Orthodoxy & Universalism: A Cordial Response to a Critic

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.

About Alura

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4 Responses to Orthodoxy & Universalism: A Cordial Response to a Critic

  1. William Braddell says:

    Hi Alura,

    I had a conversation earlier today on discord where I questioned whether the 15 Canons could be defined as dogma because a) Emperors and Kings can’t do this and b) it doesn’t appear those canons were found in the Latin translation. One of the other people in the conversation responded that even if the 5th council never actually dogmatized the canons that it would be a moot point because later councils did affirm it. Would you have any thoughts on this?

    I’m an Inquirer and the notion of an eternal hell is one of the main things holding me back from attempting to begin the process of becoming a Catechumen so it is important to me that I gain the deepest understanding of this subject regardless of what conclusion it takes me to.

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    • Alura says:

      William,

      I am not sure if you have read my previous post on this matter, but if not, I would suggest it as I touch/hint at the matter in that article: https://shamelessorthodoxy.com/2021/01/21/orthodoxy-universal-salvation-are-the-two-compatible/ (long, but worth)

      Your argument A – that kings and emperors cannot make dogma – is a sound argument in the context of the 15 canons given that it is up for debate of whether or not they should be considered formally ecumenical vis-à-vis the Fifth Ecumenical Council. I myself, as you might have noticed in my previous post, don’t take a strong position on their ecumenical nature, though I respect the view that they do not belong.

      What I do take a strong position on, however, is that Canon 1 of the 15 canons does not condemn universalism in toto. It only condemns versions that pertain to the idea of the preexistence of souls. This all sounds rather weird perhaps, but the idea of preexistence of souls seems to have been a prominent belief in some circles back then – to a degree that eludes me. In any case, this point alone renders moot all the other considerations, in my view. That is to say, because Canon 1 only condemns a particular version of universalism, whether or not it legally belongs or is to be considered as dogmatically binding upon all Orthodox Christians is entirely irrelevant to their everyday lives and beliefs.

      In any case, as for later councils, namely the sixth and the seventh, it is true that they do mention the condemnation of Origen. But again, what does this mean? After all, separate from the preconciliar session which drew up the 15 canons before the Fifth Ecumenical Council, it remains disputed to this day if Origen was actually condemned during the formal council proceedings, in which mentions of Origen’s name appear. As I detail in my previous post, some scholars view these mentions during the proceedings as later interpolations into the manuscripts and not original. This view is championed by those who look at the early Latin translation, which you have mentioned. Others take them to be original, yet, at the same time and notably, remain uncommitted as to whether those 15 canons are made ecumenical by these condemnations of Origen during the proceedings. The ambiguity remains in the case of this latter position because there is no actual discussion of the topic or Origen during the proceedings. He just pops up. This is unusual and irregular when trying to condemn a heresy at an ecumenical council. Further complicating this matter even more so is now the increasing consensus that what was deputed to be Origen’s beliefs in the sixth century were in fact not Origen’s beliefs. So if Origen was condemned at Constantinople in 553, he was condemned for things he never held or committed. A truly complicated historical matter, no?

      Getting back to what this might mean. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the 15 canons did not belong to Constantinople 553, but that Constantinople 681 and Nicaea 787 did presume them to belong. This raises numerous legalistic and sometimes difficult questions. First, are the historical claims of an ecumenical council held to be just as binding as its dogmatic pronouncements for all Orthodox Christians? I would answer no. After all, there is very strong and compelling evidence, as I mentioned above, that Origen did not voice the views to which he came to be understood as condemned for. So prima facie, the later councils are committing a slander on that account and should not be followed willy nilly. In other words, what Constantinople 681 and Nicaea 787 say about Constantinople 553 is irrelevant concerning what I as an Orthodox Christian should consider binding. Now as a historian, they are interesting for seventh and eighth century mindsets – but that’s a separate matter. Second, what is the degree of the presumption of these later two councils. As I understand it, and my memory may be foggy here, they merely mentioned in passing the condemnation of Origen which alludes to the 15 canons. Do either of these councils actually recapitulate the 15 canons? And if they do, what would that mean about their status, in the event, which we presume here for the sake of argument, that they are irrefutably not original to the Fifth Ecumenical Council? In such a case, would it mean that they therefore become dogmatically binding, or would it mean merely the repetition of a historical error? Here on this question I would clearly be at a loss precisely because it would depend on whether or not one understood this formal entry and recapitulation of the canons as either due solely to a historical error – similar to that of stating that Origen voiced X, Y, or Z heresies – or if it was due to reasoned consideration/the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To put it in American parlance, it would be like a kind of constitutional crisis.

      Fortunately, as I began my answer above, this more thorny avenue of questions is largely rendered moot for the everyday Orthodox Christian by the simple fact that Canon 1 of the 15 canons only explicitly condemns a particular version of universalism. It does not condemn all versions of universalism. I’ve encountered people arguing against this point, which I have said time and time again, but I’ve found none of their objections to it all that compelling.

      As a separate matter though, for those concerned with canon law in the Orthodox tradition, the scenarios and questions raised in my hypothetical above are serious and interesting to ponder for any subject, not just universalism. But I only say that as an amateur.

      Another article worth reading on this matter as a whole is by Fr. Kimel: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/did-the-fifth-ecumenical-council-condemn-universal-salvation/ (long, but worth)

      I hope this helps. If you have any remaining questions, I will do my best to answer.

      Alura

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  2. I really liked our audio reply, too bad it is down. It sounded very thoughtful and I think certain jokes, like the time travel one, came across as funny instead of snarky (as it appears in the written word.) In some ways, it shows that audio is better than “ink.” Substantially, the above is the same thing, so I just want to offer quick replies to clarify what I think may be edifying (but not engage in an exhaustive back and forth which would really serve no purpose.)

    Concerning number 2, I think I gave both the view of scholarship and a very nuanced view from the councils themselves, demonstrating that the acts of these councils were treated as written documents. I think people, both the modernists and wannabe trads, do not understand this very peculiar nature of how the conciliar minutes evolved and were treated–which is a shame, it is really interesting quite honestly.

    Concerning 3, I was reading McGuckin’s 2017 book and was quoting from that book. I should have paid more careful attention to what the 2004 book was citing, as this was in your bibliography. In any event, being that I reviewed the documents that both McGuckin and Ramelli were referring to and demonstrated, I feel convincingly so, it would be anachronistic to expect Justinian’s edict to have a reference to Origen and strange for Vigilius to speak of the Origenist issue in the Constitutia, I think my point stands–though for the sake of completeness, it would have been good for me to reference the 2004 book, not the 2017 one. My bad.

    Concerning 4, I have never denied Vigilius was a flip-flopper. But to flip flop in a matter of days or weeks so extremely is most curious and for some reason totally ignored. If you read the first constitutim, a document that Price calls one of the greatest treatises in Latin theology (this is saying much being that it was written by a scoundrel, but an intelligent one at that), it seems to me Vigilius was far too careful a thinker to just play the fool like that. Even when he flip floipped about a year later, he credited Satan (!) to deceiving him, This implies he had to invoke a real good reason, i.e. the demonic, to have reversed course so radically. Such an extreme comment appears unjustified if he just flipped willy nilly within the preceding months. So, I very much doubt it.

    Concerning 5, Vigilius’ reading is definitely strained…as was Justinian’s. The issue though is whether it is gramatically possible for someone to refer to another man’s letter of recommendation as “his letter” in Latin. The answer is most definitely yes. You;re the first person anywhere to say that this is grammatically impossible, and I just don’t think you are understanding that his is not meaning “they’re” according to Vigilius. The argument is simple, “his letter” is simply an expression for “his letter of recommendation.” That’s it. Nothing grammatically problematic about this at all, in Latin, Greek, or English.

    Concerning 8, I addressed this is my video. When there is no other way in the Latin to actually convey “eternal damnation” but the translator opts to interpret “eternal” to mean something else and etc, then the translator by default has made it a rule that one can never communicate eternal damnation under any circumstances. So, even if Hell is, which it is indeed, an eternal experience of God’s grace, as St Gregory of Nyssa (an St John Cassian) point out emphatically, the will of the individual turned against God for eternity turns the experience of grace into an experience of suffering. God is not the author of evil.

    Concerning the other points, I don’t feel I have anything more I need to add to clarify my points.

    God bless,
    Craig

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    • Alura says:

      Thanks. I was very self-conscious about the audio quality and the rambling nature of it, despite my efforts to clean it up through edits. So I took it down. I’ll just leave the text for now. People can see from the comments that the tone was polite. I’ll try to clarify the joke in the text.

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