Irish With A Tan

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Origen, Universalism and the Councils.



The following are collection of comments made into a post. They belong to Perry Robinson, who has written on this topic and related issues over at his blog Energetic Procession.


All Bishop Kallistos Ware offers in “Dare We Hope For the Salvation of All?” is a version of Hopeful Universalism. If the unending suffering of persons in hell is inconsistent with divine goodness, hopeful universalism will not address that problem. This is why it is useless to address the problem. Only Necessary universalism or contingent universalism attempt to do so, and they fail as well.

That there are different forms of Apokatastasis is really irrelevant if they all affirm a hypostatic reconciliation of all agents with God. They will still therefore turn on the same problematic assumptions entailed by Origen’s errors, namely that the Good is simple and free will entails choosing between objects of contrasting moral worth.

Maximus’ reformulation is directly contrary to Origen’s at these points, because it is these assumptions that are driving the Monothelite heresy. If Christ had a human free will, then it would have to be either subordinated to the divine motion, in which case it really isn’t free or a will in its own right or it will be peccable, and so it will be possible for Christ to sin, which is a non-starter. And this is because they assumed that freedom to choose entailed freedom to choose between objects of differing moral value and in the eschaton there was only one good to choose. This is why the doctrine of the divine energies undergird’s Maximus apologetic against Monothelitism, for it is exactly the plurality of the energies that makes it possible to choose between different eternal goods that are deity and so makes Christ’s choice in the Garden between two different divine goods rather than a good and evil option. In this way then, questions about Christ’s free will and the free will of those in heaven (and hell) are all tied together and for the same reasons why Universalism falls afoul of Christology by subordinating persons to natural ends.

If there is no robust distinction between essence and energy, then in Christology we will be forced into a species of monoenergism. I do not think that most people realize this. They most often think that dyotheletism merely requires that they affirm the presence of two wills, and that it does, but it requires a lot more. It requires that there are two activities respective to each nature which is something distinct from each nature. And it further requires that sometimes these two activities can be different as in the passion of Christ where Christ wills simultaneously two different things without sin. If we deny the distinction, then while there will be two natural wills, there will be only one activity in Christ which most often leads us to a subordinating relation with the divine predestinating the human will, and then we are off and running into some form of predestinarianism. Game over.

Free will does not consist in being able to choose between good and evil options. Free will consists in being able to choose between a plurality of options. The reason why FOR US free will consists in choosing between in plural AND morally different options is because first the character we end up having is ultimately (though not only) up to us and we have a beginning. This is why we cannot be created impeccable, because otherwise we would not be free since our character would not be up to us. So Jesus was impeccable and free in the use of his human power of choice, he just chose between two good alternatives, both willed by God, namely the preservation of human existence (also something good humans are naturally disposed towards and the salvation of the world).


The most glaring problem with David Bentley Hart and Fr. Kimel is that they can never seem to explain, let alone try, how if scripture so obviously teaches universalism, and it is so taught among the Fathers that both Rome and the Eastern sees so completely failed to transmit this portion of the apostolic deposit AS the faith of the church for century upon century. They have to argue that the overwhelming majority of figures simply and consistently misread numerous texts. How is this not just the same old Protestant (gnostic) song and dance?

If free will is incompatible with a necessary universalism, then this implies that God cannot via the kind of transcendental causation Hart seems to articulate (which is rather Thomistic btw) determine individuals because then they would not be the explanatory terminus for their actions. Welp, that’s a Libertarian thesis, not one that is really open to the kind of Augustinian thinking he articulates. What Hart describes is really a will that is free because it is efficacious and successful in willing its natural telos, but a determined will would likewise be efficacious and successful as well. Either one admits that such a will is free (and morally responsible as well) or one admits that it is not. If not, then we are right back to Libertarianism. If so, we are right back to Compatibilism.

As to contingent universalism, that won’t work either for the following reason. If it is just the case that in this logically possible world, all persons are ultimately reconciled to God and if God’s goodness depends on no one remaining in hell forever, then either it is the case that there are no logically possible worlds where no one stays in hell forever or there are. If there are, then that isn’t contingent universalism, but necessary universalism. If there are, then divine goodness depends on a contingent fact. In which case, God is not necessarily Good, but only contingently good. In this way then the Universalist, like the Open Theist has to sacrifice divine perfection to maintain their respective theses.

In this way then it is evident that the Universalist has to deny that God wills the persons he creates to be ultimately self determining.

St. Isaac most definitely was a universalist of sorts. But this is of no help. Here are a few reasons why. St. Isaac was canonized among the Chalcedonians on two bases. First, the sanctity of his life and second on the basis of theologically reworked texts to make him into a Chalcedonian, which he was not. So one should be exceptionally cautious in using him to make dogmatic claims.

Second, St. Isaac’s universalism is built off a specific view of divine impassibility, namely that God cannot participate in any kind of change and that is why God can always and only be love and never justice. The source for this theological view of impassibility is fundamentally Hellenistic, but it comes to St. Isaac via the Nestorian tradition. And it was exactly this tradition that structured the Christology of Nestorius as well as that of Theodoret of Cyrrus. It was because the Logos was identified with the divine essence that he could not suffer. “The man” suffered in whom the Logos was. This is why one could *say* God suffered or Christ suffered, in the same way one could say that Mary was Christotokos. It was nothing more than a synecdoche . This view of impassibility was fundamental to the Arian argument. If God is impassible and if what is said of a person is necessarily said of their nature, and if Christ is passible, then Christ cannot be God. Theodoret and Nestorius, among others split the argument. They accepted that view of impassibility and that what is said of the person is said qua nature, they just denied that there was a single subject who was the recipient of the suffering. Surely there was one Son and one Christ for them, because again, the synecdoche allowed them to treat Son and Christ as a single referent. This is why Chalcedon insisted on designating the Christ the “Eternal Son” to pick out that it was all and only the divine person in question.

IN this way then St. Isaac’s Universalism is built off of an erroneous view of divine impassibility and structures a faulty Christology.

Contrary to this was St. Cyril who had a different view of impassibility, as Paul Gavrilyuk ably demonstrates in his book, The Suffering of the Impassible God. For Cyril, God the Son truly suffers. Sure, he suffers humanly, but that is not the question. The question is whether a divine person suffers. To think about it in terms of a nature suffering falls back into the Nestorian error of identifying the person with the nature as an instance of a kind. For Cyril, the divine Logos suffers humanly, but his suffering is both human and unique. It is unique because it is impassible passibileness and what Cyril seems to mean is something like the following. Our suffering is where we undergo something in a recipient mode where we are on the passive end of the stick so to speak. Christ’s suffering though is active. He reaches out and lays hold of the suffering and in this way, his suffering is both genuinely human, but because he is a divine subject, it is transformative for the entire race. This is why Cyril spoke this way and why figures like Nestorius and Theodoret never [did] and never could accept the language of divine suffering [in] any sense other than a nominal association.

So Universalists can only appeal to St. Isaac on pain of denying Ephesus, Chalcedon and the 2nd Constantinople as well. That is, they can have St. Isaac’s universalism or they can have the Biblical Christ.

And Ware seems to be simply following Crouzel’s now failed attempt to mitigate the Council’s decrees. There is no basis to think that the council’s decrees were not formal acts of the council as such. This is covered in Price’s treatment of the issue in the two volume text of the council.

Fr. Kimel’s account of the Fifth Council’s condemnation of Origenism is misleading. Here is why. Fr. Kimel writes that both Tanner and Price hold that the condemnations are not in the acts of the council and he puts this forward as apparently having some evidentiary weight so as to show that the condemnation is not the action of the council. But not only is this fact uncontroversial it doesn’t support such a thesis. The mere lack of the 553 condemnation doesn’t of itself imply that the condemnation was not the act of the synod per se and this is because the condemnation is continuously found in the collections of the council’s acts. And Price simply doesn’t accept that view since he spends some time arguing against it. Next Fr. Kimel says that Price “speculates” that the 553 condemnation was created by the bishops prior to the council. But Price doesn’t speculate. Price actually cited not only Cyril of Scythopolis, but plenty of other historical sources such as Evagrius Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History (Price p. 271) Price notes that the same view is reiterated throughout other histories which speak about the council throughout the seventh century. (Price p. 271, ftnt 8) It isn’t speculation when primary source documents over a significant period of time speak of it and that without dispute. Fr. Kimel attempts to cast doubt on the condemnations by noting that “there is no documentation that describes how this was done or what was achieved.” But the first part is true for quite a number of councils, not the least of which are councils such as Nicea, Constantinople I, and others. This is nothing more than a fallacy of ignorance.


The second part is clearly false. We have the condemnations as evidence of what was in fact achieved. Fr. Kimel then implies that the condemnation was a pro forma action taken in deference to imperial force. Suppose this is true for a moment. If the council accepted it, and if Rome and the Orthodox accept it, how does Justinian’s role here invalidate it? We have here no argument to show that even if Justinian did impose it that it was therefore not an ecclesial normative act and never functioned as one. Second, this thesis proves too much, for the entire record of the Fifth Council, let alone the Sixth and the Seventh show no small amount of imperial real politicking. Justinian bends the will of Pope Vigilius to anathematize the Three Chapters and yet Rome still confirmed the council nonetheless. Thirdly, Price provides substantial argument to show that not only was Justinian sincere in his theological outlook and motivations, but that there was in fact significant numbers of the episcopate opposed to Origenism of differing stripes and that the latter did in fact exist. What Fr. Kimel needs though is evidence of the church positively teaching universalism and no such evidence exists.


Next Fr. Kimel argues that despite what Cyril records “the council did not ‘formally’ issue the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas, at least not according to scholarly consensus. “ But this is something that Fr. Kimel just asserts is the case. As noted above, Price argues that the condemnations were the work of the council and were accepted without dispute in both east and west “formally” speaking. To speak of them not being “formally” accepted just gets us back to the older yet now refuted argument that simply because they weren’t in the acts of the synod that this implies that they were not formally accepted. But this requires an argument and evidence to show that that fact implies non-formal acceptance. We get none from Fr. Kimel and Price argues directly against that thesis. Moreover it seems rather silly to argue that the action was a pro forma action bending to imperial power and yet Justinian couldn’t get it through the council or didn’t happen to notice that his efforts were in vain, especially when he was able to bend the Pope’s will, both with Vigilius and his successors in confirming the council. And again, we have historical sources that say that the council issued such decrees. On top of this, we have a preserved letter from Justinian instructing them to investigate and condemn Origenism as well as an explicit reference to Origen as an anathematized individual in the eleventh canon formally approved at the end of the council. As Price writes, speaking of Crouzel’s defense of Origen, “This neglects the fact that Origen’s name was included among the heretics anathematized in the eleventh of the canons formally approved at the end of the council. Western defenders of Origen need therefore to claim in addition that the first eleventh canons of 553 were never formally approved in the west, but this is an equally tendentious claim.” (Price, p. 280.) Then Fr. Kimel asserts that “An anathema or dogmatic definition cannot be said to enjoy ecumenical authority if it was not officially pronounced by an ecumenical council.” As Nathaniel pointed out, this


It is true that the Isochrists are picked out by and large in 553, but it is also true that some of the theses are not only advocated by other factions of Origenists but also by Origen himself, as Mark Scott, in his work, Journey Back to God: Origen and the Problem of Evil, conclusively demonstrates. This is why the older view of Crouzel and others defending Origen has now collapsed. Contrary to what Fr. Kimel asserts, we are permitted to apply the anathemas to any view which holds the same conceptual matter and probably to those that depend on the same heretical assumptions and principles, for this is exactly how the Fathers themselves argue. To balk at this is to balk at the arguments put forward by Athanasius, Cyril and Maximus, among many other Fathers. Moreover, the church took them as a rejection of Universalism and the principles upon which it was founded, which is why the church has never formally adopted or taught universalism as part of the apostolic deposit or otherwise. If Fr. Kimel thinks otherwise, he should point out where the church has formally taught universalism. But he can’t. Given that Gregory of Nyssa was an Origenist of sorts, his view that we fell into bodies of matter is continuous with Origen’s views and contains the same problematic principles. The fact that the council passed over Gregory does not provide any standing for the views anymore than the fact that councils passed over Augustines predestinarianism and the damnation of children provides standing for those doctrines. The same goes for the problematic Trinitarian views and expressions found in Justin Martyr and other figures. (Ironically, Augustine’s predestinarianism is simply the historicizing of his earlier Origenistic belief of a fall into bodies after the condemnation of Origenism by Pope Demasus in 400 and his being outed as an Origenist by the Pelagians. ) Since Gregory was dead and wasn’t the main impetus for the condemnation of Origenism it makes sense that the council did not pick him out by name. Not only that, the mere lack of doing so doesn’t imply permissibility of teaching such a view. That again would be a fallacy of ignorance.


If Fr. Kimel thinks otherwise, I suggest asking his ROCOR bishop if it is permissible to preach universalism in ROCOR or not. In any case, as Price points out, the Isochrists weren’t the only target of the anathemas, they were just the ones on the short end of the political stick in the dispute against the sympathizers of Theodore of Mopsuestia. And what is more, the universalism of Gregory of Nyssa and co. is not identical to that of Talbot, MacDonald and other Protestant Universalists that Fr. Kimel draws on, and is not identical I suspect with his own. If Fr. Kimel wants to use Nyssa then he should teach that we fell into animal bodies at the fall and Satan will be restored. Somehow I don’t think that will go over well in ROCOR. It isn’t ahistorical fundamentalism to note what the church as a whole teaches in council after council regardless of the views of a handful of individuals. It might be Protestant though to cherry pick individual fathers for a view one has already arrived at and then dismiss the teaching of the whole church in an attempt to justify it. After all, what is more eclectic than a Protestant?


But Bishop Ware’s article does no work at either addressing the problems I posed for Universalism (which aren’t unique to me btw) or in engaging a fair amount of scholarship that demonstrates a number of his factual claims are wrong.

As a matter of fact, Kimel himself articulates and endorses Isaac’s view of impassibility in his post on Isaac, not seeming to notice how this is conceptually incompatible with the teaching that a divine person suffered and died on the Cross.

The point is even if Nyssa’s view is uncondemned, and we can add in Isaac and others, none of that constitutes the faith of the church as such. And this is as I said, none of the advocates of Universalism can demonstrate that this is and always has been the faith of the church. If it was, how did everyone seem to miss it for thousands of years except these few handful of people?
1st it depends on a false view of impassibility.

2nd. It denies the power of self determination. It denies that people can fix themselves in vice.

3rd it leaves the problem of hell untouched as I demonstrated above.

4th saying this MIGHT happen or maybe is not a reason. Its a question. What reason is offered for thinking persons are not self determined and fixed? There is no reason offered. This is why this does no work at engaging the problems. It just masks it and gives you a pseudo answer. It looks like it helps and works until you start to think about it.

Here are some other problems. If the fundamentally Platonic view of hell as temporary and that eventually given enough time agents would turn around, why does scripture or tradition give us no examples of this actually happening? And why have no demons apparently done so? Did they lack the requisite amount of time?

And furthermore, if God can bring someone up to the appropriate epistemic level of seeing the inevitability of himself, why wasn’t this done with Adam in the first place, preventing all worldly evil to begin with? If on the other hand, if Adam was in a position to see this, how was sin possible? And certainly the fallen angels knew far and away more than we know or Adam knew at the beginning. They were with God. What did they lack? Such a view seems more and more implausible the more one thinks about it.

In this way, Universalism makes the problem worse for now we are stuck with a God who could have skipped all the evil in the world but didn’t. And then we either have to make an ad hoc appeal to mystery or we have to hold on to some greater good defense where evil makes goodness shine out all the brighter. That is a dead end since God has no opposite.




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This entry was posted on March 11, 2016 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , .
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