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 Saved is 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 here and here.
But then, what is the point? You could live like Genghis Khan and be saved? I only live because of my faith and fear of the Day of Judgement; otherwise, I would have ended my life long ago, for I hate existence, and hated my life since the age of ~15-16
Say you are morbidly obese. Would you rather lose the weight and become healthy through disciplined diet and exercise, or would you prefer having a gastric bypass surgery with no anesthetic? The former path is the path of virtue, the latter is the path of hell. That’s a rough and imperfect analogy anyways.
I am in no position to comment about your views on existence and your life. I suggest speaking with your priest or pastor about that.
Have you ever considered the possibility that part of why you hate existence is that you don’t know God as he truly is? I don’t say that accusingly. I have felt as you describe for a long time, and it started even earlier, at age 14, but I think it’s getting better now that I know that God saves all.
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My new article “Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation? addresses several of the concerns raised in this comment thread.
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Thank you Fr. for this article and for posting the link here. I will add it to my review at the bottom.
Greetings in the name of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Unfortunately, Universalism is a heresy condemned by (1) the Fathers of the Church (2) the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils (3) the Sacred Scriptures and (4) the Saints in general. (Before responding to this, please read the rest of what I’ll write, because I will demonstrate  and  at the end of the post. The other points will be addressed as I respond to your review, if you don’t mind.)
First, though, you write:
>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).
Unfortunately, for Mr Hart, his interpretation of Scripture doesn’t matter. But it deserves its own paragraph later on. As for logic, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” I’ve read the other comments, and just saying “this doesn’t count for true philosophy” isn’t enough. True philosophy is necessarily founded on the Sacred Scriptures and the traditions of the Church; universalism, on Greek philosophy and feelings. Third of all, citing any specific Church Father isn’t enough to demonstrate a position. Saint Gregory of Nyssa was a universalist, but he was in error. Saint Augustine believed in the Filioque and denied the vision of God before death, but he was in error, and so forth. There is no way to address this in just one post, though it’ll come up multiple times in this debate. I’ll gladly talk about it, but please see Fr. Seraphim Rose, “The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church” and ALL the documents he cites first.
You then write:
>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.
I was going to say this is a cleverly-repackaged argument for the return of the Many to the One. Actually, I don’t even think it’s that, though you can see the (heretical, by the way) conclusions this was taken to in the Sophianist movement. Humanity is not complete (i.e., brought to its purpose) until being united with God, yes. But humanity was united with God in the Incarnation. This is where many erroneously interpret Saint Maximos the Confessor as supporting universalism, but this is not the case. Saint Maximos and Saint John of Damascus are explicit that the redemption of human NATURE from death had already occurred, but that individual people still needed to be united to that through the Church.
And then you write:
>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…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).
Though I just said I didn’t want to interpret this argument as being Neoplatonic, moving immediately from man’s need for God to the need for man as part of God’s act is now teetering on the edge. I will read the section of the book and confirm whether or not he is affirming that, I don’t want to put it in his mouth. But it certainly does hinge on this understanding of God. Unfortunately for Mr. Hart, this understanding is heretical and was anathematized at the 10th(ish) Ecumenical Council. God is simple in His essence, but His essence is not logically equivalent to His activities (energeia) nor His persons. Hart does not believe this, he believes that Palamas taught the same rational distinction as Aquinas, rather than a real distinction. There are many ways to refute this but I’d recommend the amazing paper by Seraphim Hamilton, “Getting Personal: The Doctrine of the Divine Energies in Palamas’ Doctrine of the Trinity and its Implications for a Biblical Theology of Deification” as an example.
>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.
Again, Hart is an amazing Thomist, but not an amazing Orthodox Theologian. This Thomistic compatibilism is precisely contradictory to the understanding of free will in the Fathers etc. Hart frequently cites Saint Maximos’s view on the human will but then completely contradicts it by saying something like this. For the record, it’s widely agreed that Aristotelian Metaphysics naturally imply determinism (and this is quite obvious so I need not demonstrate it here) and there isn’t a way one can reconcile it with free choice. More importantly, holding to this version of “””””free will””””” completely demolishes understanding of things such as synergism between Christ’s Human and Divine Wills, as well as the synergism in the economy of our salvation. See also Saint Maximos on free choice, and Saint John Cassian etc.
>Two other forceful arguments Hart brings to the fore are his readings of the scriptures
Hart’s readings of Sacred Scripture are laughable at best and just plain wrong at worst. Before I go into the main problem here, let’s look at a few more important examples:
https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/new-testament-strange-words-david-bentley-hart (this is an amazing review, I was surprised it was written by N.T. Wright, but he raises important points. See especially the part on universalism.
and many other similar examples. Sorry for the truncation and lack of sources, this comment box is pretty small and what I’ve written so far is already lagging my browser.
Main point on this, though, is that Hart can scream and cry about the Scripture all he wants. He can even accuse me and other people who are not universalists of being “fundamentalists” (also it’s really sad that “fundamentalist”, a canard against people who believe that Scripture is inspired by God, has entered the Christian lexicon) who have “protestant baggage” (which he has taken to doing all too many times), it will not change the fact that the most Protestant interpretation of Scripture is one that fails to completely follow the teachings of the Holy Fathers. Hart’s interpretations of these verses are the polar opposite of the vast majority of Eastern and Western Fathers. He does not get to simply decide what they mean on his own.
>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).
And, as stated previously, the sin of Adam was already redeemed by the work of Christ. But that DOES NOT imply that individual people will all be saved.
>It would be the equivalent of replacing one person with another because memories help make a person who they are as a person.
A common Pagan teaching of Greek and Norse Pagans, as well as Atheists and Nietzscheans, found nowhere within Christian Philosophy.
>Hart’s book is a blessing to everyone of us, tone and all.
Hart’s book is depressing and made me legitimately sad on a deep level when I heard he thought the only alternative to universalism was atheism.
Lastly, but probably the most important:
>Note: For those who wish to bring up the Second Council of Constantinople (553), I direct you here.
I’ve read that article, and most of the “Readings in Universalism” articles on that site. Unfortunately they don’t hold up. I won’t rehash an argument you’ve already had thrice in the comments, but point out something the other discussions are missing: we do not get to interpret the Canons of the Councils ourselves. The Canons are interpreted in the light of Sacred Tradition as a whole. Because of this, we are left with two options: (1) the canons of the Councils condemned a specific version of universalism or (2) the canons condemned all universalism. The second is the only valid approach when one studies the teachings of the Fathers on Universalism. Thus, as promised, I move to that point presently.
We see Universalism condemned in virtually all of the Fathers. As mentioned earlier, Fr. Rose has already documented it in the cases of Saint Photios the Great and Saint Mark of Ephesus, but they are hardly the only ones. I’ll cite the more important examples, since there are literally so many it would make this post needlessly long:
“Let all of us, and especially the fallen, beware lest we sicken in heart from the disease of the godless Origen. For this foul disease [universalism], by using God’s love for man as an excuse, is readily accepted by pleasure-lovers.” – Saint John, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, ch. 5
“So wild is the audacity of Origen that, in seeking glory among the innocent and simple by means of >the novelty of his words
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Alura, thank you again for the response.
When it comes to the Greek translation, I too do not read Greek, however I would argue that this point is *almost* entirely irrelevant, because at the end of the day it does not matter what Greek scholars say if they end up contradicting the teachings of the Church.
As for the Synodikon, you claim that it only reinforces your point that a specific version of the Apokatastasis is condemned, yet I fail to see how. Let’s break it down. First the Synodikon identifies a heresy:
“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 Heaven is entirely perishable and fleeting.”
Then it goes on to state the Orthodox *response to* this heresy:
“that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting”
So the Synodikon is not only condemning a specific version of the Apokatastasis, but is indeed making a positive affirmation about what exactly Orthodoxy teaches that contradicts the teachings of Origen, namely that both the torments of hell and the Kingdom never end. Thus, any philosophy that teaches that either the torments of hell end or the Kingdom ends are contrary to the Orthodox confession of faith.
For II Nicaea, I would direct you to the following post that explains the context and provides citations:
I personally have many problems with some of the things Mr. Truglia says on his blog, but I must agree with him on this point.
As for your insistence that this is different from Arianism and Nestorianism, as I described above, the Church not only proclaims a negative condemnation on a specific type of Apokatastasis, but indeed she affirms a positive doctrine that contradicts it, namely “that the torment [of hell] is unending and the Kingdom [is] everlasting.”
Finally, while its true that Orthodoxy is no democracy, many of the Ecumenical Councils affirm that the Fathers are divinely inspired and that they speak with a single voice and a single mind. Further, the Church teaches that the “age of the Fathers” is not over, our modern Saints carry the same Holy Spirit that our ancient ones did, and thus teach with the same voice, and so if you cannot find a single one that is on your side, and yet many who explicitly contradict it, maybe you should reconsider your position.
At the end of the day, Emperor Justinian is a saint, and Origen is a heretic. If this teaching is good enough for our God-bearing Fathers, then I don’t see why it cannot be good enough for us.
God be with you in all things.
You are focusing too much on the one specific part of the selection from the Synodikon at the expense of the wider context. Furthermore, your dismissal of Greek or the original language of any document makes no sense to me. Religious documents, let alone any document, do not simply impart meaning without mediation. They use words, as the act of translation self-attests. And so it follows to carefully parse the words in order to arrive at the intended meaning. Hart’s arguments about the Greek words denoting what is often translated as “eternal” should not so easily be dismissed. I urge you to mull that matter over more.
As for your arguments in favor of a positive doctrinal statement proclaiming eternal damnation as the only permissible belief, I find the arguments unto which you cite, that is Craig’s arguments, to be operating again from a misconception. First, I do not dispute that later ecumenical councils affirmed the condemnation of Origen, which was probably, in retrospect, due to only doctrines misattributed to him. Nevertheless, what is important is the doctrine that was condemned and it is on this point that I dispute. I’ll turn to Mansi 13:350C-D here:
“Si quis non confitetur resurrectionem mortuorum, et judicium, et retributionem condignam unicuique justis Dei ponderibus recompensandam, et non fore terminum supplicii, sed nec caelestis regni, id est Dei deliciarum (non enim est regnum caelorum esca et potus, sed justitia, et pax, et gaudium in Spiritu Sancto, secundum divinum apostolum) anathema.”
“Haec primatum verae fidei nostrae, sanctorum scilicet apostolorum, et egregiorum patrum est segregatio. Haec catholicae ecclesiae est, et non haereticorum confestio. Quod vero subsequitur, proprium est eorum, quoniam indisciplinatione ac ineruditione plenum est, dum ita circumbombat.”
“If anyone does not confess the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment, and the worthy retribution to everyone for the purpose of recompense on account of the just consideration of God, and that there will neither be a limit of supplication nor a limit of the kingdom of heaven – that is, of the clarifying of God (for indeed the Kingdom of Heaven is not food and drink, but justice, peace, and delight in the Holy Spirit according to the divine apostle), let them be anathema.”
“This first part is of the true faith, namely of the holy apostles and of the esteemed fathers. This is the confession of the holy universal church and not of the heretics. But what follows is of their own, because it is full with indiscipline and inerudition, while they thus roar about.”
So, again, what is being condemned here at Hieria and later at II Nicaea, is a terminal limitation on BOTH Heaven and Hell. Again, this just gets back to my main point about the specific version of apocatatasis attributed (erroneously probably) to Origen – that is that creation continuously Falls and then gains Salvation only for the cycle to endlessly repeat in a new world with recycled souls (ie preexistence of souls).
I really have no need to reconsider my position. There is no explicit condemnation of apocatatasis as a whole in any of the ecumenical councils, as I have thus far demonstrated and dare I say in the Synodikon. Furthermore, there are plenty of saints and Church Fathers, who with the same Holy Spirit, have professed a belief in universal salvation, namely St. Gregory of Nyssa, arguably St. Maximus of the Confessor, St. Issac the Syrian, St. John Cassian, arguably St. Faustus of Riez, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, arguably St. Anastasius of Sinai, Gaius Marinus Victorinus, Origen of Alexandria, St. Silouan the Athonite, etc. ( see also here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/permit-me-to-hope/ ) And furthermore, if I have to reconsider my position, so too do a lot of Orthodox bishops and theologians, such as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. I really don’t think this issue is as case closed and general as you think it to be.
And I also must chime in on your rebuttal against Gregor B. You quote Colossians 2:8, but let it be said that St. Paul is denouncing hollow and deceptive philosophy, not true philosophy. Unlike today, in which philosophy is often conceived of as a type of esoteric thinking, people of the ancient world thought of philosophy as a way of life – a religion of sorts more or less. And what the Church Fathers protested against was not philosophy as a whole, but the wrong and erroneous philosophies because they led away from God. Rather true philosophy is the Christian faith. A really good book on this is Darius Karlowicz’ Socrates and Other Saints: Early Christian Understandings of Reason and Philosophy. It’s a really good and short book (under 100 pages). I recommend it. https://www.amazon.com/Socrates-Other-Saints-Understandings-Philosophy/dp/1498278736/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1580541457&sr=8-1
Many thanks for your comments, as I’ve appreciate them very much.
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Alura, thank you for the response.
You say that I am focusing too much on one part of the Synodikon at the expense of context, but I really don’t see how. What do you then propose the Synodikon means when it declares that the manner in which Orthodoxy differs from Origenism is that we affirm *both* the eternity of the Kingdom, and the eternity of hell, whereas they do not? I personally don’t see any other way to interpret this. And my point about the Greek was that even if scholars could cast doubt on the original Greek meanings, I’m sure you’d agree that if it truly did contradict a dogmatic teaching of the Church, we would have to reject what those scholars say.
Next, you say:
“So, again, what is being condemned here at Hieria and later at II Nicaea, is a terminal limitation on BOTH Heaven and Hell.”
You then go onto state that this supports your point of a specific condemnation, but this once again touches on what I’ve said above. The Council isn’t saying “when you try to limit heaven and hell together that’s heretical” leaving open the possibility for limiting either heaven or hell in some other eschatological system, rather the Council, just as the Synodikon, is proclaiming that the manner in which Orthodoxy differs from Origenism, is that Origenism claims heaven and hell are not eternal, whereas Orthodoxy claims that both are eternal. It’s actually very common for dogmatic statements to come in the form of anathemas, such as the Anathemas of St. Cyril against Nestorius proclaiming much of our Christology.
As for the Fathers you cite who support universalism, there are some problems. First, St. Gregory of Nyssa was cited by the Latins at the Council of Florence supposably as supporting the doctrine of purgatory. St. Mark of Ephesus, however, rightly pointed out that St. Gregory was not talking about purgatory, but in fact that he did not believe in the eternity of hell, and St. Mark used this as an example of an early Father making a dogmatic mistake, likening it to the theological errors of St. Augustine. St. Maximus certainly was no universalist, neither was his spiritual and historical heir (and my patron saint) St. John of Damascus. Just because St. Maximus rightly proclaimed the universal, objective impact that the incarnation has had on the world, this doesn’t diminish his teaching about human gnomic wills having the real possibility to choose something other than God (something DBH cannot reconcile with his system, especially in the case of Satan’s fall). As for Sts. Issac, John, Faustus, Gregory, and Dionysius, I’d have to look into them more as I have not read their relevant works on the subject. But St. Silouan was almost definitely not a universalist. He certainly wept over those suffering in hell and prayed fervently for the salvation of all (as I do as well), but no where does he state definitively that everyone will be saved eventually and that hell is therefore not eternal.
I have read that article “Permit me to Hope” as well as most other articles on Fr. Kimel’s blog that touch on this subject, and as I alluded above I am very sympathetic to the universalist position, and I certainly do pray for the salvation of all mankind, but I simply do not think our dogmatic tradition allows for us to definitively state that it *will happen.* This is something that Met. +Ware I believe also recognizes, however I cannot speak for Met. +Alfeyev because I have yet to read his works on the subject.
Lastly your point about philosophy, I am aware that 1st century conceptions of philosophy had to do with lifestyles and not individual philosophical arguments, however it certainly is the case that this verse has been cited by Fathers and Elders as reason why we should not fall for the teachings of heretics, and so it certainly can be used in the context I used it in: that we should not abandon the traditional teachings of the Church, the apostolic deposit of faith once delivered to the saints, for the sake of a few “logically sound” arguments coming from the mouth of a man who openly denies the essence/energy distinction, calls St. Justinian a monster, calls many of our modern Fathers and Saints fools for believing in creationism, toll houses, etc. all the while acting like he is a god amongst men when it comes to theological and philosophical debates. I have my sympathies for DBH, his book “the Experience of God” helped me out of atheism, but he is not a man we should be turning to for Christ’s truth.
God be with you in all things.
What I have written regarding the Synodikon is the most clear I can offer for my position. I don’t know how else to communicate what I am attempting to say regarding the matter other than to repeat that what is being condemned is an entire system of belief, that is a version of apocatastasis, which I have gone to some lengths to detail. What is not being condemned is apocatastasis in general. There is a reason why Origen was condemned and not Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Issac the Syrian, etc. And the reason is because the matter wasn’t apocatastasis as a whole, but specific versions of it. As for dogmatic statements coming solely from anathemas, I reject your claim. The Nicene Creed is explicit in affirming a core doctrine that precludes all forms of Arianism. You don’t have that with apocatastasis. What I have written on the matter is all I can offer.
As for St. Mark of Ephesus, sure he said as much. It is venerable and worth considering on account of his sainthood, but he is not infallible. I would argue it is theologoumenon. Furthermore, the Council of Florence and its proceedings are not binding to us Orthodox in any way whatsoever. As for the other saints whom you disagree with my interpretation on, perhaps I am wrong. I can’t fully speak with absolute certainty about those who were not Latin (especially the more modern ones, since I rarely read anything post-1000 AD), but I am aware that many have claimed that they either explicitly supported universal salvation or their soteriology logically leads to it.
As for St. Justinian, I actually agree that he was monstrous in many ways. Any honest historical assessment of him must take into account his crimes. Nevertheless, that does not negate the fact that he is a saint, despite his many flaws in life during his time on earth.
I still encourage you to read that book, if you should find the time. What I am trying to get across is that the faith does not willy nilly say on any one particular issue that “reason stops here” for the simple fact that Christ is quite literally, according to the Gospel of Saint John, Reason itself – the Logos, the Ratio (or as St. Jerome translated the Verbum). Karlowicz’ book demonstrates how the Church Fathers like Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and others thought that what they believed didn’t defy reason or philosophy, but was true reason and philosophy. And it is from those examples from the early Church Fathers that I encourage you to not simply dismiss Hart’s arguments from reason out of hand, seemingly willy nilly although I could be wrong.
Lastly, if universal salvation was really as heretical, and not just a theologoumenon, as people have often claimed since Hart has entered the fray over the past 5 years, then I would suspect that there would be some sort of episcopal or synodal action taken against it. I have yet to see this happen, and I find that notably in favor of the fact that the position advocated by Hart and others like myself is a theologoumenon. We believe our position to be logically coherent, if not necessary, but also acknowledge that other Orthodox Christians can believe otherwise without being called heretics.
I’ve enjoyed this exchange and wish you well. The last word is yours, if you would like.
Alura, thank you again for engaging with me.
I think on this first point you’ve rightly identified that were just talking passed each other. My point remains that the Councils and Synodikon are not only condemning a specific version of eschatology (namely Origen’s) but are indeed stating the grounds on which they reject this system, and thereby affirm what Orthodoxy has to say about the subject, namely that both the Kingdom of Heaven and the torments of hell are forever. Your interpretation would imply that these authoritative documents were simply rejecting a single eschatology without providing any reason as to why they’re doing this, without explaining why Origen’s system was heretical. Whereas I’m saying they do explain why Origen’s system is heretical: it’s heretical because Orthodoxy teaches that souls do not pre-exist, and it’s heretical because Orthodoxy teaches that both heaven and hell will last forever.
Next, I never claimed that the Council of Florence was dogmatically binding on us Orthodox, rather that the witness of St. Mark against the Latins has been accepted by the Church as part of our definitive response to Roman Catholicism, and thus cannot b simply dismissed without consideration. It’s also worth noting that not a single theologian at the Council, neither Greek nor Latin, tried to defend St. Gregory’s view, showing the fact that this view certainly fell out of favor with the Church by this time.
And this leads into my overall point that the reason I stopped being a universalist was because it required me to view the vast majority of Fathers, and just basically the mind of the Church until very recently as just this awful borderline blasphemous and shameful part of our history, when in fact no saintly person who has lived in the modern age would dare to say such things. The haste with which universalists like DBH write off people like Sts. Jerome, John Chrysostom, Augustine, John of Damascus, all the way up to holy people like Fr. Seraphim Rose as borderline spiritually delusional and awful people for affirming the reality of hell’s eternity, it’s just scandalous. He literally turns himself into the very people he argues against, namely those atheists who go around saying that Christianity is a hateful religion.
For philosophy, I do not deny that everything we believe must be philosophically and logically coherent, however what I do deny is that just because a system is logically sound we must therefore submit traditional teachings to it. If it is indeed the traditional and apostolic teaching of the Church that hell is eternal, then we should be seeking to philosophically justify this (something I think that can be done), not disprove it.
Lastly, universalism isn’t really a widespread heresy that is ravaging the Church like something like Arianism was, so I’m not surprised there hasn’t been a synodal condemnation yet. But even if this were not the case, the fall of the empire has made it borderline impossible for the Church to definitively make binding conciliar decisions, which is why I believe this is a period of punishment that God is putting us through where we are deprived of the empire, and that we must pray for its return as the children of Israel did during the captivity.
God be with you in all things Alura.
The Synodikon is just a paraphrase of the ecumenical councils. It is not doctrinal in itself. One must study the councils themselves for the meaning, and none of the councils condemned universalism.
Actually several councils do, see my article
Unfortunately the only arguments presented against the fact that the 5th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople condemned universal salvation is that it was a later addition by Emperor St. Justinian and thus was never accepted by the council fathers, however this isn’t that strong of an argument. If we wish to maintain a coherent theology of Church dogmatics, we have no choice but to affirm this condemnation given it would go on to be accepted by the 6th and 7th ecumenical councils and even make its way into our liturgical services. If you call this doctrine into question, where does it end? Maybe we go back to Chalcedon and revise its teachings because of the politically ambiguous things happening? Maybe we should start listening to those Unitarians who point out all of the strange things happening during I Nicea, and we should consider revising the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s a very dangerous road.
Many thanks for the comment. I think it is worth pointing out here, since you have brought up the issue of the Second Council of Constantinople (553), that if you look carefully at the canons (namely Canon I) of the 15 anti-Origenist canons, you can see that it says the following:
“If anyone advocates the mythical pre-existence of souls and the monstrous restoration that follows from this, let him be anathema.”
In brief, only a specific version of apocatastasis is condemned, that is one that proclaims the preexistence of the soul. I don’t think we run the risk of calling into question other core doctrines or rulings of the Seven Ecumenical Councils either. If you call I Nicaea, for example, it condemned Arianism as a whole. But the way it condemned Arianism is by explicitly affirming the homoousia formula. This means that any form of Arianism would be heretical, such as homoian Arianism or the even more radical faction who denied any similarity between the Father and Son. So that condemnation was pretty specific. Yet here on the issue of universal salvation, we don’t really have a clear canon affirming at the ecumenical level a positive doctrine of eternal damnation. What we have is only a condemnation of a specific form of universal salvation, that is a negative condemnation without a clear affirmation of a positive doctrine. In this sense then, I think it is fair that we as Orthodox Christians are permitted to believe in a universal salvation that runs along the lines of venerable saints and church fathers like St. Gregory of Nyssa.
Alura, thank you for a generous response.
I will confess that I used to be a convinced universalist and this was also my go to response, however I just think it’s untenable, and believe me when I say that I’d love to be proven wrong on this. The reason I think it’s untenable is because there are two ways to interpret the anathema of II Constantinople:
1.) it condemns only the conjoined idea of the pre-existence of souls and the salvation of all, leaving open the possibility for universal salvation apart from the pre-existence of souls, or
2.) it condemns both the pre-existence of souls and universal salvation, regardless of whether they’re taken together or apart.
And so whenever there is a divergence of possible interpretation of the decrees of an Ecumenical Council, where do we turn to? Do we turn to modern academics and scholars, or do we turn to the Holy Tradition of the Church, which encompasses everything from the Liturgy, and authoritative Councils, to early Fathers and modern Saints? I would opt for the latter, and when this is done, it’s almost impossible to promote a view of universal salvation.
For one, when responding the a document that stated: “If any one confess not the resurrection of the dead, the judgment to come, the retribution of each one according to his merits, in the righteous balance of the Lord that neither will there be any end of punishment… let him be anathema.” The Seventh Ecumenical Council declared: “This is the confession of the patrons of our true faith the holy Apostles, the divinely inspired Fathers–this is the confession of the Catholic Church and not of heretics.” I’m not sure how you could interpret that in a way that leaves room for universal salvation, especially because this isn’t the only place Seventh Council affirms double eternal retribution: one for the just, one for the unjust.
Next, the Synodikon of Orthodoxy (which is liturgically proclaimed by the Church catholic every year) provides the following interpretation:
“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 Heaven is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom of Heaven 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 Testaments, 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, Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!”
Notice how it says that “we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments that the torment is unending,” thus showing that this is not just a condemnation of the pre-existence of souls, but it is also a condemnation of universal salvation. Arguing that “we have a different version of universalism that’s isn’t condemned” really is no different from arguing that certain groups of Protestants have different versions of Arianism, Nestorianism, etc. and thus don’t fall under those anathemas. It’s just unfaithful to the tradition.
Lastly I’ll just state the obvious: those fathers who advocated for universal salvation were in an overwhelming minority in their own time, and even moreso today, with not a single modern saint endorsing the idea, and many outright condemning it as a temptation from Satan himself. Not to mention the fact that everlasting punishment for sinners is a consistent theme throughout the Old Testament, a theme which our Lord and His Apostles simply pass on.
If you can prove me wrong in any of these points I welcome it with open arms, but I have yet to see anyone provide a satisfactory answer to these objections.
God be with you in all things.
Hart’s book makes an argument that is so tightly reasoned that, unless you can find a way to break through its logical cordons, you’d better reconsider having reconsidered universalism. So far, every supposed critique of the book’s argument has failed. God is not a God of irrationality, and so God cannot be the author of a logical falsehood.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
If there is a philosophy that contradicts the teaching of the Church, it really doesn’t matter how logically sound it is. It’s much like those who try to push for theistic evolution on the grounds that we must submit traditional teaching to the whims of modernist scientists. I have my sympathies for the philosophical arguments Hart makes, but if one takes them seriously enough, I really don’t know how you can justify remaining a Christian.
Actually nowhere in the book that I saw did he deal with the fact that the guilt of a malicious will is necessarily eternal.
Guilt is the historical fact of having incurred a debt by introducing a privation.
Say you kill a person. But that person is suddenly brought back to life. Are you still guilty of murder? Yes, because it is the malice of the will in the commission of the act that incurs the debt of punishment.
Now, without repentance, this status of objective guilt and its objective debt cannot be temporal, because there is no condition in which the status could change. Without repentance Christ’s death is of no benefit to a person.
To get to universal salvation you’d have to get a universal expiation of the debt of guilt, which really means you’d have to hold to Universal Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
See what I mean?
First, I would question what the Greek term for “unending” is. Part of Hart’s argument is his contention that many of these words often translated into English as “eternal” are more plastic in their meaning. All I can do is point that possibility out, however, since I don’t read Greek. Second, I would also like to point out that the excerpt from the Synodikon that you quoted from seems to indicate a very specific concern regarding a particular form of apocatatasis – the argument in the Synodikon says that the belief in the preexistence of souls connected to a temporary Hell means that Heaven itself is therefore also not eternal, but temporary. That is what it means when it says, “meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of Heaven is entirely perishable and fleeting.” If anything, this only reinforces my initial point – that an entire specific version of apocatatasis is being condemned. In some versions of Origen of Alexandria’s On First Principles, this sort of belief that the Synodikon speaks of is articulated. In these versions, it is stated that souls preexist and that there is more or less an endless cycle of Falling and Salvation. That’s the rough gist of it anyways. You can find an English translation of this by reading G. W. Buttersworth’s translation. As I understand it, the more pristine and original version translated by Fr. John Behr does not contain these beliefs that were later imputed to Origen, although I have yet to read Fr. Behr’s translation myself.
As for II Nicaea, if you could provide some form of citation, preferably Mansi (or acts, canons, and session numbers) since it is more easily accessible, I would appreciate it. I am hesitant to address it without further looking at the text and its context.
Furthermore, you’ve missed my point on the comparison to Arianism. Arianism was not a monolith and contained many different versions, which I Nicaea condemned unequivocally and specifically by affirming a positive doctrine. You don’t have the same case with II Constantinople. Your comparison to Protestantism does not hold. Please, look back at my initial reply for details.
As for your majoritarian argument, I am generally hesitant to affirm such as the final case closed argument. Orthodoxy is neither a democracy nor a oligarchy of Fathers. It is something much more than that.
And as for your general point in the beginning regarding uncertainty, I would say that when there is uncertainty and it becomes big enough of an issue, usually the traditional means of handling the problem is to summon a universal council to handle the matter.
I am surprised in all this you did not speak of turning to the letter of St. Justinian, where the “monstrous restoration” is clearly laid out as the resurrected dead eventually shedding their bodies and becoming a single spiritual Christ substance.
Clearly that’s the context is it not?