Last week Dr. David B. Hart visited Eclectic Orthodoxy and engaged in instructive conversation with folks on the “Readings in Universalism” page. Fr. Aidan Kimel, who hosts the page, skimmed through the comments thread and culled from them some of Dr. Hart’s more interesting and provocative statements, as follows:
“There is no verse in the New Testament that unambiguously threatens eternal punishment. There are three that are regularly invoked by the Hellfire Club (my fond name for those who have some emotional commitment to the idea of a hell of eternal torment), but none of them really says what they imagine it says. Conversely, the seemingly very clear statements of universal salvation number quite high (47 at my last casual count).” (10 May 2015)
“The classical Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian understanding of freedom is one in which the rational will of necessity, when set free from ignorance, wills the good end of its own nature; and perfect freedom is the power to achieve that end without hindrance. Thus God is perfectly free precisely because he cannot work evil, which is to say nothing can prevent him from realizing his nature as the infinite Good. Similarly, for Gregory of Nyssa or Gregory of Nazianzus, perfect freedom is liberation from the fetters of ignorance that constrain the rational will from seeing the Good as what it is. For Augustine, the highest freedom is the perfection of human nature in a condition of “non posse peccare.” For Maximus, the natural will is free because it tends inexorably towards God, and the gnomic will is free precisely to the degree that it comes into harmony with the natural will. And so on. Since, after all, all employments of the will are teleological–necessarily intentionally directed towards an end, either clearly or obscurely known by the intellect–and since the Good is the final cause of all movements of the will, no choice of evil can be free in a meaningful sense. For evil is not an end, and so can be chosen under the delusion that it is in some sense a good in respect of the soul (even if, in moral terms, one is aware that one is choosing what is conventionally regarded as ‘evil’); and no choice made in ignorance can be a free choice.
“In simple terms, if a deranged man chooses to slash himself with a knife or set fire to himself, you would not be interfering with his “freedom” by preventing him from doing so. You would be rescuing him from his slavery to madness. This is why the free-will defense of the idea of an eternal hell is essentially gibberish. Which, incidentally, does not break from the ‘synergist’ view. It is merely to say that the cooperation of the created will with God’s is still a cooperation–if needs be by terrible purgation–in restoring a human soul to its natural state. I think of Gregory of Nyssa deals with this quite delightfully and cogently in De anima et resurrectione.” (11 May 2015)