One of the big problems with an Orthodox Christian embracing universalism is that he has to reject a large portion of the liturgical tradition of the Church in order to do so. The eternality of the punishment of the wicked is ubiquitous in the services of the Church. This may be less apparent if one does not have access to frequent church services, but it really becomes apparent the more time you spend in church listening to what is being sung.
The Church doesn’t spend all its time talking about the eternality of damnation, but mainly focuses on encouraging sinners to repentance and to embrace the resurrection of Christ. But even though we are definitely running toward something, we are also very much running from something. And the Church does sing about it often.
To give some sense of this, I wanted to give some samples that speak of this (admittedly, hard) teaching of the Church from the most beloved time of the Church year—the Triodion, which includes the periods of Great Lent and Holy Week. I’ve highlighted some relevant phrases (in some cases, it’s the whole hymn that mentions this, so I didn’t highlight any specific phrases).
You will notice that the biggest selection of this material comes from the Sunday of the Last Judgment, the Sunday that directly addresses the question of the eternal destiny of mankind.
From Soul Saturday
From the ever-burning fire, from the darkness without light, from the gnashing of teeth and the worm that torments without ceasing, from every punishment deliver, O our Saviour, all who have died in faith. (Ode 5 of the Matins Canon)
From the Sunday of the Last Judgment
The books will be opened and the acts of men will be revealed before the unbearable judgment-seat; and the whole vale of sorrow shall echo with the fearful sound of lamentation, as all the sinners, weeping in vain, are sent by Thy just judgment to everlasting torment. Therefore we beseech Thee, O compassionate and loving Lord: spare us who sing Thy praise, for Thou alone art rich in mercy. (Vespers Sticheron on “Lord, I have cried”, Tone 6)
I lament and weep when I think of the eternal fire, the outer darkness and the nether world, the dread worm and the gnashing of teeth and the unceasing anguish that shall befall those who have sinned without measure, by their wickedness arousing Thee to anger, O Supreme in love. Among them in my misery I am first: but, O Judge compassionate, in Thy mercy save me. (Vespers Sticheron on “Lord, I have cried”, Tone 6)
Think, my soul, of the fearful examination before the Judge; in trembling prepare thy defence, lest thou be condemned to the eternal bonds. (Ode 6 of the Matins Canon)
Deliver me, O Lord, from the gates of hell, from chaos and darkness without light, from the lowest depths of the earth and the unquenchable fire, and from all the other everlasting punishments. (Ode 6 of the Matins Canon)
When Thou, O God, shalt judge all things, who among us earthborn men shall dare to stand before Thee, for we are all beset by the passions? Then the unquenchable fire and the destroying worm shall seize the condemned and hold them fast for ever. (Ode 7 of the Matins Canon)
Wednesday of the First Week
Elijah, glorified by fasting, rode in the divine chariot of the virtues and was carried up to the height of heaven. Eagerly follow his example, O my humble soul, and fast from every evil, from envy, strife and passing pleasure. So shalt thou escape the harsh and everlasting agony of Gehenna, crying out to Christ: Glory be to Thee, O Lord. (Vespers Sticheron on “Lord, I have cried”, Tone 2)
Fifth Sunday in Lent
‘During thy life,’ said Abraham to the rich man, ‘thou hast lived in wealth and luxury; so now thou art tormented in the fire eternally, while Lazarus the poor man rejoices in unending gladness.’ (Ode 5 of the Matins Canon)
From Holy Week
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching: and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death and lest thou be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse thyself crying: Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us. (Apolytikion of the Bridegroom, Tone 8)
O wretched soul, think of thy last hours. Be dismayed at the rebuking of the fig tree. Act, and double the talent given to thee with a fatigue-loving purpose. Awake, watching and crying out, lest we remain outside the chamber of Christ. (Kontakion of Holy Tuesday)
When thou didst help the Disciples at the Supper and knewest the intend of Judas to betray, thou didst reproach him for it, knowing all the while that he was beyond redemption; but preferring to make known to all that thou wast betrayed of thine own will, so that thou might snatch the world from the stranger. Wherefore, O long-suffering one, glory to thee. (Kathisma from the Twelve Passion Gospels Matins, Tone 7)
No one who loves God revels in this stuff. But it’s still real. And that’s why we sing about it. Teaching universalism means we would have to stop singing about this reality. And it would be a pretty big editing job to revise the liturgical tradition of the Church to accommodate such a teaching.
Amen Amen Amen!!! That needed to be said.
Father Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, has stated: “There is no clear dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church on death and what happens when we die.” Given that there is no dogma, how can we know that the prevalent opinions are not influenced by some cultural concept like the natural immortality of the human soul? As I have stated on another thread, teaching an opinion as a possibility, or even probability, can be helpful and illuminating. Teaching an opinion as a certainty can lead to pastoral malpractice. If eternal torment is not the truth, would teaching this as a certainty be pastoral malpractice?
What is the context for Hopko’s statement? I have a hard time he meant that there is no teaching at all about this.
In any event, this post is about the liturgical witness on this subject. It may not be formally defined dogma, but it’s pretty important stuff from the most important time of the year.
The quote is from a presentation Fr. Thomas made in Brisbane Australia in 1999. I agree that our liturgical witness is very important Fr. Andrew. When I read it, I think it is just as applicable to eternal death and annihilation as eternal torment. If the punishment of the Lake of Fire can also be remedial, then there is some weight given to the possibility of salvation for all human beings.
I’m interested in the context of Hopko’s comment. What did he say before and after this?
Honestly, I don’t see how these quotes can refer either to a remedial or annihilating effect. They talk explicitly about eternal punishment, not temporal. And it’s punishment, not non-existence.
Because eternal torment is the prevalent opinion within the Church, I am truly interested to understand the basis of this opinion Fr. Andrew. As I read the Holy Scriptures, I find far more support for the possibility of eternal death and annihilation or universal salvation of all humanity, that I do for eternal conscience torment. I know that you are very sincere in your belief regarding eternal torment, so perhaps you can help me to understand why it is the prevailing opinion of those in the Church.
What is the “basis” of any prevailing interpretation of the Scriptures in the Church? If we are Orthodox, then we believe that Holy Tradition is that basis, which relies on the faith that the Church will indeed not err for so long and so consistently over something so important.
Yet I find it very illuminating that the Holy Spirit has not led the Church to make eternal torment a dogma of the Church. I see a great warning in this reality. Like a good physician: first, we must do no harm. A teaching that distorts the true nature of the Holy Trinity can never become a dogma of the Church no matter how many people believe in it. I have yet to hear from you, or any other brother or sister in Christ. why eternal torment is more reflective of the revelation of the God we worship than the alternatives of eternal death or universal salvation.
Orthodox dogma doesn’t function like that, though — our dogmatic pronouncements are usually in response to heresy that is threatening the Church.
In any event, I actually disagree about the dogmatic character of this teaching — the anathemas against Origen explicitly teach that Hell is everlasting, and these were incorporated into liturgical practice via the Synodikon. So you are mistaken that this is not a matter of dogma.
Not every definite teaching of the Church has been dogmatized and codified.
When I asked my priest and bishop if I had to believe in eternal torment to remain an Orthodox Christian and they both said no, this has far more weight than your opinion about what constitutes the dogma of the Church. The effects of eternal punishment are eternal, the punishment is not. Those who receive the gift of eternal life are secure in the gift and do not need to be eternally reinforced. You have yet to explain why the prevalent belief in the Church is eternal torment, when the weight of the Holy Scriptures refutes this teaching. I have proposed that the disconnect comes from the prevailing Platonic cultural belief in the natural immortality of the human soul in the early Church. There is no support for this belief in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures make it clear that only God is naturally immortal (see 1 Timothy 6:16). The Scriptural citations regarding the conditional immortality of human beings are so great that It would fill up your blog page if I listed them all. The Scriptural citations of Church Fathers who teach eternal torment, and teach that repentance is not possible after the death of the body are few. If you consider what the fruit of these teachings have been, it reeks of pastoral malpractice of the worst kind.
“You have yet to explain why the prevalent belief in the Church is eternal torment, when the weight of the Holy Scriptures refutes this teaching.”
But you’re begging the question here. The issue (among others) is over how to interpret the Scripture.
Surely you don’t think that the whole Church just isn’t reading the Bible?
One does not have to buy into natural immortality in order to believe in the eternality of Hell. One only has to believe that Christ’s redemption of human nature in the resurrection is universally effective. We’re not naturally immortal. We’re immortal because Christ is risen.
The only remarks of Fr. Hopko’s I know of on the subject can be found on a YouTube video entitled “Fr. Thomas Hopko speaks at St. Elijah about Christianity and Armageddon”. At about 1hr 33 mins. he affirms that the teaching about universal salvation is wrong. Moreover, all will be showered with God’s saving Love in the age to come, but some will reject it.
Excellent. Thank you.
One has only to read the Gospels to come to the inescapable conclusion that there will ultimately be a separation of those who are in Christ from those who are not. The liturgical tradition of the Church is fully concordant with the Gospels, as one should expect, unless the foundations of our faith are in error.
What we see in the preaching of universalism is the elevation of the hope that all might be saved above the clear testimony of the scriptures, and the tradition of almost two thousand years of the church’s existence, that all will not be saved.
So why is universalism being preached today within a Church whose ostensible commitment to the scriptures and tradition is absolute?
Without a sociological study of the phenomenon to support this contention, I would not presume to know the answer with certainty. But I would suggest that it’s a function of our society, which is averse to any deep accountability for personal actions. Against such a psychological and sociological backdrop, to separate sheep from goats is unfair and, since God is all-loving, He could not possibly be unfair.
But such an analysis can only prevail in a world where my intransigence to the Gospel call, my refusal to see myself as God sees me and to repent and be changed, as Christ commands, ought to have no adverse consequences. Where my pride is so great that I cannot accept a judgment that might undermine my self-worth. Where I am, moreover, “not okay”, when I want to think of myself as a “good person”.
If God chose to compel human beings to love Him, could that in any real sense be considered a response of love? Would it be no better than to administer a love potion? Love is a free response, or it is not love. Not even in human relationships could such a response be considered love. So whether I love God or not must be down to my own heart. And if I have no love for God in this life, when I am able to hear the Gospel and respond, how should I expect to be received by God in eternity?
Of course, if I persist in denying God’s very existence, or admit His existence but deny that any relevance to my manner of living, I might attempt to pass that off as a misunderstanding, but not one for which I can ultimately be held accountable.
A disinclination to be accountable corrodes all of our human relationships. How much more then must it corrode the potential for a relationship with God? But if, for a moment, I allow that I am accountable, to God and to my fellow human beings, how might that change everything? All I have given up is my pride. It costs so little, yet gains me everything.
Universalism is a gross deception and has no place in Christian preaching. Indeed, by rights, those who preach it, no matter how well intentioned, have placed themselves outside the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Amen. Well said.
This is beyond absurd. First, universalism was likely dominant in the early Church and second it was certainly held by some of the most important Fathers: Gregory is called the Father of Fathers for a reason. Far and away the most troubling part of this thread – why are no priests checkpointing this kind of thing?
no clear teaching on the soul after death whatever its context would have to refer
to the time between death now and the Last Judgement after all are resurrected.
Universalism is a definite nonstarter given Jesus’ words, but He also referred to some
getting the greater damnation so there must be a lesser damnation, and that Sodom
and Gomorrha would have it better on that day than some other cities, because Sodom
and Gomorrha would have repented if given the opportunities that those other cities
had and those cities did not repent.
the protestant view of total damnation vs. perfect blessedness is not quite correct.
Universalism or apokatastasis is a notion that crept into Orthodox thought, along with
such absurdities as Adam and Eve not having densely physical bodies until after the
Fall, from Origen. Origen influenced St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. John Chrysostom,
and Origen was anathematized after his death and after theirs, so they couldn’t retract
anything. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote the Philokalia of Origen, preserving under his
omophorion so to speak or imprimatur to use the Latin concept, precisely all or most
of Origen’s later anathematized ideas, preserved these as beautiful wisdom.
Epiphanius in The Panarion mentions the Adam and Eve ethereal pre fall body story
as “nonsense,” so it was not Orthodox teaching in his day.
Origen was not anathematized as some say for one thing and for self castration, but
for a laundry list of things, which included the idea that the heavenly bodies were once
more ethereal, and became densely physical as we see them now when they stopped
contemplating God. this is the same idea as regarding Adam and Eve though that idea
isn’t on the list, but if it doesn’t fly with heavenly bodies it doesn’t fly with human bodies. Granted a lot of things were different. but non physicality and reproduction by
nonsexual means if they hadn’t fallen is not acceptable. it is clearly from the gnostic
presupposition of the inherent evil of matter.
The original Philokalia was not compiled by St. Gregory of Nyssa but by Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian (neither being universalists). St. Gregory of Nyssa did not import all of Origen’s ideas.
The fifth ecumenical council condemns the belief in the non-physical nature of prelapsarian bodies, but this is different from believing that sexual reproduction is a product of the fall. For example, Christ was born without seed, but had a physical body. St. Maximus the Confessor taught that the unchangeable principle of human nature was that it was composed of body and soul, and stated that the Fall did not affect this principle, but the mode of being human, of which sexual reproduction is one by-product.
Maximus doesn’t teach that. Maximus teaches that the pleasure/pain dialectic imbedded itself in sexual reproduction as a byproduct of the fall. Sexual reproduction is good and created by God. It is corrupted by our sin.
I just finished reading the second volume of the Ambigua, which recently came out. In Ambiguum 42, St. Maximus states that marriage is not evil, and that it is part of the law of generation created by God. However, he also states that Adam, by rejecting spiritual birth, was “justly condemned to a material, mortal, and corporeal birth,” and that Christ “freed us from the bonds of birth and the law of reproduction whereby, because of the condemnation that came about because of sin, we multiply like grass from seed, and come into being directly akin to that of plans and irrational animals.” That seems to indicate that the “law of generation,” while not evil, was not an intrinsic part of human nature, but came about as the result of the Fall. How do you interpret Ambiguum 42?
Also, in Ambiguum 41, St. Maximus writes, “[Christ] became perfect man, having assumed from us, and for us, and consistent with us, everything that is ours, lacking nothing, but without sin, for to become man He had no need of the natural process of connubial intercourse. In this way, He showed, I think, that perhaps there was perhaps another mode, foreknown by God, for the multiplication of human beings, had the first human being kept the commandment and not cast himself down to the level of irrational animals by misusing the mode of his proper powers…”
Here he seems to be following St. Gregory of Nyssa, who in his On the Making of Man 17 speculates how reproduction might have happened had man not sinned, but states that God, foreknowing man would sin, implanted “instead of the angelic majesty of nature, that animal and irrational mode by which they now succeed one another.”
This means that sexual reproduction is not a consequence of the Fall in the sense that the human body went some kind of change after Adam and Eve sinned, but in the sense that God fashioned it in the knowledge that it would in fact occur. That being said, both Ss. Gregory and Maximus are speculating, not making their teaching a dogma.
Beautiful. Refreshing to see the Triodion cited in this discussion!
Some problems– (1) Universalists do not teach that there will be no future consequence of sin; they teach that God’s intent in punishing it is corrective rather than vengeful; the old Universalist Church itself could have used language like this on a gloomy day. (2) Penitential language (eg “I am the greatest of all sinners”) is probably the least objective and restrained language in the services, so that one should hesitate to build systematic doctrine on it. (3) Insofar as the language paraphrases scripture, universalists can just cite their exegeses of the Greek text of the sources behind the services. In particular, universalists have long disputed the use of English “endless” and “eternal” for the Greek aionios. (4) Although a universalist might possibly be challenged by the reference to Judas, it seems clear that the passage is only meant to deflect a challenge to Christus Victor soteriology or dyothelitism. (5) None of these quotations, taken any way one likes, brings us anywhere near the syncretistic ‘covenant theology’ of the first article of the series.
Tom Wright often tells the story of sitting in the Sistine Chapel with a Greek metropolitan during Benedict’s synod on the scriptures. “That I understand,” said the metropolitan, pointing at Michaelangelo’s Creation. “But that I do not understand. We have nothing like that.” He was pointing at the Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment. Wright is emphatically not a universalist, and neither probably is the metropolitan. What they were both getting at is that the Western way of framing God’s judgment has seriously distorted scripture, as I am sure that you yourself could explain quite well. Consequently, when people encounter Orthodoxy (or, for that matter, Wright’s ‘open evangelicalism’) they really do experience more demand for asceticism and repentance (eg in the Triodion), but this is actually a joyful experience because there is also an unmistakable absence of the very demoralizing distortions that the first article of this series, alas, fidgets back into place, as though the Triodion needed Wigglesworth’s Day of Doom to complete it. As you must know, any authentic Eastern theology is in its fundamental structure much more universalist than any neo-Augustinian one, never mind one shaped by Calvin’s doctrine of assurance. God uses this to bring souls to the spiritual oxygen of Orthodoxy.
So what dog does an Orthodox Christian really have in this Western fight? You seem to be fighting for clarity that Judas Iscariot was not saved, that Hitler and Mother Teresa may not be doing lunch in heaven, and that a reasonable hope is not a sure thing. Fair enough. Apart from that, the universalism that you are opposing is the biggest straw figure east of the Burning Man. Of course I like both of the writers here, and I know you mean well, but I cannot think that you do Orthodoxy any credit– or universalism any harm– in arguing past what actual universalists online and in print have to say, building up a silly hypothetical position, getting people online excited about it, then tearing it back down again for sport. I pray that God will bless your next series.
There is a lot here that you are asserting without proving (e.g., that Fr. Stephen’s article was “syncretistic” — with what and how?; or that any “authentic Eastern theology is in its fundamental structure much more universalist” — not buying that one, either).
Even if one is to take NT Wright and some unnamed Greek Metropolitan as a kind of mouthpiece for Orthodoxy, what they were doubtless pointing out was the sensual sadism of much of the Western view of Hell. That is not by any means what anyone here is promoting. Orthodoxy is not sensualist nor sadistic.
Of course I like both of the writers here, and I know you mean well, but I cannot think that you do Orthodoxy any credit– or universalism any harm– in arguing past what actual universalists online and in print have to say, building up a silly hypothetical position, getting people online excited about it, then tearing it back down again for sport.
The universalists I’ve read fall into three categories: 1) the real deal — teaching plainly that all will be saved, no matter what, 2) people who confuse speculation and/or hope with doctrine, or 3) people who won’t plainly say what they actually teach. I am replying to the first. The second need to learn more about definitions and doctrine, and the third need to come out and say what they really teach.
The rest (e.g., whether you believe in some kind of temporary purgation, etc.) really is just details that don’t actually touch on the primary concern. I’ve seen a whole lot of “You just don’t get it” (a gnostic appeal) without much “This is what I teach.” I would love for more of the latter.
As for the Triodion, it doesn’t need anything to complete it. If the aionios of punishment is not truly eternal, everlasting, permanent, etc., then neither is Christ’s kingship (also aionios) and neither is the reward of the righteous (also aionios). As noted elsewhere, this was actually St. Hilary’s argument against Arianism, which wanted eternality for rewards and punishments, but not for Christ. You can’t have an eternal Christ Who gives eternal rewards but then expect the eternality of his punishments to be something else. There’s no indication of a difference except in the eisegesis of those who do not believe in the justice of God.
That’s a brilliant point that demonstrates the link between Christology and soteriology. If Gehenna is temporary then so is Heaven according to St. Basil the Great:
If, however, there were going to be and end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be and end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:46) If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated 267)
I don’t think people fully understand all the ramifications of their beliefs. If both are temporary then even the “Isaacian universalism” (???) endorsed by many that commented leads right back into Origenist cycles.
Thanks for your rapid reply.
“There is a lot here that you are asserting without proving”
When we both have endowed chairs and research assistants, then we can exchange fat books with copious notes. Meanwhile, scarcely anything that I have said about Orthodox theology would be strange to one who knows Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology. If you have an objection to the presentation of Orthodoxy there, I would be surprised.
“e.g., that Fr. Stephen’s article was “syncretistic” — with what and how?”
Alas, AR was correct in her assessment– his treatment of law is reformed covenant theology outside the Orthodox tradition. But perhaps you can just give us a Migne citation for the Orthodox father he was following? If not, I hope that people who caught the slip will give a fine priest a break and forget about it.
“any ‘authentic Eastern theology is in its fundamental structure much more universalist'”
Is it your view that Orthodox believe in Augustinian double predestination of particular souls? If so, I am surprised. If not, then I suppose you see what I mean.
I must admit I am at a loss as to which theological world it is in which one is a syncretist if one is not quoting from the Fathers and in which the only two soteriological options are universalism and double predestination. How utterly bizarre.
Anyone who thinks my piece was Reformed covenant theology doesn’t know anything about Reformed covenant theology. For example, the way I define justification in my piece is completely opposite to the Reformed definition, which they consider to be the Gospel itself.
That criticism is essentially the equivalent of me writing a piece about freedom in Christ and using the verb ‘liberate’ repearedly, and you calling me a Roman liberation theologian.
That is to say, its shallow and silly. I know a lot of converts have post-Protestant stress disorder, and that covenant is apparently a trigger word, but it doesn’t make the concept, correctly defined, any less important to understanding the Scriptures.
Coming to this discussion a couple years late, but it is truly amazing the ignorance of the different varieties of covenant theology there are among some Orthodox commenters. A covenant, in Scripture, is a word used to describe a relationship. To speak of covenant is to speak of adoption and marriage. The covenant was the means by which Israel was the son of God and the bride of the Lord. If you think that Orthodox theology is just verbatim quoting of the Fathers, you don’t know how the Fathers did Orthodox theology- and the complaining about the use of “covenant” in Orthodox theology nears outright Marcionism, because the concept of covenant is a central thread running from Old to New Testaments. To speak of a covenant is to speak of a relationship within which deification occurs.
This kind of biblical illiteracy is shameful.
I have to say, from this conversation and the one attached to the previous article in the series, I am becoming increasingly convinced that folks like Bowman Waltman and Fr Andrew are both entirely correct about what they’re saying with reference to universalism as they are defining it. I am becoming convinced, moreover, that these positions are entirely compatible.
I see two clear definitions of universalism at work:
Fr Andrew’s: Universalism is the belief that all people will be saved in the end no matter what. It will be impossible not to be saved. Salvation is thus something done by God by force.
Bowman Waltman’s (and other’s): Universalism is the belief that in light of Orthodox eschatology and soteriology it is virtually impossible to imagine anyone really rejecting God to the very end.
One can, without question, agree with the second proposition, and heartily disagree with the first. I do.
If this is a debate fueled only by using the same term in two different ways, then we must find a more productive way to discuss things. Right now I only see people talking past each other and growing increasingly irritated while doing it.
Impossible to imagine does not constitute an implication to the conclusion. If it is impossible, then it is at least metaphysically necessary that all will be saved for option 2. In which case, option 2 just is option 1 all over again.
Okay, you win. I’ll leave the Orthodox faith.
If someone converted you to Orthodoxy by describing it as universalist, he did you a great disservice.
Does anyone know if the Assyrian Church endorses universalism? I ask since they venerate Theodore of Mopsuestia.
His name was Elder Sophrony. He lived at a little monastery in England.
I’m actually quite familiar with a couple of his spiritual children (two of my teachers in seminary). If he was a universalist, they never mentioned it. That said, even if he was, he is not beyond error.
Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz [St Silouan].
What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’.
Thanks for this. Do you have a reference?
St. Silouan the Athonite p. 109.
Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan are supposed by some to be universalists…obviously they’re not. Elder Sophrony evens frames this argument while commenting on Christ “drawing all men to himself”.
I can be of immense help to your patristic witness post. Merely say the word.
That would be great. One of the posts we had in mind was a catena of patristic quotes on the subject.
Wow… I just noticed something: Blessed Elder Sophrony actually states that belief in universalism actually inhibits the fervent prayer for the salvation of the world exhibited by St. Silouan:
“Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz.”
On the contrary, it was a well kept secret.
Cindy, I can’t tell what you are replying too (the threads only run so deep). What is a “well kept secret”?
I certainly pray you are being sardonic.
I think this has all become a clash about the definition of “universalism” rather than one about doctrine and theology. I have yet to see any substantive disagreement expressed on those latter points in these posts, even among those who believe themselves to disagree.
Honestly, this conversation has left me feeling quite heartened. I’m starting to think there is actually some pretty solid consensus in Orthodoxy here, and that it may well only be the vocabulary for describing it that is unrefined at present.
I’ve been thinking of leaving for quite some time. Things might be different if I still lived across the pond, but American Orthodoxy is being taken over by bible-bashing Protestants masquerading as Orthodox Christians. I am so convinced that universalism is true that I would bet my salvation on it, and I suppose that is, in a sense, what I am doing.
…American Orthodoxy is being taken over by bible-bashing Protestants masquerading as Orthodox Christians.
That’s a pretty broad-brush accusation. Do true Orthodox Christians not read the Bible? I have to wonder if the thoroughgoing dedication to the Scripture of the Fathers would also put them in the same category.
I suppose the question is not what individual fathers taught this or that view, but where does the Church per se teach Universalism as an article of faith?
Dear Ephraim, I don’t know you or your situation, and you may be familiar with everything I want to say here. But just in case you are seriously thinking of leaving Orthodoxy let me say this: I share with you not only your universalism but also the frustration of coming to a site where you see all the darkest sayings from the Fathers on display and no real acknowledgement of the sayings that indicate a glorious hope. And the beautiful and powerfully meaningful quote from St Silouan, “Love could not bear that,” has been distorted to mean that it was only talking about triumphalism and heresy. But I want you to know that the priests I know personally have told me that it is okay to hold universalism because there is nothing in it that goes against Orthodoxy, and that it is a legitimate minority opinion. Because the issue has not been dealt with dogmatically it simply can’t be taught as dogma (understandably). There are many priests out there who have a real understanding and sympathy for universalism and who do not assume that “majority makes right.” Things do change and priests are starting to “come out of the woodwork” on this issue. Even Ancient Faith Radio has posted some podcasts supporting and really understanding our position. Fr Michael Gills in one of his podcasts points out that there have been times when a very broadly held, prevailing opinion has, centuries later, been shown to be erroneous and even corrected dogmatically. So we can even legitimately hold onto a hope that issues such as St Isaac’s apocatastasis can eventually be dogmatized! – probably not in our lifetime.
I have often felt as you (after seeing ugly things on the internet) that I want to wash my hands of what seems like only a dark cult. But then I go to Liturgy. I remember when I first heard what St John Chrysostom said about hell I thought I would not be able to stomach the liturgy anymore. But of course it was still just as beautiful. I consider it providential that the Liturgy and the prayers accompanying it can be taken in a universalist light, even if parts of it were not necessarily meant to be taken that way originally. It has to do with the organic nature of the Church.
I think it is important to remember that, as one commenter has said elsewhere, “since the saints did NOT all agree on everything,” it is important to develop discernment. This “demands that an Orthodox Christian be not just a venerator of the Church, but must BE the Church; not just a respecter of her authority, but a WIELDER of her authority.” Your very love has authority. Also, remember that it is the Head of the Church to whom we owe our first allegiance. The Orthodox Church needs you, Ephraim.
And a quick note to Fr Andrew: I really am sorry, as I know you must be, to see such a sad and impossible meeting of the minds here. And yes, I’m aware you will disagree with almost everything I have written. May God have mercy on us all.
You make an interesting argument here, namely, that a prevailing view in the Church can and has changed.
I agree, though I don’t think this applies to the eternality of Hell. Why? The prevailing views in the Church that have changed, historically speaking, are ones that arose at a particular time and then departed after a time, usually after a conciliar condemnation. In other words, they were heretical innovations that enjoyed a brief period of popularity but then were defeated.
Belief in the eternality of Hell isn’t like that, though. It’s attested in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the councils, and the liturgical services of the Church for century upon century. (Do you realize just how many truly eminent Fathers you have to oppose to teach differently? We’re working on a post to illustrate that, actually.) Universalism has never been the faith of the Church. To suggest that the Church can or should change something it’s consistently believed for 2000 years is really just theological revisionism, i.e., theological liberalism. It’s not even the approach of the Reformers, who were at least trying to get back to what they thought was primitive Christianity. This is instead the view that the faith of the Church can be something for 2,000 years and then change to something else. Progressivism isn’t remotely Orthodox.
And yes, this is the confirmed faith of the Church, dogmatically proclaimed. To say that it is not dogma is to reject the ecumenical councils. Once you do that, well, I’m not sure why someone would even want to be Orthodox.
I share with you not only your universalism but also the frustration of coming to a site where you see all the darkest sayings from the Fathers on display and no real acknowledgement of the sayings that indicate a glorious hope.
If I may, the only way one could come to that conclusion from this site or from the other writings of its contributors is not to read almost anything else we’ve written. We happen to be focusing on this one topic at the moment. That doesn’t mean this is some kind of summa of everything we believe.
Fr Andrew, you say, “To say that [the eternality of hell] is not dogma is to reject the ecumenical councils.”
My slightly edited comment from a previous post:
I think most universalists of the St. Isaac strain can agree with the anathemas of the 5th council, even the most forceful one that is used to crush any version of apocatastasis. “If anyone says or holds that the punishment of demons and impious human beings is temporary and that it will have an end at some time, and that there will be a restoration of demons and impious human beings, let him be anathema.”
We affirm that the “impious” will never and could never make it to heaven, and as long as they remain impious their “punishment” will continue (have no end). The simple and beautiful belief of St Isaac is that the impious will cease to be impious as they experience the full force of the consequences of their sin. In other words when they “pie up” 🙂 they are no longer the “impious” whom the anathema addresses.
Isaac’s Universalism could only be dogmatized if Chalcedon is revoked since Isaac’s view depends on Theodoret’s view of divine impassibility, which was rejected at Ephesus and Chalcedon, not to mention Constantinople II. See Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God, and Clayton’s the Christology of Theodoret of Cyrrus.
I am slowly working my way through Ramelli’s massive tome (900 pages) of thorough Patristic research – excellent scholarly work of the first order – on the doctrine of Apokatastasis in the early Fathers. She also looks at its place among the Gnostics (who did not hold it) and its history within Greek Philosophy and elsewhere. It’s wonderfully done. The distinction between aidios (everlasting) and aionos (eternal or in the ages) seems to be quite key in a number of Fathers, including Irenaeus, who never (!) refers to hell as aidios, only aionos. I’m only a couple of hundred pages in, but it is at least certain that there is a conversation to be had that does not involve the use of a hammer. Just for argument’s sake, the Liturgical life of the Church is absolutely a place to go in understanding the mind of the Church. And yet we pray for all – for all the souls in Hades. There is no fixed dogma about exactly why we do this – but we do it. There are some things that are condemned (a certain treatment of teachings attributed to Origen) and others that are passed over in silence, or possibly even implied (such as by our prayers).
I think that universalists cannot dogmatize and teach what they do not know. But I think there is a wisdom in passing over some things in silence and with a gracious recognition that there are even spiritual giants who held an audacious hope regarding all things. There is even such language within the New Testament (particularly in St. Paul).
I think it is unwise to dogmatize in the present fashion where so many do not tread.
I’ve read a good portion of Ramelli. The phrase “excellent scholarly work of the first order” is not at all what I’d use to describe it. She’s just a classicist importing classical Greek terminology on top of the scriptural vocabulary; exactly like the gnostics did. There are gaping holes in the work. To give just one example, she highlights the universalist overtones of Acts 3:21 while completely ignoring Acts 3:23. She also skips over the first two centuries as if universalism wasn’t already being debated (hint: it was).
Ramelli’s work is bias of the first order. To use the phrase of another scholar (spoken to me privately), Ramelli is “throwing spaghetti to the wall to see what sticks.” I can’t think of a more apt phrase to describe the work.
Wow. Fr. Stephen says a certain “scholar” it is to be trusted, and Mr. McCallum says she is not, however he gives a concrete example of her bias (I am assuming he is correctly reporting this).
I have read elsewhere tonight that D. B. Hart reads Maximus in a peculiar and ultimately biased way, leading to his arrogant (there is no other word unfortunately) dismissal of the “infernalists”. I can not confirm or deny this, as anyone with a bit of honesty will admit that Maximus is a very difficult read.
Who to trust?? I suspect there is more than a little bias to go around.
However, the conversation is closed. The vast majority of Christians who have ever lived and ever will live are now “infernalists”. That says it all really…
What Nathaniel said, pretty much conforms to my reading of the text.
If a person listens to the Divine Services and reads the Councils and the commentaries of the Saints, they plainly speak of eternal punishment and explicitly warn us not to believe in universalism. And just as many Orthodox Saints told us not to embrace St. Augustine’s pneumotology and monergistic soteriology, many Saints (Germanos, Photios, Mark Eugenikos, etc, etc.) have told us not to embrace St. Gregory’s universalism (they even even debate if he was a universalist).
The very authors of our liturgies tell us not to fall into this Satanic deception:
St. Basil – “Although these and the like declarations [referring to eternal punishment] are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly.”
St. John Chrysostom – “There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened.”
You stated that universalism is in the writings of St. Paul, just as Calvinists find him to be source of their teachings, but we know that our greatest patristic Pauline commentators, Chrysostom and St. Theophylact, read St. Paul as one that condemned those theories? Not to mention, St. Peter said that St. Paul’s writings are difficult to understand; so should I trust Chrysostom or Ramelli?
A hope and desire that all will saved and prayers for the dead do not lead to universalism. The Fathers say that the dead cannot repent of themselves but that our prayers aid some in the way that the faith of others prompted the Lord to completely heal the paralytic lowered through the roof, and aid some to alleviate their suffering.
My questions are:
Knowing all this, how can I pass it by in silence and pretend as if our Tradition has not spoken on universalism?
The Fathers actually suggest to pass by St. Gregory’s errors in silence and not to broadcast them. Would you agree?
Would you say that Orthodoxy embraces neither eternal punishment or universalism definitively?
Looking forward to your answers.
“I think it is unwise to dogmatize in the present fashion where so many do not tread.”
I had to come back to this (though at this late date perhaps I am speaking to myself). Is the following “dogma”, or is it an “unwise dogmatization”, or perhaps mere OT interpolation piously but erroneously inserted, or is it mere allegory to be re-reinterpreted in light of an “audacious hope”, a “love” that can not abide the Church or Scripture but nonetheless held by “Saints” of said Church, or is it something else:
Righteous Judge of all mankind!
Thou wilt come to judge the living and the dead,
Enthroned in glory and escorted by Thine angels.
Every man will stand in fear before Thee,
Trembling at the river of fire flowing past Thy throne,
As each one waits to hear the sentence he deserves….
The books will be opened and the works of all men laid bare:
The vale of tears will echo with gnashing of teeth;
The sinners will mourn in vain, as they depart to eternal damnation….
I shudder in terror when I think of that dreadful day;
I weep as I consider the darkness that will never see light:
There the worm shall not cease, or the fire be quenched;
The pain of those who reject Thee will never end….
Terror and amazement seize me
When I think of the unquenchable fire of Gehenna,
Of the bitter worm and gnashing teeth.
But release me and forgive me, O Christ,
And set me in the ranks of Thine elect….
This and plenty more very clear “infernalist” doctrine to be found at:
Question to the universalists and the “universalist hope” position (including said “Saints” who hold to these positions): Do they simply skip services on the Sunday of the Last Judgement?
I find it humorous, to say the least, that Met. Kállistos Ware, in part responsible for the most widely used English translation of the Triodion, apparently didn’t think the liturgical evidence was as straightforward as you seem to, or at least, that the liturgical tradition which he has invested so much time and effort into hasn’t prevented him from nevertheless embracing and sharing a hope for the salvation of all as a legitimate possibility. I guess what I’m getting at is that to say “This is so clearly the right answer that it’s not even justifiable to conclude otherwise” is tantamount to calling into question the intelligence (and even the Orthodoxy) of many educated individuals in the Church, ordained and lay, who don’t see things as clear cut as you do. I wish you would interact with their actual material instead of pointing out how supposedly straightforward it all is.
To build on Fr. Stephen Freeman’s comment, I wish that there was more caution being exercised in O&H’s recent posts on universalism, and an accompanying attention being paid to the actual beliefs of Orthodox universalists/the articulations of this hope by Orthodox writers and authorities. As it stands, it seems like no fair hearing is being given, and it also seems like a hermeneutical free-for-all–my texts, saints, and lenses versus yours. It’s helpful to consider that diversity, certainly, but dangerous to emphasize some voices over others without showing the “hermeneutical math” of why those voices take precedent. As it stands, I’ve not seen a sufficient reason put forth as to why Fr. De Young and Fr. Damick’s reading of the Tradition on this point is more legitimate than SS Gregory of Nyssa’s, Isaac the Syrian’s, HE Met. Kallistos’, et al. Is it just that those voices don’t get it? They aren’t Orthodox enough? They don’t read the Bible correctly? Maybe so, but to prove any of the above, you have to interact with what THEY say and show where it goes wrong.
This is the basic error of “Your article would have been better if it had been about something else.”
We’re not writing here to take on those specific writers (who, I am not convinced, are actually universalists, but that is another subject). Rather, we are addressing a specific view.
And yes, of course it’s ironic that Metr. Kallistos collaborated on the translation of the Triodion I was mostly citing, if he is truly a universalist. I’ve read his relevant essay, though, and I don’t believe he actually is. Someone who asks “Dare we hope?” is not teaching “All will be saved.”
As for the “hermeneutical math,” there is more to come here. Each of these pieces is not intended to cover everything.
Where did you find that odd translation of the Kathisma from the 12 Gospels Service? It seems choppy and irregular in its English usage. (BTW, it is the first Sessional hymn, right before the 2nd Gospel).
The phrase you have bolded “knowing all the while that he was beyond redemption” is translated by Mother Mary & Met Kallistos as “Thou hast understood that he would not come to repentance”, the OCA booklet for that service has “though recognizing him to be beyond correction”. the phrase in Greek is ” ἀδιόρθωτον μὲν τοῦτον ἐπιστάμενος, ” which word for word is “uncorrected” or “not set aright that one understanding” or in English but still very literal “[Christ] understanding that that one [Judas] was not set aright”. The rather loaded word redemption is not actually there at all, and repentance is implied but not used. “beyond” or “would not come” are all translating a simple alpha privative. This sessional hymn does not really directly bear on the discussion you are trying to have.
Κάθισμα Ἦχος βαρὺς
Ἐν τῷ δείπνῳ τοὺς Μαθητὰς διατρέφων, καὶ τὴν σκῆψιν τῆς προδοσίας γινώσκων, ἐν αὐτῷ τὸν Ἰούδαν διήλεγξας, ἀδιόρθωτον μὲν τοῦτον ἐπιστάμενος, γνωρίσαι δὲ πᾶσι βουλόμενος, ὅτι θέλων παρεδόθης, ἵνα Κόσμον ἁρπάσῃς τοῦ ἀλλοτρίου. Μακρόθυμε δόξα σοι.
As Thou gavest food to the disciples at the Supper, knowing the plot for Thy betrayal, Thou has accused Judas of it. Thou has understood that he would not come to repentance, yet hast Thou desired to show to all that Thou wast betrayed of Thine own will, to save the world form the enemy. O longsuffering Lord, glory to Thee. Triodion translated by Mother Mary and Met Kallistos.
Kathisma ( Tone 7)
When Thou wast feeding Thy disciples at the supper,
Thou didst know Judas’ intention to betray Thee,
And Thou didst accuse him of this
Though recognizing him to be beyond correction.
For Thou didst desire all to know that Thou wast willingly betrayed
To snatch the world from the grasp of the enemy.
O long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee. – OCA Holy Friday Matins booklet.
At the Supper you nourished the Disciples and, knowing the plan of the betrayal, you exposed Judas during it. You knew he was incorrigible, but you wished to make known to all that you had been handed over willingly, that you might snatch the world from the Stranger. Long-suffering Lord, glory to you! Fr Ephraim Lash http://www.anastasis.org.uk/HWFri-M.htm
The translation is from the Antiochian Holy Week book.
In any event, these other translations still make the point. Someone who is “beyond correction,” etc., is not someone who is going to be saved.
If Orthodox Christians who are universalists (not simply entertaining a “hope” that all will be saved, but believing in some kind of purgatorial reconciliation) are unconvinced by Holy Scripture (which, after all, can and has been interpreted many ways), the vast majority of Church Fathers (including those who, like St. Mark of Ephesus, explicitly believed that those like St. Gregory of Nyssa were in error), sensus fidelium (belief in universalism ironically doesn’t strike me as very universal), and the universal liturgical tradition, which presents eternal condemnation as a real thing and not simply a paper tiger, then…what would?
Nothing. Which is why, I’m sure, this series does not exist to convince universalists of the truth but to clearly document the tradition so that those on the fence can see the weakness of the universalist claim.
There are two things that I think would have a helpful clarifying effect on this conversation and I hope will be addressed in a future blogpost. One has been touched on by Fr Andrew at least in the comments, the other I haven’t seen mentioned: eternity as timelessness rather than endless time, and the power of habit (that there is no reason to expect a habitual sinner who had not at least begun the habit of repentance to somehow drop the one habit and learn the other in the afterlife).
St. Maximus in Ambiguum 65 states that in the eschaton, all will “celebrate their Sabbath, receiving cessation from all motion. The eighth and the first, or rather, the one and perpetual day, is the unalloyed, all-shining presence of God, which comes about after things in motion have come to rest; and, throughout the whole being of those who by their free choice have used the principle of being according to nature, the whole God suitably abides, bestowing upon them eternal well-being by giving them a share in Himself, because He alone, properly speaking, is, and is good, and is eternal; but to those who have willfully used the principle of their being contrary to nature, He rightly renders not well-being but eternal ill-being, since well-being is no longer accessible to to those who have placed themselves in opposition to it, and they have absolutely no motion after the manifestation of what was sought, by which [the manifestation] what is sought is naturally revealed to those who seek it.”
Something quite similar is affirmed in Amb. 21:
[I]f the soul, as I have said, uses its own powers properly, and if, consistent with God’s purpose, it passes through the sensible world by way of the spiritual principles that exist within it, so that with understanding it arrives at God. If, however, it makes the wrong or mistaken use of these powers, delving into the world in a manner contrary to what is proper, it is obvious that it will succumb to dishonorable passions, and in the coming life will rightly be cast away from the presence of the divine glory, receiving the dreadful condemnation of being estranged from relation with God for infinite ages, a sentence so distressing that the soul will not be able to contest it, for it will have as a perpetually relentless accuser its own disposition, which created for it a mode of existence that in fact did not exist. (Ambigua to John, Ambiguum 21)
Me, too, TawniM, because Eternity as timelessness, not endless time, is one reason various stripes of actual Orthodox universalists or would-be universalists (as opposed to the deterministic Universalist Fr. Andrew is refuting) that I have read, think eternal punishment can’t mean never-ending in duration or that the “eternal” punishment of the wicked cannot possibly cease if the reason for it does–the reason for it, in this case, unlike in the case of “eternal” life, originating not uncontingently in God, but, like all evil, in the necessarily contingent will/state/nature of the wicked in their relationship to Him. This does not mean, however, that the punishment of the wicked therefore *must* cease. If the wicked, however improbably, by some act of God’s grace through the prayers of the Church cease to persist in their will to be wicked, their punishment will also cease, though it was said to be “eternal,” because it happened in the next life. This point was explained by Dr. Hart at Fr. Aidan’s site and is a key point in his argument for a form of Orthodox Universalism.
I would expect there are as many Scriptures, if not more (and Fathers, though most of these in a much more circumspect way–mostly by expounding on the nature of God, Christology, etc.) supporting a universalist hope by reason of the spiritual dynamic of their meaning, their direct declaration, as well as reasonable inferences we can make about what they reveal of the nature of God, the nature of the human person, and the nature of sin/evil, as as there are the same for an expectation of the possibility of irrevocable punishment after Final Judgment for the wicked. Like many things in Scripture (and the Fathers) there is a paradox here which creates a tension that I find, and as has been pointed out in the examples of Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan, is essential to being able to pray as they did and provides just the optimal mix of hope and cautionary fear to drive us to cling to God and to drive such prayers for the repentance of others IF we are able to hear them *both* correctly.
This is why I also believe it is improper to dogmatize that the salvation of all must happen, but improper also to teach that it deterministically never could or will happen (which is exactly what, many times, these apologies for dogmatizing Scripture’s warnings of Final Judgment in the way they are made here, do (albeit perhaps mostly unintentionally). I do not believe it is improper also, for this reason, to show a way Scripture and the Tradition could be read to show how it indeed could happen (not will happen–this must always be a matter of faith), based on what has been revealed to us, that all be saved. I think this is a necessary salvo to the western deterministic distortions of the nature of the state of affairs after Final Judgment revealed to us in the Tradition in the wake of the various philosophical movements that shaped the Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation theological traditions, and which I find persist in the lines of thought for dogmatizing what is understood to be what Scripture and Tradition teaches about hell at this site (and, of course, many other places as well).
(Ephraim, please tell me this gives you a reason to stick it out here in the Church! Really, this is where it’s at–even when it’s difficult. And we all mess up–that’s why we have forgiveness vespers. All that yuck turns to gold when we give it to Him!)
Hi! Where is it taught that the “Eschaton” will be timeless rather than endless time?
This is in response to the above article, not comments. You’ve hit the nail on the head. To be an Orthodox universalist is to be praying and hymning lies in the divine services as is easily demonstrated by your numerous citiations from the triodion
I find it really somewhat disingenuous that an article like this would ignore the contrary language of the services – the language of both “sides” is clearly present and documented in Met Hilarion’s Christ the Conqueror of Hell. Distorting the reality of the liturgical texts one way or the other.
Also it is worth noting that we say things like the Theotokos is our “only hope” all the time. And yet she is not, at least is the plain language reading.
How can the liturgical tradition take sides against itself?
Anyway, which specific passages did you have in mind?
Regarding “only hope,” that’s not really in the same class as this stuff, is it? That’s just a superlative, whereas these passages are a much more consistent and specific witness.
For example, siting CCOH, p 193, briefly, in the interest of time
Commenting on such texts as Great Saturday Mat. Can. O. 6 “Hell reigns but not forever, over the race of mortals”, Met Hilarion states “How should we understand the words, indicated above in italics, which declare that the reign of hell is not eternal? Can we see in them an echo of the theologoumenon on the finiteness of hell’s torments, expressed in the 4th century by Gregory of Nyssa or does it say that hell, unlike God is not eternal since it appeared as something “introduced from outside” foreign to God and therefore subject to annihilation? Again we stand before questions to which there are no single, easy answers…”
I am not sure what happened to my original reply, but like the Fathers there are texts compiled by different authors in different times – obviously they reflect that. The language around the Theotokos is a) more deeply scandalous to some than what I cited in some cases and b) in my opinion much more deeply tied to our understanding of Salvation as a practical matter – personhood, Grace, Christology, etc are all intimately connected to how we see her. It is of course my opinion, but I cannot see how this is less central a topic as a matter of course.
What are the chances of you inviting someone who has a different perspective on this issue to post on the blog?
If one of our writers wants to put something together, they’re welcome. If it’s someone else, we don’t usually take unsolicited submissions. But it’s not like there’s anything stopping someone from posting on his own blog.
I did not realize you had an established roster. Thanks for the reply.
I’m doing my best to give these issues an honest consideration on my own blog, and am looking forward to seeing what my interpretations yield. They will be just that, though. I am no expert.
I’d still love a response to the issue of free will and the view held by Universalists that their viewpoint does not violate it. It’s quite persuasive.
This is, in my opinion, where I see a lot of problems in the universalism discussion. There isn’t enough consideration of what free will is or how it operates. David Bentley Hart, who identifies as a universalist, hit on this over on Fr. Kimel’s blog “Eclectic Orthodoxy.” I am skeptical that the libertarian models of free will taken for granted by many in the West are appropriately placed in discussions about Orthodox theology.
Hart’s remarks are precisely what I had in mind. The nature of free will lies at the heart of what’s possible when we talk about salvation and our synergy with God. Hart made it clear that this is a large part of his Universalism, and I haven’t really seen it grappled with in any of these recent posts.
It would be nice to see this taken up. If Hart is right, the poor soul in hell would be more akin to a mentally ill patient neglected by the Physician than a simple rebel rejecting the King.
“A mentally ill patient neglected by the Physician”
Wow, this is a near blasphemous view. Christ will no more neglect us than He will forget that we exist (and thereby we cease to exist).
Its seems that Free-Will is much abused (precisely by the various definitions thrown around) by aspiring Orthodox theologians.
For us to use it the term is more of a compromise to the Western philosophical crowd. Free-Will as choosing is not actually willing or even free. Deliberation is a function of a will operating in a fallen way.
I don’t trust Hart on free will. His argument against the “libertarian” free will is a straw man. Others with more insight on Maximus have been criticizing him for his “peculiar” reading of Maximus (I don’t have the patristic background to judge this). He is “eccentric” to say the least, and the way he arrogantly dismisses those who disagree with him makes me wonder if he can be trusted on this (or anything else really).
To the question “where is the place of torments?” St John Chrysostom responds: “Why are you concerned about the place? What is important is the fact that it is and not where it is.” “I think that it is somewhere outside of this world…hell is outside of this created universe.” “Do not, therefore, ask where it is, but how to avoid it”. (John Chrysostom, On Romans, Homily 31,4-5 pg. 60,673-674)
“Let us not disbelieve that there is a hell, that we may not fall in it. For he who disbelieves in hell becomes more slothful and indolent toward virtue: he who is slothful and indolent toward virtue will develop a spirit of unrepentance and will surely end up in hell. As for us, let us believe in the existence of hell without reservation, and let us hold frequent conversation about it and thus we will not fall into sin readily and quickly. For the memory of hell acts as a bitter medicine and restrains and cures every evil.”(John Chrysostom, On The Future Judgment, PG 63,744
“It is just(the judgment of God) because while accepting the call of God, I was not obedient; while being taught, I was not paying attention; while they were reassuring me, I was jeering them; while I studied the divine word and knew it without disbelief, nevertheless, I spent the years of my life in negligence, laziness, and carelessness, in distractions and sinful confusion and guilty thrills. My months and days were filled by the labors, efforts and struggles for the temporal, the corruptible and the earthly.”(Cyril Of Alexandria, On The Exodos Of The Soul,PG 77,1073A)
“If you have faith in the Lord you will fear punishment, and this fear will lead you to control the passions.”(Maximos The Confessor, Four Hundred Texts On Love, Philokalia Vol 2, pg.53)
“Put evil to death so that you will not rise up dead (at the future judgment) and thus pass from a minor to a major death.”(Thalassios The Libyan, On Love, Self Control and Life, Philokalia Vol. 2, pg 328)
“If someone asks, “how can the soul endure such a great multitude of punishments and be punished for an endless duration of ages?”. Let him keep this in mind: When the soul received a body that is incorruptible and inconsumable, there is nothing that will obstruct the extension of hell into the infinite. The body will remain together with the soul eternally to be tormented, and there will be no other end at all”.(John Chrysostom, To The Fallen Theodore I 9,10 PG 47,289,290)
St Cyril of Alexandria in his shocking homily, “The Exodus of the Soul and the Second Parousia” confesses as follows, “I am afraid of the gehenna because it endures forever…I am afraid of the hell that has no end…I am afraid of the unbreakable bonds…For the temporal pleasure of sin I am forever tormented. There in hell there is eternal pain, endless grief, ceaseless weeping and gnashing of teeth and sleepless sighing: there in hell there is always woe! woe! woe! There in hell they shout for help and there is no one to help.”(Cyril Of Alexandria, On The Exodus Of The Soul PG 77,1072BC; 1073A; 1076D)
“Eternal means that which is forever, that which never has an end, never…The miserable sinners are condemned to remain eternaly in the fire being tormented…And above all remember, my sinner brother, the violence and ferociousness that the fire of gehenna will exercise over you, and which St Paul, wishing to describe it, said: A fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries(Heb. 10:27). Interpreting this verse, the saintly Theophylactos says: As a wild beast, when disturbed by someone, becomes angry and violent, so also that fire, becoming in a sense jealous and wrathful, is destined to be consuming eternally the enemies of God, that is, the sinners.”(Nikodimos Of The Holy Mountain, New Ladder, Constantinople 1844, pp. 188;191)
“Christ the Lord of all calls out and says, As long as you have the light, run to the light that the darkness may not overtake you. Run by way of repentance, run in the way of the commandments of Christ. But, if we do not choose to obey Christ our Lord and do not attempt, as long as we are found in this present life, to receive from Him the kingdom of God within us, when we go there we will hear Christ justly saying these things to us: Why are you asking now for what you did not want when I was giving it to you? Was I not often pleading with you to struggle for a while that I may give you the kingdom of heaven, and you did not want it, but rejected it preferring rather the earthly, the corruptible; now what is it you want? With what deeds or what words do you expect to be able to find the Kingdom from now on? For now is not the time for work, but for retribution.”(Symeon The New Theologian, Complete Extant Works, Part I, Homily 25,2 p. 136)
“Do you see how the devil succeeded in making us enemies of ourselves? Let us come to our senses, let us look carefully. Let us keep vigil, let us reach for the eternal life, and let us hold on to it tightly. Let us put away from us the abundant sleep of sin. There is a judgment; there is hell. The Lord is coming in the clouds. A river of fire is flowing before Him, the ceaseless worm, the unquenchable fire, the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth. Even if you are troubled a myriad of times over these things, I will not cease speaking them. There is eternal hell and it is inconsolable; there is no one to help us.”(John Chrysostom, On 1 Thessalonians, Homily 9,5 PG 62,454)
I am very strongly considering joining the Orthodox Catholic Church; at present I am Roman Catholic.
Let me say that this discussion of universalism is scandalous. I think it is a twisting of Sacred Scripture. Have we entered that time which is coming “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim 4:3)?
To know who is in Hell is not ours to know! Let our desire be in conformity with that of God our Saviour, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
I will stick with St. John of Damascus: “[The angel] is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance…what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance” (De fid. ortho. II, 3 and 4).
Where in this discussion has anyone claimed to know who is in Hell or (worse yet) to desire that anyone be in Hell?
The question is what exactly God has said about eternal punishment for the unrepentant.
I think I misspoke. I agree with you, Fr. Andrew Stephen, in your rejection of universalism. What I meant to say, by implication (“we don’t know who”), was that those who reject universalism aren’t being judgmental in trying to find people to condemn. That’s why the universalists’ canard about “The Infernalist Club” is just silly. We should pray that all be saved and hope that all are indeed saved, in accord with God’s desire that all are!
David B. Hart has a fresh talk on the topic of “creatio ex nihilo” and how it relates to the ultimate destiny of all creation. I still maintain that anyone rejecting apokostasis in the recent conversations has not adequately grappled with the topic of free will.
Please listen, and respond if possible.
Yes do grapple with the topic of free will. Just don’t use Hart as your only guide…
The above comments, so far I can tell seem confused about free will, or at least the conditions on free will that Libertarians think constitute freedom. Contemporary Libertarians such as Kane or Clarke or just about any other contemporary Libertarian do not mean by that term a sort of Voluntarism, where there is sheer unexplained or unrelated willing to other causes. It is not a morally or cognitively neutral power. So that is just a straw man. Something like this seems to have been proposed in the 18th and 19th centuries, but contemporary libertarians certainly do not write this way and have done a good amount of work to reject such a notion. Much the same is true for patristic writers in ages past such as Chrysostom, Cyril, Athanasius or Maximus when they wrote on such topics.
As far as the “West” goes the dominant tradition (Catholicism) is pretty much not Libertarian. Molinism is simply a form of Augustinianism. It is just a different way of cashing out predestination. What an agent will do in a given logically possible world is determined by their essence, so whatever free will means there, it doesn’t mean what Libertarians mean. Catholicism is probably more or less on a spectrum between Source Incompatibilism as far as temporal causes go and/or Soft Determinism as far as Theological Determinism goes.
What Libertarians generally mean by free will is captured by a few conditions. Ultimacy and Responsibility combined with Alternative Possibilities. Ultimacy means that the agent is an explanatory terminus or an explanatory end for their choices. If we trace back all of their choices and all of the other contributing causes and go back to an antecedent point prior to their choosing, we cannot fully explain what they did by solely considering antecedent causes. This is just to say that other causes are not jointly sufficient to explain their actions. This does not imply that there are no contributing causes with my own causal power that contribute to explaining my actions. There are, but it is just that they aren’t enough to do so on their own. This is just to say that my causal power is a kind of unmoved mover.
Being an explanatory terminus though does not imply that the power of choice has no natural moral content. There is no incompatibility between being oriented to the good as a telos and being an explanatory terminus. And as far as that goes, that is just what figures like Maximus have in mind as far as the power of choice.
Reasons are not causes. I can do things for reasons, but I can also have reasons for doing things that I never do. This doesn’t imply that reason is not a power but only that it is not a causal power. Reasons constitute intentions or plans of actions that get executed by volitional power, but reasons of themselves do not cause us to do things.
Some might object that being an explanatory end is irrational for it precludes us from giving a full explanation beyond or antecedent to the agent for why the agent does things. It is much better the objector proffers to say that the agent does the things he does because of his nature or for some other antecedent cause. Here are a couple of things to consider. First, this position might seem “queer” if one is a metaphysical naturalist, but I am not one so the objection seem to beg the question. Second, I see no reason why an explanatory terminus is of itself irrational just so long as it is sufficient to explain all of the resulting effects and is for contingent beings a la secondary causes sufficient for its own explanation. Third, for Xian Theists, God creates ex nihilo and it isn’t possible to appeal to the divine nature to explain why God creates rather than not. One might try to appeal to cashing out “could have” statements subjectively, but I think that project has been demonstrated to be a failure. Fourth, all this means is that persons are not “stuffs” or things where a full account of them can be given. That makes persons unique. I am just fine with that uniqueness.
What is the Responsibility condition? To be an explanatory end, specifically with respect to one’s character, what character one ends up having has to be up to them. So they have to be responsible for it and have to choose it. The self is formed by the self by self forming willings and actions. Virtue and vice work this way. Acting in a virtuous way disposes one towards virtue and activing viciously disposes one towards vice. This does not preclude other agents from participating in our self forming actions and self forming willings, but only that their participation is not determinative and determining.
If I am an explanatory end for my actions and character and if I am responsible for the character that I end up having, then I must be able to choose between different types of characters, which means I must be able to choose between different types of actions. From UR we get to AP by implication, that is alternative possibilities are a necessary condition for freely willed actions. This does not mean that all actions that are freely willed are chosen between alternatives though. What it does imply is that it is necessary that for any character determined actions I do perform, I chose them because of some antecedent choice I made somewhere in the past between alternatives and so formed my character in this way.
That is a rough sketch, but that is what Libertarians mean when they talk about free will. They do not mean some crass Voluntarism that is the bugaboo of Thomists or Stoics.
It’s worth pointing out, lest people be mistaken, that Molinism is not the dominant theological opinion of the Roman Catholic Church on these matters.
It probably wouldn’t hurt for people to read up on it:
True, but the CathEncy article is written at a time when Thomism was much more dominant than it is now. What is dominant in terms of theological schools fluctuates over time. Molinists have been prominent theological figures in Catholic history, like oh say, the Jesuits. Robert Bellermine for example comes to mind as having written the single longest and most sustained Catholic polemic against Calvinism.
As far as Maximus and Hart goes, so far as I can tell in his comments on Kimel’s blog, Hart seems to think that the gnomic mode of willing is permanent. That creates all sorts of problems. If it is so, then if gnome makes a fall into sin possible, why isn’t a fall from heaven possible? The impeccability of the saints goes out the window. Second, if it is permanent this implies that it is essential to human nature. Consequently, Christ is fully human and has a gnomic mode of willing and Maximus and the Sixth Council taught erroneously. If that is so then either Christ is two persons or is not fully divine since he is either a peccable person and an impeccable person combined by a relation of will or a divine but peccable person as the Arians thought. Or on the other hand, Christ is not fully human. None of those are acceptable positions. At the very least this view of a permanent gnome runs directly contrary to the teaching of Maximus and the Sixth Council, from which there is no court of appeal, not even Hart’s private judgment.
It is at the very core of Maximus’ position against the Monoenergists and Monothelites (and the Origenists) that gnome is temporary qua volition and in fact innocent per se, which is why it existed prior to the fall and why the Fall was possible, a point that Bathrellos for example has now admitted. It makes sin possible as a morally unfixed way of willing between real and apparent goods. This is why sin is always in the person principally speaking. Sin is in the mode of willing and not the nature pace the Manicheans. Behind Maximus’ reasoning is the logic of the Libertarian position, namely that our character has to be up to us, which is why the gnomic mode of willing, a hypostatic unfixed way of willing is possible and necessary at the outset for agents that have a beginning. They can’t be created fully morally formed. This is why they are given an easy commandment at the beginning.
Christ by contrast is as a divine person, not a person with a beginning, so while his character is up to him, he never goes through a process of habitation into the Good. Christ’s human power of choosing, like ours, is oriented to the telos of the Good, but his divine person is morally perfect so his use of that power is fixed in virtue, which is why he lacks a gnomic will. The saints in heaven become impeccable by becoming fixed in virtue. Now the orientation of the natural power of choosing to the telos of the Good only precludes alternative objects of choice if the good is simple and lacking in all plurality. But for Maximus it is precisely because this is not so that there are alternative good options of choice to choose between for impeccable agents, both for the saints in heaven and Christ in the Passion where both options are divinely willed goods. This is why the doctrine of the energies is crucial to rendering the Origenist problematic upon which Monothelitism depended irrelevant. Maximus points out the mistake of thinking that choosing between options entails choosing between options of morally contrasting values. He also makes two other crucial distinctions between the natural power and the hypostatic employment of that power, I suspect following Plato’s discussion in the Theaetetus and Aristotle as well. What happens to nature doesn’t necessarily imply a specific result at the level of person. Think infant baptismal regeneration. Making everyone immortal doesn’t imply making everyone a believer. He also rightly sees that taking the Good to be simple does not entail taking it to preclude plurality or as entailing a complete or exhaustive metaphysical unity.
hart mistakenly thinks that a will that is fully effective towards the Good apart from the alternative possibilities condition is what constitutes a genuinely free will, but he is mistaken for the same reason why Augustine was in his work Against the Academics. Whether the will is effective is a different question from whether the will is free. That is a fully effective will can be unfree because it is determined. So Hart isn’t even mapping the issues accurately.
So in the context of discussion over universalism, think of the insights above in the following way. Universalists often argue that God could essentially regenerate someone and remove whatever sinful thing it is that precludes them from repenting. Putting aside the questions regarding why God didn’t do this at the Fall and prevent years and years of massive amounts of evil, the fundamental question is, is whatever that sinful thing is, is it a matter of nature or person? If natural, then it would only secure the conclusion the universalist claims if the nature stands in a determining relation to the person. If it is personal, then we are again back to a form of determinism as well. It is not difficult to see how contemporary Universalism came out of Calvinism, it is just Calvinism writ large. This is why Universalism is incompatible with a Libertarian construal on the conditions for free will and why it is incompatible with Orthodoxy.
But here are some other things to consider. Universalism is a type of theodicy, how to reconcile the existence of evil (hell) with divine goodness. I’ve already pointed out why implicitly necessary universalism fizzles but how about contingent universalism, namely the idea that it is just a contingent fact that everyone is saved? This fails to solve the problem also and in fact makes things worse. Here is why. Suppose there are many logically possible world or collective situations God could have in one way or another brought about. The actual world is just the one that became, well, actual out of those possibilities. So if everyone is saved in this world, then this implies that in at least one other possible, yet unactual world not everyone is saved since that is what it means to be contingent rather than necessary. That means that God is morally perfect in all and only those possible worlds where everyone is saved, but not in those where they aren’t. And that implies that God’s moral perfection is also contingent. In this way Universalism appears to solve the problem of hell (and evil) but it doesn’t and only makes things worse. It doesn’t because the project is to adhere to a specific portrait of God in the process. Ironically, Universalism ends up dovetailing into a kind of Open Theism. The price to pay for Universalism is a non-Christian doctrine of God.
“Hopeful” Universalism really doesn’t do any better. Is the hope a true or a false hope? It is a true hope only if the state is or will become actual. That throws us back onto necessary or contingent universalism as well as knowing that it is a true that this thing is or will become actual. But Hopeful universalists say they do not know the truth of those propositions. If it is a false hope, then one wonders why one is hoping. Hopeful Universalism also fails to solve the problem.
None of the forms of universalism on offer actually solve the problem of hell. At best and at bottom they offer us a fundamentally platonic view of reality where goodness requires evil to shine out all the more (see Maximus Ambig 7)and this world becomes a kind of Hickian training ground. But the Christian God has no opposite and no need of evil to accomplish his ends, so this is a non-starter. Because universalism turns on the kinds of errors regarding choice and the nature of the Good, it will never rid itself of eventually positing some antecedent state of existence to explain why the we sojourn here. There is no way to maintain the line of argumentation for God bringing us up to moral and spiritual par to be saved without implying that that is a state from which we fell. In the end, Universalism is committed to denying the truth of self determination.
The fact the Triodion contains hymns which strongly imply — if not outright affirm — that the Jewish race is responsible has blood libel on its heads, I would probably be a tad more circumspect with how far one pushes the “doctrinal value” of certain liturgical texts — texts which have been subject to revision, amendment, and abandonment over the centuries.
It would probably be better to say that the liturgical tradition of the Eastern Church is well-stocked with texts that point to a much firmer theological position (if not a doctrine truth) on the eternity of hell and the possibility that many, if not most, people are destined for it.
No doubt you’ll note that this post doesn’t make the claim that (all?) liturgical texts equal dogma.
In any event, the point is that, if it really is the case that the Church doesn’t teach the eternality of judgment, then it certainly spends a weird amount of time singing that judgment is eternal.
Right. I suppose my larger point is that people can get into liturgical proof-text wars, which may not be very helpful. I have no doubt — though I’d have to spend a bit of time confirming this — that certain Paschal season liturgical texts could be taken to imply either universal salvation or the non-eternity of hell. In fact, isn’t this the point +Hilarion attempts to make in his book?
I haven’t read his book, but it’s worth noting that in his more recent encyclopedic book, he states rather blandly that the Church rejected universalism. I can’t seem to find the reference at the moment, but I believe Perry has posted it somewhere.
That said, being rather familiar with the texts in question, at best they might imply universal salvation. But when it comes to the eternality of judgment, the texts come right out and explicitly speak against it.
It’s at the beginning of a long passage (pp. 557-571) in which he deals with the question of apokatastasis in Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Maximus. The first sentence sums it up: “At the same time, the Orthodox Church is far from the excessive optimism of those who maintain that at the end time God’s mercy will extend to all of righteous humanity and all people, including great sinners, and together with them the devil and his demons will be saved in a lofty form by will of the God who is Good.”
Isn’t Pascha the most beloved time of the Church year, and not the Triodion? Surely you must be mistaken.
Surely you also agree that what we are running from can only be understood in the light of what we are running toward, as the Triodion is not the final word. From the end of the Triodion violently bursts forth Pascha, the first and final Word on all matters.
While I do believe the absolute Paschal triumph over death and hell inaugurates the universal salvation of all, I see no need to revise the liturgical tradition of the church, nor to stop singing of the Lenten reality of our dire need for and hopelessness without Christ’s Paschal trample over death. You draw a wholly unwarranted conclusion.
What you’re saying only makes sense if the Pentecostarion is in fact somehow opposed to the Triodion. But it’s not. Interpreting the former in opposition to the latter does a pretty deep violence to the Orthodox liturgical tradition.
Father I am not suggesting an opposition, but rather a fulfillment, just as Christ did not come to oppose, overthrow, or do deep violence to the Law (this was the accusation of the impious) but rather to fulfill it. Hence the OT is part of the Christian Scriptures, but not after its meaning was radically altered through Christ. We cannot understand the Triodion aright without the Pentecostarion – in fact the Triodion as it closes anticipates and heralds its end – the Resurrection Sunday, the Eighth Day, the Feast of Feasts, the Holy Pascha.
You will have to demonstrate how Pascha’s demolition of death does violence to our liturgical tradition. It is the very basis and possibility of our tradition!
The destruction of death doesn’t preclude eternal damnation. (Death doesn’t mean ceasing to exist, either.) Indeed, the resurrection is what actually makes that possible. Jesus said that there are two directions one goes after the resurrection — life or judgment.
In any event, the Triodion isn’t a pre-Christian text. It’s written precisely in the wake of the Resurrection and with Pascha liturgically in mind. Anyway, it seems to me that you’re using fulfillment here to mean bare contradiction or negation, not truly fulfillment in the sense of the revelation of Christ that the Law always assumed. We can’t go from saying that eternal punishment is real to saying we were just kidding. That’s not fulfillment. That’s rejection of the teaching of the Church.
I’m intimately familiar with all these texts, since we serve a lot of services at my parish. There’s no indication in any of them — not even the Paschal ones — that universalism is an acceptable doctrine. But there sure are lots of indications that it’s not.
[BTW, please do not submit the same comment multiple times. It gets dumped into our spam filters when you do that, making the publication of your comment much less likely.]
I am merely suggesting that the reality of the eternal triumph of Pascha, established “from the foundation of the world”, has to be accounted in the understanding of eternity (of punishment, hell). The point being there is nothing, not even time or eternity, that is not relativized by Pascha.
Hence my point, echoing your words precisely- the Triodion isn’t a pre-Christian text, it was written and is celebrated in the light of Pascha.
Pascha constitutes a “bare contradiction and negation” of the eternity of Hell and death – and I therefore stand by my original comment: as a believer in universal apokatastasis, the triumph of Pascha over endless death and hell, I see no need to revise the liturgical tradition of the church, nor to stop singing of the Lenten reality of our dire need for and hopelessness without Christ’s Paschal trample over death.
I do not expect you to agree with me, nor am I making this out to be dogma, as the Church in her wisdom has refrained from doing so. I hope you understand my position however, and my reaction to your statement that “Teaching universalism means we would have to stop singing about this reality.” Universalism does not deny the need for repentance and the reality of punishment; therefore, then, universalism does not mean “we would stop singing about this reality”
Pascha constitutes a “bare contradiction and negation” of the eternity of Hell and death…
That, you’d need to go to some lengths to prove, since the weight of tradition is very much against that. Indeed, every time some form of universalism comes up in Church history, the Fathers argue against it. Every time. If universalism were true, then that wouldn’t happen. And it also wouldn’t be tucked away as some little minority stream that requires cobbling together a few quotes from a handful of writers. It would be proclaimed loudly by the Church. But it isn’t proclaimed at all, not anywhere.
The power of death is definitely destroyed, but that doesn’t negate the eternality of the punishment of the wicked. It actually is part of why it’s eternal. The universal redemption of human nature makes the wicked to exist forever. The resurrection is what makes annihilationism impossible.
[FYI, I am having trouble submitting comments, I submit but then it just disappears and there’s no notification about “awaiting moderation” – no message at all. Did you receive my last comment, made about 30 minutes ago? I have no indication it was received. Thank you.]
My guess is that somehow your comments are scoring as spam, because they’re getting dumped into the spam folder. I will try to keep an eye on it. Please don’t try to submit them multiple times, else it will only get worse.
I think there’s a distinction that Fr. Andrew points out – the redemption of our fallen nature through Christ’s Resurrection opens up to us the doors to salvation, yet even Christ states plainly that those who did not visit Him when he was sick, clothe Him when he was naked, feed Him when he was hungry will be condemned. Christ is clearly talking about a reality that is to come. Before Christ we were all slaves to the ruler of the world (i.e. the devil) and our death was a consignment unto Hades.
We also have in the tradition of the Church the Kerygma – the preaching to those in Hell (i.e. the old testament righteous who didn’t know Christ but came to hear the Good News following his descent there). Christ raises up fallen Adam as he raises us up – assuming of course we accept him in his teachings. That same “raising up” will not befall those who hear the word of God and don’t keep it.
If there’s anything at all “universal” it’s that salvation which was once not available is now available, but do we answer God’s call? We all of us, every single one of us have the capacity. We of course don’t know the state of one another’s souls and to presume that we do is judgement that’s not ours, but to say unrepentant sinners, heresiarchs etc. are saved can never be said to have been the teaching of the Orthodox.
Fr. Damick, would you say that Hell is not punishment from God, but that it is our own punishment we bring upon ourselves by our rejection of Christ? That Hell is our experience of the fire of God’s love, but not something created by God to torment sinners? (This is unanimously what I’ve been taught as Orthodox)
If so, how do we understand that in light of the language of the liturgy, which you have pointed out, which seems to attribute more of the vengeful actions and emotions directly to God?
My sense is that the almost monergistic explanation that you describe is not really the full picture of what’s happening in damnation. We can’t just wave our hands at the Scriptural and liturgical language of God actually being involved and hope that it goes away.
Certainly, we are the critical factor in whether we are saved or not, but just as salvation is synergistic, so is damnation.
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