Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved”: A Defense.

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By Larry Chapp

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.”

Saint Paul. 1 Timothy 2:1-6. (emphasis added)

Allow me to begin with a crazy assertion:  there are far worse things that a Catholic can be than a universalist.  Indeed, I would rather have dinner and a bourbon (or two) with the local universalist next door than I would with some hyper traditionalist who tells me, while sipping a Diet Coke out of his “Team Vigano” mug, that he cannot take the Gospel seriously, or have the motivation to evangelize, or even to live a life of consistent virtue, unless there are people in Hell.  Not that they want people in Hell mind you, but that unless there are a goodly number of people in the infernal regions then the “threat” of Hell is just a toothless warning devoid of gravitas.  In this view, apparently, a fulsomely populated Hell has to be maintained in order to take the threat of Hell seriously in order to avoid having people fulsomely populating Hell.  In other words, Hell must have people in it in order that we can keep people out of it.  Or something… 

I find this line of reasoning odd, to say the least.  There might very well be people in Hell (truly), but these are altogether the wrong reasons for thinking so and betray a forensic and transactional notion of the moral life as something not truly oriented to the good, but rather as a self-interested desire to simply avoid punishment.  Furthermore, despite the fact that a hard universalism has been condemned as heretical by the Church, at the very least it evinces a commendable faith in the hope that God’s universal salvific will can indeed come to pass, even if it goes too far by claiming to know for certain that such will be the case. And it does go too far and conflates the orders of hope and knowledge and was, therefore, rightly condemned.  Nevertheless, I myself do indeed hope, strongly, that everyone eventually makes it to Heaven.  And you can call me a hippie and send me to bed without my medicinal cannabis and my rainbow tambourine, but I think God wills this too because He says so in Scripture through Saint Paul.   More on that in a bit. 

Allow me then to make another assertion: the view opposite to the universalist position, namely, that we can know for certain, based on the words of Jesus, that there are, and will be, people in Hell, is also deeply problematic since it also claims to know too much.  What? I don’t believe what Jesus plainly states?  Of course I do, but I also think, along with many sainted Fathers of the Church, that the Dominical statements on Hell have to be placed in the wider interpretive context of the New Testament as a whole – – a whole which also contains more universalist statements from Christ and in the apostolic letters – – and that this wider context argues for a more epistemologically humble approach to what we can truly know about the population of Hell.  Therefore, what links both universalism and infernalism together is the claim that we can know for certain from Revelation as such that either everyone makes it to Heaven or, alternatively, that there are definitely people in Hell, even if we cannot know which individuals in particular are there.  The Church, historically, has seemed far more comfortable with the infernalists than with the universalists, having never condemned the former and for centuries flirted with Augustinian exclusivism and its concomitant doctrine of the massa damnata. 

But superficial readings of the Tradition can be deceiving and even though the Church at first glance seems to have favored the Augustinian view, a closer inspection reveals that even though the Church taught the Augustinian view as an authoritative theological opinion, it never proposed that view as the only possible interpretation of the Gospel.  The Church has always rejected the view that we can know for certain that anyone in particular is in Hell and has even included prayers for the salvation of all, without qualifications, in both her Eucharistic liturgy and in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Furthermore, what has most definitely not been condemned is the notion that we can hope for the salvation of all. Thus, the real debate in these matters resides in the breadth and depth of what it is that we are allowed to hope for with regard to salvation. Along these lines it is unfortunate that Balthasar’s book on the topic was given the English title “Dare we hope…” since the actual German title – – “Was dürfen wir hoffen?” – – should actually be translated as “what are we allowed to hope for?” The English title gives the impression that Balthasar is engaged in a bold and daring stab at envelope-pushing theological speculation, when in reality the title implies a serious theological investigation into what Revelation allows us in these matters.  As such, far from being an esoteric exercise in rogue speculation, it is rather a humble attempt to place his speculations under the judgement of the Church.

So let us examine what it is that Balthasar actually claims in order to diffuse the mischaracterization of his views as “virtual universalism,” as Ralph Martin, among others, claims.  And when we take a serious and non- polemical look at his views it becomes immediately apparent that it is precisely the dual assertion of certain knowledge on such matters (universalist and infernalist) that Balthasar explicitly and repeatedly rejects.  Therefore, the accusation by his critics that he is a virtual universalist betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the word “universalist” means in the sense of that term as condemned by the magisterium.  What has been condemned is the notion that we can know from Revelation with certitude that all shall be saved.  What has been condemned is the conflation of hope and knowledge on that topic, not individual guesses or hunches as to the eventual outcome of the eschatological census.  

Therefore Balthasar’s careful distinction between the two orders of hoping and knowing is entirely in keeping with the Church’s magisterium.  Nor is this a mere subterfuge on Balthasar’s part, as Ralph Martin implies, in order to avoid the heresy of universalism since any careful reading of “Dare We Hope” makes it clear that the idea that we simply cannot know who is saved is central to his position and not tangential. To imply otherwise is to engage in a fundamentally uncharitable reading of Balthasar’s stated views since even if he held, as a matter of private opinion, that most likely all will be saved, he never claims to “know” this, as a universalist does, and directly rejects, repeatedly, any such interpretation of his views and gives strong theological arguments for why his views are as they are.  Therefore, the fact that he is so often misunderstood on this matter is no fault of his since, as I said, he makes it very, very clear why universalism as a form of certain knowledge is theologically untenable.  A theologian who is so very clear as to what his position actually is cannot then be faulted for the lazy ignorance of so many who claim to know what it is he teaches without, most likely, ever bothering to actually read him, and who form their opinions from talking points picked up by folks like Taylor Marshall.  Or, even if they do read him, to do so with such an agenda-driven motivation and jaundiced eye that they cannot avoid mischaracterizing his views. Finally, many of the hyper traditionalists who claim that Balthasar’s views are “unclear” and open to the very mischaracterizations he explicitly repudiates, are the very same people who are the chief purveyors of the misinformation and who continue on with the misrepresentations even after Balthasar scholars make it clear to them how wrong they are.  Therefore, an element of malicious mendaciousness is quite evident in many of the more vitriolic attacks.

Balthasar argues, not for universalism, but that there are two definite strands of thought expressed in the New Testament: one that implies judgement and the eternal perdition of the damned and one that implies a universalist outcome. These must be held in creative tension with one another so that they can mutually condition one another, and enter into the other, in order to draw out the deep Christological contours of what we mean by salvation and damnation in the first place.  Therefore, it would seem that the very pedagogy of the New Testament argues in favor of an approach that refuses any reduction of the problematic through some kind of resolution where one end of the tension is simply dissolved in favor of the other.  This is hardly a crypto or virtual universalism.  In fact, it is one of the harshest criticisms of universalism imaginable since it cuts it off at its theological taproot, i.e. the claim that Revelation teaches that we can know all are saved with epistemological certitude, and actually deepens the force of Christ’s warnings about Hell by removing them from the realm of eschatological census taking and into the realm of a deep, and quite real, existential possibility for all, and not just those “wicked goats.” Indeed, the census taking approach often leads to the very presumptive self-assurance of salvation so feared by the infernalists since it is quite easy to think that since I am a “Catholic in good standing” that the Dominical warnings do not really apply to me because I am on the “narrow path” of sacramental salvation.  I am “safe” and only those “others” are the ones Jesus is targeting.

In fact, the accusations from his critics become risible after a while since it becomes apparent that what they are really saying is that it is okay to have the theological virtue of hope that God’s will will be done (on earth as it is in Heaven!) and that all will be saved, but that one must not take such hope too seriously as a real possibility or to hold it too deeply.  We are told by his critics that the universal salvific will of God as expressed in the New Testament is an expression of his absolute will but that we must take into account his conditional will that permits sinners to rebuff his overtures of grace.  Therefore, the critics say, our hope must be conditioned by those limiting conditions, and that we can otherwise “know” from other parts of the New Testament that it is certain that some are in Hell, which should further limit the scope of our hope.  But where in the New Testament are we provided with a clear hermeneutic that says the universalist statements must be read in the light of the infernalist ones?  In other words, where does Scripture say that we must take the universalist statements as merely conditional while the infernalist verses must be taken literally as absolute statements in a strictly predictive mode? This is Balthasar’s objection to those who only pay attention to one set of statements and privilege them over the others.  And Balthasar most certainly does not privilege the universalist statements over the infernalist ones and allows the words of Jesus concerning the possibility of eternal perdition (e.g. Matthew 25) to stand on their own merits and without qualification.  For Balthasar, the Dominical warnings about Hell must be allowed to stand as real warnings and he in no way fosters the view that those warnings are “merely admonitory” so we can ignore them.  Balthasar is not preaching a message of cheap grace as anyone who has ever read his bracing and shocking descriptions of the divine judgment can attest.

It is, of course, possible to privilege the scriptural verses concerning eternal perdition as predictive and to interpret the universalist statements as merely conditional.  And those who do so are many and are perfectly within their rights to make such exegetical claims.  However, to then proceed from that exegetical stance to the view that it is the only possible interpretation of the words of Jesus is demonstrably false since the tradition contains many fine theologians, especially among the Fathers, who interpret the words differently.  And the Church allows for both exegetical postures to be considered.  Furthermore, many who do hold for the more predictive interpretive model go on to question the legitimacy of hoping for the salvation of all and seek to limit this hope as pertaining only to our knowledge of the spiritual status of particular individuals, but not to the race as a whole.  Many further claim that our hope for the salvation of all is purely conditional (since we cannot know who is saved and who isn’t) and that such a hope does not extend beyond such epistemological ignorance and into a genuine theological hope for all.  However, Balthasar is the more Thomistic here since Thomas, arguing against Augustine’s view that we can only pray for the saved, but imperfected, argues instead that the hope for the salvation of all is a binding matter of Christian charity which must extend to the entire human race as befits the universal scope of God’s salvific will and of Christ’s death for the sins of “all.”

At the very least we can lay to rest the view, expressed by so many ignorant traditionalists in social media statements, that Balthasar is heretical since he is contradicting the “clear words” of Jesus.  This is an exercise in inquisitorial question begging since it presumes, once again, that there is only one “proper” and “allowable” interpretation of the words of Our Lord, which is precisely the matter that is being contested.  You might think that there is only one allowable way to interpret Christ’s words, but you would be wrong, since the interpretive tradition surrounding those words in the Church of both East and West is far from the unanimous consensus that the infernalists erroneously assert with great force and frequency.

And it is also most certainly wrong to use the words of Jesus as a pretext for limiting the full scope of Christian hope. If our hope is to be thus limited then why does the Church herself enjoin us to pray for the salvation of all without any caveats or qualifications?  Why would the Church admonish us to pray for something that is, on the level of human calculations, improbable if the Church were not pointing beyond such worldly deductions and toward a deeper soteriological and Christological truth? Namely, that given the breadth and depth of the soteriological act we can realistically hope for the salvation of all on this deeper plane of thinking.   This admonition to pray for the salvation of all would be an act of deep mendacity if it were just an insouciant nod toward “kind thoughts” all the while “knowing” that it is unlikely in the extreme.  Our Lady at Fatima told the children to pray that God will “lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.”  Had she not already shown the children that there are lots of people in Hell, mainly because of sins of the flesh? Was Our Lady therefore being cheeky here in this prayer? Was she contradicting herself? Was she leading the children into a satanic deception? Why would she ask them to pray for something she knew from her heavenly vantage point to be untrue and impossible? To pray for the salvation of all is to hope for the salvation of all.  But perhaps we are meant to pray this way with our fingers crossed and with the wry smile of “one who knows better.”  Perhaps we are not meant to really take the Church or Mary seriously here and must add our own “qualifications” and “distinctions” that neither the Church nor Mary make, lest our hope for “all” really be construed as a hope for all.  We can’t after all, allow our hope to be overly exuberant and joyous here can we? We can’t really entertain the hope that God’s universal will to save all will actually bear fruit, can we? Ralph Martin accuses Balthasar of falling prey to the satanic “deception” of the notion that we can realistically hope for the salvation of all. Was Our Lady also guilty of falling prey to such deceptions? Or the Church in her Liturgy?

This is no small point but is rather the central point.  Martin’s accusation that Balthasar is a crypto universalist simply because he takes seriously such hope, betrays a fundamental category error in his thinking, as we have seen, insofar as he mistakes hope for “certain knowledge” and labels as deceptive any attempt to distinguish between them.  For Martin any really serious hope for the salvation is simply indistinguishable from “certain knowledge” no matter what Balthasar says to the contrary.  And anyone who entertains such a deep hope in the soteriological reach of the Paschal event is “nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more,” obviously a universalist in the strong sense and we all “know it.”  Actually, we don’t know any such thing and the truth of the matter is that those who make such claims are guilty of severely undervaluing the true depth of one of the theological virtues: hope. Oh sure, they say they hope in God’s promises, but then claim to know that those promises are going to be rebuffed in most cases.  Some hope. 

However, one could just as easily flip the script and accuse Martin, and those who agree with him, of being crypto Feeneyites since he clearly holds that it is difficult in the extreme for non-Christians to get to heaven. One could say that Martin is merely being “clever” here in saying that there is salvation outside of the visible Church even as he thinks there isn’t and is simply saying such things in order to avoid censure.  See how this game works?  At the very least Martin holds to a view of the massa damnata as most probable, as well as to an extremely narrow reading of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which places him dangerously close to the Feeneyite camp.  And such an approach also puts him at odds with Saint Pope John Paul II as well as Pope emeritus Benedict, both of whom admired Balthasar greatly, and who taught a view on these matters closer to Balthasar than to Martin.  Were they too victims of deception? Martin positions himself as a champion of the older tradition, and indeed he is, but without apparently the slightest awareness that the Church herself has developed her doctrine through a purified Christological awareness that eschews the theological “equality” of the path to heaven and the path to Hell, and has moved away from the notion of the massa damnata as well as Martins’ crypto Feeneyism. 

I will develop this “purified Christological awareness” in my next blog post on the topic, but it needs to be pointed out in the current context that any attempt to view our freedom as equally oriented toward either Heaven or Hell, betrays a fundamentally modernist understanding of our freedom as a kind of tabula rasa which must then choose between two equally possible and competing options.  We are made for Heaven and not for Hell and in a proper Thomistic theological anthropology we are all first and foremost, and in deeply constitutive ways, oriented to the ultimate Good, which is God.  The options are not equal and God has stacked the deck in the direction of salvation and therefore, at the very least, the path of deep hope for the salvation of all is more in keeping with a Thomistic theological anthropology than is the contrary view that most will eventually end up in Hell.  Martin is quick to reject the Feeneyite position, and affirms the teaching of Vatican II that there can be salvation outside of the Church.  But he then proceeds to emphasize that even though it is “possible” it is very hard and lays out a series of caveats and roadblocks to that very possibility.  In America’s racist Jim Crow era there were many who affirmed that “all” had a “right to vote.” But they then engaged in voter suppression through the development of things like “poll tests” and “poll taxes” in order to severely limit that right to the privileged classes.  In my view, Martin and others are guilty of this on a theological level as they affirm the possibility of salvation outside of the Church even as they erect theological poll taxes for the many.  It is a form of “salvation suppression” and all in the service of some benighted notion that an expansive view of the regime of grace will lead to the “de privileging” of the Church as the sole means of salvation.

Finally, there is the stubborn fact, alluded to above, that the Church has moved away from this kind of virtual exclusivism and has now moved toward a more expansive Christological inclusivism.  One can decry this fact, along with Vigano and his acolytes in the angry trad movement, and use it as evidence for the perfidy of Vatican II and the papacies of John Paul and Benedict.  But at least such accusations make it clear in which direction the Church has moved and that Balthasar’s views on hope, far from being on the fringe of orthodox discourse, are increasingly central to it. 

Along these lines, it is becoming exceedingly hard to reconcile a strongly negative view of Balthasar as having succumbed to a satanic deception, as Martin alleges, with the deeply positive appraisal of Balthasar’s theology from John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  I am not appealing to an argument from authority here so much as I am calling into question this narrative of deception and the charge of Balthasar being a crypto universalist.  Because since universalism is a heresy then Martin is actually saying that Balthasar is a crypto heretic.  But John Paul made Balthasar a Cardinal in order to pay homage to the greatness of his theological achievement so if Balthasar was a crypto heretic then John Paul must have missed the memo.  Martin’s accusations therefore are like a scatter shot Blunderbuss that wounds not only Balthasar but also everyone else standing in the room with him.  And that includes Benedict.  Here is what Joseph Ratzinger said in his homily at Balthasar’s funeral:

“What the pope intended to express by this mark of distinction [of the cardinalate], and of honor, remains valid: no longer only private individuals but the Church itself, in its official responsibility, tells us that he is right in what he teaches of the faith.”

Also, after becoming Pope, Benedict said the following in a speech given at the Vatican in 2005:

“I had the joy of knowing and associating with this renowned Swiss theologian. I am convinced that his theological reflections preserve their freshness and profound relevance undiminished to this day and that they incite many others to penetrate ever further into the depths of the mystery of the faith, with such an authoritative guide leading them by the hand. . . . Hans Urs von Balthasar was a theologian who placed his research at the service of the Church, because he was convinced that theology could be defined only in terms of ecclesiality. . . . I encourage all of you to continue, with interest and enthusiasm, your study of the writings of von Balthasar and to find ways of applying them practically and effectively.” (Thanks to Word on Fire for this quote and others which can be found in their wonderful post on the same topic here:)

So disagree with Balthasar all you want.  Many reputable theologians do on this matter and I tip my hat to them as viable theological interlocutors.  But enough with the charges of heresy and universalism.  Enough with the calumnies about satanic deceptions.  Enough with the click baiting vitriol from ignorant internet provocateurs seeking to gin up their base of angry, pitchfork brigade inquisitors.  Enough with the self-appointed Google Torquemadas.  Disagree all you want, but if the traditionalist movement wants to be taken seriously as a viable corrective to much of what is going on in the Church today, then they need to stop talking damn nonsense. 

In my next post in this series I will examine the Christological roots for this view and discuss further what it means to be “saved” and what if further means for the vocation of the Christian as one who suffers vicariously for the sins of the world, in union with Christ. 

Dorothy Day, pray for us.

106 comments

  1. Are you planning to reply to Hart’s arguments that a non-universalist Christianity is fundamentally incoherent given creation ex nihilo and therefore self-evidently false?

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      1. Good. Because I have yet to see a meaningful reply to the argument that, given that God creates both freely and unnecessarily, all must be saved because God could not create a being that would (or could) not be without rendering the above passage, as well as key theological terms such as love and justice, meaningless babble.

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      1. If you don’t believe it possible to refute, then on what grounds do you not believe it as a certainty?

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      2. I did not say it is not possible to refute it. I said “if” at all. I am aware enough of my own stupidity to understand as well that just because I may not have an argument ready at hand to refute something that that does not mean that the point in question is true. It just means I need to think on it more and read on it more and ponder it more. Furthermore, my Church, the Roman Church, has condemned universalism. So I am not just going to become a magisterium of one, like a Protestant, and go against my Church’s dogmatic tradition just because I am too stupid to come up with an argument right at this moment. All that said… it IS a powerful point and one with which I am in deep sympathy.

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      3. But in order to trust the Magisterium of the Church of Rome, one must have a sufficiently convincing reason (which depends upon trust in one’s own capabilities for observation, reasoning, and judgement) to believe its claims. Trust in anything external ultimately depends upon trust in oneself. To trust it otherwise would simply be raw irrational fideism, which as I understand it is not in keeping with Catholic tradition anyway.

        So, perhaps to rephrase the question, what reasons to trust in Rome’s condemnation do you find more convincing than the reasons to believe Hart’s argument?

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      4. I do not have the time to really go into a full blown apologia for why I believe in the authority of the Roman magisterium. That would ake too long. Suffice it to say that I do not find my name or Hart’s mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 16. It isn’t fideism. Its called epistemic humility.

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      5. Call it what you wish, you first trust yourself, then you trust something else based upon your own rational facilities, or else you believe blindly and without reason. In your example, you trust your interpretation of the verses in Matthew 16 to be the correct one independently of what Rome tells you or take someone’s infallible word that you should trust their infallible word.

        It’s this reasoning that helped lead me out of Calvinism, as I realized that if the spiritual truth of Total Depravity was true, no one could be sure of any spiritual truth – including Total Depravity. One must follow one’s reason.

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      6. No. You don’t first trust yourself. As a baby you have no sense of self. Your whole world is the face of an “other” who smiles and invites you into the world. You first trust that other before you can even think to trust yourself. And throughout life our personhood, and thus our reason, grows and matures through a series of ever more complex and mutually intersecting relations. Reason is never autonomous. It is through my relationality that I come to trust myself. It is therefore possible to have a nested hierarchy of rational relations with the empirical at the bottom and the mystical cloud of unknowing at the top, but with a rather fluid movement of thoughts and reasonings going up and down the hierarchy in often intuitive rather than strictly rational ways. I find your account of reason to be overly linear, phenomenologically flat, and a bit too neat and simplistic. I have through reason come to believe in the magisterial authority of Rome. But having so done this, it places me in a relational praxis with that authority, in a lived discipline, and in a spiritual mystique that informs my mind. And this is not brainwashing or fideistic. It is an ascetical ascent of the mind to God through various mediations, all of which I stand in relation to dynamically, and all of which evince their own rationality though in differing modalities. So yes… I find Hart’s arguments cogent. Compelling. Even inspiring. But I must hold that in tension with my other rational commitments which I also find compelling, cogent, and inspiring. In short, through a life of lived praxis in relation to the faith of Rome I have found a liberative logic and a compelling rationality. I have found my path in the Church joyous and filled with great intellects. It strikes me as rational in the extreme. Therefore, I cannot and will not just blithely say, based on the book of the month, that Rome is just wrong here. One anomalous piece of data is not enough to chuck out the whole paradigm

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      7. “You first trust that other before you can even think to trust yourself. And throughout life our personhood, and thus our reason, grows and matures through a series of ever more complex and mutually intersecting relations.”

        I’m sorry, but your have this completely backwards. You cannot be sure that others exist at all unless you at minimum trust your senses, your memory, and your ability to make rational deductions from the data they provide. Still less could you trust anything anyone tells you if you do not first trust your ability to hear, to understand the meaning behind it, and your rational faculties to both judge the truthfulness of it and its logical consequences. Everything is filtered through the prism of your own being by necessity. Distrust that and you can then trust nothing else.

        “But I must hold that in tension with my other rational commitments which I also find compelling, cogent, and inspiring. In short, through a life of lived praxis in relation to the faith of Rome I have found a liberative logic and a compelling rationality.”

        Can you give me even a shortened version of what those arguments are? I have yet to find any that satisfy my own standards, and several that argue against it. I find papal claims of authority, for instance, to be founded upon the very faculty which I am called on to dismiss when it reaches conclusions opposite what they teach. I cannot be told to dismiss my complete conviction that universalism must be true if Christianity is without undermining the very basis on which I could even theoretically come to decide that Rome is trustworthy.

        “In short, through a life of lived praxis in relation to the faith of Rome I have found a liberative logic and a compelling rationality. I have found my path in the Church joyous and filled with great intellects.”

        Just on a personal note – can I ask what you find joyous or liberating about the idea of a God that would freely make creatures from nothing knowing that in doing so he merely curses them in ways too horrifying to begin to comprehend? How do you find such a being trustworthy in even a personal sense? According to many Catholic saints, he callously forced countless billions of people into existence only to torture them forever (be it physically, psychologically, or spiritually, it endures only by his will). He may have done the same to you.

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  2. Larry, thanks. Could I propose what else may be in the background here of these discussions that I don’t believe has been mentioned? Both the current situation of the world and the situation at the time of Christ (and in the old testament times) is that most people and certainly the prevailing culture is “outside” of the church or body of believers. The command of Christ to preach and baptize hinges on the idea not that everyone is going to go to hell but that they are currently in “hell” as you have argued in a previous post. The desire to evangelize is not simply in order that the evangelized avoid hell, but rather in order that the evangelizer avoids it! Take this verse from Ezekiel:

    “If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood.”

    WE would be “responsible”? What does that even mean?

    Or St. Paul: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!”

    Jesus also teaches: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

    In the medieval world, when most of the culture is Catholic and evangelized, it might be true that those outside of the church or who put themselves there arrogantly, amidst all the “helps” towards salvation in a Catholic culture are responsible for their own salvation. There is more of a chance that those outside are lost because they are not ignorant of the truth. But oddly, when the culture is evil, there is more of a chance that we’d be lost for our lack of sacrifice and evangelizing, and unbelievers find their way to salvation through ignorance or some other reason we are unaware of.

    So those who require that hell be populated in order to be properly motivated to evangelize ought to think about just who would be populating it if the majority of people and the culture are outside the church. Maybe those unbelievers are all damned in the end, but that fact implicates us! Yikes.

    So, “hope” in this sense, must be something similar to an act of contrition, which ends with a firm purpose of ammendment. Christian hope certainly would appear to be a motivation to evangelize, because now that we are saved by the Gospel, we are in greater danger of losing that salvation “if we do not preach it.”

    Jared Haselbarth

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    1. Future posts will raise most of those same issues! So much to say and if I put it all in one post it would ten times longer. But you raise excellent points. I also want to dialogue with David Hart’s excellent book. It needs a hearing. It is a powerful book.
      But I am going on vacation next week to visit my family in my homeland. Nebraska. God’s country. So the blog won’t be back most likely until late June.

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  3. Larry, I am shocked, shocked I say, to discover that my article “The Greater Hope” did not convince you of the errors of your ways (wink, wink).

    But seriously, for this ignorant non-Catholic could you explain the distinction between the order of knowledge and the order of hope, with examples. Thanks.

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    1. Your article was great. And I really did not disagree with much in it other than the claim that we can know for certain that all will be saved. I am still not comfortable with the idea that we can know such things. But I am obviously very sympathetic to the idea that nobody is in Hell for all eternity. As for examples of the difference between hope and knowledge … I will have to respond later. I am quickly trying to catch up on correspondence and then have to head out. Later!

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  4. “If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood.”

    In the context of an eternal hell, that raises a fairly obvious counterpoint. Namely, why aren’t YOU, God, doing the warning yourself? You surely know how to be more persuasive that any human can be (see: Damascus, Road To) and you don’t lack for means. Why did you thrust someone into a situation where you knew they would fail to receive adequate warning? Aren’t you responsible by your own standards?

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    1. Calvin,
      I have often considered this point myself. Universalism is much more palatable to my temperament. But when I recognize that so many great theologians, saints, and mystics have held the hell is indeed populated, and that the Catholic Church has condemned universalism (I am Catholic) I try to force myself into a dialectic against universalism, or even the kind of hope that Larry describes here. I am more than willing to admit that I may be as blind as Catholics in the past were about other issues which are manifestly obvious to us moderns now.

      One such dialectic counterpoint runs as follows: Is it not also possible that God withholds some of these extravagant graces because He knows that they will be rejected, and thus render the sinner even *more* culpable and in worse shape than they started? If they encounter Goodness itself, might that not actually be more horrifying to them, and produce even greater obstinance? I have met people who are involved in the occult and all kinds of immorality, and they actually become more hateful and resistant of God the more they learn about Him. And I’m not talking about teaching them fire and brimstone. The awareness of God does not produce repentance in these people – it produces more resistance.

      Could not the divine hiddenness actually be an act of mercy, for a soul which rejects Him veiled during life may therefore have a more lenient judgment than the same sinner who rejected extraordinary graces? Even if the sinner ends up in hell in both cases, the fate of the man in the former is less severe than the latter. I’m thinking of Luke 12:47 here in particular.

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      1. “One such dialectic counterpoint runs as follows: Is it not also possible that God withholds some of these extravagant graces because He knows that they will be rejected, and thus render the sinner even *more* culpable and in worse shape than they started?”

        If such a sinner were even possible, and I do not think it is, then God could merely do them the kindness of not creating them in the first place, just as he did not create my imaginary brother Phil. They do not exist independent of his intentional and gratuitous decision to bring them into being.

        “If they encounter Goodness itself, might that not actually be more horrifying to them, and produce even greater obstinance?”

        To be rational is to will the the Good, as such. It is inescapable. No less a figure than Aquinas noted that to will evil as evil is impossible, it can only be willed mistakenly under the species of good. We our, by our nature as rational creatures, compelled to will the good. To encounter it, then, would be to realize that it is the source and end of all our longings for anything whatsoever, and our fulfillment. To reject it would simply be an act of either ignorance (a failure to understand the good as such) or simple madness, and hence not free.

        “I have met people who are involved in the occult and all kinds of immorality, and they actually become more hateful and resistant of God the more they learn about Him. And I’m not talking about teaching them fire and brimstone. The awareness of God does not produce repentance in these people – it produces more resistance.”

        Even to reject God, as pictured, requires on a deeper level than even they know to desire God. For if God is the good as such, then any desire for anything is merely a species of desire for good under the aspect of the occult. They falsely think the occult is good for them, in the same way that a man might stick his hand in a fire thinking it will be warm and cozy. But that is because they do not know what they’re doing, not really. Even Paul testifies that the rulers of the age would not have crucified the Lord of Glory had they known the truth of the matter. How can he know this? Because to know the good as such is simply to will it.

        “Could not the divine hiddenness actually be an act of mercy, for a soul which rejects Him veiled during life may therefore have a more lenient judgment than the same sinner who rejected extraordinary graces? Even if the sinner ends up in hell in both cases, the fate of the man in the former is less severe than the latter. I’m thinking of Luke 12:47 here in particular.”

        An act of mercy under this system would be not to make them at all, or to cause them to miscarry or be stillborn. For nothing compelled God to bring them into being in the first place.

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      2. Yes, Calvin, I get what you’re saying. I still think you are belaboring the parent/child analogy for some of the reasons other commenters have mentioned. But I do have two questions:

        1) What if someone does not want to know the truth? Do you believe that there is such a thing is culpable ignorance? Or do you think that there is no capacity for someone to be culpably ignorant enough to be *damned*? Because that seems hard to reconcile with what Paul says that many of the Gentiles exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and preferred the lie.
        2) How can you say that it would be better for God to stillborn the person, or not create them at all? Have you ever had a conversation with a damned soul to find out whether they would desire this kind of spiritual euthanasia? I’m not trying to be cheeky, here. It’s quite presumptuous to claim that a (potential) category of rational beings should never have existed because we deem their fate too terrible. But what about the demons? They don’t seem keen on annihilating themselves, as horrible as their state is (and it’s arguably worse than the state of a damned human being, given the gravity of their fall). Why should a damned human soul be any different?

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      3. “Yes, Calvin, I get what you’re saying. I still think you are belaboring the parent/child analogy for some of the reasons other commenters have mentioned.”

        We given leave, even express orders, by no less a figure than Christ himself to think of God’s relationship to us in terms of our own fatherhood, with the explicit statement that we do indeed know how to give good gifts to our children despite our frailties. Hence we have some idea of what a good gift is. God being better, his gifts can only be better than ours. Not worse.

        “1) What if someone does not want to know the truth? Do you believe that there is such a thing is culpable ignorance? Or do you think that there is no capacity for someone to be culpably ignorant enough to be *damned*? Because that seems hard to reconcile with what Paul says that many of the Gentiles exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and preferred the lie.”

        In the sense of limited culpability? Yes. In the sense of an unlimited one? No. We are born into ignorance and error, burdened with a sinful nature we did not choose in a world that is deeply broken. Any justice worthy of the name accounts for the knowledge and capacities of the transgressor at the time of the transgression.

        But to want the good, that is the truth, as such is simply unavoidable for a rational creature. All our longings are made possible simply because we long for the good. Hence I do not think there is anyone who can avoid wanting it when it is unavoidably presented to them as such. To leave a madman in his madness is hardly to respect his freedom.

        Paul likewise testifies that the rulers of the age would not have crucified Christ had they known what they were doing, which accords with his own words while dying.

        “2) How can you say that it would be better for God to stillborn the person, or not create them at all? Have you ever had a conversation with a damned soul to find out whether they would desire this kind of spiritual euthanasia? I’m not trying to be cheeky, here. It’s quite presumptuous to claim that a (potential) category of rational beings should never have existed because we deem their fate too terrible. But what about the demons? They don’t seem keen on annihilating themselves, as horrible as their state is (and it’s arguably worse than the state of a damned human being, given the gravity of their fall). Why should a damned human soul be any different?”

        Why it would be better from God’s perspective would perfectly obvious. Because to will their existence is to will a creation marred by an infinity evil, unnecessarily so. He would be willing the continuance of evil and misery forever out of no motive but a gratuitous malice. Given also that he is professed to be love, that is to be the very concept of willing the good of the other, to will an endless evil to the other is simply to cease being himself. No being is needed for him, consequently no damned being is needed. All final evils in the universe cannot be other than superfluous, given creatio ex nihilo.

        As to a demon or damned soul themselves, they would think so for the same reason an atheist would commit suicide – because ill-being is simply a curse and torment inflicted. There is nothing good about existence as perpetual misery, with no hope of escape. Also, regarding demons, why would you suppose they have the ability to cease existing by their own will? We don’t.

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  5. Two quick comments, in wait of future posts.

    First, as a non-universalist (you’ll excuse me if I’m reluctant to call myself an infernalist) I’d agree that there a no people in hell. ‘People’ is a group of persons, and there are no persons in hell. If hell is not empty, it is certainly not full of people, but of souls. A soul and a person is not necessarily the same thing. This difference is important since I’d argue that damnation is precisely the rejection of personhood. A person is a ‘being in relation’ whereas damnation is the rejection of all relation. As to why a soul would reject personhood, I won’t go into it now, but I do believe it is possible and perhaps more common that we may want to think.

    Second, on the words of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, paragraph 621 from Saint Faustina’s diary is, I think, very relevant:
    “God does not always accept our petitions for the souls we have in mind, but directs those to other souls. Hence, although we do not relieve the souls we intended to relieve in their purgatorial suffering, still our prayer is not lost.”
    It is correct to say that we cannot know who is damned, so it is correct to pray for all. This does not however imply that all are saved, or that God or Mary ‘trick’ us when they ask us to pray for all, because our prayer ‘is not lost’.

    Finally, whenever discussing this subject I feel people can’t help thinking that God cannot damn souls to hell because they themselves would not do it – to purgatory, yes, but eternal damnation? ‘Forever’? How could God do that when even we sinful humans would not torture the worst criminal forever? Could it be that we are more merciful that God? It is easy to understand and embrace Universalism because that is what we would do – universalism is ‘human justice’. Harder to understand eternal damnation, but we must be humble enough to accept that we cannot yet understand divine justice (see Job). One thing is certain: if hell if not empty, whoever or whatever is there, deserves to be there, and this will become clear to us when we no longer see ‘thorough a glass darkly’. We will not come face to face with God and find Him unjust (or maybe we will and that, precisely, is damnation).

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    1. Great comments. But the reason why we pray for the salvation of all isn’t just because we are ignorant of who will be in Heaven and Hell so we just throw up a scatter-shot prayer for “all” and then trust that God will direct that prayer to the right individual. No. That will not do. We pray for all because God has said he wills the salvation of all. So our prayer is the Lord’s Prayer: Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done… We pray for all because St. Paul said we should since God wills the salvation of all. But other than that small point, I agree pretty much with all that you say.

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      1. There is a crucial point of translation here, does God *will* the salvation of all, as you say, or does He *desire* it, as the translation of 1 Timothy that you quote above says? Is the θέλει (thelei) of 1 Timothy the same as ‘the will of God’, the θέλημα τοῦ ‘Θεοῦ (thelema tou Theou). They both come from θέλω, but are they used indistinctively? (not a rhetorical question; I don’t know the answer)
        As I’m sure you’ll agree, in English there is a huge theological chasm between ‘will’ and ‘desire’ – big enough to fit hell in it – but is it the same in the original text(s)?

        When thinking about this ‘all’ that is saved I think it is important to keep in mind the communion of saints and the ‘body of Christ’, because I’d argue that although salvation is certainly personal, it is not individual. We tend to think in terms of individuals because that is how we perceive physical reality, but really (and certainly spiritually) people are not individuals but ‘nodes’ of an interconnected system that strictly speaking encompasses all of humanity – anyway, that is a big topic, but it pays to reflect on what ‘individual’ means in the context of prayer, salvation and damnation.

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    2. “Finally, whenever discussing this subject I feel people can’t help thinking that God cannot damn souls to hell because they themselves would not do it – to purgatory, yes, but eternal damnation? ‘Forever’? How could God do that when even we sinful humans would not torture the worst criminal forever? Could it be that we are more merciful that God? It is easy to understand and embrace Universalism because that is what we would do – universalism is ‘human justice’. Harder to understand eternal damnation, but we must be humble enough to accept that we cannot yet understand divine justice (see Job).”

      Ah, but there is a problem with this line of thinking. If “justice” in God turns out to be the same as “infinite, unnecessary, sadistic cruelty” in man, then critical theological terms such as “love”, “mercy”, “truth” are likewise stripped of any intelligible meaning. Revelation is reduced to mere babble, because words have no analogical continuity between the human and the divine. We are left with a God who is, as C. S. Lewis once put it, “we know not what”. Which in turn makes any love between us impossible, reducing us to fear of an unknowable and arbitrary power as the only remaining motive for worship. Moreover, what would be the grounds on which one could trust such a God, since our perspectives are so radically different that “truth” from his point of view may well turn out to be “lies” from ours?

      This also ignores that Jesus directly bade his disciples to think of God’s relation to man in terms of human fatherhood, which if it means anything at all suggests that we can have some idea of God’s feelings and intentions towards ourselves based on our own feelings for our children.

      “One thing is certain: if hell if not empty, whoever or whatever is there, deserves to be there, and this will become clear to us when we no longer see ‘thorough a glass darkly’. We will not come face to face with God and find Him unjust (or maybe we will and that, precisely, is damnation).”

      Deserves to be there? On grounds of what? A choice, or set of choices, made amidst so much blindness and ignorance, infected by a sinful nature one neither chose nor generated, after being thrust helplessly and without need into a world so full of brokenness that the mere existence of God seems almost hopelessly naïve at times? What justice, let alone love, is this?

      And again, even if you were to somehow classify said choice as somehow free enough to merit an infinity of torment, you would have to acknowledge that given creatio ex nihilo, God freely and completely absent any kind of necessity opted to force these luckless souls into existence knowing perfectly well that the outcome would be an infinity of evil for them and creation as a whole. That he knowingly foisted upon them an existence which would prove nothing but a curse, when he had absolutely no need to do so. That, by any rational standard, he hated them with a hate unequalled.

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      1. You say “Deserves to be there? On grounds of what?” Why should we know? The comment you are responding to has affirmed that God is just – if there is anyone eternally damned that will be God’s just decision. When we can see clearly [in the next life] we will also understand the grounds of it. But we are not in the next life yet, we are here, and we don’t know. You list many factors that would mitigate responsibility, but somebody else could list factors that establish responsibility, and here and now, we don’t know how the balance stands.

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      2. “You say “Deserves to be there? On grounds of what?” Why should we know? The comment you are responding to has affirmed that God is just – if there is anyone eternally damned that will be God’s just decision.”

        So “justice” is reduced to “we know not what”, stripping the word of any moral continuity between human and divine usage. Which in turn strips it of any moral force as an argument for worship. We may as well says God is xyftgabdute, and on that ground should be worshipped.

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      3. I feel you Calvin, as they say. I have made the same reflections many times. If a child was born in an abusive home and abused from even before his consciousness was yet developed, what choice did he really have? His life will be suffering upon suffering, causing it, receiving it… ‘broken people break people’. Someone like Ed Gein, what choice did he have? What was the point of his existence? ‘Where’ is he now? (maybe we should say a prayer for Ed Gein, it can’t hurt)

        But my point is precisely that we don’t even know who ‘we’ are. We think of ourselves as an indivisible unit so we may imagine the bad in us damned with the good, a ‘probabilistic’ damnation where if 51% of us is sin we are damned for all eternity, and sod the good 49%. We imagine the innocent baby that Ed Gain once was damned together with the adult he became (or was made into), or the love that he must have felt for his disturbed and disturbing mother damned with the rest of him. But that is wrong. God does not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and He does not damn love anymore than He damns Himself. Nothing good will be damned, and nothing that is damned could have been saved.

        If we can’t figure this out, if we can’t solve the contradiction between eternal hell and God’s mercy, we should not let that trouble us. It is a sign of our limited understanding, not of God’s injustice. We may be thinking about it in the wrong terms, confused by paintings of physical bodies tortured by bad-winged devils; we may have the wrong idea of what our soul is. God’s justice will never turn out to be human sadistic cruelty, but something we could never have completely figured out in this life – quantum mechanics to a chimpanzee. But when we finally see it, it will make perfect sense; it will be better, not worse, than we hoped for – but maybe very, very different. Whether we will have the humility to accept this very different justice is the question.

        In the end, I personally return to Saint Faustina’s simple message: Jesus, I trust in you. Trust is the key.

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      4. “We imagine the innocent baby that Ed Gain once was damned together with the adult he became (or was made into), or the love that he must have felt for his disturbed and disturbing mother damned with the rest of him. But that is wrong. God does not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and He does not damn love anymore than He damns Himself. Nothing good will be damned, and nothing that is damned could have been saved.”

        Now, you see, part of this is actually a good statement the Christian universalist position. That which is good in a man, including the man himself, will be saved. That which is bad, including false, deluded, and sinful identities he mistakes for himself will be burned away.

        However, regarding the last sentence, nothing actually exists but that it was created by God, and hence declared to be good. Sin does not have positive aspect, it is a privation, a negation of some good. It is, in a real sense, nothing, or an anti-thing if you prefer. To say otherwise is to elevate evil to the same existential plane as good, resulting in a dualism. Hence it follows that when God is “all in all”, as promised, sin will be completely gone from the universe.

        In the infernalism doctrine, however, God keeps evil alive forever for no particular reason, indicating that evil was his will from the beginning (for he knows the end from the beginning). Following that out we must conclude that to will evil is to be evil, hence whatever we are worshipping is not the good as such. We must then look elsewhere for our proper end.

        “If we can’t figure this out, if we can’t solve the contradiction between eternal hell and God’s mercy, we should not let that trouble us. It is a sign of our limited understanding, not of God’s injustice.”

        I will repeat this as many times as necessary, until it sinks in: unless the term “justice” when referring to God is fundamentally the same quality as “justice” when referring to man, then to use the term in application to God is meaningless. it is simple propaganda, devoid of any content. It is indistinguishable, in practical terms, from nihilism. For you are worshipping you know not what using co-opted terms that turn out to mean nothing at all.

        To put it simply: either what is good in man is likewise good in God, what is bad in man would be likewise bad in God, or else all theological terms are empty of meaning.

        “In the end, I personally return to Saint Faustina’s simple message: Jesus, I trust in you. Trust is the key.”

        The question being on what ground Jesus is to be considered trustworthy? If he will unnecessarily make even a single soul out of nothing, knowing that to do so is to condemn it to an eternity of misery, then he is simply not trustworthy for a creature. If he will do it anyone, he may well do it to you or those you love (which according to Christianity is supposed to be everyone anyway), and you have no rational reason to suppose otherwise.

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      5. Calvin you say “So “justice” is reduced to “we know not what”, stripping the word of any moral continuity between human and divine usage. Which in turn strips it of any moral force as an argument for worship. We may as well says God is xyftgabdute, and on that ground should be worshipped.”
        Here is where you want analogies to be perfect. We do know what justice is, but in terms of God’s just decisions, we don’t know most of the facts. We don’t know what grace was offered to the sinner to repent, we don’t know what opportunities the sinner had to repent, we just don’t know enough. Knowing what justice is among ourselves, we believe God is also just in an analogical way.
        You also say “In the infernalism doctrine, however, God keeps evil alive forever for no particular reason,” which is faulty on two counts. First, God does not keep evil alive, he keeps beings in existence. Perhaps some are evil. Perhaps because they are immortal, and for reasons known to him he does not cancel that immortality. Second, “for no particular reason”. You presume to know whether or not God has a reason, and your conclusion is “not”. You don’t know.
        You keep saying that God’s love, God’s justice have to be fundamentally the same as our love, our justice, or we couldn’t say anything meaningful about it. Our love and our justice are feeble reflections of God’s love and God’s justice, which go infinitely beyond ours. That doesn’t make it meaningless to talk about ours or God’s, but it does mean that we don’t sit in judgement over God.

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      6. “Here is where you want analogies to be perfect. We do know what justice is, but in terms of God’s just decisions, we don’t know most of the facts. We don’t know what grace was offered to the sinner to repent, we don’t know what opportunities the sinner had to repent, we just don’t know enough. Knowing what justice is among ourselves, we believe God is also just in an analogical way.”

        We know quite a few facts, among them being that all finite beings not having reached the end of their rational natures do not exist in a state of perfect freedom, that God knows the end from the beginning, that creation is a free and superfluous act, and therefore to will its beginning is necessarily to will its end. Damnation cannot be anything but unnecessary, because each and every created being is so.

        “You also say “In the infernalism doctrine, however, God keeps evil alive forever for no particular reason,” which is faulty on two counts. First, God does not keep evil alive, he keeps beings in existence. Perhaps some are evil. Perhaps because they are immortal, and for reasons known to him he does not cancel that immortality. Second, “for no particular reason”. You presume to know whether or not God has a reason, and your conclusion is “not”. You don’t know.”

        Again, you’re failing to comprehend the argument. That rational beings suffer both infinite pain and infinite moral corruption is, in and of itself, an evil infinite in scope. Being that each such is both unneeded and known from the beginning, to positively will even one into existence under those terms is precisely to positively will an infinite evil. As such, anyone doing such a thing would themselves be evil, and not the good as such. And further, being that there exists no need for even a single such creature in God himself, the only possible motive would be the willing of evil as such to the other: ie, hatred.

        “You keep saying that God’s love, God’s justice have to be fundamentally the same as our love, our justice, or we couldn’t say anything meaningful about it. Our love and our justice are feeble reflections of God’s love and God’s justice, which go infinitely beyond ours. That doesn’t make it meaningless to talk about ours or God’s, but it does mean that we don’t sit in judgement over God.”

        If love and justice taken to infinity turn out to be what we humans call hatred and cruelty, then yes it makes those words meaningless. However feeble our reflections may be, they either share the fundamental quality which is found in its perfection in God, or they do not. And we are either capable of knowing better from worse, or we are not. If not, religion is useless. If so, certain things about God must follow or Christianity is internally incoherent and hence false by definition.

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  6. Sir Larry, you richly deserve to be allowed to stay up late with both your medicinal cannabis and rainbow tamborine.

    I’m horrified to think of my earlier self and her SSPX, Feeneyite world view. Thank you for this soul scouring.

    The whole thing is spiritual Elder-Brotherism. Elder brothers get a bad rap in Scripture, and for good reason: they’re almost universally (yuk yuk) jealous of the generosity of the Father.

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  7. Thanks for this article. Please bear with me, because this is going to be a long response.

    I also wrote my doctoral dissertation on Balthasar, don’t think he was a universalist/heretic, and consider him a great luminary in the vein of which St. John Paul II and Benedict comment. I highly recommend his writings for insights into reality and spiritual meditation. He was brilliant and remains underappreciated.

    I also don’t think he (even) privately held to an expectation that Hell is empty since he claims this to be an “extreme” view:

    [T]he desire to conclude . . . that all human beings, before and after Christ, are henceforth saved, that Christ by his experience of Hell has emptied Hell, so that all fear of damnation is without object, is a surrender to the opposite extreme” (Mysterium Paschale, 177).

    But I do think that Balthasar is weak on the likelihood that (too many) souls go to Hell and the relevance of that likelihood for Christian discipleship.

    You rightly indicate the falsity of either a universalist or “infernalist” certainty. But (magisterial) certainty is not the point here, but rather to what extent does holding to a lax view of damnation impinge upon one’s discipleship and evangelization.

    Given the vast evidence of public revelation and private revelation (Fatima is scarcely the only one), and the great preponderance of saints and doctors of the Church on this issue, it is highly likely that souls go to Hell and it is highly likely that a great many go to Hell. Personally, I think most souls go to Purgatory, second most to Hell, and third straight to Heaven – but I can’t argue with the position of Sts. Augustine, Aquinas, Liguori, Vianney, Neri, Justin Martyr, John of the Cross, Chrysostom, Jerome, Gregory the Great, Basil the Great, Jacinta, Neumann, and many, many others, especially considering how often people appear to live and die in mortal sin.

    On that note, I have around 50 of Balthasar’s books, all of which I’ve read (albeit some more diligently than others) together with a great many of his articles. I could only find – and I searched for this since my dissertation was on his contribution to ethics – one instance of Balthasar mentioning “mortal sin.” This is because the term, in his opinion, “smacks of casuistry.” (He also doesn’t spend any notable time on “grave sin” or “grave matter”.) This is a huge problem for someone who wrote so expansively on theological matters because it relates directly to the question of how to stay out of Hell.

    St. John Neumann sums up the necessary distinctions quite neatly:

    “Notwithstanding assurances that God did not create any man for Hell, and that He wishes all men to be saved, it remains equally true that only few will be saved; that only few will go to Heaven; and that the greater part of mankind will be lost forever.” – St. John Neumann

    Again, I’m not as convinced as Neumann that most go to Hell, but as a theologian, it is very difficult not to come to the conclusion that souls go to Hell (never mind the question of hoping all will be saved). Jesus himself says that “these [who don’t perform corporal acts of mercy] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt 25:46).

    One can hope that all be saved without in the least expecting it. If 50 people were to jump off the Golden Gate bridge, I would expect all of them to die. Now, it’s theoretically possible that none of them would die (I know of at least one case in which the man survived) and so I would hope and pray that they all live, but it would be incredibly stupid to act as if the likelihood of them dying wouldn’t make a difference in terms of preventing them from jumping off in the first place!

    And this is the point: if it is likely that (too many) souls go to Hell, then, as a Christian lover, I’m going to be that much more motivated to do what I can to keep them (and me) from going there. The truth of this is evident in the lives of the saints. Almost to a person, saints willingly take on extra suffering for the sake of souls. They believe in co-redemption and act like it – and not simply or even principally for life in this world order.

    Here’s the patron of missionaries: “Ah, how many souls lose Heaven and are cast into Hell!” – St. Francis Xavier. Note how his right forearm is preserved incorrupt presumably because of the great multitude he baptized – baptism being the gateway to salvation.

    Yes, it is possible to be a saint without this understanding, but rather by relying simply on a “positive” view of Christian discipleship. However, as experience tells us, “negative” factors can and are often great motivating factors. I highly recommend googling David Goggins. You’ll learn of some truly incredible feats this man has performed relying, by his own testimony, on “negative” motivating factors, like what would happen to him if he doesn’t make his goals. So the answer, of course, is both. Both positive and negative motivators are important to living Christian discipleship and we shouldn’t eschew either.

    Finally, I think you’re unfair to Martin. No, I don’t agree with him. Like you, I think he butchered Lumen Gentium 16 in Will Many Be Saved? and his chapter on Balthasar was also quite unfortunate, not least because he relied on secondary sources to make his most audacious claims. (Nicholas Healy’s critique is spot on.) But you can’t legitimately declare Martin to be a “crypto Feenyist”, even though he expressly denies Feenyism, and simultaneously decry Martin’s insinuation that Balthasar is a crypto universalist. If it’s bad form to suggest Balthasar is heretical in spirit, then it’s bad form to suggest that Martin is. This is unfortunately a recurrent theme in your posts. You rightly criticize those like Taylor Marshall insofar as they blast Balthasar and Barron in a personal way, but then you turn around and do the same to them.

    Thank you for bearing this read.

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    1. “Notwithstanding assurances that God did not create any man for Hell, and that He wishes all men to be saved, it remains equally true that only few will be saved; that only few will go to Heaven; and that the greater part of mankind will be lost forever.” – St. John Neumann”

      Ah, but given the doctrines of creatio ex nihilo and divine omniscience, that is *exactly* what God did. He knowingly. willingly, without need of any kind, forced these poor lost souls into existence on this broken world conscious of their their miserable end from the beginning. To say that he didn’t want it is utterly meaningless under those terms – he brought their damnation about gratuitously, out of his own will, absent any kind of compulsion to do so. One could scarcely imagine anything more malevolent.

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      1. I speak as someone who sympathizes with this view, Calvin, but I think we are prone to projecting far too much of a modern victimization mentality into this matter. It sounds like a child who hates his parents because he never consented to being born. Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, and God has promised the necessary graces – and He even was murdered by His own creation – in order to grant us the opportunity for union with Him. If we squander them, then it is on us in the end – not our fallen nature, not the world, not everyone else. Either we believe that God showers us with the requisite graces, or we do not. If we believe that He does, and there are still people in hell, then it means they have no one to blame but themselves. And yet they probably are inclined to blame everyone else for their sorry state, including God, using language probably not dissimilar from what you (and I, at times, to be honest) use here.

        I also think, the paraphrase Augustine, that we are cutting so deep that we are drawing blood. The interplay between divine omniscience, grace, and human freedom is something we can scarcely penetrate with our reason. We have to be cautious of what we deem is impossible or unbefitting of God, lest we sound like 2-d Flatlanders scoffing at the idea that there could be something like a Z axis.

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      2. “I speak as someone who sympathizes with this view, Calvin, but I think we are prone to projecting far too much of a modern victimization mentality into this matter. It sounds like a child who hates his parents because he never consented to being born.”

        If my parents had infallible knowledge that giving birth to me would simply be to doom me to an eternity of pain and misery and went ahead and did it anyway, I would be rather justified in blaming them and calling them the most awful parent imaginable.

        “Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, and God has promised the necessary graces – and He even was murdered by His own creation – in order to grant us the opportunity for union with Him. If we squander them, then it is on us in the end – not our fallen nature, not the world, not everyone else.”

        Being is a gift insofar as it is well-being, ill-being is merely a curse and a torment inflicted. To say then that God, who knows the end from the beginning, has brought someone into existence knowing that they shall be tormented throughout eternity is merely to say that he has gratuitously decided to torment them for all eternity. Because no created is in any sense necessary for him, no final end of anything can be rationally said to be anything but intentional on his part.

        “Either we believe that God showers us with the requisite graces, or we do not. If we believe that He does, and there are still people in hell, then it means they have no one to blame but themselves.”

        Did they choose to be born in this wounded world, burdened with a sinful nature they could neither have chosen or earned? No. Did they choose to be where they were, to be taught what they were taught, to have the experiences they did? No. They were thrust into it. Freedom is far more limited than some people seem to think.

        “I also think, the paraphrase Augustine, that we are cutting so deep that we are drawing blood. The interplay between divine omniscience, grace, and human freedom is something we can scarcely penetrate with our reason. We have to be cautious of what we deem is impossible or unbefitting of God, lest we sound like 2-d Flatlanders scoffing at the idea that there could be something like a Z axis.”

        I say quite the opposite. To deny that there is any analogical continuity between our love, our justice, our mercy and God’s love, God’s justice, God’s mercy, is simply to deny that we can know anything about the divine at all. Which in turn renders any sort of revelation utterly impossible, and religion pointless. But if there is such a continuity, it follows that we can draw conclusions about the divine based on human experience.

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      3. I think there are some important distinctions to make here. While God knows what every soul will do, including those who choose against Him, He doesn’t determine that choice. Is this a meaningless distinction? Not at all. He didn’t “bring their damnation” — they did.

        If a father wills to take his 8 kids to Disneyland, knowing full well that one of them is going to have an incredibly bad time of his own volition, should he not take them all? Should he leave the one kid behind because he knows the child will make bad (albeit age-appropriate) choices to bring about his own horrible experience or should he continue to provide all of the necessary means for this child, as for the others (who will have a great eventuality because, at least in part, they have loved the miserable one), so as to give this child all the freedom that love requires? (1) I think true love necessitates granting freedom, not just to those who will choose properly, but to all, and (2) One of the great determining factors of choosing properly and thus meriting eternal reward is precisely the loving response to those who do not always choose properly. Which means they need to be there.

        It is also the case that we all choose poorly at various times in our lives, and a great motivating factor for choosing rightly and thus growing in (true) freedom and love is to have some knowledge of the dire consequences of remaining in a place of poor choices. The great possibility of growing in love and eternal reward is precisely our dependence on a freedom that allows for poor choices and the abhorrent consequences of remaining in them. In short, if there wasn’t a Hell that we could very well end up in, we wouldn’t love nearly as much, this life would suck “gratuitously,” and we would never find ourselves pure enough to be with the all-good God for all eternity.

        You might retort, “Then what about the angels?” The angels exercised the same kind of freedom, minus the possibility of praying for others (I think) but very much in keeping with knowing what would happen if they didn’t love God fully, boiled down to one isolated moment before choosing God and Heaven. Now they enjoy the reward and God didn’t have to force them into it.

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      4. “I think there are some important distinctions to make here. While God knows what every soul will do, including those who choose against Him, He doesn’t determine that choice. Is this a meaningless distinction? Not at all. He didn’t “bring their damnation” — they did.”

        Yes he did, presuming Christian doctrines are true. Setting aside even the fact that if God is the good as such any decision against him would be a result of ignorance or irrationality and hence not free, by the very act of making them from nothing he willed their final ends in and of himself. No creature is necessary, hence any creature being in hell is also completely unnecessary. For God to make them anyway – again disregarding the fact that a rational choice against the good as such is completely logically incoherent – is for him to gratuitously will their damnation.

        “If a father wills to take his 8 kids to Disneyland, knowing full well that one of them is going to have an incredibly bad time of his own volition, should he not take them all? Should he leave the one kid behind because he knows the child will make bad (albeit age-appropriate) choices to bring about his own horrible experience or should he continue to provide all of the necessary means for this child, as for the others (who will have a great eventuality because, at least in part, they have loved the miserable one), so as to give this child all the freedom that love requires? (1) I think true love necessitates granting freedom, not just to those who will choose properly, but to all, and (2) One of the great determining factors of choosing properly and thus meriting eternal reward is precisely the loving response to those who do not always choose properly. Which means they need to be there.”

        The analogy does not hold. If a father wills to have a child, knowing infallibly that to do so is to condemn the child to an utterly unnecessary, gruesome, and agonizing demise in a Saw-style horror room which will be repeated ad infinitum, and has the child anyway, he is a terrible parent.

        Further, true love evidently does not necessitate even this sort of illogical freedom as you posit to all who could conceptually exist. For instance, I could have brother named Phil, but I actually don’t. God did the nonexistent Phil no injury in not making him an actual person as opposed to a figment of my imagination, but he would do a great of injury to foist a miserable existence on someone he knows will be damned. Even assuming your incoherent vision of freedom to be a reality it would be quite easy for God to exclusively create those he knows will respond to his grace and make it to heaven. Damnation is a purely superfluous cruelty no matter which way you slice it, given that God creates from nothing and free from any necessity.

        No one merits eternal reward, it is not possible given that no one can exist save that God gratuitously calls them into being. Existence is a gratuity bestowed upon us by a benevolent creator, ergo so is an eternal reward. But by the same token neither can a finite, mortal creature accumulate an infinite demerit as would be required to merit infinite suffering as would be required for infernalism to even begin to resemble justice as humans know it. And even if they could the fact that they existed to do so in the first place would be a purely superfluous decision by God.

        “It is also the case that we all choose poorly at various times in our lives, and a great motivating factor for choosing rightly and thus growing in (true) freedom and love is to have some knowledge of the dire consequences of remaining in a place of poor choices. The great possibility of growing in love and eternal reward is precisely our dependence on a freedom that allows for poor choices and the abhorrent consequences of remaining in them.”

        The only conceivable, justifiable point for consequences in the first place is to motivate a change in behavior and thought process and to restore what has been lost by ill deeds. As George MacDonald pointed out, if my brother steals my watch no amount of suffering as such inflicted on him will in any way restore my watch to me or otherwise make amends for what was taken. If no good will come from the process – and no good can come of the confinement of helpless sinners into an infinity of evil and pain – then the infliction of punishment is mere pain for pain’s sake. Pointless cruelty, benefitting no one.

        “In short, if there wasn’t a Hell that we could very well end up in, we wouldn’t love nearly as much, this life would suck “gratuitously,” and we would never find ourselves pure enough to be with the all-good God for all eternity.”

        I’m sorry, what? That is analogous to arguing that if I don’t have a gun pointed at my head at all times, I will not love nearly as much. That’s not how love works. It is an attraction, not a coercion.

        And again, creatio ex nihilo. Any final state of a creature is purely gratuitous. That includes both heaven and hell, for no one would exist to go there even in your scheme if God had not superfluously forced the damned into existence, having decided beforehand to callously sacrifice them for no reason.

        “You might retort, “Then what about the angels?” The angels exercised the same kind of freedom, minus the possibility of praying for others (I think) but very much in keeping with knowing what would happen if they didn’t love God fully, boiled down to one isolated moment before choosing God and Heaven. Now they enjoy the reward and God didn’t have to force them into it.”

        We know so little about the angels that I have no comment to make about them, save the same as before. Being that every angel is unnecessary as such, so too is the eternal suffering of any one of them. It’s a gratuitously torment and evil afflicted upon the cosmos by the deliberate will of God. No matter how much autonomy you chose to give to secondary causes, they cannot precede their first cause.

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      5. Calvin, I agree that there must be, in some sense, continuity. But you seem to waffle between predicating things like justice univocally and analogically of God. When you say we must mean justice in God precisely what we mean by justice in human beings, that’s a univocal predication. Some theologians wouldn’t accept that – they would say there is something “like” human justice in God’s justice, enough so that we can actually form an apophatic, as opposed to positive, theology. So, in one sense, we can say that God’s justice is like ours inasmuch as it gives us real, albeit quite imperfect, insight into God, but we can also quite comfortably accept when God tells us that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We can say, “Whatever God’s justice is, it cannot give someone what she does not deserve.” The question of *how* someone could deserve X, especially in relation to other concepts like freedom, culpability, divine foreknowledge…well, I make no pretense of understanding that, and my own scope of things is so imperfect that I dare not hope to ever understand that in this life.

        But I understand why, from your perspective, this seems unacceptable. It still seems like saying that God can do something which, from your perspective, is just unequivocally evil, because #mystery. Which then seems to reduce faith to nothing but potential devil worship. But given God’s perfection (as even manifest from philosophy) and the extent to which God has gone to redeem us, and given that I am free and responsible, and that those things in themselves are tremendous dignities and privileges – even when I abuse them – I trust that when Jesus warns me about hell, and that it’s possible, that it is not ultimately incompatible with who God is.

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      6. “Calvin, I agree that there must be, in some sense, continuity. But you seem to waffle between predicating things like justice univocally and analogically of God. When you say we must mean justice in God precisely what we mean by justice in human beings, that’s a univocal predication. Some theologians wouldn’t accept that – they would say there is something “like” human justice in God’s justice, enough so that we can actually form an apophatic, as opposed to positive, theology.”

        I take the radical position that words have meaning, yes. When we say “justice” in God we mean either “justice” in man, perfected in every way and brought to infinity, or we mean nothing. And nothing provides no motive for worship. If our reason is so weak we cannot distinguish between justice and the opposite of justice, we have no capacity to even assent out faith, for we know nothing.

        “So, in one sense, we can say that God’s justice is like ours inasmuch as it gives us real, albeit quite imperfect, insight into God, but we can also quite comfortably accept when God tells us that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.”

        I do hate it when this verse is pulled from its context to make it seem as though evil is somehow good when seen from God’s perspective. What it is saying, in the context of Isiah, is that God’s are not like the wicked’s thoughts, and precisely for the reason that he will pardon when the wicked forsake his ways. That his love exceeds our love, his mercy exceeds our mercy, not that they are less so.

        “But I understand why, from your perspective, this seems unacceptable. It still seems like saying that God can do something which, from your perspective, is just unequivocally evil, because #mystery. Which then seems to reduce faith to nothing but potential devil worship.”

        I would call it nihilism personally, because insofar as you do this you are worshipping something which you do not know which has unknowable qualities for which you unjustifiably borrow human moral terms. It’s a faith of bias, not a faith of reason.

        “But given God’s perfection (as even manifest from philosophy) and the extent to which God has gone to redeem us, and given that I am free and responsible, and that those things in themselves are tremendous dignities and privileges – even when I abuse them – I trust that when Jesus warns me about hell, and that it’s possible, that it is not ultimately incompatible with who God is.”

        On what grounds, exactly, do you find someone that would create an unnecessary being from nothing with the express intent that they shall be tortured forever trustworthy? It’s a serious question. If he’s willing to inflict a superfluous infinity of evil on one person, you have no rational basis to suppose he will not do likewise to you.

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      7. Calvin, your argument proves too much. You think that God could not be loving if at the end of it all there is any being suffering. But it applies to the current situation of the world just as well, God could not be loving if at any time in universal history there is evil, because he could have excluded it, like he has your evil brother Philip, from the beginning. But there is evil. Arguments that prove too much fail.

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      8. I’ll give this one more go on my way out, because either I am not explaining this well enough or you are not understanding. To argue for the eternal persistence of evil is not only dualism, but a direct statement about the will of God, because evil exists forever precisely because he chose to bring it about without any need. Which in turn makes him evil, and not the good as such. This does not logically apply to contingent, temporal situations characterized by their finitude, as it is logically possible that some finite evils may be turned to infinite good. Infinite evil cannot.

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    2. Thank you for this. I especially agree with your point about motivation for conversion of life and evangelization. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of a “deep double crisis” in the Church stemming from Vatican II’s “reformulation” of the doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church.” First, the urgency for evangelization has collapsed. Second, the willingness of Catholics to conform their lives to the requirements of the faith has collapsed (since others, outside the Church, can be saved without adhering to those requirements).

      I agree that we should hope (and pray) that all will be saved. However, I think there is a risk of confusion in that the theological virtue of hope involves a “confident expectation.” As you point out, the overwhelming weight of tradition counsels against that kind of hope with regard to salvation for all. So I will hope (i.e., desire) the salvation of all, and will pray for it, but I remain circumspect.

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  8. “Was Our Lady therefore being cheeky here in this prayer? Was she contradicting herself? Was she leading the children into a satanic deception? Why would she ask them to pray for something she knew from her heavenly vantage point to be untrue and impossible?”
    It appears that this line of argument could be applied just as well to the verses where Jesus warns of the dangers of eternal damnation. Did he lead many people to believe something that he knew, from his heavenly vantage point, to be untrue and impossible?
    Of course, the verses may yield other meanings on closer inspection, but I think it is also necessary to consider what the normal first impression of a reader/hearer would be.
    Balthasar (in The Moment of Christian Witness) has a bit to say about presentation, when he criticises theologians for using catchphrases like “Anonymous Christian” or “demythologization of the Bible” or “Theology as anthropology”.
    He writes:
    “…principles (especially if they are presented in the form of catchwords), once proclaimed, tend automatically to produce consequences . Anyone who uses catchwords in this way is responsible for their being received in their crude poster-like form, without the learned commentaries he gives on them which are a protection and a qualification.”
    I think you could replace “catchwords” with “parables” or with “the visions of the mystics”. Some of Jesus’ sayings and many of the visions of the mystics indicate that eternal punishment is a going concern. I really have trouble with the idea that Jesus might mislead us. I don’t have any difficulty with the idea that he tells us to pray for the salvation of all persons while knowing that some will be lost – maybe he is saying “you must make your sun shine on the good and the evil alike” or simply “you pray for everyone because you don’t know who will or won’t be saved”.

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    1. Having grown up in Boston in the 50s and 60s the local equivalent of old fish wives would express a view about Leonard Feeney SJ “that of course he was crazy, what with all the studying those Jesuits have to go through but in the end because of his great love for the Blessed Mother he wpuld not be lost” and he was reconciled before he died.

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  9. Larry, this is a great post. As I’ve said before, there is a whole continent of possibility between Feeney and von Balthasar. I’m pretty sure we aren’t supposed to know where on that continent the Book of Life resides.

    There are so many mysterious things about life and reality that we would go crazy if we weren’t comfortable living with all sorts of mysteries we cannot solve and cannot expect to solve. This is the case in everyday experience, let alone in theological matters. I do pray that folks can make their peace with this. Given the Divine Attributes of the God we know and trust it shouldn’t matter whether we have a ‘solution’ to the latest theological dilemma du jour. As Christians we are (or, more accurately, we know that we should be) confident that God’s ‘solution’ surpasses anything that we could possibly come up with on our own. We trust (or, more accurately, we should trust) that His solutions are infinitely just, infinitely merciful, infinitely loving, infinitely good, etc.

    As a late mentor once put it to me, “He already loves all of the people and things that I love, but in an infinitely more perfect manner. What more could I possibly ask for?”

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    1. “As a late mentor once put it to me, “He already loves all of the people and things that I love, but in an infinitely more perfect manner. What more could I possibly ask for?”

      That he behave accordingly.

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      1. “That he behave accordingly.”

        Be mindful of Whom you speak of. You cannot scold the Great “I AM” into Being Who He Is.

        If we trust in the veracity of the Divine Attributes – actually infinite goodness, love, justice, mercy, knowledge, power (at least analogical to what we understand those things to mean) – then these dilemmas don’t really matter. People think of “Hell” as a singular common experience, but that is actually contrary to tradition. If “Hell” refers to any and all eternal states ‘outside’ of the Beatific Vision, that still leaves open an infinite set of possibilities for what the ‘damned’ could be experiencing. Or maybe not — maybe this is just scrabbling around on the floor in the dark without even shadows on the cave wall to give us the barest hint of what we are actually talking about. If I can’t ‘solve’ the dilemmas that is OK, because the One who can and will is in charge.

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      2. “Be mindful of Whom you speak of. You cannot scold the Great “I AM” into Being Who He Is.”

        I seem to be speaking to you and your ideas of what he is, not him. Indeed it is precisely because I have faith in who he is that I speak this way.

        “If we trust in the veracity of the Divine Attributes – actually infinite goodness, love, justice, mercy, knowledge, power (at least analogical to what we understand those things to mean) – then these dilemmas don’t really matter.”

        In order to trust the veracity of the divine attributes as posited by Christianity, those attributes have to MEAN something. Something which is intelligible to us. The very idea of revelation assumes that the words used have meaning which is understandable by those to whom it is revealed, elsewise it is empty noise. It is no use saying that God is love if “love” in God turns out to mean something quite the opposite of what we mean when we say love. For then we have succeeded in saying nothing at all about God, but a good deal about ourselves. And if divine love does mean something analogous to our own experience of it, then certain conclusions about the activity of God must follow. Elsewise the whole system is internally incoherent and hence logically false.

        “Or maybe not — maybe this is just scrabbling around on the floor in the dark without even shadows on the cave wall to give us the barest hint of what we are actually talking about.”

        In which case you are simply wasting your time, and any faith you may have is indistinguishable from arbitrary nihilism. There’s no point to believing revelation if you can’t communicate anything by it. One either has faith in one’s own reasoning ability, or one does not. In the latter case all communication, with anyone, is impossible. Of course you need reasons to doubt your own reason, because that’s simply the way we’re wired. There’s no escaping the need to think.

        “If I can’t ‘solve’ the dilemmas that is OK, because the One who can and will is in charge.”

        Trust depends on an adequate reason to trust, and a God who creates to arbitrarily torment simply is not trustworthy to said created beings.

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      3. “I seem to be speaking to you and your ideas of what he is, not him.”

        No, I asked (rhetorically), “He already loves all of the people and things that I love, but in an infinitely more perfect manner. What more could I possibly ask for?” and you responded, “That he behave accordingly.” You were not talking about your expectations of me, you were talking about your expectations of Him, namely that He conform to your preconceived notions of what infinite goodness, love, justice, mercy, etc. ought to look like. I don’t know you from Adam, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that this suggests merely a failure of imagination on your part, rather than a failure of humility.

        Some day soon both you and I will die. And we will be judged by God. And His judgement will surpass anything you or I could possibly come up with even if we were both perfected versions of ourselves with perfect rational intellects, let alone the fallen version of ourselves which actually exist.

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      4. “No, I asked (rhetorically), “He already loves all of the people and things that I love, but in an infinitely more perfect manner. What more could I possibly ask for?” and you responded, “That he behave accordingly.””

        Apparently I failed to make this clear, but what I was saying is that your words about God and the things you say he will do according to your theological system do no match up. That is, you say he is one thing and then say he behaves in a manner inconsistent with the first. This is incoherence, not mystery.

        “You were not talking about your expectations of me, you were talking about your expectations of Him, namely that He conform to your preconceived notions of what infinite goodness, love, justice, mercy, etc. ought to look like. I don’t know you from Adam, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that this suggests merely a failure of imagination on your part, rather than a failure of humility.”

        If words are to mean anything, then love carried to infinity must still look like love, albeit perfected, not hate. Mercy must look like mercy, not cruelty, etc. These must be recognizable to us as the things which we ourselves have in a feebler form, else they are simply propaganda evacuated of any substantial content. Therefore, if these things be true, then we can have some idea of what God must look like. If not, we have no idea what anything looks like.

        “Some day soon both you and I will die. And we will be judged by God. And His judgement will surpass anything you or I could possibly come up with even if we were both perfected versions of ourselves with perfect rational intellects, let alone the fallen version of ourselves which actually exist.”

        Yes, it surpass us by being more loving, more merciful, better than our judgements would be. But we can know, at least in part, the difference between better and worse. Between justice and sadism, between love and hate. If our reason were so bad that we couldn’t, then we would have no reason to believe anything.

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      5. “Apparently I failed to make this clear, but what I was saying is that your words about God and the things you say he will do according to your theological system do no match up. That is, you say he is one thing and then say he behaves in a manner inconsistent with the first.”

        No, if you read what I’ve written you’ll notice that I haven’t claimed to know anything about what He will do or how He will judge. I trust in Him, as He is revealed to me by His Church.

        I realize that you are convinced that Who He Is necessitates an empty Hell. If Hell does turn out to be empty I will be praising His boundless mercy alongside you and everyone else in saecula saeculorum. But I dare not presume this to be the case. Mercy and truth will meet each other; justice and peace will kiss. We are meant to know that this will be the case, but we are not meant to know how.

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      6. “Mercy and truth will meet each other; justice and peace will kiss. We are meant to know that this will be the case, but we are not meant to know how.”

        What are you talking about? Of course we are, it’s even spelled out for us:

        “Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put everything under His feet.” Now when it says that everything has been put under Him, this clearly does not include the One who put everything under Him. And when all things have been subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will be made subject to Him who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all.”
        -1 Corinthians 15:24-28

        Christ will reign until such time as all things have been made subject to him, which obviously precludes any portion of any heart remaining defiant. As expressly demonstrated throughout the whole Bible, God has no interest in lip service or forced acknowledgment, being free of any ego in need of gratifying by such. Once this process is accomplished and death is destroyed, God will be all in all (including all humans), and mercy and justice will have kissed.

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      7. Rob:

        “which obviously precludes any portion of any heart remaining defiant.” Claiming that something is obvious does not make it so.

        Larry has already explained far more eloquently than I could why interpreting Scripture against the tradition of the Church universal is just not going to fly.

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      8. For some reason, I can’t reply to your response to my post in the proper order, so I’ll respond here.

        Without going round and round on this, I’ll simply submit that you continue to confuse knowledge and determination/force/coercion. They’re not the same thing. This confusion comes up in all your disagreements with me, so far as I can tell.

        Furthermore, to postulate that there could be no Hell for an all-good God is logically the same as suggesting that there could be no pain or suffering in this world order if God be so good. But of course there is fullsome reason to believe that God is good. I’ll have to end it there. Blessings to you.

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      9. Charlie,

        “Larry has already explained far more eloquently than I could why interpreting Scripture against the tradition of the Church universal is just not going to fly.”

        No, in fact he hasn’t. I’ve asked him to give his rational for accepting the Roman Catholic Church’s authority and gotten no response. Appeals to authority are not logically sound at all if it can be demonstrated that said authority teaches something illogical.

        intracatholicforum,

        “Without going round and round on this, I’ll simply submit that you continue to confuse knowledge and determination/force/coercion. They’re not the same thing. This confusion comes up in all your disagreements with me, so far as I can tell.”

        You apparently do not understand the distinction between knowledge in the human sense and knowledge in the divine sense. We understand things external to us because we can sense them, God understands anything that isn’t him precisely because he makes it be there in the first place. There is no existence independent of him willing that existence, knowing its end from the beginning.

        No matter how much freedom you may choose to assign secondary causes (and any “choice” against the good as such cannot be totally free by definition, being a product of irrationality or ignorance), they cannot go beyond their first cause. If a hellbound creature exists it is because God made it exist, and it cannot be anything other than unnecessary.

        “Furthermore, to postulate that there could be no Hell for an all-good God is logically the same as suggesting that there could be no pain or suffering in this world order if God be so good. But of course there is fullsome reason to believe that God is good. I’ll have to end it there. Blessings to you.”

        No, it doesn’t. Have you paid attention at all? It is logically possible that the creation from nothing of finite rational beings with the characteristics of past and future may require at least the possibility of certain transient evils which may be brought to infinite good in fullness of time. It is logically impossible that an unnecessary willing of infinite evil as a final end could be anything but evil, and hence anything willing it could not be the good as such.

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  10. “I seem to be speaking to you and your ideas of what he is, not him.”

    No, I asked (rhetorically), “He already loves all of the people and things that I love, but in an infinitely more perfect manner. What more could I possibly ask for?” and you responded, “That he behave accordingly.” You were not talking about your expectations of me, you were talking about your expectations of Him, namely that He conform to your preconceived notions of what infinite goodness, love, justice, mercy, etc. ought to look like. I don’t know you from Adam, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that this suggests merely a failure of imagination on your part, rather than a failure of humility.

    Some day soon both you and I will die. And we will be judged by God. And His judgement will surpass anything you or I could possibly come up with even if we were both perfected versions of ourselves with perfect rational intellects, let alone the fallen version of ourselves which actually exist.

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    1. Either an analogy holds real continuity between the human and the divine, or it does not. If it does, things about the character and actions of God can be known, however imperfectly, by humans. If it doesn’t, revelation is useless because communication isn’t possible.

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      1. I’ll take another stab at this. Sorry again that my replies are not directly under where you last addressed me.

        “If a hellbound creature exists it is because God made it exist, and it cannot be anything other than unnecessary.” There are no “hellbound creatures” in the ontological sense, in the sense that this is the way God created them. It’s only because of moral fault, firstly Adam’s, that any of us are hellbound — and such moral faults are the work of humans, not God. So while you’re conclusion follows from the premises, the premise is not sound.

        “It is logically impossible that an unnecessary willing of infinite evil as a final end could be anything but evil, and hence anything willing it could not be the good as such.” I actually agree with this in a qualified sense, but it’s important to note that God has never willed infinite evil. Perhaps we can say that Satan has, insofar as he is capable of willing anything “infinite”. Even so, this would only confirm that Satan has an evil will, not that his being was created evil or that his existence, as sustained in being by God, isn’t good as such.

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      2. “There are no “hellbound creatures” in the ontological sense, in the sense that this is the way God created them. It’s only because of moral fault, firstly Adam’s, that any of us are hellbound — and such moral faults are the work of humans, not God. So while you’re conclusion follows from the premises, the premise is not sound.”

        You fail to take into account both that it is logically impossible to choose anything but the good as such with perfect freedom – and so any such fault cannot be anything but limited – and also that God knows the end from the beginning. Even if one irrationally assumed that such an infinite culpability was possible, it could only be in the first place insofar as God knew about it and callously decided to sacrifice the creature to it without needing to. And who would that poor sacrifice be, but the true lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the real price paid for the blessedness of the kingdom? After all, in this scheme it is they, not Christ, who pay the greatest price to establish the end which God has willed.

        “I actually agree with this in a qualified sense, but it’s important to note that God has never willed infinite evil. Perhaps we can say that Satan has, insofar as he is capable of willing anything “infinite”. Even so, this would only confirm that Satan has an evil will, not that his being was created evil or that his existence, as sustained in being by God, isn’t good as such.”

        Again, between the dogma that creation is not necessary and the dogma that God knows the end from the beginning, God’s will to create any particular creature is not logically separable from the creature’s final end. To will the beginning is to will the end, when the end is perfectly known. Thus, to will into being a creature that will fall into hell forever is to will that the creature fall into hell forever. Under those circumstances, the real “murderer from the beginning” would be… God.

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      3. “You fail to take into account both that it is logically impossible to choose anything but the good as such with perfect freedom – and so any such fault cannot be anything but limited.” This does not follow. The fault is on the part of someone with limited freedom (true), but it doesn’t follow that the fault cannot thereby be eternal (albeit limited to the morally culpable creature). God decides this, not us.

        “[I]t could only be in the first place insofar as God knew about it and callously decided to sacrifice the creature to it without needing to.” Here again you’re confusing knowledge and coercion. God knew about it, yes, but he didn’t decide to sacrifice any creature to this willed state, precisely because the determinative willing here is the creature’s, not God’s.

        “To will the beginning is to will the end, when the end is perfectly known.” Wrong. You continue to conflate knowledge and willing. I know you think I’m missing something here between the difference between God’s freedom and human freedom, so I ask you in charity to lay it out for me in a simple syllogism. I suspect that I’ll disagree with one of your premises, probably with regard to an equivocation in terms. Even so, please have it. This should focus the argument on the fundamental point of disagreement.

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      4. “This does not follow. The fault is on the part of someone with limited freedom (true), but it doesn’t follow that the fault cannot thereby be eternal (albeit limited to the morally culpable creature). God decides this, not us.”

        Yes it does. Even we, in our justice, understand that limiting circumstances thereby limit culpability and punishment deserved, hence why one does not punish a child or a madman the same way as a sane adult. And as I have said many times before, if God’s “justice” bears no relation to ours, then calling him “just” is a mere propaganda slogan devoid of content. It may be better than ours, it cannot be worse.

        “Here again you’re confusing knowledge and coercion. God knew about it, yes, but he didn’t decide to sacrifice any creature to this willed state, precisely because the determinative willing here is the creature’s, not God’s.”

        If your doctrine is true, then yes he did. I don’t know how much simpler one can make this, but I’ll try. God’s will is determinative precisely because any willing outside of it is quite literally impossible. No one wills anything except insofar as he has a transcendental orientation to the good as such which can only come from God. Further God, if you like, coerces the man into being in the first place, and needlessly at that.

        “Wrong. You continue to conflate knowledge and willing. I know you think I’m missing something here between the difference between God’s freedom and human freedom, so I ask you in charity to lay it out for me in a simple syllogism. I suspect that I’ll disagree with one of your premises, probably with regard to an equivocation in terms. Even so, please have it. This should focus the argument on the fundamental point of disagreement.”

        You continue to fail to notice that knowledge and willing are indistinguishable in regards to a final state, needlessly willed into being in the first place. To put it in the simplest terms imaginable, if I am granted infallible knowledge that knocking over a particular chain of dominoes will unavoidably result in a passerby being smashed underneath a grand piano, I cannot will to needlessly knock over that chain of dominoes without also willing that the piano will crush said passerby.

        But if you want syllogisms, here:

        Major premise: To a creator who lacks needs, no creation of any sort can be anything but unnecessary
        Minor premise: God as posited by Christianity lacks needs
        Conclusion: In Christianity, no creation can be anything but unnecessary

        Major premise: To one who sees all as an eternal present, the end from the beginning, to will the beginning is unavoidably to will the end
        Minor premise: God sees all as an eternal present
        Conclusion: Insofar as God wills the beginning, he wills the end

        Major premise: Insofar as pain is inflicted needlessly, it is cruelty
        Minor premise: Insofar as any particular being is both created and in an eternal hell, it is both needless and in pain
        Conclusion: Hell cannot be other than cruelty

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      5. On the first note of justice — just b/c you and I may not fully understand why Adam’s limited fault affects all human persons (save for Mary, but that’s another argument) henceforth or why an angel’s original choice against God forever determines him to be a demon or why one dying in mortal sin effects eternal damnation — doesn’t mean that these examples are not just. God, in His infinite wisdom, knows much better than we what is just and what is unjust. The datums above have been divinely revealed. We are asked to have faith in them. I surrender to the probability that there are many things I won’t comprehend in this life and I’m cool with that. That doesn’t in the least mean there is a contradiction here. As St. Augustine said regarding Scripture, there are things in it that we are not meant to comprehend so as to encourage our humility.

        “God’s will is determinative precisely because any willing outside of it is quite literally impossible.” Wrong. This is to suggest that secondary causality does not exist.

        “If I am granted infallible knowledge that knocking over a particular chain of dominoes will unavoidably result in a passerby being smashed underneath a grand piano, I cannot will to needlessly knock over that chain of dominoes without also willing that the piano will crush said passerby.” This is true. The problem is that the analogy does not hold b/c IT IS NOT UNAVOIDABLE. The passerby in the realm of life can clearly decide or will to avoid going to Hell.

        Let me offer a different analogy. God is a store founder and owner. He establishes it. It remains in being unless and until he sells it or demolishes it, or what have you. B/c He’s also a teacher, He hires a whole classroom of teenagers/students to run the place, knowing full well that some of them (too many!) will steal the product from time to time and thereby incur a failure in his course. The “F” will go on their permanent record. That is entirely possible. We may not think it’s just for an F to go on their permanent record. Maybe we think the (more) just thing to do would be to demolish the whole enterprise (cf. Hell), but the fact remains that it is entirely possible for the store owner to execute judgment in such a way. It would also behoove us to accept in docility and humility this judgment if the store owner is the all-wise God.

        Thanks for the syllogisms! I disagree, of course, wtih the second major premise, because therein you conflate knowledge (seeing) and willing. I also disagree wtih the third minor premise on the equivocation of “needless.”. Now we know where we disagree. If you wish to convince me, please recify those premises.

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      6. “On the first note of justice — just b/c you and I may not fully understand why Adam’s limited fault affects all human persons (save for Mary, but that’s another argument) henceforth or why an angel’s original choice against God forever determines him to be a demon or why one dying in mortal sin effects eternal damnation — doesn’t mean that these examples are not just. God, in His infinite wisdom, knows much better than we what is just and what is unjust. The datums above have been divinely revealed. We are asked to have faith in them. I surrender to the probability that there are many things I won’t comprehend in this life and I’m cool with that. That doesn’t in the least mean there is a contradiction here. As St. Augustine said regarding Scripture, there are things in it that we are not meant to comprehend so as to encourage our humility.”

        If “justice” in God is “infinite sadistic cruelty” in man, then the chain of analogy breaks. Terms have no meaning. “Love” may mean “hate”, “truth” may mean “lies”. You render all theological language vacuous, and faith identical to nihilism. There is nothing left to believe in, merely a psychological bias with no underlying rationality.

        “Wrong. This is to suggest that secondary causality does not exist.”

        Irrespective of how much autonomy one chooses to grant secondary causes, and as we have established it cannot be anything but limited, they cannot precede their first cause. No secondary cause exists except insofar as the first cause causes it to exist. As your own Aquinas noted, all causes are logically reducible to the first. In no way could a secondary cause cause itself to be in hell except that it was first caused by the first cause. (Say that five times fast.)

        “Let me offer a different analogy. God is a store founder and owner. He establishes it. It remains in being unless and until he sells it or demolishes it, or what have you. B/c He’s also a teacher, He hires a whole classroom of teenagers/students to run the place, knowing full well that some of them (too many!) will steal the product from time to time and thereby incur a failure in his course. The “F” will go on their permanent record. That is entirely possible. We may not think it’s just for an F to go on their permanent record. Maybe we think the (more) just thing to do would be to demolish the whole enterprise (cf. Hell), but the fact remains that it is entirely possible for the store owner to execute judgment in such a way. It would also behoove us to accept in docility and humility this judgment if the store owner is the all-wise God.”

        Except that you posit that these students are there externally. They are not. Our store owner has willed them into being from nothing, and he knows precisely which ones in even a perfect, illogical libertarian world will get an F and which will not. He is quite capable of making only those which will not, as nothing compels him to actualize all logically possible natures. That he makes even one student knowing that to do so guarantees said F cannot be separated logically from a desire for that student to get an F. He could simply do the easiest thing of all (nothing) in regards to those natures and no one would get an F. Now, if the F also translates to said student getting a hot poker shoved in his eyes forever, our store owner is a sadistic bastard and no one worthy of devotion.

        Now, as we also have seen, a perfect libertarian free will itself is also nonsense. All will is animated by the desire for good, it cannot will evil as evil, and consequently no sin can be a result of anything but a degree of ignorance or madness. Now, having established that, it cannot be that any rational nature could be beyond cure by being ripped free of illusions, hence an endless torture is doubly unnecessary and hence doubly cruel.

        “Thanks for the syllogisms! I disagree, of course, wtih the second major premise, because therein you conflate knowledge (seeing) and willing. I also disagree wtih the third minor premise on the equivocation of “needless.”. Now we know where we disagree. If you wish to convince me, please recify those premises.”

        You continue to act as those these things are external to God. They are not. They exist insofar as he makes them exist and not a step further. You cannot absolve God of moral responsibility for hell, because even in the most libertarian of worldviews he needlessly created the conditions that made it. God coercively, unnecessarily creates each and every human being in a fallen world, inflicting their needless existence upon them. To those whose existence proves an ultimate evil, he has done this to them freely and without need. To borrow an analogy from another blog: consider the movie “Death Race.” All talk about freedom is vacuous. Nobody asked to join the race; nobody gave their permission. Yet here we all are, doomed to play a game that is rigged from the start.

        Your disagreement with the third minor premise is simple cognitive dissonance, as you have agreed to the first syllogism. We have established in that first one that all creatures are unnecessary and can logically be nothing else given Christian premises, therefore any created nature in hell cannot be anything else but needless.

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      7. I really don’t know how much more of this we should bother with. Again, it really comes down to the difference between God knowing and willing. You think they are the same thing. I don’t. Your examples limp b/c you pack them with false premises and your syllogisms re-present the same reasoning.

        “If “justice” in God is “infinite sadistic cruelty” in man…” — but, see, it’s not infinite sadistic cruelty. Your premise contains your conclusion. Circular reasoning.

        “In no way could a secondary cause cause itself to be in hell except that it was first caused by the first cause.” You’re equivocating on the meaning of causality here.

        It was first caused “to be,” that is, into creation, ontologically, but it was not first caused “to reject grace” into Hell, morally. God is the first cause of all that exists or has being. Evil acts lack the being due them. God is not the first cause of evil, ontologically or morally, but only that which exists in creation and human action, as being and good are convertible.

        “That he makes even one student knowing that to do so guarantees said F cannot be separated logically from a desire for that student to get an F.” Your premise, that knowing “guarantees” a certain course of action, contains your conclusion. Circular reasoning.

        “[I]t cannot be that any rational nature could be beyond cure by being ripped free of illusions, hence an endless torture is doubly unnecessary and hence doubly cruel.” Your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premises.

        God has justly determined (by His own lights, not ours; see the Book of Job) that living and dying in mortal sin, any ignorance of which is culpable (or the sin wouldn’t be mortal), effects eternal damnation. It would be unjust, unloving even, to “rip” or force anyone out of their culpable illusions, particularly those which the human actor steadfastly remained in to the point of death.

        “You continue to act as those these things are external to God. They are not.” God is indeed outside of creation. He is, in fact, external to contingent being and action in a metaphysical sense. That isn’t to say that He doesn’t act in creation, but He always remains radically Other than it even when He does. To posit otherwise is pantheism.

        “We have established in that first one that all creatures are unnecessary and can logically be nothing else given Christian premises, therefore any created nature in hell cannot be anything else but needless.” Fine. So long as we’re clear that “needless” is being portrayed here as regards simple contingency. In that sense, all of creation is unnecessary. Heaven is unnecessary. Every contingent thing is unnecessary. This doesn’t show how Hell is unjust for those who persist in their sins. Their sins were unnecessary too.

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      8. “— but, see, it’s not infinite sadistic cruelty. Your premise contains your conclusion. Circular reasoning.”

        …Yes. Yes it is. It is literally the worst possible thing anyone could do to anyone else, and it cannot be anything except utterly needless.

        “It was first caused “to be,” that is, into creation, ontologically, but it was not first caused “to reject grace” into Hell, morally. God is the first cause of all that exists or has being. Evil acts lack the being due them. God is not the first cause of evil, ontologically or morally, but only that which exists in creation and human action, as being and good are convertible.”

        It was caused “to be”, knowing fully that “to be” is fully convertible to “to be in eternal misery” in the case of that particular human. In which case the loving thing to do (love being both to will the good of the other as such and supposedly convertible with God’s being) would simply be to do nothing. God, by the act of making, wished an eternity of pain upon our poor victim.

        “Your premise, that knowing “guarantees” a certain course of action, contains your conclusion. Circular reasoning.”

        God is timeless. There is no past and no future from his perspective, only an eternal present. By the act of making, he is from his own point of view making the nature in an eternity of torment. There is no way around it. Continuing to act as though he were some sort of being to whom all acts, all futures, are not entirely present in the very act of beginning is simply babbling nonsense. He knows the end from the beginning, and therefore if the end is evil then the beginning cannot be elsewise.

        “God has justly determined (by His own lights, not ours; see the Book of Job) that living and dying in mortal sin, any ignorance of which is culpable (or the sin wouldn’t be mortal), effects eternal damnation.”

        Um, no. That’s stupid, it’s cruel, it renders Christianity incoherent (and thus false), and it’s not even scriptural. That is merely the irrational declaration of a particular group of humans who have allocated to themselves an allegedly spiritual dictatorship. You complain about me allegedly assuming the conclusion when that is exactly what you are doing right here?

        Moreover a mortal sin as defined by Catholicism (grave matter, full knowledge, full consent of the will) is not a logically possible thing. A sin cannot be except insofar as a will is chained by ignorance of the good (negating full knowledge) or a binding of the will (negating full consent). It isn’t logically possible for a rational nature to see the good with unclouded eyes and not choose it, that is what it means to be rational.

        “It would be unjust, unloving even, to “rip” or force anyone out of their culpable illusions, particularly those which the human actor steadfastly remained in to the point of death.”

        What in the absolute hell are you talking about? To cure a madman of his madness is the best thing one could do for him. He who sins is a slave to sin, but the truth will make you free. To leave a man stuck in a maddened illusion forever is neither loving nor is it just. Justice is setting things right, not leaving an infinity of irrational evil hanging around forever.

        “God is indeed outside of creation. He is, in fact, external to contingent being and action in a metaphysical sense. That isn’t to say that He doesn’t act in creation, but He always remains radically Other than it even when He does. To posit otherwise is pantheism.”

        Apparently you chose not to read the very next sentence, or you would have noticed that I am pointing out that these are not constraints imposed on God but rather things he freely, needlessly chooses to make a reality. God knows these things insofar as he makes them be so.

        “Fine. So long as we’re clear that “needless” is being portrayed here as regards simple contingency. In that sense, all of creation is unnecessary. Heaven is unnecessary. Every contingent thing is unnecessary. This doesn’t show how Hell is unjust for those who persist in their sins. Their sins were unnecessary too.”

        Well first, hell is obviously unjust merely because of the disproportion between culpability and sentence, which is literally infinite, or else justice has no meaning as a term. Hell is also unloving in that it cannot logically be separated from the creation of the hellbound nature in the first place, seeing as it is a wish for an infinity of evil to befall the person in question. It is further a wish that the cosmos bear forever a dualism, with evil existing right alongside good for all eternity. Hence it follows that no being that could wish it could be the good as such. Since it cannot be that anyone there is necessary, it cannot be anything but cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

        And now, before you inevitably jump back to your utterly meaningless distinction between knowing as regards to the final state of creation as such, I’m going to point out yet again that you cannot separate the end from the beginning in God’s intentions, for they all are encompassed in a single free, needless act of creation.

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      9. “I think I’ve said my peace here. Anyone reading can return my arguments above. You’re just making assertions here.”

        I suppose it may be for the best. You have yet to give a single coherent account of how knowing a final state could be distinct from causing it in God given creatio ex nihilo and divine omniscience, let alone how such a thing could possibly be consistent with love as such.

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      10. I’m thinking about something Calvin ascribes to Thomas Aquinas:
        “No less a figure than Aquinas noted that to will evil as evil is impossible, it can only be willed mistakenly under the species of good.”
        Thomas Aquinas held that a person could seek something he mistook to be good, BUT ALSO a person could will the good only for himself, refusing to care about the good of his neighbour. Aquinas thought that people could condemn themselves to hell who had spent their lives willing their own good. He also thought that somebody could become attached to a lesser good, to the extent that when the greater good (God) presents itself, he would cling to the lesser good. (an idol)
        If Aquinas’ thought was simply as Calvin presents it, then one would wonder why he never noticed the logical discrepancy. But it’s not a problem because Aquinas’ thought is much deeper.
        I note that Calvin is also running with an idea that sin is caused by ignorance, by imperfect knowledge, or some such limitation. Aquinas writes:
        “Given what has gone before, the first consideration will have three parts: For first of all, we will
        discuss ignorance, which is a cause of sin on the part of reason (question 76); second, we will discuss
        weakness or passion, which is a cause of sin on the part of the sentient appetite (question 77); third, we
        will discuss malice, which is a cause of sin on the part of the will (question 78).”
        So Aquinas thinks there are three causes of sin. Anyway, on his approach, a lack of knowledge would affect one’s reason, not directly the will.

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      11. “Thomas Aquinas held that a person could seek something he mistook to be good, BUT ALSO a person could will the good only for himself, refusing to care about the good of his neighbour. Aquinas thought that people could condemn themselves to hell who had spent their lives willing their own good. He also thought that somebody could become attached to a lesser good, to the extent that when the greater good (God) presents itself, he would cling to the lesser good. (an idol)”

        Again, this is not a logical possibility except that someone is unaware that his greatest good lies in love of God, self, and neighbor as self. And for a rational nature to behold the good as such without blinders would be to realize that the good is the underlying source and end of any desire whatsoever (including any desire to cling to an idol) and consequently no free or rational decision against it is possible. Any such act would necessarily be a motiveless randomness indistinguishable from a fit of madness and hence neither free nor culpable.

        “Aquinas thought that people could condemn themselves to hell who had spent their lives willing their own good.”

        Oh, and please don’t sell him short. Aquinas, following Augustine, was an unabashed predestinarian who believed that God chose a lucky few elect to make it to heaven ante provisa merita and everyone else is just screwed.

        “I note that Calvin is also running with an idea that sin is caused by ignorance, by imperfect knowledge, or some such limitation. Aquinas writes:
        “Given what has gone before, the first consideration will have three parts: For first of all, we will
        discuss ignorance, which is a cause of sin on the part of reason (question 76); second, we will discuss
        weakness or passion, which is a cause of sin on the part of the sentient appetite (question 77); third, we
        will discuss malice, which is a cause of sin on the part of the will (question 78).”
        So Aquinas thinks there are three causes of sin. Anyway, on his approach, a lack of knowledge would affect one’s reason, not directly the will.”

        Again, malice is possible, but only insomuch as one fails to see that one’s own greater good is enveloped in love. Assuming Christian premises, my good as such is not distinguishable from your good as such in any meaningful way.

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  11. Hello again sir. And once more a lot to unpack. I like these remarks:

    “To pray for the salvation of all is to hope for the salvation of all….We are made for Heaven and not for Hell and in a proper Thomistic theological anthropology we are all first and foremost, and in deeply constitutive ways, oriented to the ultimate Good, which is God.”

    Forgive my simple understanding of the discourse here but when one hopes, regardless of their awareness of the (theological) virtue of hope, I wonder if it’s triggered or compelled by circumstances which are almost always dire. In such a scenario it is either a knee-jerk reaction like spontaneous prayers, or a choice to maintain a “positive” mindset like some coping mechanism. If one does believe in damnation both motive and choice would grow from fear (of separation from God) or from desire (for communion with God). In my limited knowledge this is how I know hell & heaven respectively. If one does not believe in damnation, or sin for that matter, then what is (there to) hope for?

    If we are oriented toward God, essentially, we do not wake up as Cain but are of course likely to be tempted and lose our inner Abel. But even then there would be a mark on us to protect us, wretched as we are —or should I say as we choose.

    Would love your thoughts.

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  12. I wonder if part of the confusion is an equivocation on the word “hope”. It seems to me that hope can have two meanings: (1) a desire for something to occur or (2) a confident assurance that something will occur. I think it would clarify a lot if anyone discussing this topic would specify which meaning they are using. For example, I hope (desire) that everyone would go to heaven, however I have do not have hope (confident assurance) that every single person who has ever lived has gone to heaven. In other words, I have confident assurance that God has given every single human being sufficient grace to merit eternal life and I certainly desire and wish and pray that every single human being has (in the past) and will (in the future) respond to this grace such that they merit eternal life. However, given our fallen human nature, I do not have any confident assurance that everyone will respond to this grace.

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  13. I’m going to away for a bit, but I’d like to close out with a quote I found, ironically enough, here:

    “In this erotic union with the other, the very distinction between self and other is effaced. The establishment of justice – – to give each his or her due – – becomes of secondary importance, at best. We move beyond the ethical into the ontological, where all assignment of due and blame is overcome by the sheer injustice of Christ’s redemption. It is not only the crucifixion of Christ that is unjust; injustice is overcome precisely by the doing away with justice in the redemption that Christ effects. No one gets what he or she deserves, and that is precisely what is meant by calling the gospel ‘good news.’ God’s redemption overcomes the sorting out of the pure from sinners, friends from enemies. Indeed, we can love our enemies because the enemy is us. (William Cavanaugh, “Field Hospital” p. 261)”

    I submit to you that, absent the eventual salvation of all, this is so much nonsense, even if its author didn’t realize it.

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    1. Calvin, You make some assumptions that I don’t share. Is Hell infinite suffering? Is the suffering itself infinite? We define it as a state that doesn’t end – eternal. But (a) we don’t know if eternity is just unending time – it seems it will be something different to that, and (b) the pain itself need not be infinite. The catechism says that the chief suffering in hell is eternal separation from God. The other suffering in hell is because it is “the place created for the devil and his angels”. This bad company will be torment you.
      You describe the sufferings of hell as if they were primarily physical tortures, and as if they persisted through an infinite passage of years. If someone is trying to convey a concept using the senses, then they must use images (or sounds, smells, tastes, etc). But these are not the actual thing.
      Hell might instead be defined as a permanent condition of separation from God, in the presence of others in the same condition.
      Something else I notice in your posts is a focus on what a rational being will choose for himself. If he/she sees the perfect good, they must desire that for themselves. But it is not what one desires for oneself that is the key here – it is what one desires for others. Whatever we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Jesus, according to him. We are making the choice everyday.

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      1. “Calvin, You make some assumptions that I don’t share. Is Hell infinite suffering? Is the suffering itself infinite? We define it as a state that doesn’t end – eternal. But (a) we don’t know if eternity is just unending time – it seems it will be something different to that, and (b) the pain itself need not be infinite. The catechism says that the chief suffering in hell is eternal separation from God. The other suffering in hell is because it is “the place created for the devil and his angels”. This bad company will be torment you.”

        To begin with, the idea of separation from God is simple nonsense. God is the plenitude of being as such, to be separated from him is to cease to exist. Wherever any being at all is, God by definition must be there.

        “You describe the sufferings of hell as if they were primarily physical tortures, and as if they persisted through an infinite passage of years. If someone is trying to convey a concept using the senses, then they must use images (or sounds, smells, tastes, etc). But these are not the actual thing.”

        It literally does not matter at all to the argument what kind of sufferings are in hell (though the Roman Catholic Church has not hesitated in the past to teach their physicality, see the poena sensus in the Catholic Encyclopedia). All that matters is that the are final, infinite, and by definition willed by God in the act of creating and hence complete and utterly unnecessary.

        “Something else I notice in your posts is a focus on what a rational being will choose for himself. If he/she sees the perfect good, they must desire that for themselves. But it is not what one desires for oneself that is the key here – it is what one desires for others. Whatever we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Jesus, according to him. We are making the choice everyday.”

        If Christianity is true, then my good as such is in no sense meaningfully separable from my neighbor’s good. My final end is love as such, including the love of God for my neighbor. Consequently, in order to attain my ultimate good I must learn to love my neighbor as myself. Further, Jesus appeals to our desires for our own good throughout the Gospels – even the injunction to keep one’s charity secret is precisely in order that God may see it and give you a better reward – hence it is a fundamentally legitimate motive for action.

        Further, if a man does indeed love his neighbor as himself, it follows that he would regard the damnation of even a single one of them to be the same as the damnation of himself. He could no more rejoice in heaven knowing even one human was left in hell than he could if he himself were that human. It is only if he were able to utterly detach his own welfare from that of his neighbor that he could hope to be happy while they suffered endlessly – a self-interested callousness so extreme it is scarcely distinguishable from malice. How far is that from, say, Paul, who wished himself accursed from Christ if thereby he could save his brethren?

        Incidentally, given that Jesus is alleged to have perfectly fulfilled the law, that would include loving all his neighbors – all mankind – identically to how he loves himself. If he does not, then the law remains unfulfilled. If he does, then the above point about the inability to enjoy celestial bliss while another suffers eternally would be equally applicable to him. To damn even one soul forever would necessarily be equivalent in his own mind to damning himself.

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    2. Dear Calvin,

      You know, you’re shooting fish in a barrel, but the fish are oddly unaware of having been shot. You will drive yourself mad that way.

      Every argument you make—and, of course, I am familiar with them from the inside—is obviously true; and all of them, taken together, make an irrefutable case. Every argument made by those who disagree with you is, of course, feeble and easily disposed of. Your responses are uniformly devastating.

      And yet it makes no difference. They believe they have to accept this vile and foolish (and unscriptural) dogma come what may. And so they will. Just be glad that you escaped the prison; pity those who haven’t; and get some sleep.

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      1. Hi David. Thanks for commenting since Calvin’s arguments are so well crafted that I was beginning to suspect that he was you under a pseudonym.

        In my post I give a “steel man” reading of Balthasar’s position since I do think it is the very best position that one can take within the Roman dogmatic tradition. I know you do not accept that tradition, but I truly and honestly do. And so I find myself torn, as I noted to Calvin, between dual rational commitments since I accept the Roman magisterium for rational and not emotional reasons. So for me it is not simply a question of fideistic, white-knuckled, faith vs. reason, but a question of a tension between two sets of rational commitments. I know your view is, “then so much the worse for the dogmatic tradition and the dogmatic authority behind it,” but I am seeking to negotiate a path wherein the ultimate salvation of all can be squared with that tradition. It might be a flawed project doomed to failure but it is one I am committed to pursuing.

        And my defense of Balthasar should in no way be construed as a disparagement of your book, which I truly admire. The key point, as you well know, is not the existence of Hell, but its eternity. But as Balthasar himself points out in “Was durfen wir hoffen” the “eternity” of Hell is not the same as the eternity of Heaven. They are not symmetrical constructions. In fact, one gets the sense that Balthasar wants to say that it is just wrong to ascribe the category of “eternity” to Hell. And therein perhaps lies a fruitful path forward in reconciling the Roman Church’s dogmatic tradition with the non-eternity of Hell. Perhaps the doctrinal statements by the Church on the eternity of Hell can be developed in this direction in such a way to allow us to affirm that what the Church means by “eternity” here is analogical and not univocal to the true eternity of Heaven. However, this view, at best, will probably just lead us into some version of a soft annihilationism (as in C.S. Lewis) which, as per Calvin’s arguments, still leaves us with a theodicy problem. That is, unless we can affirm the possibility of post-mortem conversion which the Church also teaches against, although I am uncertain as to the level of authority such teaching entails. Personally, and speaking now as a speculative theologian, I do not see how one can hold for the permanence of post-mortem, eternal damnation and the notion that the damned “damn themselves” without also affirming therefore that such self-damning involves the use of freedom (which for a sinner is deeply attenuated to start with,) which means that the self-damnation theory must hold open the possibility that such freedom, if it really is freedom, can also opt for beatitude. I know these arguments from dogmatic authority leave you cold (frigid even!) but for me they are important.

        Once again… thanks for taking the time to follow these comments and for commenting yourself. It is much appreciated. Blessings….

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      2. Speaking as a fish, I feel my barrel is pretty big – to me it looks like the ocean.

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      3. Neither is insulting language and name calling. And maybe the ocean looks like a barrel to some because they have tunnel vision.

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      4. John and Michael,

        The fish to which I was referring are the arguments that constantly recur, that never seem to die from the wounds inflicted upon them, and that never get any more solvent. As for the barrel, it is a redoubtable barrel of course, since nothing seems to puncture it. But the fact remains–and this is not boasting, but mere dialectical rigor–until someone succeeds at refuting the arguments that Calvin has so elegantly summarized (better than I could have done myself), or at least indicates how they might be refuted, I will remain completely justified in seeing them as irrefutable, and in hoping that others who have not yet fully grasped their logic will one day be set free from the cruel lies that a defective tradition has forced on them. So far, the attempts by critics of those arguments to disarm or weaken them have not so much as left a scratch. Hell, if I could think up a refutation, I would, simply to inoculate myself against criticism. In the forthcoming paperback edition of TASBS, I have added a preface that further fortifies the original argument with additional points. I had intended originally to deal there with any good critiques I had seen, but none had yet appeared. I expect none will. But…

        Perhaps time will have to pass. Maybe when the emotional turmoil subsides, some critic will succeed at understanding the argument in its totality and at finding a counterargument of some substance. But it ain’t happened yet, and I would bet a fortune that it won’t.

        Larry,

        Dogmatic authority is authority based on its assertion of its own authority. One is free to believe that it is the voice of the Holy Spirit right up to one vital limit–the place where it is in such irreconcilable conflict with reason and moral intelligence that its content renders all theology essentially equivocal and all moral reasoning empty. At that point, to continue to cling to that authority is simple nihilism masquerading as faith. The notion of an eternal hell is a self-evident falsehood when one subjects it to rational scrutiny, as you well know. You have no arguments in its favor other than the brute force of an authority that cannot even justify itself logically any more. That does not leave me merely cold. It leaves me repelled.

        Anyway, I only dropped in by accident and won’t be back. The fishmongers have mistaken themselves for the fish, and I don’t want to exacerbate the confusion. I’m sure they’re honest merchants in their own rights. They’ve just been old a bill of goods.

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      5. DBH:

        The Church may leave you repelled, but She is still the spotless bride of Christ, the vehicle through which you are being saved, and the communion of saints with which you are invited to praise God. If Hell does turn out to be empty (praise God!) it will be through the Church that all are saved. You’ll see, then, why so many of us find it incoherent to consider Her teachings on this matter to be vile foolishness.

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      6. DBH,

        I’m the sort of person who, when given good news, feels that I should share it. Further, I know from experience that such beliefs do not disappear in a day – indeed, little arguments in the back of my head ate away at the cruel certainties of the Calvinism I left for years before they did their work. It may be that something similar will happen to some of my opponents here. Or perhaps a passing reader will notice and be set free from this cruel and absurd doctrine.

        Charlie,

        That is a magnificently worded appeal to authority, but I’m afraid that’s all it is. It is a propaganda slogan, devoid of substance or logical argument.

        On what grounds should Mr. Hart, who is Orthodox, abandon his current state of “schism” and accept the claims of the RCC? Especially given that it seems to be dogmatically committed to a teaching which, as has been proven several times throughout this discussion, logically *cannot* be anything except infinite, completely superfluous suffering inflicted by divine omnipotence on a helpless cosmos? Even if one believed such an illogical thing to be true, why in heaven’s name would one wish to worship such a nightmarish tyrant?

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      7. Calvin,

        There are a number of good reasons to be Roman Catholic (or a member of one of the other churches in communion with the Pope). The (highly conditional) reliability of the Church as a doctrine-factory that produces (mostly) true doctrines is probably even one of them, but it should not be first on the list.

        As you know well already, we Christians aren’t saved (or damned) because we have adopted the right (or wrong) set of propositions. We are saved because God has adopted us – if we choose to cooperate with His love and grace. And the ordinary means that He uses to impart His love, to gift us with His grace is – because He has chosen for it to be – the Sacraments.

        And the Catholic Church (including the Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with the Pope of Rome) are the only place to go to receive valid, licit Sacraments. The best (and in my view only) reason to be specifically Catholic is because God loves us, we love Him in return, and as our Father and Master he has ordained how we are to respond to His love and receive it in obedience. This is on His terms, not ours.

        I am glad you asked because, like you, I too enjoy sharing Good News.

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      8. You would make an excellent publicist, Mr. Charlie (or propagandist if you prefer to be negative), but I’m afraid I haven’t seen much evidence of your ability in a debate. When I asked you to explain why a person should accept the claims of the Catholic Church, repeating them is neither a compelling response nor a logical answer.

        Let’s try again: start with the position that I do not accept the proposition that “the Catholic Church (including the Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with the Pope of Rome) are the only place to go to receive valid, licit Sacraments.” as either logically proven or axiomatic. Convince me that it must be so, using evidence and reason.

        Next, give a valid reason beyond raw appeal to authority that the proposition “God loves us, we love Him in return” is not logically inconsistent with the proposition that God has knowingly and needlessly actualized finite whose final end is an infinity of misery, knowing fully well that this is precisely what he is doing.

        Finally, if you’re up for it, please give an explanation of how the cosmos being made and presided over by a being that would superfluously make rational beings doomed to an unending agony too horrific for a human mind to begin to comprehend constitutes in any meaningful sense “Good News”.

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      9. “When I asked you to explain why a person should accept the claims of the Catholic Church…”

        Actually, you asked me why Mr. Hart, who is Orthodox, should accept the claims of the RCC. I would expect Mr. Hart to already agree with the premises underlying my comment, though he might quibble with the necessity for Sacraments to be “licit” (that is, offered in communion with the Bishop of Rome). But the reasons why you, Calvin, or anyone else should embrace the Catholic Church as your Mater et Magistra are the same: She is the Church which Christ established upon His Rock (Peter). This is true both Scripturally and historically, as study of the early Church Fathers makes apparent. Thus the Catholic Church is Christ’s spotless Bride and the vehicle by which He effects our salvation.

        Once you grasp this truth the need to have an infallible refutation of Mr. Hart’s argument will (or, more accurately, should) melt away. You ask me how it is possible for God to create and love people who He knows will ultimately reject Him and be tortured for all eternity. My answer is I do not know that any souls will be tortured for all eternity. Neither do I know that all shall be saved. What I do know is that Christ loves each of us personally, established His Church on the Rock of Peter as His chosen means of sharing His love with the world, and that if I love Him in return I will enter into His Church and keep His commandments. All the rest amounts to nothing next to being the disciple Jesus loves for eternity. That is Good News.

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      10. “Actually, you asked me why Mr. Hart, who is Orthodox, should accept the claims of the RCC. I would expect Mr. Hart to already agree with the premises underlying my comment, though he might quibble with the necessity for Sacraments to be “licit” (that is, offered in communion with the Bishop of Rome). But the reasons why you, Calvin, or anyone else should embrace the Catholic Church as your Mater et Magistra are the same: She is the Church which Christ established upon His Rock (Peter). This is true both Scripturally and historically, as study of the early Church Fathers makes apparent. Thus the Catholic Church is Christ’s spotless Bride and the vehicle by which He effects our salvation”

        Mr. Hart, and any Orthodox reader for that matter, would obviously not agree with the premise that the only “valid and licit” sacraments are offered in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Many Orthodox do not even hold Catholic sacraments to be valid at all. Simply stating that they are is neither persuasive on its own nor a logical argument.

        Second, no, study of the Church Fathers does not make that apparent. I mean, not only has the Roman church itself admitted that authority in the first thousand years of the unified church did not work the way that it does now, not only did the RCC have to resort to forged documents to try and prop up its alleged authority (such as the Donation of Constantine), but also many Orthodox and Protestant scholars alike have carefully studied the fathers and scriptures alike and have not been convinced by Rome’s claims to authority. Nether, for that matter, am I.

        And as a side note, I would hardly call the Catholic Church spotless even with my most rose-tinted pair of glasses on.

        “Once you grasp this truth the need to have an infallible refutation of Mr. Hart’s argument will (or, more accurately, should) melt away.”

        Hart’s argument flows entirely logically from the premises of: 1) God creates freely, bound by no necessity whatsoever and 2) God knows everything, including the end from the beginning. You must either dismiss one of the premises (which would be heresy for you anyway) or else prove that the argument does not follow from them. If you do not, or cannot, then the argument stands. If the argument stands, then any non-universalist Christianity is incoherent on its own terms and therefore it cannot be anything except false. To know this and continue to hold to one is not an act of faith but one of nihilism, irrationally clinging to what can only be unreality for a purely psychological motives. Once we bid adieu to reason, any possibility of a non-fideistic religion goes with it and we are as mad as devotees of Azathoth.

        Also, tip: “I don’t need no stinkin’ logic” isn’t a cogent argument for, well, anything.

        “You ask me how it is possible for God to create and love people who He knows will ultimately reject Him and be tortured for all eternity. My answer is I do not know that any souls will be tortured for all eternity. Neither do I know that all shall be saved.”

        This is merely an argument for intellectual suicide. Whether infinite goodness shall prevail or an infinity of evil stain the cosmos forever is the greatest possible question that one could ask. To shy away from it is to tell reason ad conscience alike to shut up, which in turn can only result in a faith that is both irrational and cruel.

        “What I do know is that Christ loves each of us personally, established His Church on the Rock of Peter as His chosen means of sharing His love with the world, and that if I love Him in return I will enter into His Church and keep His commandments. All the rest amounts to nothing next to being the disciple Jesus loves for eternity. That is Good News.”

        I should hope this is a statement of carelessness as opposed to callousness. If the salvation of each and every human being is not just as important to you as your own (that is to say, if you do not love them as yourself) then you’re rather unlikely to make it to heaven in the first place.

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      11. “If the salvation of each and every human being is not just as important to you as your own (that is to say, if you do not love them as yourself) then you’re rather unlikely to make it to heaven in the first place.”

        Since you admit that my damnation is possible (likely even!) it would appear that we are finally in agreement. Nice chatting with you.

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      12. “Since you admit that my damnation is possible (likely even!) it would appear that we are finally in agreement. Nice chatting with you.”

        I think that if you really are that callous, then you will die, go to hell, and your sin will be purged until you no longer do, at which point you will join the blessed in heaven. If necessary, said blessed (who by the nature of things will in fact have the same regard for your salvation as their own) will help you.

        “Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of CHrist, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbors as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, travelling in the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?—who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?”
        -George MacDonald

        “If the Lord saved you along with the entire multitude of your brethren, and one of the enemies of Christ and the Church remained in the outer darkness, would you not, along with all the others, set yourself to imploring the Lord to save this one unrepentant brother? If you would not beseech Him day and night, then your heart is of iron – but there is no need for iron in paradise.”
        -St. Silouan the Athonite

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      13. I agree that you can find verses that appear to support either position, which is why Jesus left us the Church. Ultimately there must be a human being with authority to say which interpretation is correct.

        Still, the verses quoted show that it is possible (scriptural) to speak of separation from God. I think the damned (if there are any) are sustained in existence by God, but in such a way that they do not share the joys of heaven. This is what is meant by separation in eternity. In this life also God sustains everything, and the separation comes from humanity, from our side, not His.

        Why do you think Jesus, St Paul and St John introduced the discourse about eternal punishment, by direct statements, parables and metaphors? As far as I can discover, 2nd temple Judaism had no developed doctrine of hell, so why speak in such a way that people would think you were talking about everlasting punishment. You know my answer – that it exists. But if you think it doesn’t, don’t you think the inspired writers are rather careless in this matter?

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      14. “I think that if you really are that callous, then you will die, go to hell, and your sin will be purged until you no longer do, at which point you will join the blessed in heaven. If necessary, said blessed (who by the nature of things will in fact have the same regard for your salvation as their own) will help you.”

        This is what we Catholics call Purgatory. And you are right that my sins do need to be purged, either here or Hereafter. Please pray for me.

        You have demanded a refutation of Mr. Hart’s claim that we can know that all men will be saved. That is Larry’s department, I am not a theologian. Sure, I could spitball some thoughts in that direction. For example, I question the premise that non-existence is actually preferable to an eternity deprived of the Beatific Vision. But, as I have tried to explain, the question of “how is it that Mr. Hart is wrong” is not of great interest to me. I believe in Christ, and in the veracity of His Divine Attributes, so the prospect of the Final Judgement involving monstrous cruelty or gross injustice doesn’t even register. There will not be any cruelty and injustice at the Final Judgement. God loves us all in an infinitely perfect way.This fact alone is enough for me. I do not feel compelled in the slightest to draw any further conclusions from it.

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      15. “This is what we Catholics call Purgatory. And you are right that my sins do need to be purged, either here or Hereafter. Please pray for me.”

        Great. Now, remove the absurd cruelty of an endless hell from your soteriology altogether and we’ll be on the same page.

        “You have demanded a refutation of Mr. Hart’s claim that we can know that all men will be saved. That is Larry’s department, I am not a theologian. Sure, I could spitball some thoughts in that direction. For example, I question the premise that non-existence is actually preferable to an eternity deprived of the Beatific Vision.”

        Larry has already admitted that he sees no way to refute it, and Mr. Hart would contend that it is irrefutable. I happen to agree, given Christian premises its logic is inescpable.

        In regard to your spitballing, we know from reality that God’s love does not compel him to actualize every logical logically possible nature. We ourselves imagine nonactualized natures all the time, usually as a form of entertainment. As such natures do not actually exist, no harm is done them in non-existing, for there is no one to harm. Thus, even if you posited that each and every actualized human has perfect libertarian free will – a logical impossibility in and of itself – it would be both effortless and harmful to no one to actualize only such natures as God knows will freely accept him. Consequently a damned nature is doubly superfluous.

        “But, as I have tried to explain, the question of “how is it that Mr. Hart is wrong” is not of great interest to me.”

        Your lack of interest in following through the premises of your own faith to their logical conclusions would be of no great interest to me, except in that by doing so you passively or actively both A) support conclusions about the God I worship that I find little short of calumny and B) contribute to damaging other souls in the same way I was once damaged, seemingly trapping them in an inescapable nightmare universe ruled over the most malicious tyrant possible.

        “I believe in Christ, and in the veracity of His Divine Attributes, so the prospect of the Final Judgement involving monstrous cruelty or gross injustice doesn’t even register. There will not be any cruelty and injustice at the Final Judgement. God loves us all in an infinitely perfect way.This fact alone is enough for me. I do not feel compelled in the slightest to draw any further conclusions from it.”

        But why is? Why should one be confident, given Christian premises? I’ll tell you why:

        “Hell was struck dead when it met Christ… It was struck dead, because You have annihilated it; struck dead, because You have humiliated it; struck dead, because You have chained it; struck dead, because You have slain it.”
        -St. John Chrysostom

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      16. Not trying to have a proof-texting contest, just demonstrating that one can talk about separation from God, which you had denied was possible.
        Actually, I understand your argument. I disagree with claiming hell is “infinite suffering”. It is a permanent state, by definition, but the suffering doesn’t need to be infinite. Permanent and infinite have different meanings.
        But mainly I disagree with your view that if God does these things he must be monstrous. It seems to me that permanent punishment might be good and just, that people like Ted Bundy might have merited it. You say things like “how can finite acts merit infinite suffering?”. I would reword it “how can finite acts merit permanent suffering?” And I think, maybe they can. Saying that actions (limited in time, space and effect) should not lead to permanent consequences (in your lingo the finite cannot merit the infinite) sounds like an argument. But when I consider the unknowns in the chain, I conclude it is just sophistry.

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      17. “I agree that you can find verses that appear to support either position, which is why Jesus left us the Church. Ultimately there must be a human being with authority to say which interpretation is correct.”

        If a human being claims such authority and then proposes an interpretation which makes his theological system internally incoherent, then all he has succeeded in doing is proving either that he logically cannot be the person with the authority you allege or that the underlying premises of his religion are altogether false. Nothing more.

        If you want a more thorough investigation on the Pope’s (incredibly recent) claims to infallible dogmatic authority, I recommend Sergius Bulgakov’s “The Vatican Dogma”.

        “Still, the verses quoted show that it is possible (scriptural) to speak of separation from God. I think the damned (if there are any) are sustained in existence by God, but in such a way that they do not share the joys of heaven. This is what is meant by separation in eternity. In this life also God sustains everything, and the separation comes from humanity, from our side, not His.”

        So, sustained in existence cruelly and pointlessly, seeing as no good can come from their situation. And God knew this would happen when he created them, thus he positively willed them this evil in the act of doing so. Thus, he is evil himself and not the good as such. Consequently, we know he cannot be our final end.

        “Why do you think Jesus, St Paul and St John introduced the discourse about eternal punishment, by direct statements, parables and metaphors? As far as I can discover, 2nd temple Judaism had no developed doctrine of hell, so why speak in such a way that people would think you were talking about everlasting punishment. You know my answer – that it exists. But if you think it doesn’t, don’t you think the inspired writers are rather careless in this matter?”

        In point of fact I don’t think either of them did. Jesus’ parables in regard to the state of people employ rather mixed metaphors, those which expressly talk about torture in a prison come with a “until you have paid the last farthing” clause, his audience would not have heard his talking about the Gehenna as some ethereal torture pit but rather the quite literal valley of corpses and garbage outside Jerusalem, and of course many of the earliest Christian figures were themselves universalist. Paul talks a great deal about the resurrections and the age to come, but curiously when saying some works will stand and some will be burned up but the people will be saved as yet by fire, he doesn’t seem to have any third categories in mind. I think our translators have been rather careless, or rather, dogmatically committed to seeing certain meanings in the original that just aren’t there.

        Further, if the punishment for sin were eternal torment instead of, you know, mortality, it seems rather careless of God not to have pointed that out to Adam and Eve, to Cain, in the Law of Moses, or in the Old Testament in general. If the Jews had no such notion at the time despite their inspired scriptures one is inclined to ask why the hell not, given how important such a thing would be.

        “Actually, I understand your argument. I disagree with claiming hell is “infinite suffering”. It is a permanent state, by definition, but the suffering doesn’t need to be infinite. Permanent and infinite have different meanings.”

        If a state is one of suffering and that state goes on forever, that is infinite suffering. It is also pointless suffering, which achieves no good end, and thus cruelty taken to the maximum.

        “But mainly I disagree with your view that if God does these things he must be monstrous. It seems to me that permanent punishment might be good and just, that people like Ted Bundy might have merited it. You say things like “how can finite acts merit infinite suffering?”. I would reword it “how can finite acts merit permanent suffering?” And I think, maybe they can. Saying that actions (limited in time, space and effect) should not lead to permanent consequences (in your lingo the finite cannot merit the infinite) sounds like an argument. But when I consider the unknowns in the chain, I conclude it is just sophistry.”

        To begin with, your wording is mere sophistry. That which is permeant is infinite, if the state described lasts forever. Second, if the punishment is not in proportion to the crime (the harm done, the capacities of the criminal at the time of the crime), then the punishment is not just in any human sense of the word, and hence describing God as just is meaningless. And third, no finite being in this life acts with either perfect knowledge or perfect freedom (which would preclude him from sinning at all, by the way) and thus any culpability we can incur cannot be anything but limited, mitigated in part.

        And again, even if one accepted the irrational claim that Ted Bundy could have merited permanent suffering, the only way he could have existed to do so in the first place was because God created him deliberately despite not needing to. If he did so knowing permanent misery was to be his final abode, then he can only be described as a sadistic monster and the claim that God is love is evacuated of any meaning at all.

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      18. Calvin thanks for all of your comments in this thread. I do want to say that the reason why I did not respond to your request for my rational reasons for supporting the Roman magisterium is that I normally do not make a lot of comments in my combox and let my readers do the debating amongst themselves. I make a comment here and there but quite frankly, between the blog and the five books I am working on simultaneously, as well as my duties on our farm, I just do not have the time. But I have been following the debate and have found it interesting. I also did not respond since my reasons for supporting Rome are multiple, complex, and require more unpacking than a silly combox conversation can carry. I also did not want to derail the conversation at hand – – the topic of the blog – – and get bogged down in debates over Rome. I did not think you would agree with my reasons anyway and so the endless back and forth would have had no point beyond stating the obvious: I support the Roman magiserium and you do not. However, I will say this: I have read Bulgakov’s book on Rome and found it very interesting. However, it is also a bit tendentious and evinces certain Orthodox prejudices of thought that go unexamined. Furthermore, there are also very cogent defenses of the Catholic position from folks like Joseph Ratzinger, among others, that both agree with some of Bulgakov’s criticisms but also disagree with him in key areas. Be that as it may, this has been a great conversation. I am obviously closer to your views than to those of the infernalists.

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      19. “Be that as it may, this has been a great conversation. I am obviously closer to your views than to those of the infernalists.”

        You are? Well, the only way I could see that as somehow in agreement with Catholic theology is if one denied, along with Hart, that it is possible to sin while genuinely possessing full knowledge of the situation. That is, if one says that all sin cannot be other than a product of ignorance (and hence falling short of the second qualifier for mortal sin) or irrationality (and hence falling short of the third qualifier), then genuine mortal sin as defined in Catholic theology is not possible as such. I suppose one could say that any sin actually committed could not be other than venal, and thus that no one could actually destroy God’s friendship sufficiently to go to hell. Other than that I do not see any way to square that circle.

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  14. Calvin, in case you come back to this thread after your holiday…

    From your last reply to my last reply:

    “[…] nothing actually exists but that it was created by God, and hence declared to be good. Sin does not have positive aspect, it is a privation, a negation of some good. It is, in a real sense, nothing, or an anti-thing if you prefer. To say otherwise is to elevate evil to the same existential plane as good, resulting in a dualism. Hence it follows that when God is “all in all”, as promised, sin will be completely gone from the universe.”
    Agree with everything except I think you miss something important at the end: “[…] sin will be completely gone from the universe.” Yes, sin will be gone, but not all the consequences of sin. If all the consequences of sin are wiped away too, then the entire of human history is irrelevant. The Alpha must be in some way different from the Omega or else everything that happened between those two states is literally meaningless – the entire of creation, and all the suffering in it, would be a pointless action without a consequence. If all the consequences of sin is wiped away, then all the suffering I have experienced in my life because of sin was unnecessary, and God could’ve spared it but didn’t: it is this universalist god that is cruel and sadistic, allowing human suffering when that suffering serves no purpose whatever.

    “In the infernalism doctrine, however, God keeps evil alive forever for no particular reason, indicating that evil was his will from the beginning (for he knows the end from the beginning).”
    Indeed, He knows the end from the beginning – the Alpha that must be somehow different from the Omega. There is a reason, not to keep evil ‘alive’, but for evil to have eternal consequences: God is changed by creation. What is that change? I think that change can only be Christ: Christ is the Father changed by creation, and in Christ there are the consequences of sin – the wounds of his passion that are not healed after his resurrection. There was a very interesting tradition in the Middle Ages of depicting the Trinity as a ‘pieta’, but with the Father in place of Mary (see a late example by Hugo van der Goes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_Altarpiece )
    Hell, I think, can be described by analogy as the empty space of Christ’s wounds. And by that analogy hell eternally hurts God – yet He does not destroy it, for to do so would be to render all our suffering meaningless. Hell is not so much God eternally hurting sinners, but sinners eternally hurting God. Hell is the prize God pays for loving us.

    “[…] unless the term “justice” when referring to God is fundamentally the same quality as “justice” when referring to man, then to use the term in application to God is meaningless. it is simple propaganda, devoid of any content. It is indistinguishable, in practical terms, from nihilism.”
    I completely agree and perhaps I did not express what I meant well before. God’s justice must be a perfect version of imperfect human justice, not something randomly different. Otherwise it would be a “you call it rape, I call it love – and I’m stronger than you” kind of situation, and who could worship that? The question, however, is what does God apply His justice to? The notion of justice depends on both who imparts it and who receives. It is both these ‘whos’ that we don’t and can’t fully understand. What may appear as God’s injustice would become perfect justice if only we had a better picture of both who God is and also, crucially, of who we are.
    We equate our consciousness as we normally experience it on a day to day basis with our ‘self’ and expect our soul to be that same self. But we really don’t have a lot of basis for these assumptions. Brain(body), consciousness, spirit and soul are all interconnected but not equivalent. It is our soul that is judged by God, and we act as though we knew what ‘soul’ or even ‘I’ means, but I don’t think we do.

    “For you are worshipping you know not what using co-opted terms that turn out to mean nothing at all.”
    Just a small comment to that: faith is our relationship with something we don’t know. Something you know is something you know, you don’t need faith for that, you have knowledge of it. So for example, I don’t have faith in evolutionary theory – I know it to be true to the extent that I know it. Of course I could be wrong about what I think I know, but faith does not come into it. Faith is grounded in what we know (or rather, on what we have experienced) but reaches into what we cannot know in this life (i.e. subject to the limits of physical perception) but Hope to know in the next. So of course in one sense we worship ‘we know not what’ using terms that do mean something, but not always what we think they mean. Nobody said it was easy.

    “The question being on what ground Jesus is to be considered trustworthy?”
    Because he tells us so himself – it is Jesus who tells Saint Faustina to paint the image of the Divine Mercy with those words (or the Polish for it, ‘Jesu, ufam tobie’). Revelation is always the key of Christianity – not philosophy. Philosophy (i.e. theology) may help us understand, but the basis, the ‘ground’ is always a revelation that we must trust or refuse to trust.
    But, yes, how can we trust Jesus enough to trust him when he asks us to trust him? Are we just to trust blindly like good fideists? Obliviously there has to be some experience behind our trust – some concrete manifestation of God in our life. The first disciples trusted Jesus because they knew him personally. The early Christians because they met those first disciples and experienced the love of Jesus manifested in the early Christian communities. That love is constantly renewed but also lost, betrayed and corrupted until here we are, 2000 years later, in pretty bad shape. Not a lot of tangible love coming from the average so-called Christians, not a lot of community, at least in the ‘developed’ world, in which to learn to trust God. A lot of empty words, a lot of bickering. Why trust Jesus when his church is what it is today? In my case, because I had nowhere else to turn to, and then he acted, and then I realized that for all the clever arguments and counter-arguments there’s a very simple reality that is always there waiting for us to trust it. We live in a world that is so detached from reality that it has become incredible difficult to experience and trust the simple reality of God, but He is there, underneath all the rubbish we have heaped on Him.

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    1. “Agree with everything except I think you miss something important at the end: “[…] sin will be completely gone from the universe.” Yes, sin will be gone, but not all the consequences of sin. If all the consequences of sin are wiped away too, then the entire of human history is irrelevant. The Alpha must be in some way different from the Omega or else everything that happened between those two states is literally meaningless – the entire of creation, and all the suffering in it, would be a pointless action without a consequence. If all the consequences of sin is wiped away, then all the suffering I have experienced in my life because of sin was unnecessary, and God could’ve spared it but didn’t: it is this universalist god that is cruel and sadistic, allowing human suffering when that suffering serves no purpose whatever.”

      What? Our suffering must be infinite or it has no meaning? That is so absurd I barely know how to reply. Adding infinite suffering to finite suffering does not add meaning to the latter, bringing infinite good out of it does, for instance at the Crucifixion. And again, it is logically possible that the conditions of creating finite beings such as we are requires at least the possibility of certain temporary evils, it is not so possible that infinite evil as a final state can be anything accept a deliberate and superfluous cruelty.

      Further, the Omega differs from the Alpha precisely in that we will be there. Nothing is added to God by creation, but something is indeed added to us.

      “Hell, I think, can be described by analogy as the empty space of Christ’s wounds. And by that analogy hell eternally hurts God – yet He does not destroy it, for to do so would be to render all our suffering meaningless. Hell is not so much God eternally hurting sinners, but sinners eternally hurting God. Hell is the prize God pays for loving us.”

      That is, to put it quite frankly, both entirely unscriptural and deeply stupid. If the purpose of creation is for God to needlessly torture both us and himself forever, we can only conclude that he is both evil and insane. But then he could not be the good as such, and hence we must look elsewhere for our final end.

      Again, no meaning is added to suffering by heaping additional suffering on top of it. If any meaning is to be found, it lies in drawing good from the suffering. The death of a martyr is only meaningful insofar as it is of ultimate benefit to him or others. The pain of surgery has meaning precisely insomuch as the surgery benefits the patient.

      “I completely agree and perhaps I did not express what I meant well before. God’s justice must be a perfect version of imperfect human justice, not something randomly different. Otherwise it would be a “you call it rape, I call it love – and I’m stronger than you” kind of situation, and who could worship that? The question, however, is what does God apply His justice to? The notion of justice depends on both who imparts it and who receives. It is both these ‘whos’ that we don’t and can’t fully understand. What may appear as God’s injustice would become perfect justice if only we had a better picture of both who God is and also, crucially, of who we are.”

      It is completely irrelevant to the argument on who or what the infinite torments of hell fall. Insofar as it has a positive existence, it was created unnecessarily by God. Insofar as he is omniscient, he cannot create anything without willing that thing’s final end as such in the very act of creating it. Consequently, an infinite persistence of evil can only be the result of the positive will of God, which would in turn make him evil and not the good as such.

      “Faith is grounded in what we know (or rather, on what we have experienced) but reaches into what we cannot know in this life (i.e. subject to the limits of physical perception) but Hope to know in the next. So of course in one sense we worship ‘we know not what’ using terms that do mean something, but not always what we think they mean. Nobody said it was easy.”

      “On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white,’ we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what.’ And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend.”
      -C. S. Lewis

      If our theological terms – beauty, truth, peace, justice, and above all love – do indeed have meaning, then we do know what we are worshipping, at least in part. God will surpass our understanding of the good in that he will posses more of these qualities than our finite minds are capable of wrapping themselves around, but these qualities will not be fundamentally different in him than in us. Or, at least, that is what I worship.

      “But, yes, how can we trust Jesus enough to trust him when he asks us to trust him? Are we just to trust blindly like good fideists? Obliviously there has to be some experience behind our trust – some concrete manifestation of God in our life.”

      The same way we should learn to trust anyone that we have not yet met personally – by third-party reports of him, of his character, of his actions. But if a third party should report that he takes actions which, when logically worked out, can only be an infinite and unnecessary evil worked upon a helpless universe by a sadistic omnipotence, to call him trustworthy would be absurd. A greater malice is quite literally impossible.

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      1. OK, Calvin, I think I’m going to leave it at that for now.
        You obviously have great aptitude for abstract thinking but I think it would help you to re-examine some basic concepts you may be taking for granted: soul, consciousness, time, death, suffering, etc.
        I feel very strongly that Catholic theology is stuck in the realm of Greek philosophy, which was fine 1000 years ago but not so much now. Teilhard de Chardin tried to apply a more complete understanding of the universe to revelation in what I think was the right approach. Unfortunately he got carried away with it and maybe even took a wrong turn along the way, and that seems to have scared everyone away from what I think was a sound and very necessary path to renew theology. I’d suggest reading Ludwing von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory, I think you may find it interesting.
        I’d also suggest reading Saint Faustina Kowalska’s Diary, if you haven’t done so already.
        God bless.

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    2. A point that may be missed by some is that DB Hart is not an orthodox Orthodox. The Orthodox Churches reject universalism. They also teach eternal damnation. So do the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and so on. DBH and his disciple (or alter-ego) Calvin are in a very small minority among Christians, which should make them wonder why so many across so many centuries have failed to see what they see. Because their argument is just a twist in the classic problem of evil argument, and our ancestors were not stupid, even if DBH has called them all “moral imbeciles”.

      Calvin said above, about the Church’s teaching that the main suffering in hell was separation from God, that it is impossible to be separated from God. Wake up Calvin. We are separated from God now, knowing Him only through faith (as through a glass darkly, as Saint Paul wrote. In Roman times they did not have the technology to make clear glass). It is possible to be separated from God – ask Adam and Eve if anything changed for them.

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      1. “A point that may be missed by some is that DB Hart is not an orthodox Orthodox. The Orthodox Churches reject universalism. They also teach eternal damnation. So do the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and so on. DBH and his disciple (or alter-ego) Calvin are in a very small minority among Christians, which should make them wonder why so many across so many centuries have failed to see what they see. Because their argument is just a twist in the classic problem of evil argument, and our ancestors were not stupid, even if DBH has called them all “moral imbeciles”.”

        An echo chamber does indeed tend to produce many echoes (ignoring of course all those figures over the centuries who have been universalists). Most believe it in that they are told it is true and don’t think particularly hard about it. I largely don’t think many people genuinely do believe it – at the very least they don’t act as though they do.

        And no, it is in fact quite a distinct argument from that of the problem of evil, being that one refers to a temporary situation prevailing in an inherent finite span of time while the other refers to the final end of creation as such, which logically cannot be the product of anything except the purely superfluous divine decision to create. Given that you seem to be unable to grasp the terms involved, I suggest you take a moment to study the argument, then if you can produce a logical refutation of it. Judging by what has come so far, I do not harbor much hope you will be able to do so.

        “Calvin said above, about the Church’s teaching that the main suffering in hell was separation from God, that it is impossible to be separated from God. Wake up Calvin. We are separated from God now, knowing Him only through faith (as through a glass darkly, as Saint Paul wrote. In Roman times they did not have the technology to make clear glass). It is possible to be separated from God – ask Adam and Eve if anything changed for them.”

        God did not leave Adam and Eve (presuming they were in fact two literal people), their ability to perceive his presence was injured. If you are unable to see the difference between having your perception of something damaged and that something objectively not being there, I cannot help you. Saying that one can exist separated from God is but saying one can exist separated from existence. It is a logical nullity, a pure non sequitur that seems to make sense only insofar as one does not consider what God actually is. He is not a being among many. He is being as such.

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      2. re separation from God
        Isaiah 59:2
        But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
        Ephesians 2:12
        Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
        2 Thessalonians 1:9
        These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
        Romans 11:22
        Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.
        Galatians 5:4
        You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

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      3. If this is just going to devolve into a prooftexting contest, I would have just brought out the verses promising universal reconciliation from the beginning. Those never convince anyone of anything, so it’s rarely of use. But if you insist, here’s a few:

        “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,”
        Titus 2:11

        “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
        John 12:32

        “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”
        1 Peter 4:6

        “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
        1 Corinthians 15:22

        “As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
        Ephesians 1:10

        “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
        Colossians 1:20

        “From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.”
        Isaiah 66:23

        “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
        Philippians 2:10-11

        “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
        1 Corinthians 15:28

        “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
        Romans 11:32

        “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
        Romans 15:18

        But I’m sure this multitude of texts won’t change your mind even a little bit on the question of universalism due to your prior dogmatic commitment. Consequently you can see that quoting at one another is not a useful form of debate, and thus we should get back to logic.

        Now then, back to what I was saying. If one is to take those verses as meaning quite literally separation from God as such, one would have to take them as saying that the individual or group in question is becoming less real. Because, as has been established for a very long time, including by such revered Catholic figures as Thomas Aquinas, evil lacks a positive existence. It is a deprivation. Everything with a positive existence must come from God. Consequently, no separation from God could be anything but a deprivation of existence as such to the degree that one is separated. Absolute separation would thus be absolute nonexistence, consequently if you believed that such a thing is possible for a human to engage in (I obviously do not) one would have to be an annihilationist.

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  15. I may have posted twice, and now 3 times, because I thought the first one had disappeared, but now I see it is above “awaiting moderation”. Apologies.

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