What the Devil Doesn’t Know

I have been reading (more like imbibing) the transcript of a talk by Fr. Jonathan Tobias. It will bear re-reading several times. I was deeply struck by these two paragraphs:

What is utterly shocking here about these events is, as a kid I always wondered: Why did the devil let Jesus down there in the first place if he knew what was going to happen? Well, the first answer, according to St. Irenaeus and some of the other Fathers, is that he didn’t know that Jesus was fully God. The second answer is even more shocking. The devil and the evil powers, on Holy Friday, Holy Saturday, and Great and Holy Pascha, the devil and the evil powers were ignorant of Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. They didn’t know. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at this, because the only way to recognize the divinity of Christ is through the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the only way to know God as Trinity is through the willing entry into communion with Trinitarian love.

Thus it is that hell never knew what was coming and still does not understand. The devil, I think, is still an Arian, at best, and may even be agnostic, and he remains fanatically committed to the narrative of chaos and violence about which we were complaining so vociferously at the beginning. You are already a better theologian than the devil, and you will always be. The devil knows lots of facts, but he doesn’t really know.

That is my thought for the day – the one I will consider and reconsider. I recommend the entire transcript. It may be found at this link on Ancient Faith.

68 comments:

  1. How would they have not known about the Trinity if they had at one time resided in Heaven before being cast out? Shouldn’t they, as angels who were at one time glorifying God, known about the Three who make up the Trinity?

  2. Dear Father Stephen,

    Could it be that the Devil only has an intellectual understanding of the Trinity while rejecting it with his heart? Is such not the condition of us humans too, in whose heart there always remains some dark corner of unrepentance and disassociation from God, even when we all fully aware of all the truth? We may contemplate on what dreadful sacrilege and what love of destruction drove both the Devil and his accomplices on Good Friday to murder our Lord, but neither they nor we can fully apprehend the immensity of the love and grace that was at work there; not even His followers fully apprehended it. Chesterton says in “The Everlasting Man” re the cry “Father, why hast Thou abandoned me” that we shall not understand it in all the eternity it has purchased for us. Far be it from me to presume to understand any of these matters, but don’t you think there is a terrible discrepancy between what we know intellectually and what we know by heart? Do you think the discrepancy might account also for Devil’s behaviour?

    Yours,

    Vuk Uskoković,
    Of Bar, Montenegro.

  3. I was recently talking about this very subject with my deacon…and how this is by far my favorite part of the Resurrection service at Pascha. Yes, Christ took on our flesh….yes, Christ was crucified….yes, Christ rose from the dead, BUT He also descended into Hades to meet the Devil on his own turf! I especially like when our priest pounds on the doors (following the procession) and basically (paraphrasing) shouts, “Let me in! It’s over!” to which the Devil loudly shouts, “WHO IS THE KING OF GLORY??!” And then the priest (emulating our Lord) knocks down the doors and rescues his own in a blaze of glory! Thanks for sharing, Fr Stephen!

  4. Hi Noelle,

    I wonder if perhaps he knew something of the Trinity, but we’re the Angels were astonished by the Incarnation. Perhaps satan simply did not comprehend that Jesus was the Incarnate Logos. Just thinking out loud…

    fdj

  5. Noelle,
    I thought the same thing when first reading this. But knowledge in the Scriptures is synonymous with love. If the devil ever truly loved, he would have had some knowledge of this, but in that he now does not love, he has forgotten or fallen into an ignorance.

    And if there is any dim knowing, then it is clouded and confused and not understood. These thoughts in the article are something of an excursus on 1 Cor. 2:7-8. The “rulers” spoken of refer to the demonic powers. It is a classic description by St. Paul of the ignorance of the devil.

    But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Co 2:7-8 NKJ)

    Many of the fathers make much of this ignorance. The enemy wants to kill Christ but he doesn’t know that in doing so, he makes for the destruction of his own power. There is a wonderful poem/sermon on this by Melito of Sardis dating from the late 2nd century.

  6. Noelle,

    Tradition has much to say about Christ’s visit to Hades. A prevailing strand is that Satan (and the keeper of Hades, indeed Hades itself) was “tricked”, being blinded by lust. According to Tradition the devil, not being omniscient and filled with lust for murder, was deceived. Also Christ was not recognizable, stripped of glory, and this too may be part of their inability to recognize the King of Glory.

  7. Father, I was reading St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians and he says:

    “Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown,(5) which were wrought in silence by(6) God.” (Chapter 19)

    I think this may relate to this question.

    Thank you for investing so much time and energy in this ministry.

  8. a selection from ON THE VICTORY OF THE CROSS
    by the Humble Melodist Romanos

    …by a tree Adam is to be brought up
    From wretchedness Again to Paradise.’

    ‘Who gave you such an idea, Hades?
    Whence now this cowardly fear, where once there was no fear,
    Of a worthless tree, dry and barren
    Made for the removal
    Of malefactors and those who welcome bloodshed?
    For Pilate discovered it, persuaded by my counsels.
    And do you fear it, and reckon it powerful?
    The universal executioner: will it in your view prove a saviour?
    Who has misled you? Who has persuaded you
    That he who fell by a tree is being raised by a tree,
    And, that he may dwell there, is being called Again to Paradise.’

    ‘You have suddenly lost your senses, you of old the cunning serpent.
    All your wisdom has been swallowed up through the Cross
    And you have been caught in your own snare.
    Lift up your eyes and see
    That you have fallen into the pit which you created.
    Behold that tree, which you call dry and barren,
    Bears fruit, having tasted which a thief
    Has become heir to the good things of Eden.
    For it has outdone the rod
    Which led the people out of Egypt,
    For it is bringing Adam back Again to Paradise.’

    ‘Wretched Hades, cease this cowardly talk,
    For these words of yours reveal your thoughts.
    Were you afraid of a cross and of the crucified?
    Not one of your words has shaken me,
    For these deeds are part of my plan,
    For I would again both open a grave and entomb Christ.
    So you may enjoy your cowardice double,
    From his tomb as well as from his cross.
    But when I see you, I shall mock you.
    For when Christ is buried I shall come to you and say,
    “Who now is bringing Adam back Again to Paradise?”’

    Suddenly Hades began to call out to the devil—
    The eyeless to the sightless, the blind to the blind—‘Look,
    You are walking in darkness, feel around, lest you fall.
    Consider what I tell you, hard of heart,
    Because what you are doing has quenched the sun.
    For the tree which you boast of has shaken the universe,
    Has convulsed the earth, hidden the sky,
    Rent the rocks together with the Veil,
    And raised up those in the graves.
    And the dead are shouting, “Hades, understand.
    For Adam is running back Again to Paradise.”’

  9. I always just assumed that the devil couldn’t stop Jesus from entering, whether he knew who He is or not!

  10. Kathleen,

    I’m certain you are right if only because God is all powerful. That said, he is more humble than we are and does not force things if there’s a better way, i.e., through cooperation or synergy. Coercion does nothing that love may desire.

    Whether or not this applies also to the devil, or not, I will leave to Fr. Stephen or others to say.

  11. The sweetness of this meditation goes far beyond any question of what the devil did and did not know – that would easily reduce this to nothing more than theological trivia.

    It is rather the very nature of “knowing” that matters. Knowing God includes, rightly, a perception of Beauty and the goodness of His creation. And it includes our place within that goodness. It is the perception of these things that enables us to give thanks always for all things. And this the devil does not perceive and cannot/will not do.

  12. Yes, I think the devil obviously has some knowledge of Christ as it appears during the tempations of Jesus. But he lacks the fullness of communion with God, as do we, and so lacks the depth of understanding that comes in communion. While we, arguably, strive to come to know God, the devil strives only for his own ego and glory against God. Just my thoughts.

  13. God cannot be known objectively. There is no position in all of creation where someone can stand and perceive the truth of God as an object. There is no “seeing” the Trinity, as such. So, the devil cannot say, “I was with Him in the beginning and there was Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” God as Trinity is a community of Being – and a mystery even to the angels. How the 2nd Person of the Trinity (the Son) manifests the Father to the angels is unknown to us, but the Father is only known through the Son. It is clear that, although the Son is known by the angels (and the demons), that is not describing how they know Him, nor to what depth they know Him. There are many surprises in the Scriptures – even for the angels.

    To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things which angels desire to look into. (1Pe 1:12)

  14. I have to admit, I never considered the idea of the Deceiver himself being the deceived, but it’s a fascinating one.

    At the risk of focusing on theological trivia, I, too, wondered about how this ignorance relates to Christ’s temptations. I took another look at it in Matthew and Luke, and noticed the devil always says “If you are the Son of God.” Looking at it this way, it’s as if he suspects it, but can’t quite make the leap.

  15. Father Stephen,
    That’s a hugely vital point, and I wonder if its relevance is missed by us because it can be baffling, and therefore underappreciated (re: perception of Beauty/Goodness).
    I often think of this –to differentiate it from the other, fallen and enslaving ‘beauties’- as human’s “Wonder at profound meaningfulness”. It is undeniably the result of Grace. It is definitely the opposite of what occurs when we are left bereft of Grace, and when we come to be intensely worldly.
    It is also closely –very closely- linked to the ‘transcendence of suffering’ that the vibrant relationship to God bestows. It destroys the pet atheist argument of ‘explain suffering’… The ancient Greeks used to say (rightly so) that Man’s problem is not exactly suffering; Man’s problem is lack of meaning. Acquire meaning and suffering is transformed. Meaningful suffering is suffering that contains ‘Logos’. Even great pleasures, when meaningless, cannot measure up… They contain hell in them (meaninglessness, futility). Beauty, meaning informs us that existence is not an accident and that the Creator’s key ‘attribute’ is Love.

  16. Dino,
    I think we undervalue “meaning” for a number of reasons. I’m writing an article now that treats it somewhat. But when you think of the meaning of something (indeed it has something to do with its logos), it is often not just the thing-in-itself, but as it-is-in-relation, and that relation can (and should) have something to do with God, “by whom and for whom” all things exist. So meaning, the thing-in-relation, is a perception of God, however dim.

  17. Being raised in the protestant tradition of the American protestant churches of Methodist and Church of Christ, raised in the southland, by devoutly believing and praying Christians was such a blessing, but it did not address the whole idea of the harrowing of Hades. I remember when I was Anglican (after marriage) wondering why the Devil even attempted to tempt Jesus in the desert if satan knew Jesus was the Son of God — that is if the Devil knew the trinitarian God. I supposed since the devil was thrown out of heaven for pride — what I was taught in my raising and in Anglicanism — that “pride goes before a fall” 😉 and satan fell a long way…

    The whole idea recommended in this meditation is amazing and really lovely to me. I was reading the comments and enjoying the conversations and wondering where the mention of “God is Love” would appear. Thank you Dino! I read these quotes here and believe Our Lord is surely the Lover of Mankind. The Lover. The One Who Knows How to Love Us. Thank you for this encouragement in faith!

  18. My comment above here is to thank Dino for mentioning our Creator’s key attribute is Love. My thanks also goes to Fr. Stephen Freeman for passing along these quotes to meditate upon.

    I look forward to your writing about “meaning” or our undervaluing of meaning or however you choose to write about it as you mention to Dino in response above.

    Glory to God for All Things!

  19. I think the devil knows nothing because he doesn’t love. The ultimat knowledge is love.

  20. Father, you wrote, “It is rather the very nature of ‘knowing’ that matters. Knowing God includes, rightly, a perception of Beauty and the goodness of His creation. And it includes our place within that goodness. It is the perception of these things that enables us to give thanks always for all things. And this the devil does not perceive and cannot/will not do.” This is wonderful! Is this related to the idea from Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?

    Could you or some of the other commenters on this blog speak more about this or direct me to resources that could help me delve deeper into this? Thank you for your online ministry to all of us; it is a blessing!

  21. Fr. Stephen, with great respect for tradition and the fathers, I have so much trouble believing in “the Devil” that I usually ignore or withdraw from such discussions. That is not to say I don’t believe in evil, or in the possibility that there really could be totally perverted, manaical, destructive spirits, or that life after death includes a state of confrontation with one’s choices. What confuses me is the notion that one Devil might be considered an opponent of Christ, as if they were two athlete’s competing, almost as equals.

    It is distressing for me to say this because I do not imagine that I am more insightful or inspired than the Gospel writers and the fathers in general (who selected the Gospels from among all avaiable acounts of Christ’s life). So I attend liturgies, pray at home, and try to avoid thinking about the Devil in the hope that such thoughts are just temptations (a term which in itself implies an outside agent).

    Sometimes I even wonder if I ought not to read blogs like the ones at ancientfaith.com, and stick instead to liturgies (where any mention of the Devil comes in such a ritualized, sacred, “other worldly” context– meaning real world, world beyond rational thinking).

    But then I recognize that challenges to my limited understanding are good, so I keep reading, gratefully, hopefully. And praying.

  22. Father,
    In reference to the sermon from Melito of Sardis, Fr. John Behr does a fantastic job of teaching it in this video. The whole series is worth taking in, but the one on Melito’s sermon is sublime.

  23. @albert:

    “What confuses me is the notion that one Devil might be considered an opponent of Christ, as if they were two athlete’s competing, almost as equals.”

    I’ve actually had the same trouble over the years, and I still tend to think of the devil more as an abstracted evil than anything with a personality (he said, having written a short story once about Milton/Dante-ish demons plotting against each other). Not being Orthodox yet, I’ll admit I haven’t read as much about the devil in Orthodox understanding, except I’ve noticed he’s not depicted in icons very frequently. Orthodoxy also doesn’t seem to have the weirdly detailed taxonomies of Western demonology.

    The way I’ve begun to think about it is that the devil is definitely not an equal opponent. He’s not Angra Mainyu against Spenta Mainyu. He’s not even Doctor Doom against Mr. Fantastic. He’s a vanquished enemy, who likes to make himself look bigger and more powerful than he really is. But again, I’m not Orthodox, so don’t take my word for it.

  24. The devil, angels, etc. are not something we understand very well, and we certainly dress them up in strange ways. I don’t believe in “impersonal forces”. So, I accept the “personality” of the angelic realm, though not knowing what I’m talking about.

    But, one way to understand the devil is a will-towards-non-being. God is the author of all being, and being is inherently good. So, rebellion against God takes the form of a drive towards non-being. Everything evil flows from this drive. It is death and murder, and envy and jealousy, and hatred and anger, etc. In all such things we urge ourselves and the world towards non-existence. God, on the other hand, works towards the true, eternal being of all things. It is His good will.

    The devil and his demons are real. But they don’t deserve a lot of attention.

  25. My dear parish priest, Fr. Patrick, said this Sunday that we silence or ignore the demons because –even when they tell the truth– they speak only to sell us a lie. Oftentimes what they say is mostly true, but we have no interest in it because the words are never motivated by love for God or for us.

  26. Albert,
    Not to overlook your important thoughts. The tradition in no way would think of the devil as comparable to Christ or an opponent of God, per se. He would, more aptly, be seen as an opponent of St. Michael the Archangel.

    We should not see him as some massive force of evil confronting God’s plan. But the tradition does see him at work and as an opposer of those who seek to do good.

  27. Beautiful post, Father. To those interested in the Orthodox view on Satan and evil, I recommend “The Orthodox Way,” a very good introduction by Fr. Kallistos Ware.

  28. Noelle’s question brought up the whole idea of what it means to know. This is actually a fascinating topic.

    We generally believe that we cannot get duped. I know that 2 +2 = 4 and no one can take that knowledge away from me. But what occurs to me is how much the light of Christ makes a difference in our knowledge.

    Think of the difference between moving around a room – and moving around the same room when it’s pitch black. Do you still know the table you just bumped into? Of course you do…but not as well as you would if there was light. And in fact the longer you exist in that room in the dark, the more your knowledge of it will start to fade. In fact you will soon become wrong about how well you know it. You’ll forget that there are certain things in this corner and what was on the table and so forth. The longer this condition continues, the darker and more dwindled your knowledge will become.

    If we think of the devil whose mind dwells in darkness, is it any wonder that it was so dark that he lost most of his knowledge of God?

    Again, we think of our knowledge as a static thing, when in fact it’s very fluid. It’s not only that the facts we retain change, but our living knowledge is a thing that grows or wanes according to how much our life is lived in the light of Christ.

    For example, we are all familiar with God’s creation all around us but how much do we “know” it in the relational sense Fr. Stephen was talking about it? How alive are we to the plants, animals, people, weather around us? As we spend more time in His light, everything becomes alive to us. Things that were always there suddenly jump out and take on a deeper, fuller, more vibrant reality.

    Or another example, every knows what is meant by the term “writer” but how alive is the profession to us? For those who practice it, it becomes more real, more variegated, more living and breathing. As we become immersed in this or any other occupation, it becomes alive to us. This is partly because we are surrounding ourselves with it but that wouldn’t be at all possible if we didn’t carry around at least some of Christ’s light with us.

    The examples could go on and on, but the point is that our knowledge is a living and breathing thing. The more a person tends toward death or non-being, the more this knowledge dies. Facts become meaningless, thoughts become dry, tasteless, generic and flat.

    I think this is perhaps related to why we must be as little children if we are to enter the Kingdom. They still live in the light, because it is what they – and we – were born for.

  29. Thank you for the clarification, Fr Stephen, and for the wise advice. I went back to the Gospels to check scenes and references. Not a lot there about the devil, except for the desert temptation, certain castings out of demons, and a few brief references to the devil’s influence. Once while talking to a group of Jews, presumably the standard bad-guy pharisees, John has Christ use the phrase “your father. . .the father of lies.” (I was bothered by the free use of such extreme language about ”the Jews,” but that’s another issue). Otherwise minimal references to Satan or the devil. Evidently those writers and the fathers themseves did not feel it important to expend energy thinking about the devil.

  30. Albert,
    in a certain (perhaps even edifying) sense, it’s part and parcel of belief in the angelic order…

  31. Father Stephen,

    Thank you for the link to Father Jonathan’s article. I think that I will now need to read “The Beauty of the Infinite” by David Bentley Hart, since Father Tobias’ talk is a meditation on the themes covered in Hart’s work.

    BTW, have you had a chance to read Hart’s comments on universalism posted on the blog of your colleague Father Kimel? One of the points that DBH makes there is that it is not really possible for a creature to irrevocably say no to God in the end because God is the true end of all desire, even misplaced ones. Thus God will finally be all in all and the apokatastasis is inevitable.

    What is your view on Hart’s statements on Eclectic Orthodoxy?

  32. John,
    Yes I have read them and found them very interesting. Let me correct for just a minute, however. Hart does not say that the apokatastasis is inevitable because of the natural will and the impossibility of resisting it. But he makes the more important point that “freedom,” in the mind of the Fathers, is rightly defined as the freedom to act in accordance with the will, and not like freedom to do just anything. I am free to be a man. I can try to be a bird, but jumping off a cliff in such freedom does not result in being able to fly (that is contrary to human nature), but results, ultimately, in smashing at the bottom of the ravine in accordance with human nature.

    Our sin is not an exercise of freedom, in this understanding, but, in the language of St. Paul, is slavery. Hart’s point (like the Fathers’) is far more Biblical. The “free will” that many popularly assert as requiring hell – is not, in fact, “free will.” It is the “choice” of the “gnomic will,” (as taught by St. Maximus). The gnomic will is a product of the Fall (or is produced in the very act of the Fall). It creates a false “choosing” in which we “choose” contrary to our nature. Christ, in the teaching of the Fathers, has no gnomic will. He is fully human, but without sin. The gnomic will is the most potent manifestation of sin.

    So, all of the wicked, are wicked in that they are dominated by the false choices of the gnomic will that draw them away from what their nature naturally inclines towards. That is, they fail to properly live as human beings. In the life of salvation, we are enabled increasingly to live in accordance with our nature. To be saved thus also means to become properly human.

    So, there is no “freedom” that requires hell. Only slavery requires hell.

    Hart’s observation then asks whether there is some “necessity” that God maintain our slavery (maintaining an eternal hell), or whether He will ultimately set all creation free.

    It is a reframing of the question regarding universal salvation in more correct theological terms. The classic, “there must be hell because of human freedom,” is, in fact, a false assertion. Hart is quite correct.

    But the question of whether this will be so is outside our ken. But it is this reasoning that you find in the (not infrequent) hope of the Fathers. God would does not need to “coerce” anyone to save them. But He must free them from the coercion of the gnomic will for them to be saved.

    We “come to our senses” when we are saved. We do not “come to new senses,” or “choose new sense.” We become what we already are: Sons of the Good Father.

    Hart’s criticisms of the 5th Council are a much more technical matter. I’m reading about them. What I am certain of is that things are not nearly as clear-cut (regarding the 5th Council) as some maintain. Particularly some of Hart’s critics. It is incredibly unhelpful to simply say, “But the Synodicon of Orthodoxy says…” Because there is some question as to the accuracy of the Synodicon as it is in its present English form.

  33. It would seem to make a more coherent picture if there were some sort of intermediary state after death. This intermediary state is suggested, at least to me, in a number of the Fathers and I am not well read. The primary Scriptural reference is 1 Cor 3. The River of Fire also seems to suggest such, IMO.

    As I read about the controversy surrounding the doctrine of Purgatory I did not find a lot of theological debate over it, mostly about the way it was introduced and demanded it be accepted.

    We need not have anything as elaborate nor as specific as the RC doctrine, but it just seems to make sense. Why should the journey of salvation stop when we die?

    However, the title of universalism is problematic for me.

  34. One of the best ideas I ever heard about universalism was a quote in Met. Anthony Bloom’s article on the subject where the nineteenth-century Pietist theologian Christian Gottlieb Barth remarks, “Anyone who does not believe in the universal restoration is an ox, but anyone who teaches it is an ass.”

    We’d very much like to know for sure…but we don’t and we won’t until we’re there. It should be enough to know that He is a good God and He loves us. From that point we will gradually come to know everything that matters.

  35. “It should be enough to know that He is a good God and He loves us.”

    Kudos, Drewster. Excellent observation. In all things we need to simply trust God–even in those things that, seemingly, lead to our destruction (as the World sees it).

  36. Drewster, you say, “It should be enough to know that He is a good God and He loves us.” The problem with this is that any Calvinist could say the same thing. And any Retributionist for that matter. What Christian universalism does is help define what Good actually is and what Love is — and who man is.

    Also, I think the quote by that Pietist theologian ignores those who are so prone to an extra sensitive awareness of their lower nature that they can say with Fr Aidan, “if we can find a way to damn ourselves forever, we probably will.” https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/objections-to-the-universalist-hope-carrot-stick-and-the-kimel-principle/ In other words, there are some who need that assurance of salvation that Orthodoxy on the surface seems to deny: “If you’ve come to Orthodoxy for assurance of salvation you’ve come to the wrong place.” I understand where that statement is coming from, and people do apostatize. But that very assurance of salvation was given by St. Paul himself so that he had to say, “Shall we sin that grace may more abound?” Interestingly, St. Paul doesn’t take away that assurance just because it is a truth that can be abused.

  37. Father,
    Although I too hope and pray that all would be saved, what I often see missing from these talks on universalism (and therefore devaluing these conversations), what even some of the greatest thinkers on the final salvation of all rational beings [and their ‘coming to their their senses’ when set free from ignorance] seem to lack is a suitable understanding of all the correlations between: love (God’s) and freedom (of the creatures’ self-determination towards His love), as well as (quite significantly) all of this self-determination occurring ‘outside’ of time as we know it (and based upon which experience, we reason on these matters). God’s initial gift of self-determination towards Him to the point of allowing for other ‘gods’, means that one can make their own little ‘nothingness’ into the centre of all that exists [a false god], instead of God Himself who is the actual ground of all being. They can remain eternally in this state or trajectory (with this delusional uninformed ‘freedom’ [“προαίρεση”]), ‘free’ to have to despise any “other” as a rival god –no matter how loving the Other is, and no matter how painful their self-centred seclusion. To use an extreme example, if a fallen angel, like the elder brother of the prodigal, is so perverted that he cannot ever perceive a paradise that includes a shifting from self-centredness to other-centeredness; and if the Kingdom of Heaven is –as it is in truth- this ‘other-centeredness’ or letting go of his egocentricity, but, -as far as he is concerned- this ‘other-centeredness’ of letting go is perceived by him as hell, well, then no amount of being set free from ignorance would change his interpretation of Light as fire, of paradise as hell, and will not be also perceived as hell; it is this very interpretative liberty (to the point of, on the one hand, such self-secluded slavery that can only ever exploit any love coming towards him for further selfish sclerosis, as well as, on the other, to the diametrically opposite Joy of the Truth experienced by the Theotokos) that is God’s original gift [and crucificial risk] that makes him a self-determined being capable of becoming a god.
    The classic childlike philosophical paradox Sister Magdalene of Essex uses applies here: A Russian theologian wondered about God’s omnipotence (she mentions it in combination with God’s all-lovingness and the suffering we sometimes witness – that can scandalise) in youth: ‘If God is all-powerful, could He make a stone so big that even He could not carry it?’ [for if God can make it, He cannot carry it, and if He can carry it then He cannot make it]. 45 years later he remembered St John Chrysostom’s phrase: ‘God can do anything except force us to be saved.’ And he thought: ‘Yes, the stone that is too heavy for God to carry is mankind’. He made children that will eventually self-determine towards Him like gods…

  38. What do universalists do with Matt 25:46 for example (is it a translation problem, where the greek is not actually “punishment” and “eternal” – I have even heard one Orthodox priest argue that “eternal” is relative from God’s point of view {makes sense} and that it is to be understood as occurring *within* and age – so that it is actually a term of the age of chronos {seems wrong to me given the context and the Church’s normative use of the term})? I understand the “hope” (I myself also hope for this and many other things), etc. However, is it the “Christian story” that we actually have to borrow from Fr. Stephen? Also, are not “the Fathers” who speculate on the eschaton on the same ground as when the speculate on the pre-lapsarian state – that is, it is speculative and carried by a certain force of reason and not necessarily the Revelation that we actually have?

  39. “Yes, the stone that is too heavy for God to carry is mankind.”

    And then we are crushed and broken and turned into clay, then mixed with water and commanded to accept His grace to rise up and take on the image of God…

  40. Matt,
    that’s actually a very good description of the salvific power of suffering and death, (let us recall Saint Paisios the Hagiorite’s saying of the same vein: ‘cancer has filled up paradise’ for instance), but the reason I used a ‘fallen angel’ in my example of egotistical sclerosis is precisely to demonstrate that even this can be rendered powerless by that awesome gift of self-determination. The example still stands unfortunately: there’s rational beings that can eternally react with the (satanic, prideful ) desire to “not come in” (interpreting heaven as hell and resisting all help as ‘hellish’) to the Father’s summons, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”
    Humility is truly the measure of salvation.

  41. So, as Hart says, the free will defense of Hell is essentially gibberish because the notion of libertarian freedom is merely the gnomic will rearing its ugly head in yet another form. True freedom consists in acting in accordance with the natural will, which always seeks the ultimate good of the creature in the Transcendent Good, which is God.

    So, forgive me Father, how does this not make the apokatastasis inevitable? For if God’s grace fails to shatter the illusory desires of all creatures in the end, is not God’s victory over the powers of darkness incomplete? If one accepts the proposition that Christ’s victory over Hell is indeed total than it would seem to follow that in the end all beings must realize the Ultimate Good and True Freedom.

    Indeed the only alternative to the free will defense of Hell is Augustianism/Calvinism. Augustine professed that God indeed could cause every creature to be transformed from the Non Posse Non Peccare of the gnomic will to the Non Posse Peccare of the Natural Will. But of course he denied that God actually desired to do so, which of course creates a whole set of problems of its own, not the least being that it compromises the unconditionally loving nature of God.

    So I guess my other question at this juncture is why does the above line of reasoning generate so much controversy and accusations of heresy from the Hellfire club, to borrow one of Hart’s expressions? Both Father Aidan and Hart have indeed been vilified by more conservative orthodox commentators in recent posts. And the same thing happened to Hans Urs von Balthasar after publishing Dare we hope that all men shall be saved. Why do certain individuals have almost a compulsive need to assert that some, indeed most, are eternally damned ?

  42. John H,
    I never go further than “hope,” and the “Hellfire” Club occasionally has at me as well. Fr. Aidan, a truly beloved friend, has put himself out there more fully than myself. Hart is such a “big boy” that it’ll all roll off of him like water off a duck’s back. I think the answer to that question, “Why the compulsive need?” has to be sought in the hearts of those who attack. In at least one prominent case, Fr. Aidan and Hart’s attacker has a storied career of attacks on a number of subjects. It’s the contribution some folks have for this world, I suppose.

    I think, however, that my own caveat on the topic surrounds the word “must” or “inevitable.” God is not bounded by any necessity and the wonder of His creation completely astounds me. There is, as Hart notes, a clear path of reasoning towards the salvation of all things. But that will not make it so.

    What I hold to, unreservedly, is the relentless goodness of God. That is my hope, my joy, my boast and my proclamation. I would like to root out of my heart any joy at the suffering or retribution meted out to another. I think there is a spiritually dynamic tension that God has given us in this matter, and that it is a saving tension.

    It is also the case that many do not understand that there is often more sin in the wrong pursuit of the right thing than there is in being wrong.

  43. “So, forgive me Father, how does this not make the apokatastasis inevitable? For if God’s grace fails to shatter the illusory desires of all creatures in the end, is not God’s victory over the powers of darkness incomplete? If one accepts the proposition that Christ’s victory over Hell is indeed total than it would seem to follow that in the end all beings must realize the Ultimate Good and True Freedom.”

    Just a thought, but I think victory can be total but that doesn’t mean that everyone accepts it. In the “River of Fire” Dr. Kalomiros states that “God’s judgement is nothing else than our coming into contact with truth and light….All the difference lies in those who receive, not in Him Who gives.”

    It seems to me that, in spite of clearly realizing the “Ultimate Good and True Freedom” mentioned, there will still be those who cling (as we all often do) to our egotism and/or gnomic will, even in the light of Truth. Salvation may come to us and we may yet deny Him.

  44. Byron,
    Yes. I agree that it is “rationally inevitable.” But it’s the rationally part that is problematic. If we cannot know something, then we cannot reason our way there.

  45. Rational inevitability in this matter (worded like that) sounds a little like a form of “Universalist Calvinist predestination”

  46. Dear Byron;

    The problem that I have with “The River of Fire” is that several saints/mystics of the Church have rightly pointed out that Christ is crucified on the cross so long as one sinner remains in Hell. I believe that Origen first made that observation but in our own day it has been reaffirmed by Hans Urs von Balthsaar and St. Silhouan. So long as sinners are chained by the illusory desires of the gnomic will, Christ is there with them enduring those hellish passions as well. And, here is the real kicker, so are all the elect. Why? Because, as members of His body, we are glorified with Him but we also suffer the pains that He endures.

    In view of the foregoing, how can one characterize Christ’s victory and our victory as complete unless God is truly all in all? I am sorry, but I just do not see it. Once the free will defense of hell is shown to be fallacious, as Hart has so masterfully done, the only alternative for the Hellfire Club is Augustine. And his double predestination scheme totally vitiates the loving nature, indeed the Goodness of God.

    Yet I also concur with Father Stephen. Even though the above reasoning seems airtight and sound, I will not say that God must do anything. I believe that the God of the Fathers will in the end save all, but I won’t say that He must do so.

  47. John H,
    airtight though this reasoning is, it is based on our inability to imagine such fullness of Joy, so perfect that even the sorrow of compassion – a permanent ingredient of love – will never spoil it. Unless one (like St Silouan or St Paisios who do affirm this clearly) has had the experience of this while in this life it seems preposterous or heartless… However, the infinite sufferings of the ‘hell of love for those in hell’, although utterly real and unbearable, ‘shrink’ infinitely, by sheer perspective of the fervency of the ‘First Love’.

  48. Agreed Dino My rational mind cannot wrap itself around the ineffable experience of the saints who have realized such infinite compassion

    However permit one additional objection to free will theism please They maintain correctly in my view it is actually God Who makes the eternal persistence of the gnomic will in illusion possible by maintaining a certain epistemic distance between the Creator and creature in the age to come Should the parousia shatter all ontological distance between God and creation than the gnomic will would immediately dissipate like flatulence in a strong wind

    But because the God of classical theism is also immutable He must have willed to maintain such epistemic distance from some creatures from all eternity Which of course gets us back to Calvinistic double predestination

    I have mulled this over for some time and it seems correct to me Do any free will theists have any comments on this? Perhaps I am missing something here

  49. Bishop Neophytos of Morphou, Cyprus relates this remarkable conversation with Elder Evmenios – “the joyous Saint” as he was known- a great hidden saint of our time [Fr. Evmenios’ clairvoyance and joy were legendary, he was born in 1931 in Crete, became a monk at age 17; was tested extremely harshly by leprosy as well as demonic influence (in body and soul), eventually being freed of it all.]:

    “A very significant event, which I retain in vivid memory from the Elder Evmenios is this prayer of his he recounted. He prayed:
    “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to save all people.”
    “And God was pleased,” he told me.
    – “And then I said: “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to save all Catholics and all Protestants, my Lord Jesus, I want you to save them, to save them all…!”
    “And God was very pleased”.
    “I want you to save Muslims and people belonging to all religions, and even Atheists, I want you to save them all…”
    “And God was overjoyed.”
    – And I said: “My Christ, I want you to save all the deceased from Adam until now the ends of time.”
    “And God was exceedingly overjoyed”.
    – And I told Him: “God, I want you to save Judas.”
    – And finally I added: “I want you to save, the devil.”
    “And God was saddened.”
    I tell him: “Why was God ‘saddened’?”.
    – “Because God wants but they don’t [want to be saved]” he replied,
    “there is not even a single trace of goodwill for salvation in the devil.”
    “Well!” I remarked, “how did you understand when God was pleased and when He was grieved?”
    And he says: “Once your heart becomes one with the heart of Christ, you feel what he feels.”
    So, can you perceive the breadth of this man’s heart? This was one of the most powerful things I have ever heard; and I have never heard something like it by anyone else. And he perceived those things from the intensity of Grace. Depending on the degree of Grace, he was able to perceive His sadness or His pleasure, to whatever he said or did”.

    What this (and many other such witnesses of the saints) demonstrates is that the terrifying imperial gift of potential ‘god-ness’ that makes us ‘savable’ involves an eternal sovereignty of one’s interpretation of salvation (this way or that), and even the blatantly ignorant delusion of this interpretation, can never be violated…

  50. There’s another conversation with Fr Evmenios where he is persistently asked about the salvation of the devil and he keeps repeatedly answers that ‘the devil can never be saved because he does not ever want to be humbled’

  51. “The problem that I have with “The River of Fire” is that several saints/mystics of the Church have rightly pointed out that Christ is crucified on the cross so long as one sinner remains in Hell.”

    As there are others far more knowledgable and far closer to God than I, please forgive the undoubted ignorance of my reply.

    I’m not certain what it means that “Christ is crucified on the cross so long as one sinner remains in Hell.” Does it mean that he yet holds open His self-emptying offer of salvation? That may be the only way I can think of it. “The River of Fire” pretty clearly states that “Hell” is essentially God’s Love shining upon us–but those who hate the Truth are miserable in it because it shows them how wrong they are (in spite of the joy it brings to those that accept Him). People are not “in” Hell (as in a different place); rather they are in the glory of God but are miserable to be there because of what it means to *them* [emphasized to reflect their *ego*]. It is the height of the rational mind/person being completely irrational. To my mind, their reluctance/anger/insistence/resoluteness/determination to deny themselves the joy of communion with God does not diminish His Victory in any way, shape or form. But perhaps we are thinking of the term “victory” differently?

  52. Byron,
    I agree.
    It is vertiginous that only a rational being who can potentially, eternally rather “be in hell” than be humbled and repent, is a rational being that can reach Theosis (through kenosis), and I think that this self-determination, this ‘irrationality’ (when even, what virtually surmounts to a gift of, omniscience – an omniscience that would normally ‘force’ the ‘gnomic will’ to finally align with the ‘natural will’- is rendered powerless to do this due to pride, one has hell), this is what Fr Evmenios († 23 May 1999) probably means when he says that so simply that ‘the devil never wants to be humbled’.

  53. “Hart is such a “big boy” that it’ll all roll off of him like water off a duck’s back.”

    I admit, when I read Hart in that thread I thought of the “Never meet your heroes” saying. From the “Be wrong in good conscience” quip to his complaining about those who disagree with him as having an “emotional commitment” to the “Hellfire Club”, he comes across as an arrogant academic (stronger words could be used that are probably more accurate) who has, an…wait for it… “emotional commitment” to his universalism 😉 Looking for a way out, perhaps his illness has something to do with it (somehow, I don’t think so).

    As someone who originally came from the “liberal protestant” camp where some form of universalism is always presupposed, if not taught explicitly, I have an “emotional commitment” to the “majority opinion” that universalism is not traditional Christianity (I seem to be in the minority around here, where most convert posters seem to be one sort or another of “recovering Calvinist/fundamentalist/etc.”).

    We should also be honest, Fr. Aidan argues for universalism – I am not sure what “hope” adds to his view as he is well past that qualifier IMO. Apparently so do St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac if Fr. Aidan (and Hart and others) are reading them correctly (I have no idea as I don’t have the background necessary to agree/disagree). This is not a criticism as I actually appreciate it, as I always prefer folks who push things and have a “well, if we are going to do it let’s really do it” sort of praxis in action, mind, and heart. I can get along with an honest universalist, or atheist, or honest anyone alot better than that deep (and demonic) mushiness of thinking/belief that so many “christians” have in our age.

    I think John H is right when he says (of the line of reasoning in that thread) “… how does this not make the apokatastasis inevitable?” Indeed.

    “It is also the case that many do not understand that there is often more sin in the wrong pursuit of the right thing than there is in being wrong.”

    True. In this case however, personally having experienced what this “wrong” thing is a part of (i.e. a form of universalism that is spiritually damaging), I am sympathetic to a kind of zeal in the pursuit of its errors. I don’t know much about Fr. Aidan’s (and Harts, etc.) experience with the damaging spiritual consequences of universalism, but when they argue against their theological “opponents” they write as if they are intellectually familiar with certain “arguments” and concepts, and ignorant of the reality of actual damages (if we are honest, Hart is simply dismissive of anyone who does not agree with him, to the point where he openly mocks them). Again, this is not a criticism of as such, because I have the same limitations (as we all do) in all sorts of areas – most especially things pertaining to God and the “spiritual life”. As we know, there is a big difference in understanding something discursively, and actually experiencing it.

    Clearly, Fr. Aidan has a range and depth on this issue that is not quite matched by his most recent critic. Does anyone know who is his scholarly peer and yet offers a counter point?

  54. And as with all discussions on universalism, we end a bit more edified and each goes back home with an opinion but still not knowing for…and we never will in this life.

  55. Christopher,
    Good questions, many of which are of a personal character. I have been friends, close friends, with Fr. Aidan since the late ’80s, and our conversations have been among the more important in my journey. We have not always agreed – he for example – became a Catholic priest when he left Anglicanism, which I vigorously warned against. But he is Orthodox now with a lot of insight and difficult life-experiences. The loss of his oldest son to suicide several years ago pushed him to a very rigorous examination of the nature of salvation and hell. We had some very long conversations during that period.

    He is one of the most honest, even self-critical, thinkers that I know. He is more “rational” than I am, having read a lot of Thomism and Lutheran thought at one point (I think). He certainly has a better grasp of the great Western thinkers than I do. I do not at all see him as holding a position merely because he finds it comfortable. He’s a far better man than that. But it is certainly visceral for him.

    I do not actually know Hart, but I’ve conversed with him and with one (or two) of his brothers who are quite sharp as well. DB Hart is the youngest of the three, and is unanimously declared to be the “smartest” of the Harts. It is unfair to criticize him as “arrogant.” He’s not. What he is – is one of the best trained and sharpest thinkers going – a true academician. Many of his critics have neither the acumen, the background, or mastery of the topic. Instead, they bring forward very common criticisms without actually adding anything at all. No analysis allowed for the 5th Council, for example. I think Hart just gets impatient with such arguments – If such arguments were brought forward in the academic setting of a doctoral seminar, they would fall flat in a moment – simply because arguments from pure authority, without analysis or understanding, are not given the time of day. I’ve been there and I learned.

    As for the dangers of universalism – I’m not sure that the “dangers” hold water when examining the topic in an ontological manner (rather than merely forensic or legal). Both Hart and Fr. Aidan take hell quite seriously, as do both St. Gregory and St. Isaac. They do not deny it in any way. Theirs is more a question (as St. Isaac) about the ultimate goodness of God and the efficacy of that goodness. The dangers of becoming complacent about salvation in the light of universalism do not come into play if you understand what they are saying.

    It is also important, in the Tradition, to note that universalism is not just an “Origenist” position. It’s extremely widespread in the early Church, particularly surrounding the understanding of Pascha. These proclamations (as in Melito of Sardis in the 2nd century) cannot be grouped with Origen. They have almost nothing in common with him. But after the 5th Council you stop hearing such things. But they were not all condemned. It’s something that has to be taken seriously.

    Fr. Aidan and I have good conversations. I would probably think of myself as a “scholarly” peer (but not for Hart). We question each other (and ourselves). Fr. Aidan pushes for understanding rather than simply defending a position. I don’t think he has a position – he has an understanding – and that understanding continues to have genuine fluidity. I think some of those offering criticism have neither understanding nor fluidity – only a position. It makes real conversation with such persons very difficult.

  56. I do think that in a sense there is a part of me that does indeed need to believe in both universal salvation and the Infinite Goodness of God. I am a recovering alcoholic with a checkered past to say the least. The recovery process has led me from the prison of yielding to the unfettered desires of my gnomic will to at least a taste of what true freedom is. I now work for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York as an eviction prevention specialist. Most of my working days are spent in New York City Housing Court trying to keep clients in their homes and off the streets. I am convinced that if God is not unconditionally loving and indeed the Transcendent Good itself, than many of us, including me, are bound for perdition.

    I am however gratified to realize that the above need at least seems to be confirmed by truths that I and others have discovered through the use of our God given reason. To restate the argument again in my own stammering fashion, evil, including the non-substantial desires of the gnomic will has no real existence in and of itself because only God is Real. God permits the gnomic will to exist–and evil in general as well–by maintaining a certain ontological/epistemic distance between Ultimate Truth and creation. However, it will not be so in the eschaton, when that distance shall be bridged, and, as St. Paul states, God shall be all in all.

    Nor, to contradict one of my earlier comments, do I believe that to state unequivocally that God shall do so–rather than to hope that it will be so–in any way limits God’s freedom. One must recognize that freedom and necessity do not mean the same thing when speaking about God. God is perfectly free to be Himself. However, to say that God is not able to act in discord with His own nature does not limit God’s Freedom in any sense. The fallacy of the question concerning God’s ability to create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it is precisely the supposition that God is free to do that which is logically absurd. To state that God cannot create a world where 2 + 2 =5 is not therefore to limit God’s freedom in any fashion whatsoever.

    Neither does it limit God’s freedom to maintain that God will save all in the age to come because in doing so God is simply acting in accordance with his Nature which is Infinite Goodness itself. So I am gratified to know that it is possible to reason to the certainty of universal salvation because it does confirm a need that has been generated by my own life experience.

    I also pray that David Hart makes a complete recovery from his illness.

  57. John H,

    One note: I remember the “rock so big He can’t lift” and the “square circle” arguments from philosophy class. But the limitation involved is our comprehension. My instinct tells me God CAN – and probably does – make square circles. However, the imagination of such a thing is simply beyond our ability to conceive or understand. But that does mean it isn’t so.

    I believe the reason that classic Christianity has not handed down Universalism as a teaching is that we as His children are usually put in a much better disposition by the perpetual practices of trusting in His love & goodness and hoping in the salvation of all.

    Fr. Stephen said above concerning Hart and Fr. Aidan that “The dangers of becoming complacent about salvation in the light of universalism do not come into play if you understand what they are saying.” However most of us simple types don’t get what they are saying – or if we do, the understanding is dimmed by time.

    And that is why it is better to keep ourselves vigilant with the actions of faith & hope (and love) rather than reclining leisurely with universalism as a done deal and off we go to solve other theological sticklers. I believe in universalism, but I have no control over it. I cannot rationalize it one way or the other. Therefore I have to give it into God’s hands lest I come to worship this promise more than God Himself.

    By the way, I admire the adversity you went through with alcoholism. Thanks for sharing with us. We all have our own struggles, but it seems that everyone is strengthened when someone is willing to be weak in front of the rest. May God bless your continuing struggles – and all of ours.

  58. There will undoubtedly always be a case for universalism. Conversely, the ‘gnomic’-to-‘natural’-will-inevitable-eventual-conversion argument will remain problematic, especially as a corollary of the definition of Hell (Hell as ‘luciferean pride’ to be more precise) being: “that pride that renders even the final gift of omniscience (an omniscience warranting freedom from deception and the bondage of ignorance) still powerless in bringing the “gnomic will” into alignment with the “natural will”.

    No wonder our adversary fears humility more than anything else.
    When, for instance, the Elder Aimilianos, or Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (persons with the greatest desire for the salvation of all, who flooded their cells’ floors in tears for many years for the salvation of the damned – Fr Ephraim Katounakiotis, for example, celebrated 1600 [40×40] Divine Liturgies for the salvation of the one person who had previously made his life unbearable until he received divine reassurance of his deliverance),
when these giants of the Spiritual realms asserted that there is always a ‘power of pride in every person that can potentially eternally resist God’, I am very afraid that it describes this dark side of luciferean pride.
    This also implies that for such a being (Fr Evmenios [Sarithakis] would always only speak of Satan in being in such a position/state), even the very act of “a loving process, gradually freeing them from bondage” is perceived itself as a hell that -unfortunately- only produces greater resistance, deception, and insurmountable bondage in them rather than the redemption it seeks and produces in others that have not embraced this pride… This perversion of a self-trapped and fastened perversion of ‘authentic otherness’ is the diametrical opposite of kenosis. It’s exactly what the fathers refer to, I think, by what they sometimes call the ‘unceasing, accruing darkening’ of the previously radiant angel-lucifer and the demons.

    Fr Evmenios’ simple words -that also echo St Paisios’- : “the devil has no desire to be humbled” or “no trace of will to be saved can ever be found in him”, are habitually followed by the counsel: “we mustn’t pray for the adversary’s salvation because we are wasting our prayerful energy on him” (therefore “saddening” God), and this, because of the insurmountability of the devil’s unrepentance.
    It is also worth seriously considering that this advise does not come from great academic minds that can perhaps ‘run at speeds of sports cars’, but come from Spirit-filled hearts that have previously shed all “emotional commitment” and ‘run at speeds of space-rockets’ and directions of the Holy Spirit who steers them. And they advise this, despite knowing full well that it’s Grace itself that produces such love in them that they are compelled to pray even for unrepentant demons with heartfelt tears!

  59. Everyone,
    A great difficulty in even thinking about the angels/demons with regard to things like salvation, etc. is that we simply know almost nothing about them. We do not know about an angelic will – how does it compare to the human will – etc. Such knowledge has not been given to us. We have almost no information of the great war in heaven, nor much else. This is, because it is none of our business at this point in time.

    We do know, and should know, much about what it means to be human. We do know, though, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. So nothing regarding us is simple.

    We should be utterly convinced of the good will of the good God towards us. “How can He not freely give us all things?” I will leave things there.

  60. Fr. Freeman, thanks for taking the time for the long post – it fills in a few of the missing colors.

    I will only say that one of the reasons I am not a convinced universalist is that I don’t “discard” the legal/forensic images of our faith (not saying that anyone around here does either). “Judgement”, “separate”, “sheep and goats”, its all there. Now, I understand the reduction and damage that takes place when it becomes a “mere” legal/forensic, but in the end I don’t think I draw as hard a line between “legal” and “ontologic” as perhaps others do (this is not to say I don’t recognize the category difference – and this is no doubt easier for me as I don’t come from a background where I suffered harshly from a “legalism”). I also don’t think the legal is there for us who are far down on the ladder of some “stages of faith” or “progression of soul” understanding of spiritual maturity, and thus there for mere pedagogic reasons or some other function and meant to be overcome/put aside (as childish things) as we climb the ladder of growth in Christ. No, its much deeper than that, and I wonder out loud if the “universalist hope” is not an *emphasis* that leaves behind other deep, equally important and true things.

  61. Christopher,
    There are, I believe, inherent problems with a legal model. Primarily, it is external, thus its consequences must be imposed from outside. This implies coercion that is, in fact, not at all in keeping with God or our experience of God.

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