon or doctrinal decree. It merely comes from the general proceedings of the council and lacks the universal signatures that official canons and doctrinal statements are given at ecumenical councils, including at II Nicaea. Some have argued that even statements made at ecumenical councils are doctrinally binding, invoking a belief in what can be called conciliar fundamentalism. The defenders of this doctrine in the Orthodox blogosphere have gone as far as to claim that it was the standard view of the time and is therefore just. Anyone who states otherwise, they say, is obviously guilty of the heresy of modernism. Hence, II Nicaea makes universalism in toto heretical. Not much can be said about this position or the accusations of modernism, except that it is rather self-serving and preposterous.
In any case, Price does note that this conciliar fundamentalism came to be a common enough belief in the sixth century that it posed serious problems for the Fifth Ecumenical Council in its condemnations of the Three Chapters – the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, some writings of Theodoret of Cyrus, and the letter of Ibas of Edessa to Mari the Persian – whose writings and/or persons were approved of or rehabilitated at the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Price is also keen to note that this position was not prevalent in the preceding century and that St. Justinian himself deeply criticized it in his imperial edict On the Orthodox Faith (551) (Price, vol. 1, pp. 97-98). St. Justinian keenly notes:
However, those in search of the truth ought also to attend to the fact that often at councils some things are said by some of those found at them out of partiality or disagreement or ignorance, but no one attends to what is said individually by a few, but only to what is decreed by all by common consent; for if one were to choose to attend to such a disagreement in the way they [the conciliar fundamentalists] do, each council will be found refuting itself.
Translation taken from Price, The Acts of Constantinople 553, vol. 1, pp. 150-151.
Now, there has been an attempt to get around this embarrassing historical conundrum, known as the Aquileian Schism. In particular, it has been contested that Ibas’ letter to Mari was never actually approved at Chalcedon (451), and therefore its doctrinal condemnation at Constantinople (553) does not contradict a preceding ecumenical council. Hence, conciliar fundamentalism is saved. Here is the problem, it is dead wrong. Turning to Session 10 of the Council of Chalcedon, before the formal reinstatement of Ibas as bishop, many documents were reviewed concerning his case, including his letter to Mari (Mansi 6:242-250; Hefele, vol. 3, pp. 366-368), which would be condemned at Constantinople (553) in the next century. The acta detail the following by the papal legates:
The most reverend bishops, Paschasinus and Lucentius, as well as presbyter Bonifacius holding the place of the apostolic see [id est Rome], through Paschasinus said: “Having gathered together the documents, we acknowledge from the sentence of the most reverend bishops to have the most reverend Ibas shown as innocent. Indeed, having read his letter [to Mari], we acknowledge him to be orthodox.”
Now, these Orthodox bloggers (one specifically, but there is another who has in passing connected it to conciliar fundamentalism), who only read English and have no knowledge of classical languages, think that when the papal legate said, “his letter,” that it clearly must refer to another letter read which was from the clergy of Edessa coming to the defense of Ibas. They argue that in daily conversation saying his/her can be used in place of the plural their. Maybe it is possible in English – I certainly have not encountered this phenomenon. The fundamental problem with their argument here, however, is that the papal legates were possibly speaking in Latin, and Latin does not permit this loose use of possessive pronouns – singular possessive pronouns are for singular people, while plural possessive pronouns are for plurals only. This rule only bends when the royal we is used, but the context here involves no kings, so this exception does not apply. What follows is dependent upon my understanding of the Latin, so if someone wishes to discuss the Greek or enlighten me on it, please do so. After all, it is very much possible that the papal legates were speaking in Greek instead.
Now in their defense, Pope Vigilius makes this exact argument in his Second Constitutum (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 256-258). Price and Hefele have both dismissed this argument from Vigilius as straining the natural reading of the passage, as directly contradicting what Vigilius had said in his First Constitutum, or that it was so daring that not even his allies, namely Bishop Facundus and Deacon Pelagius, made such an argument (Hefele, vol. 4, pp. 350-351; Price, vol. 2, 195-203; 219-220; 256fn75). For these reasons, I am firmly in agreement with Price and Hefele. I think Vigilius’ arguments from his Second Constitutum can be attributed to a sense of motivated reasoning, which his long record of flip-flopping bolsters (Note: for a brief summary of his flip-flopping record, see: Meyendorff, pp. 235-245).
Regarding the Latin, it clearly says, “eius epistola,” or “his letter.” It cannot be read under any conditions whatsoever as “their letter” as in “the clergy of Edessa’s letter.” If was to be understood as “their letter,” it would have to have been written as “eorum epistola.” This grammatical point is further bolstered by Deacon Pelagius, soon-to-be Pope Pelagius I of Rome, who argued that the letter in question was Ibas’ letter to Mari and that the papal legates had approved it (Pelagius I, pp. 57). Bishop Facundus of Hermiane also confirms that the letter approved was Ibas’ letter to Mari (Facundus, PL 67:0629-0633B; IV.1). The chief allies and affiliates of the papacy are stating that they approved the letter a century before at Chalcedon, even though now a century later such an approval makes their lives more difficult! Vigilius’ late reading is strained. This point is further bolstered by the fact that in the previous sentence, “Having gathered together the documents, we acknowledge from the sentence of the most reverend bishops to have the most reverend Ibas shown as innocent,” the papal legates are acknowledging bishops of Berytus in the plural. Switching to the singular for another plural subject makes no sense. If they wanted to denote the letter from the Edessene clergy, they would have said, “the letter of the clerics (epistola clericorum).” The letter of the clerics of Edessa is referred to as the “letter of the clerics of Edessa” by Ibas himself. He never characterizes it as “his letter” (Mansi 6:250-255). In short, the letter approved at Chalcedon was the letter written to Mari.
One could argue that papal legates approving the letter does not mean that the council approved the letter. Ah, but herein lies the beauty of that concession – it is the exact argument that St. Justinian made in his On the Orthodox Faith quoted above, and would necessitate abandoning a belief in conciliar fundamentalism.
So what are we left with from this statement given by Deacon Epiphanios at II Nicaea? We are left with a lone deacon affirming a bland statement originally given at a heretical iconoclastic council (Hieria) that declared a belief in eternal hell. Okay. No universalist would claim that a belief in eternal hell is not a part of Orthodox tradition. We acknowledge many Orthodox believe in eternal hell and can do so while being Orthodox. At the same time, however, Orthodox tradition is a fairly wide tent and includes us universalists as well. In any case, Epiphanios’ statement is not binding. It isn’t a canon or a doctrinal decree. Therefore, while historically informative, on the question of binding authority upon all Orthodox Christians, his statement is most certainly not binding – nothing more than a popcorn fart of a curiosity. Let me reiterate, Orthodox Christians are required to uphold the doctrinal decrees of ecumenical councils, nothing more (Ware, OC, pp. 196).
Claim 3: The Orthodox Liturgy Condemns Universal Salvation and Proclaims Eternal Damnation
Undoubtedly, there are portions of the Orthodox liturgy that proclaim eternal damnation. I won’t go through and list them all. However, I will focus on one that is trudged out usually in support for the infernalists’ claims that belief in universalism is incompatible with Orthodoxy – the Synodikon. The Synodikon is read aloud during the Sunday of Orthodoxy in every present-day Orthodox Church. It is often, in my experience, abbreviated when read aloud. It was first formed in the aftermath of the end of Second Iconoclasm in 843 and was first formed at the local level, although over the course of the centuries it has become common practice in all Orthodox churches. According to the Serbian Orthodox Church’s English language website, the Synodikon itself has been modified considerably, often according to local concerns. For example, some Orthodox churches condemn ecumenism as heresy, which is clearly not something most Orthodox churches believe (Ware, OC, pp. 315; Porumb). A modification over the centuries that infernalists often cite is one of eleven condemnations of John Italos from the 11th century. Clucas Lowell, in his study of John Italos, has argued that surviving documents seem to acquit Italos from many of the charges of heresy (Lowell, passim.). In any case, Italos’ innocence or guilt is besides the point of concern here. The relevant passage of the Synodikon is the following (for critical text edition of the Greek, see: Gouillard, pp. 60-61):
To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others,
Here I reiterate the argument I made for Claim 1 regarding Canon 1 of the 15 anti-Origenist canons – what is being condemned is an entire system of thought, a form of universalism that includes the beliefs of the preexistence of souls, the temporality of heaven, etc. Most of these beliefs no Orthodox universalist today would endorse.
Now the infernalists are keen to harp on the last few lines that declare a belief in eternal hell. It would be interesting for someone to dissect the Greek, particularly on these last few lines, in nitty gritty detail, but I am incapable of doing that.
Here is the fundamental objection and problem with the infernalists’ arguments on this point regarding the Synodikon, however – the Synodikon is a relatively open liturgical document and just isn’t as authoritative as either the scriptures or the ecumenical councils. As I have personally testified and as the Serbian Orthodox Church has stated, the Synodikon is subject to numerous abbreviations or additions depending on locale. As mentioned above, for example, ecumenism is condemned as a heresy in some Orthodox churches’ versions of the Synodikon, despite most Orthodox engaging precisely in that very enterprise (Ware, OC, pp. 315). I myself have never heard the anathema above read aloud during any service. And this does not seem to be an experience limited to myself. According to Ivan Biliarsky and Radu G. Paun, a seventeenth-century edition of the Synodikon in the Romanian Orthodox Church does not contain the condemnations of Italos at all, nor does the printed Slavic edition from 1627 (Biliarsky and Paun, pp. 401fn36).
What does one make of these variations and omissions? Here it is useful to turn to what Jean Gouillard says in his critical Greek edition:
When we arrive at [the manuscript traditions] of C and P, we distinguish there at first glance an invariable cycle of additions, ranging from Gerontios to Barlaam and Akindynos, and – in passing through John Italos, Nil, Eustratios – the controversy of the sacrifice of Christ and that of the Pater maior me est (the Father is greater than I) with its new developments. These grand themes relate to the right of collection – that their inscription is certified by external sources or only by the constancy of the manuscript tradition. This constancy is compatible, furthermore, with a certain freedom of usage, under the form of omissions or of abridgements, as well as adaptations.
My translation from Jean Gouillard, “Le synodikon de l’orthodoxie: édition et commentaire,” Travaux et mémoires 2 (1967): pp. 38-39.
This reasoning would explain then the various omissions and abridgments mentioned above. But then one is left with the crucial question: if the Synodikon is selectively read everywhere, can one really claim that it speaks for Orthodoxy with the same force as say the Nicene Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, which are not abbreviated? I would answer no. Infernalists claim that the 11th Anathema against Italos is read aloud every Sunday of Orthodoxy, yet it has been established in the long historical record and in the present day, that such is simply not the case. Furthermore, many editions and transmissions of the Synodikon do not even record Italos’ anathemas. Moreover, this position confirms what Metropolitan Kalistos Ware states on the various levels of authority contained within Orthodox tradition. As he states:
Among the various elements of Tradition, a unique preeminence belongs to the Bible, to the Creed, to the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils: these things the Orthodox accept as something absolute and unchanging, something which cannot be cancelled or revised. The other parts of Tradition do not have quite the same authority.
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity, pp. 191.
Hitherto unmentioned is the fact that much of the Orthodox liturgy carries with it universalist themes. Christopher Howell over at Eclectic Orthodoxy demonstrates this phenomenon quite well in the liturgy, while also pointing towards other Orthodox scholars who have carried out similar studies. I will not attempt to recapitulate the details here. I encourage everyone to read the article as a starting point on the issue of the liturgy. If infernalists want to claim the liturgy as holding the same level of scriptures or the ecumenical councils, then they will have to explain away every single universalist message contained within the liturgy, of which, as Howell demonstrates, is quite a lot.
Claim 4: The Council of Jerusalem/Bethlehem 1672 Condemns Universalism
The general context of the pan-Orthodox council of Jerusalem (1672) is that the Patriarch Cyril Lucarius of Constantinople stood accused of adopting Calvinist views and publishing them (Note: For a full account, see: Kitromilides, pp. 193-202). The point of the council then was to refute the errors and heresies of Cyril through the Confession of Dositheos of Jerusalem. Decrees III, XVI, and XVII all proclaim some belief in an eternal hell during their refutations of various Calvinist doctrines (Robertson, pp. 114-116; 139-150).
One problem with using Jerusalem (1672) to bolster the infernalists’ condemnation of universalism is the fact that Jerusalem was not refuting universalism, it was refuting Calvinism, which no one with any knowledge would mistake as holding a universalist position in any of its forms. So affirming eternal damnation for the purposes of refuting Calvinism is not surprising, because as any Orthodox universalist would note, belief in eternal damnation is an acceptable Orthodox position, just not the only position.
The biggest problem with using Jerusalem (1672), however, is the fact that it just isn’t as authoritative as the ecumenical councils or other important elements of Orthodox tradition. Ware again singles out Jerusalem (1672) stating, “The decrees of Jassy or Jerusalem do not stand on the same level as the Nicene Creed…” (Ware, OC, pp. 191). He documents this lower standing of Jerusalem’s authority elsewhere in present-day Orthodox practice. For example, Ware notes that the Russian Orthodox Church was uncomfortable with some of the scholastic language of the council and therefore modified it in their translation (Ware, OC, pp. 277). Decree XVI, for instance, proclaims the belief that dead unbaptized babies burn in hell forever. This position is emphatically not Orthodox (Ware, OC, pp. 218). Paschalis M. Kitromilides’ conclusions on the council are instructive:
After Peter Moghila’s 1640 confession, which, on account of its Latin sources, verged dangerously on Catholicism, the patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheos (1669-1707) produced another confession answering Cyril’s confession point by point. But to do this Dositheos drew heavily on Latin sources and went a long way in the direction of a Catholic theology on fundamental doctrinal questions.
Paschalis M. Kitromilides, “Orthodoxy and the West: Reformation to Enlightenment,” pp. 201.
While Jerusalem (1672) is important in Orthodox history, it is not infallible and not as authoritative as the ecumenical councils or scriptures. Orthodox are not required to adhere to every single one of its proclamations, even if it was intended (which it was not) to preclude universalism.
Claim 5: The Consensus of the Fathers (consensus patrum) Precludes Universalism
Some Orthodox bloggers have argued that since the majority of the Church Fathers taught eternal damnation, then so too must all Orthodox Christians believe in eternal damnation. They invoke the principle known as the consensus of the fathers, or consensus patrum. The first problem with this claim is that, as well-demonstrated by Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, far more Church Fathers than is usually recognized believed in universal salvation, many having very big names, such as Sts. Gregory of Nyssa or John Cassian (See: Ramelli 2013; Ramelli 2019). So on that front, it is not so easy to dismiss them.
More importantly, however, is the fact that these Orthodox bloggers don’t understand how complex or disputed consensus patrum actually is. As one scholar eloquently summarizes the various positions before reaching their own conclusions:
Another question is what the most important theological questions are. It is generally agreed that the mind of the Church is expressed in the dogmatic definitions and in the canon of Scripture. However, not all important questions are defined as dogmas, and there is no unanimous opinion for their solution. There are secondary questions which are still very important: in cosmology (appearance of the human being, of death), anthropology (what is the image of God, dichotomous or trichotomous model of human nature, time of creation of the human soul), ecclesiology (borders of the Church), in sacramentology (validity of the sacraments outside of the Church), eschatology (the second coming of Christ, eternity of punishment), christology (whether human nature of Christ was damaged), biblical criticism, etc.
The principle of consensus patrum does not seem to work in solving these questions. Some respond that they do not directly influence our salvation. The consensus patrum concerns mainly those questions which influence salvation. If we deny this principle we will put in doubt not only the Tradition of the Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, but also the status of Scripture itself.
Some say that an alternative is new Ecumenical Councils which will define dogmas and react to new questions.
Some deny that the quantitative criterion should be applied to solving theological questions (agreement of a majority of the Church Fathers). The majority can be wrong. Truth is truth, no matter who expresses it—one person or many. Others say that the Holy Spirit who brings unity in the Body of Christ lets the truth be known to many believers….
The consensus patrum was one of the procedures of the Ecumenical Councils, and was used to define the canon of scriptural books. It is not a dogma, but the means for defining the dogmatic teaching. However, one should not dogmatise the opinions and teachings of the Fathers, since they are not infallible and legally binding. The teaching of the Church is partly contained in one Father and partly in another. If the Fathers made mistakes, it does not refute the validity of consensus patrum as a principle. Astonishing evidence of a religious truth is visible in the unity of spiritual experience and the unity of teaching based on this experience….
Thus, the principle of consensus patrum served as a method for distinguishing truth from heresy during the Ecumenical Councils. It helped to clarify the truth concerning the salvation of humankind. The teaching of the Fathers on other, non-dogmatic and non-soteriological questions can be described as a “symphony” of voices.
Consensus patrum, then, was only a means, not the means to an end. And invocation of a democratic version of consensus patrum is by no means accepted. More importantly, however, consensus patrum was never designed to answer questions secondary importance, such as the eternity of punishment or universal salvation. Consensus patrum was designed to answer questions that immediately influence our salvation. For example, why was Arianism so dangerous? Because it proclaimed essentially that God did not become man. And as St. Athanasius said, “What has not been assumed cannot be redeemed.” An ecumenical council, along with invocation of consensus patrum, were used to address this matter. It is incumbent upon infernalists who wish to declare universalism as an unacceptable heresy to explain how belief in a temporary hell and eventual salvation of all somehow impairs theosis in a manner similar to denying the full divinity of Christ. Only then would the invocation of consensus patrum make any sense.
Claim 6: The Scriptures Teach Against Universalism
The scriptures are vast and originally in languages I have no knowledge of – Hebrew and Greek. I myself generally prefer to read the Latin Vulgate, although I know it contains translation errors and I recognize its limitations. I cannot hope to adequately address this argument here. The most I can do is to direct people to read David Bentley Hart’s treatment of the scriptures in both his translation of the New Testament and in his book That All Shall Be Saved (Hart, 2017; Hart 2019). In these texts, Hart discusses in detail the logic of the scriptures, how words generally translated as eternal, etc. are much broader or different in their meaning, and how these other meanings actually make more sense in the context of any given verse (See my review for a summary). Another good resource is the bibliography assembled by Fr. Aiden Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy. Just run a word search for Bible and you will find many good resources that will address your scriptural concerns.
Claim 7: Many Universalists Make Use of Reason & Philosophy, but Philosophy Must Give Way to Revelation
I’ve already addressed this claim in an earlier blog post. I won’t do much to recapitulate its contents here. In brief, my position is the same as that of St. Augustine of Hippo and others. Of course, all Christians must accept revelation and authority and practice holy living. Indeed, most Christians may only go through life doing just that, living the faith by authority alone. However, the ideal is to pursue reason and thus explain that accepted authority and revelation in accordance with reason. In such a quest, one must be on guard against false reason, which only has the appearance of reason. In this way, no one can simply pull the revelation card and ignore serious philosophical arguments. Christianity is true philosophy, not a form of fideism. (Note: Another good article to read on the place of reason in Christianity is Mark Chenoweth’s at Eclectic Orthodoxy).
My conclusion to this long essay or blog post is this: belief in universal salvation is entirely compatible with Orthodoxy. No objection stands. Orthodox infernalists should be content to disagree with our position, but branding us heretics is a bridge too far.
Select Bibliography and Suggested Reading
É. Amann, “Semi-Ariens,” in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, vol. 14, 2 (Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1941), pp. 1790-1796
Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Michel René Barnes, “The Fourth Century as Trinitarian Doctrine,” in Christian Origins: Theology, Rhetoric and Community, edited by Lewis Ayres and Gareth Jones (New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 47-67
John Behr, trans., Origen: On First Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)
Ivan Biliarsky and Radu G. Paun, “La version roumaine du synodikon de l’orthodoxie (Bazau, 1700) et les combats pour la ‘juste foi’ à la fin du xvii siècle,” Cahiers du monde russe 58, no. 3 (2017): 395-434
Henri Crouzel, “Les condamnations subies par Origène et sa doctrine,” in Origeniana septima: Origenes in den Auseinandersetzungen des 4. Jahrhunderts, edited by W. A. Bienert and U. Kühneweg (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1999), pp. 311-315
Paschalis M. Kitromilides, “Orthodoxy and the West: Reformation to Enlightenment,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5, edited by Michael Angold (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 187-209
Zachary L. Kostopoulos, “Review: Origen: On First Principles,” Vigiliae christianae 73, no. 1 (2019): 112-114
Clucas Lowell, The Trial of John Italos and the Crisis of Intellectual Values in Byzantium in the Eleventh Century (Munich: 1981)
Many reviews over the past year or so of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved have on one level or another invoked that reason and revelation often go hand-in-hand, but that ultimately there are some things that will defy reason and simply must be accepted. The latest example is Fr. Lawrence Farley’s review of Hart’s book. There are numerous objections he makes against Hart – such as on tone, lack of objectivity, treatment of the Fathers, translations, the integrity of his philosophical arguments, and so on and so on. Setting those objections aside (let individual reader weigh the balance of Fr. Farley and Hart), I would like to focus on this statement of his:
Finally, I would add that whatever philosophy might say about the question, it must stand down and take second place to the teaching of Scripture. This is not “Biblicism” or an “‘oracular’ understanding of scriptural inspiration which sees the Bible as the record of words directly uttered by the lips of God through an otherwise dispensable human intermediary” (p. 92). That fundamentalist straw man is not here in view, but rather the conviction of all the Fathers that Scripture always teaches truth and that it stands above the wisdom available to philosophers. We will examine Dr. Hart’s understanding of the teaching of Scripture below. For now I only observe that any philosophical argumentation is of limited and subordinate value to Scripture.
It is on this point, I must object. The denial of biblicalism or something similar is not entirely convincing when one must subordinate philosophy or reason to scripture in perpetuity. Furthermore, it just happens to not really be a position that many of the Church Fathers would have endorsed. I will not trudge out a laundry list of them, but will be content to briefly discuss St. Augustine of Hippo on this point.
St. Augustine writes the following in his On the Strength of the Soul (VII, 12):
In the beginning I . . . asked you to bear our somewhat indirect method with patience; I ask you now to do likewise. We are not investigating a light matter, easily understood; we want to know it clearly and grasp it, if possible. To belief in authority is one thing; to trust in reason is another. To believe in authority is a considerable short-cut, with no work involved. If you are attracted by this method, you can read many things concerning these matters. Great and divine men spoke about them as it seemed necessary with benefit to the more ignorant, as if at a certain command. They wished that they be believed by those for whose soul, either slower of wit or more preoccupied, there could be no other deliverance. If such men, whose number is indeed very great, wish to grasp the truth with reason, they are deceived with spurious reasoning and fall into various harmful opinions with the result that they can either never or with great difficulty rise from them and be freed. Therefore, it is very beneficial for them to believe in an all-excelling authority and to live according to it. If you think that this is safer, not only do I not oppose you, but I approve very much. However, if you can not restrain that desire by which you have persuaded yourself to arrive at truth by reason, you must endure many long circuitous routes so that only that which ought to be called reason, that is true reason – and not only true, but so certain and free from every semblance of falsehood, if man can still in any way find such, that no false arguments or ones like to truth can take you from it – may lead you.
Translation taken from: Frederick E. Van Fleteren, “Authority and Reason, Faith and Understanding in the Thought of St. Augustine,” Augustinian Studies 4 (1973): 60-61.
Elsewhere in Letter 120, he states:
Heaven forbid, after all, that God should hate in us that by which he made us more excellent than the other animals. Heaven forbid, I say, that we should believe in such a way that we do not accept or seek a rational account, since we could not even believe if we did not have rational souls. In certain matters, therefore, pertaining to the teaching of salvation, which we cannot yet grasp by reason, but which we will be able to at some point, faith precedes reason so that the heart may be purified in order that it may receive and sustain the light of the great reason, which is, of course, a demand of reason! And so, the prophet stated quite reasonably, “Unless you believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7:9). There he undoubtedly distinguished these two and gave the counsel that we should believe first in order that we may be able to understand what we believe. Hence it was reasonably commanded that faith should precede reason. For, if this command is not reasonable it is, therefore, unreasonable. Heaven forbid! If, then, it is reasonable that faith precede reason with respect to certain great truths that cannot yet be grasped, however slight the reason is that persuades us to this, it [reason] undoubtedly also comes before faith.
Translation taken from: Letters, vol. 2, part 1 (New York: New City Press, 2003), pp. 130
To sum up, St. Augustine believed all must start with some sort of assent to authority or faith in their journey. However, the ideal is to pursue reason in order to explain the faith through reason, because reason is ultimately where all things start. Many are not equipped, either through shortcomings or personal circumstances, to pursue this ideal of explaining the faith through reason. These people are still saved, but they have not reached the ideal. Meanwhile, those who take the more difficult path, must be careful of false reason masking itself as true reason. In short, at the ideal level, faith must be embraced by reason.
This summation brings me to my final point. Many have argued that philosophy and reason must take second place to scripture and the Fathers. On the basis of St. Augustine, I find this to be a false choice. If a faith ultimately cannot be embraced by reason, then it is a false faith and not fully true. If one wants to condemn Hart and his philosophy in a patristic manner, then they must condemn it as false reason and not true reason. But such a line of argument carries with it a heavier burden for the critic – to both demonstrate how Hart is using false reason and how eternal damnation is completely reasonable.
Étienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991).
Dariusz Karlowicz, Socrates and Other Saints: Early Christian Understandings of Reason and Philosophy (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).
“The wise conceal knowledge, but the mouth of the fool is close to confusion.” – Proverbs 10:14
I have a confession. I despise with an unbridled passion online Christian apologetics. It is a paradoxical sentiment given that so much of what I have written here qualifies as apologetics, at least in some sense. When I first started this blog, I did so in reaction to some Catholic pop-apologetics. At the time, I not only wanted to argue about my faith, I also wanted to lead people to what I thought was right. I had scarcely been Orthodox for two years. In a sense, my approach was all wrong and the results demonstrated it too. I very likely pushed a friend away from Orthodoxy because of my argumentative nature. Furthermore, I said many unchristian things in forums, such as accusing people of heresy or claiming myself to be better than others, because of that “need” to be right in an argument. In many ways, the words of Fr. Stephen Freeman describe me during those times and in a similar fashion so too the words of Frederica Mathewes-Green, detailing the fetishes that new converts often embrace. What motivated me was often pride, not love. And those, who do not know love, cannot know God (1 John 4:8). What I thought was reasonable was indeed false reason, nothing more than a series of verisimilitudes. Mature Orthodox don’t feel the need to argue their faith or at the very least don’t seek out argument.
As the years have passed, I’ve increasingly shied away from apologetics. My last clearly apologetic post dates from nearly three years ago, my sequel to my first post on divorce and remarriage. That post and its predecessor remain my most regularly read items today. Lots of good work and research went into those posts, but my motivations were frivolous and pathetic – always to aggrandize my own intellect, always seeking a victory in argument. Since then, most of my posts have pertained to my floating interests – philosophy, video games, and some tidbits of theology like free will and more ecumenical matters. On occasion, I’ve made a return to apologetics, against a Catholic and against a fellow Orthodox. I cannot say that I regret writing these, as flawed as they may or may not be, because I did not write them in the spirit of “showing that son of a bitch who’s right.” I only wrote them because I had my own thoughts and desired to just serve as a starting point for others to look into things themselves, to be a rough index or annotated bibliography one might say. My tone in them is acrid for sure, but if they don’t work, they don’t work. Big deal. Tertullian was skeptical of the results of these types of engagements, writing that they are often inconclusive, especially in the eyes of third-party observers (De praescriptione haereticorum 18-19).
All of these thoughts bring me to the subject at hand – Orthodox, inquirers, or whoever should never substitute apologetic blogs for real discussion, real learning, real living. We, by which I mean apologists including myself, are far too often a prideful and rent-seeking species. Ask yourself, what benefit is there to argument about the faith? Perhaps there is some clarity, but otherwise the benefits are quite small at best. As St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “The [holy] way is what will lead to God if we hold fast to it in life; and if we do not hold fast to it in life, we will not come to God” (De ordine PL 32:0990). In brief, holy living will reveal the truth. Intellectualizing the faith, reading the faith, and so forth cannot replace consultation with one’s priest, it cannot replace regular worship or the divine liturgy, it cannot replace prayer, and it certainly cannot replace treating your neighbor according to the image of God found within them – all forms of real discussion, real learning, real living. Throughout my years in Orthodox apologetics, not only have I fallen into this error numerous times, but I’ve seen my fellow apologists fall into it as well. It is to them I will now name, because I want people to listen to us less, to stop cheering us on in live streams, to stop treating us as rock stars in vapid Discord servers, to stop taking sides like fan girls in petty internet fights. We deserve none of that, because we are the worst.
Avoid Jay Dyer. Let me repeat that, have nothing to do with Jay Dyer. For all his reading and his supposed learning, Dyer is nothing more than a conspiracy theorist and huckster, dabbling in a wide net of subjects so as to gain access to as many honeypots as possible. He, along with other despicable types like Alex Jones, spins conspiracy theories about a globalist elite, conniving to ruin your life. He sows discord among people, encouraging them to distrust and disobey proper authorities, even in the midst of trying and desperate times. Does not the Apostle Peter warn against this behavior? He says:
The Lord knows how to deliver the godly from temptation, but on the day of judgement the unjust shall be tormented. And especially them who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government: audacious, self willed, they fear not to bring in sects, blaspheming.
Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God and those that are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resists the magistrate resists the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and you shall have praise from the same.
Even our Lord says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
Audacity, self will – these are the symptoms of pride. St. Ambrose of Milan warns us against this sin saying, “The greatest sin in man is pride. Indeed thence flows the origin of our sin” (Expositio in Psalmum PL 15:1283A). God has not placed Dyer in governance, yet he seeks to emulate governance in the name of freedom, influencing others to think and behave like himself. There is no freedom in flaunting what God has established. True freedom is freedom from sin (Romans 6:22).
Should this understanding then be construed as following earthly authority in every matter? Of course not. That would violate the Lord’s aforementioned maxim. Yet to defy earthly authority merely for the sake of earthly goods cannot under any circumstances be excused. And any attempt to cloak earthly goods as heavenly goods for excusing such disobedience would but make a mockery of the holy martyrs.
Next, avoid the Orthodox Apologetics War Room Facebook page. It is private, but from experience there is nothing there that resembles charity or love. People are regularly spurned, slandered, and banned without provocation – although the latter probably spares you trouble. It contains nothing but argument and the most vapid, masturbatory spirituality. It is not surprising that it is run by so-called “True Orthodox” whose entire existence is centered around their schism and neurotic obsession of being “more Orthodox than thou.”
And lastly, avoid Craig Truglia. Indeed, he was the catalyst more or less for this very post. Setting aside his personal squabbles with me (here and here), Truglia has over the past many months increasingly engaged in unchristian behaviors towards others. These behaviors include things such as accusing a priest of lying and heresy, addressing a priest in a haughty and sarcastic manner, slandering and undermining bishops of the Orthodox Church in both Russia and the United States, declaring the holy synods of the Orthodox Church to be corrupted by modernism and a series of other ills thereby blaspheming them, and so forth and so forth. While I have in the past publicly criticized church hierarchs, it is something I regret. It was not wise nor just. In any case, these deeds must be documented to drive home the fact that you should listen to us apologists less! I will try to be brief.
Here one can witness Truglia publicly accusing a priest of lying, when in fact the shoe is on the other foot. Furthermore, he addresses the father in the most irreverent of fashion, mocking him with links to Bon Jovi songs. How is any such behavior reasonable, let alone done out of charity? The answer is that it isn’t.
Next, Truglia has publicly criticized Bishop Pitirim of Zvenigorod of the Russian Orthodox Church for claiming that Covid-19 made him sick within the walls of his church. In his letter, Bishop Pitirim details the unspeakable tragedy that this plague has visited upon the Russian Orthodox Church, killing many clergy. Truglia criticizes the bishop because it substantiates a narrative that he dislikes (see image below) – that there are rational and pious reasons for limiting or closing churches in the midst of a global pandemic. He endorses skepticism of the bishop’s claims, asking how precisely does he know that it was within the walls of the church that Bishop Pitirim contracted the disease. With that level of skepticism, one could just as easily ask how Truglia knows that he isn’t living in the Matrix. Truglia doesn’t ask himself the latter question, because the precise reason for asking the former question is to puff up his sense of pride and entitlement, not a commitment to skepticism. The bishop wisely came out with his letter because he wanted to advise his flock to be more cautious and not to listen to wolves in sheep’s wandering the internet. As the prophet Solomon says, “Among the proud there are always contentions: but they that do all things with counsel, are ruled by wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).
Elsewhere, Truglia actively encourages Orthodox Christians to kiss the icons during this global pandemic, despite the fact that the holy synod of the OCA has explicitly forbidden this act. He even goes as far as to say that if death results, it could be a blessing in disguise. How convenient for him, to cloak his pride and arrogance in the garb of God’s will! Truglia risks blood on his own hands! Now Truglia himself is not a member of the OCA, but one must inquire, who is he to functionally preach to others on such matters without regard to jurisdiction? From whom does he gain this authorization? Nowhere. Even if his own bishop granted him authority (which I doubt), it does not give him the right to actively encourage Orthodox, especially outside his jurisdiction, to risk spiritual and physical death, thus tempting the Lord thy God (Matthew 4:7).
Finally, Truglia blasphemes against the Orthodox Church and its holy synods, stating that the reason that the hierarchs have not obliged to condemn those whom Truglia deems as heretics in the present-day is because there is a vast corruption and conspiracy of modernists within the church (here and here). He never substantiates such claims. Instead, he is content to condemn the church hierarchy and academic scholars as corrupt, despite the fact that he depends on their translations and their expertise to even read the sources that he uses as a basis of disagreement. This is a case of not only prideful anti-intellectualism, but of hypocrisy. In his quest to be right, Truglia has blasphemed.
To conclude – and there is more I could say, but this post is already long enough – stop reading us apologists so much! Listen to us less! Do not treat us as idols! We cannot lead you to a deeper spirituality! Listen to your priest and superiors, pray, fast, attend divine liturgy when you can, and treat your neighbor in accordance with the image of God within them. If you must read, then read books written by Orthodox clergy and theologians. If you must read us, treat us as no more than a casual curiosity or simple index – for we are laymen and the worst sort at that. For far too often, apologists are the great deceivers, of whom St. Gregory of Tours details in his own time (Libri decem historiarum Book 9, Chapter 6). When it comes to apologists, caveat fidelis – let the faithful one beware! And if you fear losing an argument about the faith on the internet or in person, don’t worry. For a few losses God’s love will compensate.
In a recent article at Orthodox Christian Theology, Craig Truglia wrote that a strong case can be made for defeating the so-called heresy of apokatastasis by invoking the doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism. He had written the article in response to Fr. Kimel’s recent article over at Eclectic Orthodoxy. Truglia defines conciliar fundamentalism as the view that not just the canons and the formal definitiones (professions of faith by the whole council with their names undersigned) are dogmatically binding to all Orthodox, but also that all of the acta and minutes of the councils are dogmatically binding as well. Truglia then uses this doctrine for interpreting the ecumenical councils to make the case that because universalism in all of its forms is condemned by certain individuals in the minutes of the Second Council of Nicaea (787) (which itself is a dubious claim, but I will set that issue aside), then one is dogmatically obligated to condemn universalism as a heresy. For now, I will mostly set aside the issue of apokatastasis or universalism (which Truglia himself shows very little patience, charity, or interest in understanding as one can tell from his horrid and confused review of David Bentley Hart’s book – for example not once does he mention divine transcendence in his review) and focus mostly on conciliar fundamentalism. Let me say, in no uncertain terms, conciliar fundamentalism is self-defeating and undoes the Orthodox faith. It also breeds schism and heresy, and is documented as having accomplished just that.
I will start with three interconnected examples – the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Second Council of Constantinople (553), and St. Columbanus of Bobbio (d. 615). The Council of Chalcedon defined Christ as both fully human and fully God – one person with two natures. During this council, three men were upheld as having a correct faith – Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in communion with the Church, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa. Theodoret and Ibas were both rehabilitated into the Church at Chalcedon. These three men would later become known as the Three Chapters. Fast-forward to Constantinople (553) and all three of these men were condemned as heretics (the person of Theodore and select writings of both Theodoret and Ibas to be precise), essentially undoing parts of what had been done at Chalcedon. This denouncement of these three men precipitated the Three Chapters Controversy, which resulted in numerous churches in Italy, such as the Patriarchate of Aquileia, going into schism from the Orthodox Church. The Aquileian schismatics’ primary objection to II Constantinople was that by accepting it, Chalcedon was therefore rejected in toto, including its doctrinal definition and its condemnations. They believed that condemning a dead man who died in communion with the church for heresy, namely Theodore, was unheard of. But the major rub lay in the condemnations of Theodoret and Ibas, whom Chalcedon rehabilitated (Meyendorff, pp. 310-315). In short, these critics were conciliar fundamentalists. According to the schismatics, by undoing some of the procedural work done in the minutes of Chalcedon at II Constantinople, the bishops at Constantinople condemned the whole council of Chalcedon. In short, minutes or acta, definitiones, and canons all held the same status for these schismatics, whereas obviously those who upheld the truth of the Fifth Ecumenical Council did not hold to this doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism.
St. Columbanus of Bobbio enters into this controversy in 612, having recently left the Kingdom of the Franks for Italy. Columbanus was an Irish monk who had already accused St. Gregory of Rome earlier of heresy. When he arrived at Italy, he got caught up in the Aquileian Schism fairly quickly, although probably did not enter into schism himself. He then wrote a letter to Pope Boniface IV of Rome accusing him of undermining Chalcedon with his condemnation of the aforementioned three men (Epistle 5). In short, by casting doubt on some of the proceedings or rulings of Chalcedon, Rome had effectively renounced all of the council and its dogmatic content. It is useful to quote the historian Tommaso Leso here:
It has been convincingly suggested that in order to prove that somebody had rejected the authority of a council, it was customary to state that the individual in question approved what the council had condemned. It has been persuasively argued that Columbanus employed this very polemical tool in his fifth letter, as Nicetius of Trier had done, on the same question, some decades earlier. Nicetius was accusing the pope and the council of being unfaithful to Chalcedon. This had been the main accusation thrown by the schismatics at the pope through the decades: the Holy See, by condemning the Three Chapters which had been approved at the Council of Chalcedon, had betrayed the council.
– Tommaso Leso, “Columbanus in Europe,” pp. 380
Needless to say, the calls for a new synod that Columbanus asks for in that same letter are left unheeded. Both men soon died, and the schism would only be resolved at the end of the century.
The lessons of this history are notable in the context of Truglia’s arguments. Conciliar fundamentalists used the doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism to reject the Fifth Ecumenical Council – that SAME COUNCIL that Truglia wants to bolster and clarify through his quotations of the minutes from the Second Council of Nicaea. The irony should not be lost on anyone. Furthermore, this doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism then led to schism with the Orthodox Church! How can a doctrine be good and true if it leads people to leave Orthodoxy? It is madness! There is more I could say at length or even rhetorically ask, like, “Where are the minutes of the First Council of Nicaea? If acta are just as dogmatically binding as canons and definitiones, then surely they would have been better preserved!” In any case, conciliar fundamentalism leads to schism and Orthodox would do well to avoid it.
Truglia has recently doubled down on his position. It is not an impressive rebuttal, as he does not address the historical problem of the Aquileian Schism. And just for the record, the Barlaamites protested reading the minutes of the council. The position I and others have advocated is quite different. The acts are informative, but are not binding like canons or definitiones. Fr. Matthew Kirby in the comments of Eclectic Orthodoxy summarizes some other problems with the idea:
I have no further interest in the matter. This is my final word on it.
Bibliography & Further Reading
Tommaso Leso, “Columbanus in Europe: The Evidence from the Epistulae,” Early Medieval Europe 21, no. 4 (2013): pp. 358-389
John Meyendorf, Imperial Unity & Christian Divisions: The Church 450 – 680 AD (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989)
GSM Walker, Sancti Columbani opera (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1957)
David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation is a most excellent book that makes a series of compelling arguments in favor of the eventual salvation of all of humanity and that Hell itself is most certainly temporary, not eternal. The thesis, at first, seems counterintuitive, if only for the fact that most Christians today have been raised to believe that Hell indeed is eternal. Nevertheless, Hart pushes forth, illustrating through scripture, logic, and exegeses from the Church Fathers, most notably St. Gregory of Nyssa, that the entire Christian cosmology could only make sense if universal salvation or apocatastasis were true (pp. 18-19).
Hart argues that many of the traditional justifications of an eternal Hell fail to correspond with the more pressing axioms regarding the nature of God in Christian theology. First, Hart states that the creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) necessitates that God is the absolute (the creator), whereas humanity and creation are contingent upon God eternally so. For Hart, pulling from St. Gregory, this claim is not only metaphysical, but necessarily eschatological – that is pertaining to the final end of all things. Hart says, “In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness” (pp. 68). In a certain sense then, humanity is not fully created until it is fully united with God as a whole. This framing indicates for Hart that creation must reflect, in some way, on the identity of God (pp. 69). Beneath this argument then, of course, is the idea that God is goodness (bonitas), justice (iustitia), love (caritas), being (esse), etc. and that since God is the origin of all things and their ground of being, he is necessarily transcendent in every way (otherwise he could not be simple). Since God said that creation was good, it must therefore be true that the intent of creation is for himself, not to add to himself but rather to reflect himself. The failure of any part of creation or any one human to reach this telos or God would impugn God’s will and absolute transcendence. In short, it would mean that God failed to execute his will and also mean that he can be forcibly effected by his own creation, which would undermine the very Christian notion of God (pp. 69-70).
Anticipating that the idea – that God’s will cannot tolerate a soul choosing to eternally damn itself – might bring about accusations of predestinarianism, Hart introduces the distinction between the primary cause and secondary causes. God, who is the primary cause of creation, can simultaneously bring about his intent – that is perfect union of all creation with himself – all the while humans act as secondary causes within their own volition. This volition, Hart argues, however wrong it may choose, is always directed toward the highest good, id est God, because of the very omnipotent and transcendental nature of the primary cause. In short, human volition’s telos constrains it towards a certain end (God) (pp. 70-73). Hart addresses this point further elsewhere, saying that those people, who argue that free will must be completely unrestrained in any way in order to be free, are affirming an incoherent notion of free will. Free will must be constrained towards an end, whatever range of options it might have, because these constraints are what distinguish free will from sheer random acts or impulse. God is the structure and end that frames the human will and consequently allows it its range of choice. Any impediment towards that end then is deemed a form of slavery and a deprivation of freedom (John 8:32;34). In this sense then, true freedom is not so much the ability not to sin (posse non peccare), but rather the inability to sin (non posse peccare). As Hart says, “God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will, while not acting as yet another discrete cause among them” (pp. 40-42; 79-80; 172-173; 183). And so too, the idea of God respecting the human will to eternally and freely reject God is by definition an oxymoron. For if God is truth and freedom, then any rejection of him is antithetical to freedom and is reflective not of a free will but an enslaved will. In short, God would purposefully have to wish for an individual to eternally reject himself for it to happen and such a wish would in and of itself contradict the very idea of God (pp. 177-178).
Two other forceful arguments Hart brings to the fore are his readings of the scriptures, especially Romans, and what it means to be a person. With regards to scripture, Hart points out that the word aionios (άΐδιος), so often translated into English to mean eternal or forever, is far more plastic in its meaning than many have realized. It could mean an indeterminable amount of time. Hart goes on to list a number of Church Fathers, bishops, and even Neoplatonic philosophers who understood the word in this latter sense up through the fourteenth century. Likewise, the Greek phrase εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn) literally means “unto the ages of ages,” not forever. For Hart then, the usages of these phrases indicate not “how long, but rather of when, or what frame of reality – what realm, that is, within or beyond history” (pp. 123-127). Hart also dismisses the interpretation of Matthew 25:46 as a proclamation of eternal damnation, saying, “We might even find some support for the purgatorial view of the Gehenna from the Greek of Matthew 25:46 (the supposedly conclusive verse on the side of the infernalist orthodoxy), where the word used for the ‘punishment’ of the last day is κόλασις, kolasis – which most properly refers to remedial chastisement – rather than τιμωρία, timoria – which most properly refers to retributive justice” (pp. 116).
According to Hart’s plain reading of Romans, in which he pays careful attention to the conditional voice, Paul proclaims a clear and profound message of universal salvation. Indeed, in his reading of Paul, Jacob and Essau do not represent individuals, but entire groups, namely that of Israel and the church, both of whom are ultimately reconciled with God (pp. 132-138). Hart follows in this exposition of understanding figures as groups in his invocation St. Gregory. For St. Gregory, the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:3) represents the final end unto which creation is designed and destined, while the second creation story (Genesis 2:4-25) represents a temporal exposition of the first creation story. In this exegetical view then, Adam is not just an individual or progenitor of all humanity, but rather is representative of humanity in its entirety. In short, salvation and creation is incomplete without the salvation of everyone (pp. 138-144). From this point, Hart argues that interpersonal relations make us who we are and help to create the memories that make up our persons. Personhood is not some static substance, but is an act. And thus, all humans are connected to one another and realize their personhood through mutual interactions. Due to this interconnectedness of humanity then, the eternal damnation of even a single individual would necessarily damn the whole. Somewhere in Heaven there would be fellow humans who loved and made memories with that damned person. They would hurt out of love and pity and therefore be in Hell themselves. One might say that God could erase those memories to install bliss in the so-called saved, but that would be nothing more than the negation of the person in question. It would be the equivalent of replacing one person with another because memories help make a person who they are as a person. There is only one option then, for one to be saved, all must be saved (pp. 144-158).
That All Shall Be Savedis the very definition of the ethos that the best offense is the best defense. Hart meticulously dismantles the case for eternal damnation, while building up the case for universal salvation. Salvation for all is the only coherent framework for Christianity to operate within, lest one falls into contradiction. Some may find Hart’s arguments so counterintuitive that his wit and blunt honesty will strike them as rude and too distracting from the force of those very arguments. They may even invoke Blaise Pascal’s maxim, “Diseur de bons mots, mauvais caractère.” I find their sentiment unfortunate. The topic is large enough to warrant or rather necessitate a wide array of tones. And so hopefully there will be subsequent books on the topic whose tones will suit the critics’ tastes better. Nonetheless, Hart’s book is a blessing to everyone of us, tone and all.
Note: For those who wish to bring up the Second Council of Constantinople (553), I direct you hereand here.
One has to be fairly impressed with the article by Timothy Flanders in OnePeterFive about a month ago titled, “I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I don’t Regret It.” For an article whose title ostensibly promised to be an interesting story of personal experience and religious development, one finds a rather impoverished list of age-old stereotypical pop-apologetic arguments against Orthodoxy that says very little about the author’s own personal experience. In short, there is nothing really new or insightful here. The article is not written for people on the fence, but rather as something of a self-pat on the back. Perhaps that was not the intention, but I imagine that has largely been its effect.
To briefly sum up the article, here are the main points: 1.) the Roman Primacy/Supremacy is true; 2.) the papacy safeguards humility; 3.) that the Orthodox Church does not truly exist at an institutional level; and 4.) that Orthodoxy has a pathology against charity. To be brief, none of these I think are true. I will address the first three in varying detail. The final point is not worth answering.
The Roman Primacy
Flanders summons some interesting claims in support of his argument that the Roman primacy is historically and demonstrably true. To begin, he claims that the Eastern bishops during the first millennium were out of communion with the Roman bishop for at least 203 years, citing the eminent Louis Duchesne. I have no qualms about these claims, but one really has to question the implicit and broad assumption underlying Flanders’ presentation here, namely that the Christian East is already representative of a type of proto-Orthodoxy and therefore its previous errors highlight, prior to the events of 1054 and after, the fundamental inability of Eastern Orthodoxy to cope with protecting the Gospel. This view fundamentally misunderstands the actual position of Orthodoxy – which is that it is about correct practice and correct belief, not regional or ethnic affiliations. I think the string of publications by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press on the history of the Orthodox Church (the Church in History series) is quite indicative of this Orthodox view, precisely because it is a history of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, Latin (including the Church of Rome and the Latin churches outside Rome) and Greek, Roman and non-Roman. Even the most rabid anti-Latin Orthodox scholars over the past century, such as Fr. John Romanides, acknowledge and appreciate the times the Church of Rome stood up for correct belief and practice during the first millennium. And the reason they are able to argue this idea is because ostensibly, they do not limit Orthodoxy in their historical analyses to the bishops and laity of the Christian East.
Flanders also argues that it takes a rather special grace to observe the historical reality of papal supremacy as well. This argument is not serious, which isn’t to say that it is insincere. By this logic, if I am not Catholic or express some resistance to Catholicism on such and such grounds, then evidently I lack this special grace. Therefore, until I have this special grace, I cannot see the historical truth. I am not going to explicate some list of Catholic scholars who would disagree with such a position, because I find granting such credence to tribalisms in matter of scientific study (hard or soft) to be an extraordinary stupid act. Nor am I going to write some long detailed argument that “UTTERLY DESTROYS” (as petty YouTube titles are prone to say these days) the Catholic position. I have no interest in that and if I did, it would hardly be appropriate for the blogging medium. But if I wanted to suggest to my readers some scholarship, regardless of the authors’ religious affiliations or lack thereof, that is not largely confined to some antiquated books on Archives.org or Google Books, then I would suggest reading:
George Demacopoulos’ The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (2013)
Ralph W. Mathisen’s Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (1989)
Thomas F. X. Noble’s Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians (2009)
J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen’s Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (2014)
Read those books and one quickly realizes that the historical argument surrounding the papacy (and not to mention many other issues) is far more complicated than Flanders suggests, which is not to say that these books are pro-Orthodox or anti-Catholic. They are neither of those, and rather are just called scholarship. But if one wants to surrender themselves to what amounts to a fairly conceited and arrogant solipsism cloaked in religious garb, be my guest.
Papal Humility & Orthodox Pride
Flanders argues that the papacy safeguards humility. That is quite the tough sell. Take a gander at the results of the Albigensian Crusade. Pope Innocent III certainly did not intend the mass slaughter of southern Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, but the the intentions do not matter so much to those who see their families and livelihoods destroyed before their very eyes. The fact of the matter is that Innocent’s pretensions and goals for a heavily centralized papacy and government all but guaranteed that these sorts of disasters would happen, regardless or whether the man at the helm abhorred these atrocities or not. I suggest reading R. I. Moore’s The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (2012) on this subject.
There was certainly no humility from the papacy with regards to the Eastern Orthodox Christians of the Latin Crusader states in the Levant. Sure enough, the Latin Christians’ relations with the various Oriental Orthodox Christians and other factions were extremely cordial, at least during the first 90 years after the First Crusade, as Christopher MacEvitt’s The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (2008) well demonstrates. In terms of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, their treatment was quite grim and they were persecuted increasingly over time. For information on that, see the late Bernard Hamilton’s The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (1980).
I can go on with some more examples, but I will stop here. My central point is that, at the very least, as often as one can point to the humility that the papacy instills and represents, one can just as easily find a long history of bloodshed.
As for Orthodox pride, Flanders expresses discomfort that not all of his questions have simple answers in Orthodoxy. He is right, there are numerous conflicting opinions in Orthodoxy on contraception. I do not see these differences as a big deal, but if others do, well so be it. And yes, there is divergence over time and space within Orthodoxy concerning baptismal practices, namely rebaptism for converts. Flanders seems to forget, however, that the reason why rebaptism became so controversial in the North African Church to begin with is precisely because it led to schism and bitter controversies. In contrast, present-day Orthodoxy does not have schism on account of diverging baptismal practices. Therefore, I don’t see the issue.
As for the procession of the Holy Spirit and every other doctrine of the Catholic Church since its schism, there is no reason why the Orthodox Church must necessarily pronounce on everything in response to an organization that has split itself off from her centuries ago. And in point of fact, the Orthodox Church has responded to the filioque. Whether an Orthodox takes an extreme Photian view or the more full view (in my opinion) of the Synod of Blachernae (1285), the central point remains in either case – the Father is the sole cause of the Trinity. That is a fairly substantial position, at least from the Orthodox point of view, because it protects the monarchy of the Father and divine simplicity at both the essential and personal levels. To characterize this matter as a free-for-all or knee-jerk prejudice, like Flanders does, is grossly inaccurate.
Orthodoxy as a Church
Flanders here argues that the Orthodox Church suffers from many internal divisions that make it difficult to qualify it as a united institution. This claim is extraordinary and wrong. It is true, nationalism has wrecked havoc on Orthodoxy since its rise in the 19th century. Yet, Orthodoxy retains its liturgical traditions and has a healthy monastic movement – two things I would not credit the current Catholic Church with. I do not see how Flanders could say that these problems within current-day Orthodoxy are distinctly of a different category from the problems of Catholicism today, which is what OnePeterFive is dedicated to. If problems with nationalism disqualify Orthodoxy as a church and institution, then the very existence of OnePeterFive and the accusations of heresy against Pope Francis (whom I will not comment upon) should serve to weigh on the same scale for Catholicism. I think it is also worth pointing out that nationalism and traditional Catholicism have a fairly long history together. A good example is French historiography on King Clovis I from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I recommend perusing through M. Rouche’s Clovis: Histoire et memoire vol. 2 (1997) for more on that subject.
Furthermore, Orthodoxy agrees on a lot of common and essential doctrinal points. And while the disappearance of the position of the Roman emperor makes it difficult to gain consensus on any modern controversy that might arise in the foreseeable future, I don’t think there has yet to be over the course of many centuries since the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire an equivalent to say Arianism to plague the Church. The nearest we have come to that is the Hesychasm Controversy (which is prior to the empire’s fall, but a very weakened empire), which the Palamite councils resolved. And while few Orthodox regard these councils as ecumenical, they all agree that they got the question and answer at the time right. And if something were to arise today, who is to say that Orthodoxy will not triumph? After all, from the Orthodox view, it triumphed in spite of emperor, pope, and most bishops at Florence. Disarray and heresy are everywhere, as Tertullian acknowledged in his De praescriptione haereticorum. Problems such as these aren’t some marks that one willy nilly uses to decide which church is the true one. They are marks that we live in a fallen world.
At any rate, to conclude, I think it is quite telling that Flanders writes, “Even during the current crisis, the Roman Church is united in potency — the pope has the real power to bind all in unity.” This quote here really shows what Flanders’ main concern here is – government and power, not faith.
J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2014)
George Demacopoulos, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)
I recently finished my second playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT: Complete Mod in particular this time) and since it has been so many years since last playing it, I had forgotten how much the ending left me feeling gutted. For those of you who have not played it and do not mind spoilers, the story has two primary characters – Ramza Beoulve, the youngest of a prestigious noble house, and Delita Heiral, a commoner and lifelong friend of Ramza. Due to historical circumstances and the fortunes of their births, Ramza and Delita are foisted in diverging paths in what is called the War of the Lions (loosely inspired by the War of the Roses), a civil war in the kingdom of Ivalice. The splitting of their paths occurs when in a military operation against rebel forces prior to the civil war, Delita’s sister (Tietra) – a hostage of said rebels – is killed due to the rash orders of Ramza’s brothers. For Ramza’s elder siblings, the casualty of a commoner is of no consequence for putting down a rebellion. For Delita, it revealed that no matter how good his social relations might be with particular nobles, the social structure around him was innately set against him and all commoners. For Ramza, however, the moment signaled the betrayal of what it really meant to be a noble and the ideals of his late father – that is to uphold honor, truth, and justice. Three different worldviews are then explicated throughout the game – 1.) that nobles and commoners live totally different lives and should remain in their separate spheres (the status quo); 2.) that nobles have for far too long mistreated the commoners and must be brought low by any means necessary (Delita’s position); and 3.) that nobles have neglected their duties to the commoners and have thereby jeopardized their position. The true nature of nobility, whether in commoner or in nobleman, must be promulgated (Ramza’s position).
The game then leaps forward many years to when the War of the Lions has broken out. It is during this war that both Delita and Ramza seek to work out separately their own ideals. Delita wishes to change the whole kingdom of Ivalice and to bring about a better world. Meanwhile, Ramza seeks to live by a stringent code of honor, even if it means tossing aside his own rank (and eventually being branded a heretic). At the center of this war is the person of Princess Ovelia, a contender for the throne for which the war is being fought. Ovelia does not fight for the throne on her own account, but is rather being used as a puppet by both the Church of Glabados and Duke Goltanna (two different parties in this story). More yet, Ovelia is revealed to not even be the real Ovelia, who had in reality died years ago. Rather the Princess Ovelia in the game is but a body double who was raised to believe she was the legitimate princess so she could be used by a faction of nobles to contest the throne. This revelation comes as a shock to Ovelia and weakens her resistance to political manipulation:
Knowing this sad story, Delita promises to build a better world for Ovelia on his dead sister’s soul:
Long story short, Delita successfully plays off (and betrays) every side in the civil war (Duke Goltanna, the Church, and Duke Larg) using everyone (including his childhood friend Ramza) as well as every trick in the book, marries Ovelia, and becomes king, thus bringing about a golden age for all the people of Ivalice. Ramza, on the other hand, either dies or lives on in obscurity after successfully thwarting a demonic invasion of Ivalice. Furthermore, Ramza was branded a heretic by the Church of Glabados and anyone who dared to tell his full story for the next several centuries was silenced (burning at the stake included). But most importantly Ramza lived by his code of honor and forged many memorable friendships. But the most important aspect of the ending of this game is the final scene, when King Delita comes to bring Queen Ovelia a gift of flowers:
After killing Ovelia, it is only then that Delita finally questions the worth that he has been doing this whole time. He looks up at the sky and asks his friend Ramza what did his life path get him and then says that his own choices got him a throne and a dead Ovelia. While there are a number of different readings of Delita, I myself think that he was a true idealist and stuck to his ideals till the end. He wanted a better world and by all accounts he brought one about. He did not lose himself to power, even if he became king. But Delita sought out his ideals in the manner of the ends justify the means – all for the sake of all of the people of Ivalice. It is because of this extreme self-sacrifice, to the extent of compromising his own integrity, that Delita winds up simultaneously losing himself despite accomplishing his goals and becoming one of the great figures of history. And that is why he feels so hollow in the end. The contrast between his accomplishments and his own conscience is too great. Meanwhile, Ramza, who by all accounts made Delita’s success possible, lived a proud, moral, and honorable life, even if history was to damn his memory. Nonetheless, despite the perversity of Delita and his actions, because he acted out of the desire to bring about a better world and also because he did actually bring about a better world (something that Ramza’s isolated personal righteousness could never have hoped to accomplish), there is something noble in his character. And it is this nobility that remains at the forefront of Delita’s character – a character guilty of some of the most despicable crimes – that makes him one of the more morally troubling figures.
As for Ovelia, her story is probably the most tragic ever told thus far in the Final Fantasy franchise. Tactics most certainly shows its age in basing an entire plot around a woman in distress who never truly acts as an agent in her own story – a diametrically different dynamic than what is told in say Final Fantasy XIII. But Ovelia’s character stands in for one of the darker themes of Final Fantasy Tactics – fate and the inability to change one’s stars. Delita and Ramza both face tragedy as society foists its supposed destiny upon them – Ramza having his vision of the nobility shattered and Delita losing his sister because she was but a commoner. Both of them set out to change their fates that their births had assigned to them and they both succeeded. Ovelia faced the same challenge, but failed. She was a puppet throughout the story and probably until her death, if her account of Delita is accurate. Could she have changed it? Who knows? Nonetheless, she serves as a reminder that those who don’t rise to the circumstances placed before them, those who don’t rise to the occasion, should be viewed with just as much empathy that Ramza had for the innocent and as much as Delita had for the people of Ivalice.
Note: None of the videos linked in this post are my own. Also, the best version of this game that is easily accessible can be found on iOS/Apple Store.