Apokatastasis

Lydia McGrew has posted a great-hearted and generous essay on Heaven, The Glorious Liberty of the Children of God, which I heartily encourage you to read. The following started out as a short comment thereto, but became too long, and thus too presumptuous to post as such on someone else’s site. So, I inflict it on you! Thanks, then, to Lydia. I loved that post. Some reactions, beginning with a quote:

We don’t know what [a new Earth] will be like. Will there be germs, while we are simply resistant to them? If there are dogs, cats, and horses, will they have puppies, kittens, and foals, and how will the animal population problem work if they do? Where will our food come from, and how will we acquire it without the “sweat of our brow”? Bugs certainly have their place in the present ecosystem, but a new earth containing ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers sounds a bit problematic, so how is that going to work? We have no idea of the answer to any of these questions.

The key here seems to me to be that Heaven – or, what is to say more or less the same thing, our own world as properly ordered – is not subject to entropy. This it seems to me is what must be signified by an end to death, sorrow, weeping, and so forth. In the Garden, the food will just be there, and no one will have to work for it. Panthers won’t need to hunt and kill, and chiggers won’t need to bite. In a limitlessly fecund world, there can’t be a problem of overpopulation.

Paul even hints that in some sense the redemption and recreation of the whole world is bound up with us.

Yes. And vice versa. You can’t redeem a part of the world, which is integral thereto, without redeeming the whole shooting match.

… it now seems to me that verse 32 [of Romans 8] is about the redemption of the body and of the creation. God will with Jesus Christ give us all things–new bodies that never grow old or ill, freedom from pain and death, the end of sorrow, and the beauty we have loved in this world, translated into a new key.

In fact, perhaps the distinction between spiritual riches and recreated earthly riches is a little artificial, and perhaps we would see it to be wholly artificial if we were sufficiently spiritually insightful. Paul can be read here as teaching a kind of mystical spiritual truth–that the redemption of our souls and the redemption of our bodies and the redemption of the world are all bound up together at the root.

Yes. What would you be without your body? What would you and your body be without your past – without the past of the whole world, of which you and your body are processes? To get Lydia, properly so-called, you need to get Lydia’s world in the bargain. And vice versa. Lydia is an indispensable aspect of this world in which we all find ourselves. So if Lydia is going to get into Heaven, her world is going to have to get in with her. And vice versa.

Perhaps it’s a kind of spiritual mathematical equation: If we understood everything, we would understand why the whole of Nature was skewed and damaged by the Fall of Satan and the Fall of Man. Then we would also understand why it simply follows that when the Church Triumphant is gathered together in the presence of our Lord, when this present human history of mingled sorrow, misery, beauty, and grandeur comes to an end, when the glorification of human nature is completed, creation itself will “come right” and be recreated, so that what comes after is the best of all, though we can glimpse it now only through a glass darkly.

Yes! Things either cohere in such a way as to form an integral world, or they are as nothing to each other – not a world at all, and therefore nothing at all (for, creatures cannot be at all except as related to some other). So, you can’t completely repair any part of the world without fixing every bit of it. That’s why love is so important. The less defective we are, the more we love, and the more we love, the less defective we are. And, the more we love and the less defective we are, the less defective and the more coherent is the world. Coherence is effected by coinherence.

These considerations all lend a certain weight to Origen’s heterodox – and yet, not quite heretical – notion of apokatastasis: that, if only due to Omnipotence, the salvation of the world must involve the eventual salvation of all beings, including even Satan. What contingent creaturely error, after all, could stand forever against eternal Truth, and never ever discover and embrace its own correction, as the opening to an everlasting career of sublime joy? The notion seems a bit crazy.

Say for example that, God forbid, one of your children or mine fell into permanent and unrepentant and mortal sin, so that she never made it into Heaven, but was doomed to everlasting Hellfire or to the second death, and thus forever lost to us. How could Heaven then be ever quite completely good for us, who had managed to avoid that abyss? How then could the tears be ever wholly wiped from our eyes? How in that case could God keep his covenant with us?

Ditto then also for that lake where we summered once, for the broken toe, for the Arctic, for Alpha Centauri, for chiggers. It’s a package deal. None of it can rightly be left altogether behind, or utterly omitted. Would Heaven be fully heavenly if Salisbury Cathedral were not there, warped piers and all? Would it be fully heavenly if there were there no sweet and solemn churchyards full of grave stones slumbering in the green grass under the shade of the oaks, no commemorations of the dead, no Requiems, no Evensongs, no night? It would not. Somehow Heaven must include, rehearse, correct, appropriate, dignify and sanctify, not just the great and good, the noble and sublime, and not just the lowly and poor, the humble and meek, but also all lacks and losses, all defeats, all wounds, all sacrifices, perhaps even all vanities (the vanities of kittens are charming to us; perhaps our vanities charm the angels). We get a foretaste of this in tragedy, the most sublime form of dramatic art. All sadness, properly construed, is transcendent – i.e., transcends our predicaments, and opens a doorway to some higher resolution that delivers us, by ways apparent to us, howsoever obscure, to a grave delight, to joy at the last, as at things all gathering and falling surely, irresistibly into their due and proper and glorious order.

Our serene confidence at Evensong is the fruit of our participation in the Mass. Without that sacrifice, all would be lost to hopeless everlasting night. With it, what good can ever be utterly extinguished? So I conclude that someday, somehow, the permanent residue of goodness, power, knowledge and nobility even of Satan’s immortal seraphic nature will survive the purgation of all his wickednesses and errors, and he shall return to his Father’s house: diminished, to be sure, but healed. He is the archetype of the Prodigal Son. His error is after all finite, while the Father’s Truth is not. How then could his error ever permanently prevail?  

St. Thomas says that, as aeviternal, angels cannot change their minds. But, an everlasting career of disobedience being a reproach to Omnipotence, and thus impossible, this can only mean that Satan’s permanent, changeless decision is to rebel for a time, and half a time – and then, to turn from his wickedness forever. We do the same sort of thing when we decide to indulge our gluttony on Shrove Tuesday (just a bit!) and then observe a stringent Lent.

In Romans 8, Paul says:

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is true for every creature. How could any creature be – how could it exist – as wholly separate from Omnipresence? As there is then no way to be somewhere that God is not, so there is no power that may permanently separate any creature from the Love of God – not even the powers that inhere in such creatures. We cannot permanently decide that God will not in the end gain the victory in our lives. As if! How could we possibly prevail against the ubiquity of Omnipotent Providence, that utterly pervades each moment of our living careers, surrounds and environs them, and gives them rise? All we can do is put off the eventual day of reckoning, the morning when we wake from our impudent dream of self-sufficience.

And it is really no more than that, which separates us now from Heaven: a dream, that dies at the opening Day.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home. 

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure. 

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same. 

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again. 

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun. 

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

 –        Isaac Watts, paraphrasing Psalm 90

36 thoughts on “Apokatastasis

  1. When ‘the heathen’ was something far away, strangers at worst and enemies at best, and when one Church encompassed all of society in a given place, it was simple to believe that people were simply saved or damned, and the flames of Hell going up within sight of Heaven could only be imagined to improve the view; after all, you would not have reason to imagine the people you care about burning in there. Indeed, an even darker picture of things had to be preached to warn people away from complacency:

    http://orthosphere.org/2012/02/28/how-many-saved-how-many-damned/

    (fwiw I am wary of agreeing with the view presented in the article above, just as I am wary of agreeing with unqualified Origenism or whatever other Universalism might be proposed)

    Nowadays nations and creeds are endlessly mingled, so that one no longer has hope of surviving to Heaven with one’s relations anywhere near intact, based on the straightforward belief that it is necessary to profess a highly specific faith, or apply a set of efficacious sacraments. Under this strict rule of salvation, the most one can hope for in terms of not seeing the majority of surrounding people damned is for some kind of mass revival or conversion; a thing many people have been disappointed in, and so had their hope sorely tested.

    The current most-sane position I can think of is to allow ourselves the Hope that God will allow the others to repent after death, while taking no such mercy for granted with respect to ourselves. (Also praying that we may not ourselves prove to be the damnation of others.) This is an incoherent double standard on a purely theological level, but a solid rule of thumb for day-to-day conduct.

    I would add that the ideas expressed in this article were refuted by some Church fathers with what they held to be an ironclad argument, along the lines that “if all will be saved, then the Gospel was revealed in vain, and in vain were the Church and sacraments instituted,” &c….

    In general, any account of this sort tending towards universalism has to answer:
    – what is the role of the Church in this whole process?
    – if everything worth saving will be saved eventually, what exactly is at stake in the here and now?

    • The current most-sane position I can think of is to allow ourselves the Hope that God will allow the others to repent after death, while taking no such mercy for granted with respect to ourselves. (Also praying that we may not ourselves prove to be the damnation of others.) This is an incoherent double standard on a purely theological level, but a solid rule of thumb for day-to-day conduct.

      Agreed. The tradition that after the Passion Christ harrowed Hell, raising up such as Abraham, gives us some indication of how this could work. I know that if I were in Heaven, and my daughter in Hell, I would go down to Hell to succor her as best I could. I can’t see how the Father who gave his only begotten Son to the same end would do otherwise.

      … the ideas expressed in this article were refuted by some Church fathers with what they held to be an ironclad argument, along the lines that “if all will be saved, then the Gospel was revealed in vain, and in vain were the Church and sacraments instituted,” &c. …

      That argument never made sense to me. What is saved is saved *by way of* the Gospel, the Church and her Sacraments. The Incarnation is not in vain, it is the way God acts to achieve his victory.

      In general, any account of this sort tending towards universalism has to answer:
      – what is the role of the Church in this whole process?

      She is the instrument of our salvation; the embodiment of our Way, of Truth, of the Light. That God’s victory is sure does not mean it needn’t be won, or that triumph will not be costly. The Church is the human regiment of Sabaoth, engaged in that bitter struggle, that Sabaoth can no wise lose.

      – if everything worth saving will be saved eventually, what exactly is at stake in the here and now?

      Ensuring that there is a greater quotient of good to be saved, and that what is rescued is minimally diminished; that there will be fewer if us walking about in Heaven one-eyed or one-handed. Because what we are at any given point in our career is an integration of our whole past, we bear the consequences of our sins as a permanent diminishment of our ontological capacities. Once I have murdered a man, I can never again be innocent of murder; the damage to my moral and ontological capacity is permanent, even though my sins be forgiven. When they are calcined away, there will be less of me left over, forever, than there might have been, had I never murdered.

      The doctrine of universalism is not, properly construed, that all are saved, but rather that all that is good is saved. Anything less would be an insult to Omnipotence or Omnibenevolence. Such good as there is of any of us, then, must eventually be saved, however paltry it be. Upon this assurance rests our hope of everlasting life; and it is the only way I can make sense of the doctrine that repentance and faith even by such a miserable worm as I suffice to admit me to life everlasting (if my admission were purely a function of my personal sanctity, I’d be in bigger trouble than I am). That everlasting life might, however, as diminished by sin, be terribly impoverished; which, in comparison to the saints in their beatitude would no doubt seem quite painful; like, say, unquenchable fire. Still, it would be a start.

      • Just some comments, as the scope of discussion is reaching the edge of those things that I can contemplate without being given an aid to my vision that I don’t deserve.

        That argument never made sense to me. What is saved is saved *by way of* the Gospel, the Church and her Sacraments. The Incarnation is not in vain, it is the way God acts to achieve his victory.

        This does beg, though, for a sacrament-by-sacrament account.

        I’ve read accounts that do not depend on sacraments, and plausibly imply apokatastasis through co-inherence and the Two Great Commandments; there, the only necessary ingredients are a person with Faith in Christ according to the first commandment (as Christ is the only Saviour who can pull people out of a doomed universe), and an unbroken chain of people connected to the faithful person through the second commandment. Likewise, we would assume that the aspects of nonhuman Creation which we love or depend on would also be pulled along, though without any especial thought on our part.

        Such an account fulfils the scripture that everything comes to the Father through Christ, although it may do so as part of a transitively extended chain of salvation.

        c.f. here Virgil is imagined to be saved through being linked via the second commandment with actual Christians who love his poetry:

        http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.ca/2012/03/cs-lewis-on-substituted-love-and.html

        Ensuring that there is a greater quotient of good to be saved, and that what is rescued is minimally diminished; that there will be fewer if us walking about in Heaven one-eyed or one-handed. Because what we are at any given point in our career is an integration of our whole past, we bear the consequences of our sins as a permanent diminishment of our ontological capacities. Once I have murdered a man, I can never again be innocent of murder; the damage to my moral and ontological capacity is permanent, even though my sins be forgiven. When they are calcined away, there will be less of me left over, forever, than there might have been, had I never murdered.

        Perhaps. I am inclined to agree on the very flimsy grounds of personal experience, along with the examples of creative personalities such as Tolkien, that the salvation or damnation of a soul is a more dire issue than just the presence of a given personality and set of memories in Heaven. The individual soul, governed by an image of God, may in some sense be a functional microcosm of the universe, and the earthly human is referred to in Biblical imagery as just a seed being planted in the ground, eventually to grow into something that cannot quite be guessed at, and which I would assume the ego only represents a small and unimportant part of.

        (I use the example of Tolkien due to his very clear and obvious idea of sub-creation, but keeping in mind that in terms of sanctity and spiritual life Tolkien was an ordinary, solid Catholic family man. It is not difficult to see, though, how essential Tolkien’s religion was to his creative work.

        Next to Tolkien, I cannot guess at what the saints will be capable of, as their earthly deeds revolve around renunciation, but their greater capacity to fulfil the Two Commandments puts them in contact with a vastly larger part of the universe than ordinary people.

        Now that I think of it, Catholic and Orthodox teaching gives us a hint of exactly how much the saints get to do in the afterlife, even just with respect to intervening in the existing fallen Creation.)

        And given the capacity of an individual soul, then, souls in communion with one another become unimaginably more than that.

        And given the immense capacity of a soul that attains sanctity in this life, it is easy to see how far this capacity might be reduced if the soul fails to attain sanctity or transgresses and is then forgiven — without the process necessarily ending in damnation.

        That everlasting life might, however, as diminished by sin, be terribly impoverished; which, in comparison to the saints in their beatitude would no doubt seem quite painful; like, say, unquenchable fire.

        Here I am extremely wary of the nod to ‘river of fire’ type theology that reduces the unquenchable fire to a question of point of view (here, disappointment at being deprived of beatitude). I certainly can’t imagine ending up *simultaneously* in the unquenchable fire and in Heaven, unless my soul contained multiple conscious and cooperating viewpoints which were separated at the Judgment (one found to be correct, one found to be irredeemably broken and unable to view anything but Hell, much like the sinners in The Great Divorce). This is possible, but would require further explanation than just a drive-by metaphor.

      • A beautiful comment, Arakawa. Thanks. I particularly loved this:

        Now that I think of it, Catholic and Orthodox teaching gives us a hint of exactly how much the saints get to do in the afterlife, even just with respect to intervening in the existing fallen Creation.

        And given the capacity of an individual soul, then, souls in communion with one another become unimaginably more than that.

        And given the immense capacity of a soul that attains sanctity in this life, it is easy to see how far this capacity might be reduced if the soul fails to attain sanctity or transgresses and is then forgiven — without the process necessarily ending in damnation.

        I too am somewhat reluctant to treat the unquenchable fire as nothing more than a matter of perspective, as if it were not real, but only a glass half full/half empty sort of thing. That seems to cheapen the whole enterprise, and to derogate the fullness of the glass as much as the emptiness.

        Yet at the same time it is important to remember that sin’s vitiation of moral and ontological capacity weakens more than just the scope and power of the sinner’s creative agency. It weakens also every other sort of capacity, especially the sinner’s capacity for enjoyment of experience. Indeed, enjoyment is the inward aspect of outward agency; we could say that agency is the deployment of enjoyed values (this fits neatly with the conservation laws, such as karma). The saint’s experience of humdrum mundane life is generally ecstatic, while sinners are generally more or less miserable no matter what is set before them (viz., the dwarves in the last pages of The Last Battle). The quotidian street that seems glorious to the saint, huge, splendid, and paved with the jewels and gold of the New Jerusalem and charged with deep and beautiful significance, will seem to the sinner sordid, ugly, small, meaningless and repulsive. There is nothing magical about this: closer to the norm of human life, the bright sun is joy and balm to the healthy young athlete, torture and weariness to the drunk afflicted with a hangover. At its extreme nether limit, then, the minimum of capacity for enjoyment would make all experience agony. And that agony would be real, as the spaciousness of the saint’s life is real.

      • The doctrine of universalism is not, properly construed, that all are saved, but rather that all that is good is saved.

        But in essence aren’t you saying that all are saved, but not all of each person is saved? Mother Theresa is saved, and likely 99% of what makes MT. Hitler is saved, but likely only .01% of what makes Hitler (assuming “what makes Hitler” has .01% that is good – one piece of his mustache walking around Heaven)?

      • Well, I’m not saying that all persons are definitely saved, as the persons they now are; I’m not totally comfortable with the notion that universalism is simply true. On the other hand, it is hard for me to see why God would destroy something good, destroy it permanently, when he has the ontological resources to maintain it in being, at no cost to himself. There is no need to destroy evil, for as a defect of being it has no actual existence in itself, but is rather a measure of the degree to which a being fails to achieve the values it might have actualized. Evil is a defective act of an otherwise good being. What is needful for the salvation of an errant creature is, not the destruction of the good that remains to it, but the conversion of that good toward righteousness, so that it may thenceforward reliably achieve all the values it can.

        Even at the point of his death, there was a lot that was good in Hitler. There was in him somewhere still a memory of his innocent boyhood, of his career as a painter, of his love for his friends and family. He could not have been totally evil and survived. And as there is no sin that God is impotent to redeem, so there is no sinner whom God is impotent to save. Say then that just as he pulled the trigger to kill himself, Hitler repented, and God saved him. The person that survived into that salvation would no longer be the person who felt it was just peachy to exterminate millions of lives. He would be the person who had once felt that way, but had then repented of that feeling, who had rejected it, *and was therefore now a different sort of person altogether,* as the sober alcoholic is no longer a drunk.

        Now, there are important respects in which the ontological and hedonic capacity of that surviving, saved Hitler would be permanently diminished, as compared with the capacities he might have enjoyed had he not Fallen quite so far before he repented. The analogy to the sober alcoholic is instructive. The sober alcoholic is no longer ontologically and hedonically diminished by the drunkenness in which he once stewed. But he will never again be able to enjoy alcohol. Not only will he not be able to enjoy it as he did when he was a drunk, but he will not be able to enjoy an innocent glass of wine or a hale and roborative pint of beer as he once could, before he became a drunk. The whole realm of pleasures attendant upon the consumption of spirits is foreclosed to him, for the rest of his life. Compared to his drunken self, he is enlarged; but compared to the innocent self that preceded his alcoholism, he is diminished. In just the same way, we may suppose that Hitler as saved will be forever less of a person, less of a being, than would have been the case if he had repented and then died in WWI, before he went so badly off the rails.

        Notwithstanding all that, insofar as creatures exist at all, they are potent to reject their salvation. So long as they continued to reject salvation, they would then experience the uncreate Light of God’s Love as tormenting, burning, calcining fire. And because God will not destroy the good that remains even to profoundly defective creatures, including their power as agents to reject him, that rejection – together with its wages of torment – can in principle go on forever.

      • @c matt

        But in essence aren’t you saying that all are saved, but not all of each person is saved? Mother Theresa is saved, and likely 99% of what makes MT. Hitler is saved, but likely only .01% of what makes Hitler (assuming “what makes Hitler” has .01% that is good – one piece of his mustache walking around Heaven)?

        The idea, stated most baldly, wouldn’t be that, walking around Heaven, you would encounter 1% of Hitler’s mustache, but that you may encounter more or less the person Hitler was before he began to go wrong. This may just be a six-year old whom an earthly observer might scarcely think to associate with a wicked dictator; a typical child who was born, loved to some degree by his family, and died – at that early age – fallen to the depredations of demons. In the visible world this spiritual death had the consequence of unleashing first a sullen and incompetent college student, then a rabble-rousing populist politician, and finally a warmongering dictator; a person worse and worse by degrees.

        To expand on how this works, I have an unfortunately presumptuous essay that pictures the child who undergoes spiritual death as remaining trapped in the back of the unconscious mind, as though someone behind the wheel of an out-of-control bulldozer he does not know how to drive safely, or as someone who has drunk strong wine and proven that he cannot be trusted with alcohol:

        http://nonapologia.tumblr.com/post/43846005462/brief-experimental-theology-of-heaven-and-earth

        This is exceedingly threadbare as theology, but it is a picture of sin as spiritual death all the same, which at the very least shows a link between Resurrection and the spiritual renewal that comes from repenting our sins during this life. In this picture our soul dies as a consequence of sin; not just in the form of the general fact of physical death coming into the world as a consequence of original sin, but of a particular instance of sin leading to immediate (if partial) death of the soul in that very instant, through diminution of its future capacity for good.

        One possible objection is that, in this view, sin has no consequence and thus the war against evil is entirely illusory; but I would point out that, on the contrary, we are put into this world to become this, that, or the other thing, and we are given a finite amount of time to do so. Any time we spend in sin (whether that involves conquering the world and causing pain to others, or merely wasting our days in hedonism and dissipation) is time spent thwarting God’s attempts to make us into someone far better than that. Thus whatever ‘inner child’ is salvaged (or not — really, the universalism is the smallest issue here) from the wreck of the sinner after death, that is indeed merely salvage that must be compared against the loss of a much better person who was effectively never created.

      • Arakawa, we appear to have been working on writing out the same ideas at the same time. Cool! I very much admire the notion of sin as ipso facto spiritual death. What’s more, I am excited to have discovered your blog, and will relish reading the whole of it.

  2. Lovely reflections, Kristor! It is gladdening to see others reject soteriological atomism.

    Secret confession (well, obviously not, but secret makes it sound more interesting): if I ever have a son, his second name will be Origen instead of a patronymic– since the Church wouldn’t likely allow such for his Christian name. The Alexandrian has long been one of my favorite people. And I pull a Luther when it comes to Origen’s condemnations — hier stehe ich . . .

    • I took the path of Ammonius, but if you’re a Christian you could have many worse men to admire than Origen.

      … Ammonius, having been raised a Christian with Christian parents, when he grasped intellectual pursuits and philosophy, immediately converted to the way of life (politeia) according to the laws (nomoi); but Origen, a Greek trained in Greek arguments (logoi), ran aground on barbarian daring. — Porphyry’s *Against the Christians*

      • But our friend Origen was from a Christian household. I wonder why my fellow veg. Porphyry appears to imply that Origen was a “Greek” (pagan). Perhaps, he means that he received a Greek education — but then so would have Ammonius, no? Plus, it’s controversial whether Ammonius ever apostasized. Anyway, any Platonist, whether an actualized Christian or merely a potential one, is a friend of mine.

  3. Thank you so much, Kristor, for this extremely generous reply.

    I myself do not believe that ultimately the Devil will turn to God and that all rational beings will be saved.

    It is an interesting point that perhaps my reflection might have seemed to tend in that direction because of my suggestion that the whole creation will be redeemed in our redemption. To clarify, what I had in mind was the whole non-rational creation that cannot choose to reject God–the rocks, animals, etc. To say that _that_ “whole creation” will be redeemed along with the “glorious liberty of the children of God” is quite separate from saying that all creatures with free will who can choose evil will also be redeemed. I don’t think myself that the one follows from the other. I think that souls can and will be lost. All that can be done for them will be done, and all that has been done for them has (in a sense) already been done, but they have that gigantic and terrifying thing–the freedom to continue to rebel eternally. It’s interesting that C.S. Lewis put a contrapasso for George MacDonald in _The Great Divorce_. Macdonald there, though tentatively, is shown setting aside the universalism he held on earth, on grounds of freedom of the will.

    Now, on a different question, what the re-created nature will be like. I still don’t know how to envisage that, which is fine. It’s nice to have some wondrous surprises in store. For example, entropy, though it leads to many sad things (like death) is also necessary to the created order as we know it. Many wonderful living machines, including our own bodies, depend on entropy. The cycle of the earth depends on it. Even bacteria have their place. To put it at the most banal, we wouldn’t really want endless piles of un-mulched leaves building up forever. The beauty of the whole thing is that the bacteria break down the leaves, they rot, they go into the ground, and from there they feed new plants. I don’t want my petunia flowers never to die. It’s part of their charm that they are endlessly, all season long, having some blooms die while new ones are formed. Like a kaleidoscope. It’s my impression that nothing could live without entropy, because many things are delicately poised to operate because of it. That doesn’t mean that it’s logically impossible for God to create a new nature with different laws and without entropy, just that it would seem to be a world quite different from earth–static, in fact. Which isn’t what we are promised. So it seems instead that the actually _sad_ effects of entropy, the ones that were in fact the result of the fall, are the ones that will have to be set aside. But funnily enough, we don’t exactly know which ones those are, at least not in all cases. For example, the human immune system appears to be beautifully set up to encounter a world full of micro-organisms that are trying to kill us (as it were). Did that develop _after_ the fall–a gift of God to man to help him in the world where he must live by the sweat of his brow? Or was it designed from the beginning with the knowledge that there _would_ be a fall? Or was it initially actually much _better_, so that Adam and Eve had an unfallen super-system that could counter all harmful germs and also never attacked itself in auto-immune disorders? We simply don’t know. And what would the function of a lion’s fangs and claws be in a Nature without predation? What will that function be in the New Earth? Will the lion’s digestion be changed so he will be a vegetarian? We don’t know.

    • “It’s interesting that C.S. Lewis put a contrapasso for George MacDonald in _The Great Divorce_. Macdonald there, though tentatively, is shown setting aside the universalism he held on earth, on grounds of freedom of the will.”

      I found _The Great Divorce_ an excellent exposition of these kinds of issues, even if I had difficulty agreeing with some of it — perhaps even *because* I had difficulty agreeing with some of it.

      Generally, if we are to think about this aspect of theology, the goal is to find a balance between what Joseph above called ‘soteriological atomism’ (the temptation to view salvation entirely individualistically) and the temptation to posit a mechanism of salvation that is practically-universal (“let us eat, drink, and be merry for we shall be saved anyways”). The Saint and Tragedian scene in ‘Great Divorce’ illustrates just how difficult this can get. Either the love the Saint has for the dwarf is betrayed, which is a real and substantive damage to the Saint’s beatitude; or it is erased from existence along with the dwarf.

      At the bottom of such a scene is a fear that the first great commandment interferes with the second one — that a proper love of God means that love of neighbour is subject to being renounced and erased at any time. I can’t shake the suspicion that any understanding which pits the two most important commandments against one another in such a drastic way must be flawed, but I can’t actually affirm any other understanding; only theorize vainly.

    • Lydia, with respect to entropy, this will probably seem to you like a desperate dodge, but really it isn’t. Note that I didn’t say that in Heaven there would be no entropy at all – that would have had such consequences as ruling out sunlight, fires, climates, weather, etc., and thus for example the Arctic and all the denizens thereof, who rejoice in it. I said that in Heaven we would not be *subject* to entropy. What this might mean is suggested first by the entertainment in Valhalla, where warriors fight each other to the death every day, for fun, and then are all immediately resurrected to feast and drink, and presumably to get drunk. Thus while the warriors’ bodies are truly destroyed, they do not die; their lives prevail over the entropic tendencies toward dissolution of their bodies, by a perfected implementation of their souls – the forms of their beings, including their bodies – in physical reality.

      Thus there will in Heaven still be danger, difficulty, challenge; but it will not ever threaten to destroy us forever. Whitewater boating, e.g., will be difficult, and dangerous; but while it might injure me, the injury will be healed without delay, as if I were Wolverine.

      There will likewise be other physical laws or regularities, implementations of the Logos, in Heaven; but we will not be subject to them, either. Thus there will be stable elements, gravity, and all the other features of our world in which we rejoice, and which make our ordered lives possible. But we will be able to walk through the walls – in effect, we will be able to teleport. Put another way, our powers of telekinesis, at present limited to prevalence over some of our neurons, will be realized to their completest extent.

      Likewise also there will in Heaven be an economy, with its laws and regularities – we won’t be able to have our cake and eat it, too, and there will be no free lunches. But because we will not be subject to the Law, but rather liberated thereby through our perfected implementation thereof, the marginal cost of all goods will be zero. There will always be plenty of cake. We won’t have to *work* so as to put ourselves in the way of enjoying values. Teleportation and telekinesis, as perfectly fulfilled and completed, will allow us to assemble valuable goods by a simple act of will.

      It is pertinent to note that none of these things – teleportation, resurrection, and so forth – are ruled out absolutely by our present system of physical law. Rather, they are just extremely unlikely.

  4. The Saint and the Dwarf scene is excellent as advancing Lewis’s argument against universalism. Never having been inclined toward universalism myself, I didn’t perhaps feel a “need” for the argument, but it is useful to have it spelled out nonetheless. Because the Dwarf’s freedom to resist joy must be effective and cannot be overrun, it must be possible for the Saint to be in joy despite the Dwarf’s intransigence and because of the fact that the Dwarf therefore goes back to the Grey Town. Otherwise, as Lewis puts it, the willfully damned would be able to play dog in the manger to the whole universe. This seems correct to me.

    • The thing is, I can’t see any way for a saint suffused by divine love to feel completely happy about things, given his sympathetic comprehension of the torment of an obdurate sinner, except in his total confidence in Divine Providence, and under a complete conviction of the eventual complete triumph of God, in which Christ will be, literally, all in *all.*

      Nor does it make practical sense to me that any rational being should be content with the torments that accompany obduracy *forever and ever.*

      At the same time, I am not at all confident of this current salient in my thinking. I can’t find it in myself to disagree with something I wrote last May:

      Going to hell, then, is rather like deciding to jump off a high cliff. It’s your decision. God doesn’t do it to you, you do it to yourself. And, as with jumping off a cliff, once you have made the decision irrevocably, why then you are everlastingly committed to your decision, and that’s all there is to it. From then on, all you can do is fall.

      • As Lafcadio Hearn put it: ‘We suffer only from the consequences of our own faults – the demon-torturer in the Buddhist hell says to his victim: “Blame not me – I am only the creation of your own deeds, words, and thoughts; you made me for this!” ‘

  5. A very interesting set of comments

    @LM “Because the Dwarf’s freedom to resist joy must be effective and cannot be overrun, it must be possible for the Saint to be in joy despite the Dwarf’s intransigence and because of the fact that the Dwarf therefore goes back to the Grey Town. Otherwise, as Lewis puts it, the willfully damned would be able to play dog in the manger to the whole universe.”

    On the other hand, it seems that God the Father and Jesus Christ both *suffer* for the sins of Man – from this I infer that the willfully damned do indeed play dog in the manger to the whole universe, and that is exactly why they reject salvation – because rejecting salvation is exercising their power to inflict this suffering – that is their (perverse) satisfaction, but is it not a satisfaction which we all recognize?

    (As a doctor, I have heard many people who made suicide gestures/ attempted suicide say this almost exactly – on the lines of: I wanted to kill myself to ‘show them’ how miserable they had made me, and to make them even more miserable than I am. The damned make God suffer because they have the power to do so, and this feeds their pride – pride that they can make *God* suffer…)

    I think there always will very very probably (but not necessarily – everyone *may* repent) always be suffering and evil in the universe as a whole – which God will always be healing and trying to heal – I think this is a necessary consequence of God’s love for us – love includes suffering because love is empathic.

    • Actually, on strictly orthodox Christian doctrine (small o), God suffers _only_ in the incarnate Christ. The Father does not suffer. Only the Son suffers and only in his Passion and Crucifixion in which he took our sins. But subsequently he “dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him,” He ascended to heaven and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” after he had purged our sin. (Hebrews, etc.)

      What you say about suicides is absolutely true. That is why suicide is such a selfish thing. Lewis’s point is that God doesn’t allow the manipulators to succeed in that way. In fact, that’s exactly what the Dwarf is like in that scene in _The Great Divorce_: Trying to “make her sorry” by hurting himself.

      • … on strictly orthodox Christian doctrine (small o), God suffers _only_ in the incarnate Christ. The Father does not suffer.

        Correct. Furthermore, Christ suffers the agonies of human life only in his human nature. And yet further, his sufferings as Jesus of Nazareth are nowise novel to him – are not novel. He knows them all from all eternity. Thus from his point of view it is not as though there was this long period when he had not yet been crucified, and then crucifixion was done to him, so that then he was suffering in a way he had not yet ever suffered. On the contrary, from his point of view as an eternal being, he suffered no change from one time to another, because all times are one in him.

        Yet we may say that as knowing all things, God suffers all things. He comprehends our passions better than we do, more deeply, acutely, fully, and accurately. He knows what it is like to be us.

      • @L @K “” … on strictly orthodox Christian doctrine (small o), God suffers _only_ in the incarnate Christ. The Father does not suffer.”… Correct”

        And yet it makes no sense to say that a God who loves us, and whom we are commanded to love, does not suffer – God as depicted in the Bible has passions.

        if God does not suffer (except in the incarnate Christ) then this depiction of God is a remote, unfeeling and humanly incomprehensible abstraction.

        A child could not understand how such a God could love us, or be loved – if a child was told of such an indifferent and unemotional being and that He was all-powerful, all seeing, demanding of worship and obedience etc – the child would regard such a God as a kind of tyrant – requiring of terrified *submission* but not of love.

        To ask a child to love such an imperturbable God, and to believe that such a God loves him, is to ask the impossible. And we are all (ideally) children.

        Ergo the *Christian* God must, I think, be spoken of as capable of suffering – at least as a first line analogy and approximation and in most public discourse.

        If the concept of a God that suffers causes problems for Classical Theology (as indeed it does) then so much the worse for Classical Theology – it does not cause problems for revealed Christianity, and it is up to theology to fit around Christianity, not vice versa.

      • I think we need to be extremely careful not to confuse mythology with metaphysics. Revelation speaks hyperbolically, being able in this way to engage people of all levels of spiritual development. The idea of a loving father, stern judge, or sympathetic friend may be effective in prompting the change of life necessary to begin the long, hard road to salvation. However, when we speak scientifically, we know that God is not a being, not a person, not a thing.

        We should firmly resist the ever present temptation to subordinate metaphysics to psychology, As even St. Paul tells us, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

      • @n – I think you have it the wrong way around! The most deeply (or highly) religious people are usually those with the most personal (not ‘psychological’) understanding of God – those with the deepest *relationship* with God. That just IS the Jewish Christian God as He is revealed, and revelation is primary. The God of ‘metaphysics’ (in fact, of a specific type of metaphysics – nearly always a monist/ static/ timeless metaphysics) is the God of the philosophers – and a much inferior way of understanding the nature of God, surely? Ask yourself who got closer to understanding God – the history-telling Jews of the Old Testament, or the Philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome? Surely the Old Testament is a surer guide for Christians than the Dialogues of Plato? (That is, after all, what Jesus implied.)

    • To be honest, I would have to say that Plato is a much surer guide for Christians than the Bible understood apart from the authoritative Tradition of the Church; however, if you must reject the authority of the Church, be safe and accept Philo’s position that Moses’ and Plato’s teachings were the same.

  6. I’m not actually ready to defend the strict impassibility of God to the death. It was interesting to see how cavalierly Lewis treated it in _Letters to Malcolm_. However, it seems to me that if the doctrine of divine impassibility has any truth to it at all, it is _exactly_ in guarding against some idea such as, “Universalism is supported, because otherwise God would be suffering throughout eternity because of all the people in hell” or indeed any idea that the demons and humans who choose evil are succeeding, like malicious would-be suicides, in hurting God. In other words, it’s precisely at that point that we need a somewhat more exalted notion of God as seeing things from such a perspective that he is not able to be truly “dragged down” by human evil. Indeed, that very thought is comforting to those of us here below. Treating God as just a big anthromorphic parent eternally agonized over his children’s evil just doesn’t “work.” We need instead a notion of eternal _resolution_ and justice. In fact, I say it with a certain amount of trepidation, but I believe St. John means for hell and the Lake of Fire to be a part of that notion of Divine victory and resolution, not some sort of sign of never-ending suffering _for God_. If we’re to talk of what is biblical, that view is not biblical.

    • @Lydia – While I fully accept the limitations of any concept – when you say that we should not be “Treating God as just a big anthromorphic parent”, that “just” makes it into a straw man.

      God IS an anthropomorphic parent (if you want to use that term) but not “just” an anthropomorphic parent. Hence He does not altogether forget about His damned children, and if He is not impassive – then it seems to follow that He would suffer eternally over His damned children.

      I can’t see any coherent way out of this!

      Perhaps a related theme is that forgiving is not merely forgetting. God cannot forget yet he forgives – and therefore forgiving apparently entails perpetual memory of transgression; and since transgression is absolute and cannot be unmade, and is regretted – thus forgiveness seems to entail a perpetuation of regret, some element of pain, suffering etc…

      i.e. Negative feelings of some kind on the part of God, eternally.

      Of course, these negative feelings will be (I think we are assured) re-framed in wonderful ways – as we have experienced, sometimes, in our own long term responses to sin and misfortune – but surely they are still there.

  7. Kristor:Well, I’m not saying that all persons are definitely saved, as the persons they now are; I’m not totally comfortable with the notion that universalism is simply true. On the other hand, it is hard for me to see why God would destroy something good, destroy it permanently, when he has the ontological resources to maintain it in being, at no cost to himself.

    Is it at no cost to himself?

    It seems to me that the cost to God of maintaining Hitler … and me (or Mother Teresa) … is Golgotha. The creation, all the creation, the good and the evil, lives because it feeds off the life of the Creator.

    I can conceive two metaphors of how it is that the Creator feeds/sustains the life of the creation –
    1) as a mother nursing her child, feeding it from her fullness;
    2) as a desperate father, sacrificing his own arm as emergency food to keep his child alive.
    I suspect that both metaphors are appropriate, in their place.

    • Yes. But God’s ontological resources are infinite. The world being finite, so is the cost of her redemption. Call that cost x, and God’s infinite power to save y; then x/y is infinitely small. God can pay it and still have infinite power to spare.

      From our perspective, the value of our world’s redemption is enormous. From his, it doesn’t even register on his books. It is to him what the trillionth part if a penny would be to us. Not quite zero, true, but so close as makes no difference in his life as actually lived.

      • Yes. But God’s ontological resources are infinite. …

        Thus, the analogy/metaphor of the nursing mother.

        But there is still Golgotha to be accounted for: there is still “unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven” to figure into the equation.

        I do not — I *cannot* — believe that God was playing tiddlywinks in the Incarnation. I do not — I *cannot* — believe that what he put himself through to rescue our lives was “chump change” … even from his “infinite” perspective.

        To put it another way, I do not, and cannot, believe that the Incarnation was a mummer’s play, with nothing at stake from God’s perspective, nothing at stake in relation to God’s being.

      • It was not. God’s love is infinite, too. Knowing better our value, he values us far more than we do. We are far more important to him than we are to ourselves. So his desire to rescue us is urgent.

      • Kristor:It was not. [the Incarnation was not play-acting] God’s love is infinite, too. Knowing better our value, he values us far more than we do. We are far more important to him than we are to ourselves. So his desire to rescue us is urgent.

        And it *cost* him something — even from his “infinite” perspective — for it was not nothing, it was not worth nothing; there was not nothing at stake when God, in the Second Person, submitted himself to temptation(s) of sin, when Truth Himself willingly submitted himself to the logical possibility of self-contradiction.

        Kristor (previously):The world being finite, so is the cost of her redemption.

        God’s Life being “infinite”, I think rather that the redemption of the world was an “infinite” cost.

        1. It is true that the doctrine of divine simplicity has the consequence that whatever God does, he does with his whole being, so that his entire infinite power is deployed to save us; so that whatever he feels, he feels with his whole being. So, yes, we may suppose that he feels his Passion to a depth and with an intensity incomprehensibly vast.

          Nevertheless, the initial point that it would cost God nothing to save any particular creature still stands. Whatever he spent to save a dog, say, or a googol of multiverses, he would still have infinite riches remaining. Infinity cannot be diminished, no matter what it spends.

  8. Does the idea that God is “impassive” come from his own revelation of himself to us, or does it come from our (*) ideas of what he *must* be like?

    Now, to be sure, I do believe that we human beings can indeed reason to true propositions about God. But, at the same time, we must recognize that *some* of the propositions about God to which we reason are not going to be true propositions, after all, but are rather going to be reflections of our own unexamined cultural assumptions.

    I strongly suspect that the idea of God’s impassivity is a reflection of one of those unexamined cultural assumptions; specifically, that it is a reflection of an unnoticed and unexamined assumption of a culture which saw love as weakness — the ancient pagan Greek culture, from which the idea of God’s impassivity comes to us, was hyper-masculine: sure, their culture was informed by, and honored (as our culture no longer does), the masculine virtues; but it was also informed by the masculine vices, with very little voice given to the feminine virtues. (**)

    (*) by which I mean, the specific cultural blind-spot(s) of some human culture.

    (**) In contrast, and what is destroying it, our culture is more and more informed by the feminine vices, with a seasoning of the masculine vices.

    • It is an interesting conjecture, and might even be true. But whether or not it is, impassibility has generally been thought logically implicit in God’s eternity. What is eternal cannot change from one circumstance to the next, and what cannot change cannot suffer change. Yet, omniscience entails that God eternally knows all contingent creaturely acts.

      It’s a conundrum. I have taken a shot at resolving it by supposing that the contingent acts of creatures and the divine actus purus both occur in the same eternal locus, or Receptacle, in and by and as which eternity subsists in the first place.

  9. Pingback: Sin is Enacted Falsehood | The Orthosphere

  10. Pingback: Apokatastasis of the Damned | The Orthosphere

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