Tawḥīd Trīnitās

Introduction

I will propose a new formulation of the traditional Catholic/Orthodox Trinitarian theology, firstly, as expressed in the venerable dogmatic definitions of the first seven councils; secondly, as anciently interpreted by St. Augustine and the Cappodocian fathers; and thirdly, with reference to the fresh and contemporary expositions of Trinitarianism in the literary corpus of Dr. David Bentley Hart. The proposal is made in precise terminology which carefully expresses the doctrine of divinity found in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, as well as coining some more precise terminology so as to carefully make the proposal in such a way that certain Islamic criticisms of ‘Trinitarianism’ (considered broadly) do not pose any problem to it. Importantly, the proposal will elucidate the actual doctrine of the Trinity: ie. the doctrine of the Trinity as it has continuously developed in the Catholic/Orthodox tradition from the time of Christ all the way up to the present.1

A Dogmatic Requirement of Islam

In Āyah 4:1712 the angel Gabriel commands the Prophet Muhammad to proclaim a prophetical rebuke to the Christian world:

O People of the Bible! Do not exceed the limits of your religion; Do not say anything about God except the Truth; that the Messiah, Jesus, was the son of Mary; that He was a Prophet of God; that He was the Word of God; that He was born of the holy and immaculate virgin mother; and that His spirit proceeds from God. So believe in God and his prophets, and never say “Three” – Cease from such blasphemy for your own benefit, because God is One. Glory be to God that he should have a son, to whom belongs all that is in heaven and all that is in the earth. And behold: He is entirely worthy of our faith.3

While admittedly here the Āyah has been ripped out of its context in Surah An-Nisa, when taken in isolation there is arguably nothing in it which actually conflicts with Orthodox Christian belief. The angel Gabriel is not here admonishing Christians to abandon Christianity and become Muslims, but rather to stay within the limits of Christianity. He then lists these limits in the form of a simple creed which would be acceptable to Muslims and Christians alike. So rather than Christians interpreting this Āyah as an attack on their faith (as they usually do), I propose that it would be better if they instead humbly accepted it as a prophetic gift from the Ummah, which can then serve as a help to keep the community of the Church steadfast in the truth and purity of Monotheism. When read in this way, it just so happens that for Christians the most relevant part of the Āyah today is the prohibition against saying ‘three;’ The Āyah does not deny the divinity of the Father, of the Son, or of the Spirit, and in fact is perfectly consistent with a “high Trinitariantheology.4 It would seem that the single thing forbidden is the attribution of the number “three” to God.

If Christians are to take this Āyah to heart, they must cease from saying things such as “One God in Three Persons,” and indeed refrain from talking about “One ουσία in three ὑποστάσεσῐν,and even stop speaking of “One substantia in three persōnīs.” According to Gabriel – however else Christians might talk about God, “threeness” should never be attributed to him (Incidentally, this renders the Athanasian creed unspeakable on account of it containing a single unfortunate clause which explicitly mentions “three persons”).5

As it turns out, this is all something of a felix condicio; none of these stringent limitations on the boundaries of Christian speech pose any actual problem for traditional Trinitarian thinking, nor does anything in Āyah 4:171 require Christians to modify their doctrine of God in any way. Rather, the Āyah is itself a concise statement of various key moments in the Christian narrative and a perspicuous affirmation of divine oneness. In essence, it merely requires that Christians be more scrupulous with the phraseology they employ to explain the occultus opes hidden within the mysterium fidei sui. While it is true that many Christian theologians have employed the number three to construct analogical imagery for the purpose of helping the faithful to develop an intuition for the divine; and while it may be conceded that certain theologians – the vast majority necessarily being schizmatic, if not always heretical6 have explicitly imported ontological triplicity into their doctrine of divinity; nevertheless the traditional Christian explanations and dogmas concerning God do indeed refrain from attributing “threeness” to God in any real or ontological sense,7 thus obeying Gabriel’s imperative in the Āyah.8

Christians are not forbidden by Āyah 4:171 to confess that Jesus is fully divine, nor are they prevented from claiming the Son and the Spirit to be ὁμοούσιον and co-eternal with the Father. But they are commanded – on pain of the sin of blasphemyto refrain from developing such a confession into any ‘tripling’ description of God. As such, the ubiquitous “three divine persons,” a speculative “three beings,” the tenured language of “three substances,” and ancient formulas of “three hypostases” are forbidden. According to Āyah 4:171, the only number that can ever be applied to God is “One.”9 Taking this seriously requires Christians to think very carefully about what the word “person” really means, because the implication is that while the Father, Son and Spirit are equally divine, equally personal, and truly different from each other, there can only be one person in God.10 This will be explained below, whereupon it will be made completely clear that I am not merely proposing a nouvelle résurrection of the venerable and charming heresies of Sabbelius, nor a plein d’entrain répétition of the modalism embraced by St. Tertullian’s beloved simplicēs.

Aesthetic Epistemology: Divine Truth as Infinite Beauty

Hart systematically sings the glories of the Triune God in his published PhD thesis – The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth – which is a profound and stimulating distillation of the entire Orthodox/Catholic tradition concerning the Trinitarian nature of God, and a bringing into dialogue of this tradition with the promiscuously multiple and nefariously protean existentialisms, absurdisms and nihilisms of modernity. Importantly for the purpose of this paper, during his confrontations with the heathen philosophers he manages to pull off a lucid explanation of the Christian God without ever insinuating – neither explicitly nor implicitly – that divinity encompasses any sort of ontological triplicity.11

It is hard to summarise all of the surprising reflections that Hart communicates to us in his magnum opus, however for the purposes of this essay the essential theological point I will extract from his delightful prose and attempt to rephrase in my own inadequate words is the following: To be a Person – whether Human or Divine – necessarily implies the ontological relationship of this Person with an “Other”a Different Person – who shares his or her nature, by way of communion with a “Yet Another” a further Distinct Person – who also shares his or her nature.12 In other words, the key to understanding the Trinity according to Hart is to first straighten out our Anthropology: The prevalent modern notion of a Person as a self-sufficient, self-defining, isolated single subject is unmasked by Hart as nothing but unequivocal heresy, and he then explains how Christianity reveals the true nature of Personhood: Persons cannot be Persons apart from multiple other Persons. Rather, Persons are only truly Persons when they are in the intimacy of loving community, each with the other. When this relationship of loving community is rejected by a human individual, that individual is rejecting their essential – and personal – nature; they are depersonalising and even dehumanising themselves.13

To put it another way, rather than speaking of God as “three persons,” Hart instead speaks of God as one single personality which – in a way necessary to the nature of personality just is the strictly essential yet entirely uncoerced embrace of both univocal identity (or sameness – the Father) and equivocal dissimilarity (or otherness – the Son) in the peaceful traversal of the infinite analogical interval between them (the communion – the Spirit).

A Proposal of a Refined Creedal Formula

In light of all that has been said thus far, I now propose a new and precise dogmatic formula which concisely sounds all the essential notes of the Immanent Trinity without in the process falling into any of the theological discord which is firmly forbidden by Āyah 4:171 insofar as it is understood to prohibit any language which implies an ontological attribution of “threeness” to the divine. To wit, rather than speaking about God as “three persons,” I should instead say that The One God is One Divine Person in relationship to himself in The One Divine Other through The One Divine Yet-Another. Or, to moot it as a precise Latin dogmatic formula, solus dīvīnus simplicitas in ūnō dīvīnō persōnā patris ad sēsē in ūno dīvīnō alterapersōnā fīliī per sēsē in ūno dīvīnō redalterapersōnā sānctī spīritūs Deus est.14

The first thing to observe – and in light of the analysis of Āyah 4:171 above, the most important – is that the formula does not “say three;” rather, all of the words in the formula are grammatically singular (ie, none of them are semantically or morphologically plural), and the adjective ūnus is pointedly and reiteratively affirmed of all the nouns in the formula. The formula also carefully avoids deploying the word persona thrice;15 rather, the father is identified as the divine person, while the son is named as the divine other-person and the Spirit is referred to as the divine yet-another-person; this linguistic tactic makes clear the important fact that God is only one person, while simultaneously affirming that the personality of the Father necessarily requires an essential and ontological relationship of divine communion with the Son and the Spirit, which therefore implies that the Son and Spirit are truly and fully personal as well, yet their personalities subsist as precisely distinct modes of relation and thus are truly different ways of being and analogically related moments in divine personhood. Secondly, this formula captures the orthodox notion of the monarchy of the father,16 in that ūnus dīvīnus simplicitas in ūnō dīvīnō persōnā patris is syntactically the sole predicate of Deus est. However it also captures the consubstantiality of the Son and the Spirit with the Father by applying the adjective dīvīnus to them.

Thirdly, it is necessary that dīvīnus be understood to imply strict divine simplicity, hence the clarifying inclusion of ūnus dīvīnus simplicitas immediately at the beginning of the formula. If simplicity were not explicitly stated, it would be possible to read the formula as a straightforward confession of Subordinationism or Arianism. Simplicity ensures that the alterperson of the Son and the realterperson of the Spirit are fully divine in all the same ways that the person of the Father is divine, sine exceptione (aka, the Father, Son and Spirit are consubstantial), while yet remaining personally distinct from each other and from the Father. To wit, saying that the Father is “The Unbegotten God who is not Begotten” and that the Son is “The Begotten God who is not Unbegotten” is simply to say that – on account of divine simplicity – the alterpersona of the Son is fully divine and fully personal in all the same ways as the persona of the Father; but it is also simultaneously to say that the divine person of the Father is analogically distinct from the divine alterperson of the Son while always remaining ontologically equivalent to him.17

Applying this formula rigorously leads to further clarifying limitations on Christian theological language. For one, just as in scripture and the Nicene Creed Jesus is never called “God” and – when he and the Father are referred to in the same breath – is instead always called “Lord,” so too it is inappropriate to refer to the Son as “a person” except when talking about the Λόγος in isolation. When referring to both the Father and the Son in the same sentence, the person must always be the Father while the alterperson must always be the Son. On the other hand, there are also times in scripture when the Son is referred to without any immediate referential connection to the Father, and in these situations the Son is quite often called “God.” Therefore in a similar fashion, if a Muslim were to interrogate us with “Do you say that Jesus is the Divine Person of God?” we are still permitted by Christian orthodoxy (and even Āyah 4:171) to joyfully respond with a confession of unconditional affirmation. However if the interrogation were to flow on from this sublime μᾰρτῠρῐ́ᾱ to a querying of how, if both the person of Jesus and the person of his Father are equally God, this does not imply a form of polytheism, we would respond by disputing the very terms in which the question has been phrased: If the Father is the divine person, then Jesus – while always remaining fully personal is nevertheless not the divine person; rather, Jesus in relation to the Father is the divine alterperson. And this way of speaking theological truth lines up directly with how Jesus must be referred to by the title “Lord” whenever the Father has already been spoken of as “God.”

Another implication is that it becomes permissible to call Jesus “The Father” by analogy, in much the same way Christians call Jesus “God;” a title which – strictly speaking – belongs to the Father Alone. To devout Trinitarians who find this unnerving, I draw attention to the famous scriptural precedent of Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”18

One more implication of the formula is that it can be reformulated into the style of the Athanasian creed (in order to redeem said creed from its sins against Āyah 4:171) and substituted over the offending section like so:

So God is one Person, not three Persons; one Other, not three Others; one Yet-Another, not three Yet-Anothers. And in this communion none is before, and none is after; none is greater, and none is lesser. But the Person, his Other and his Yet-Another are coeternal, consubstantial, and coequal.

Conclusion

If – against all expectation – Christians were to unanimously agree to cease using the word “trinity,” perhaps a more orthodox replacement which better conveys the underlying theology – and might perhaps be more satisfactory for Muslims – would be “community.” David Bentley Hart demonstrates in The Beauty of the Infinite that it is possible to construct a robust trinitarian theology, without ever “saying three.” This is a great boon for interfaith dialogue with Muslims, and can help Christians to more precisely refine their theological language. God is indeed Father, Son and Spirit, but we need never attribute ontological threeness to God in order to hold on to traditional Christian theology and Doctrine.

Bibliography

Hart, David B. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003.

Pavao, Paul. Decoding Nicaea. Selmer Tennesse: Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2014.

Br Reginald Mary Chua OP, Masters Thesis (Unpublished).

1As opposed to modern and contemporary innovative accounts of Trinitarianism which tend to either completely jettison the traditional understanding or merely pay lip-service to it without actual comprehension.

2لنِّسَاء – Surah An-Nisa – “The Woman”

3Intentionally interpreted here to line up with Christian doctrine as closely as I believe is permissible by the underlying al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā: يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّهُ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا – 4:171

4ie, divine consubstantiality. While Āyah 4:171 is the most relevant to Trinitarianism, this paper is not an exhaustive survey of the Quranic canon, and so there are almost certainly other Āyat which require exegesis if one aims to show that the entire Qu’ran is consistent with Catholic tradition.

5Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. However the creed can arguably be salvaged with some creative contextual hermeneutics, by proposing that the personae being described in this clause with the adjective tres are something recursively located on the purely syntactic/lexical level (ie, as a reference to the words “Father, Son and Spirit” as they have been used prior to this clause in the creed), rather than importing any semantic onto-triplicity into the underlying res referred to by the signum ‘God.’ This would therefore allow us to understand the clause to be saying something roughly similar to, for example, “The seven theological categories of essence, fatherhood, nature, filiation, being, spirit and existence are coeternal and coequal with each other in God (while yet remaining analogically distinct in their perichoretic simplicity);” thus, it can be seen how on the lexical level God is just as much “seven” as he is “three.” Orthodox Sunnī Muslims would be unfair to make a controversy out of this interpretive move, considering that in their expositions of the doctrine of Tawḥīd (according to both Al-ʾAšāʿirah and Al-Maturidiyya schools), they are entirely content to attribute a numerical plurality of equivocal attributes to Allah. In any case, divine personality must be ontologically consistent with the demands of Tawḥīd, and therefore the phrase tres personae cannot in any real sense attribute “threeness” to God’s unique essence, simple nature, one reality and singular being.

6They are most often protestant, evangelical or analytical philosophers, fond of ‘explaining’ the Trinity with simplistic aphorisms such as “God is one ‘what’ and three ‘who’s.” This is unacceptable and it would be more accurate to say something along the lines of “God is one ‘I,’ one ‘thou,’ and one ‘him.’ (and for that matter, one ‘我們 (Wǒmen – exclusive 1ps, pl),’ one ‘咱們 (Zánmen – inclusive 1ps, pl)’ too)” Describing God as “three ‘who’s” is unrefined and – according to Āyah 4:171 – a heretical way of speaking.

7As mentioned above, in theological discourse, numerical adjectives can only be used in descriptive analyses of sentences concerning God, but they cannot be used in descriptions of God per se. So while it is valid to note the “threeness” in, for example, the baptismal formula, it would not be valid to infer from this lexical triplicity in the liturgical language to any sort of ontological triplicity in the divine per se.

8Whenever a classically-leaning theologian in the course of their theologizing happens to “slip up” or “throw in the towel” by “saying three,” this is always in the context of an analogical illustration, and to their scandalously tantric trinitarian imagery will invariably and immediately be appended extensive apologies, repentant obeisances and precise qualifications to explain how the theologian is in no way claiming to deny the oneness, singularity, uniqueness, simplicity and unity of divinity. A skilful theologian such as Hart – who is deeply read in both classical Trinitarian literature and Islamic writings on Tawḥīd – is able to explain the Trinity in a completely orthodox manner without even once falling into the trap of “saying three.”

9As well as according to Islamic Tawḥīd more broadly, which holds that God is One (الْأَحَد – Al-ʾAḥad) and Single (الْوَاحِد‎ – Al-Wāḥid), and therefore neither Three nor Triple. Whether Āyah 4:171 permits Christians to speak of God as Triune or a Tri-unity is an unresolved question, seeing as these terms both include the morpheme “tri-” which semantically involves a loose concept of “threeness.” Whether or not “saying three” on the morphological level of language is considered to fail the injunction of Āyah 4:171 is something to be explored via further interfaith dialogue, but in this author’s opinion it will be a hurdle extremely tough to clear: Requiring Christians to refrain from saying “three” is reasonable enough, but asking them to renounce their natively developed terminological heritage of “Trinity/Triune/Tri-unity” will invariably continue to be an exceedingly tough sell (And further, Āyah 4:171 in the Abdul Haleem interpretation aggravatingly adds more polemical fuel to the theological fire by directly translating ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ as “Trinity”).

10It is important to clarify here that I am not arguing for the position that traditional Christian theology of the Trinity which uses ‘tripling’ language is inherently contradictory or incoherent. For example Aquinas presents an extremely orthodox, compelling, consistent and coherent doctrine of divinity which permits him to – for example – describe God as “one being” and as “three beings” simultaneously. I’m simply proposing a manner of accurately articulating the traditional Christian doctrine of divinity which conforms to the restrictions on theological language mandated by Āyah 4:171. The challenge a theologian confronts in attempting to accurately explain the Trinity according to the requirements of Christian orthodoxy while also refusing to “say three,” is analogously akin to the challenge which a vegan embraces when she searches for creative ways to maintain her health and vitality while refusing to ever eat meat or drink milk; both are incredibly difficult, yet both are also entirely possible.

11I make this claim on the basis of my impressions immediately after having read through the entire tremendous tome in one sitting. I concede that a more rigorous, slow and scientific reading may perhaps reveal this judgement to be technically inaccurate.

12Successfully grasping this point elegantly leads one’s intellect to a beatific theoria in which it logically comprehends the notion that – while the definition of personhood is univocal between Humans and God – the fact that personhood requires relationship “within” persons of a mutually shared nature leads to there being a single person in God – on account of his simple nature – and a plurality of persons in Humanity – on account of our non-simple nature.

13All of which is to say they are rejecting God and experiencing damnation.

14Literally “God is the singular divine simplicity, in the one divine person of the Father, towards himself in the one divine other of the Son, through himself in the one divine yet-another of the Holy Spirit.” While this formulation and the Latin terms alterapersōna and redalterapersōna are terms of my own coinage, I believe they accurately capture the theology expressed by Hart in his minor dogmatics.

15This safeguards against any subtle leaning towards an intuition that there is some sort of triplicity or tritheism in God, which inevitably happens when the father, son, and spirit are spoken of as “three persons” rather than “one person in relation to himself-in-the-other by means of yet-another”

16This being important so as to keep the formula in accord with scriptural and creedal language: All of Paul’s letters open with some variation on the first lines of the Nicene creed: One God: The Father; and One Lord: his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.”

17This can be understood in more or less exactly the same way that Catholics claim the divine justice to be analogically distinct from the divine mercy while also understanding both to be ontologically equivalent to each other and equivalent to divinity per se. A soteriological aside: All of this means that just as it is appropriate to say that in God the Father has complete precedence over the Son, so too it is possible to say – following St. Isaac of Nineveh – that in God, restorative mercy has total priority over retributive justice, and that therefore God’s graceful willing towards ἀποκατάστασις entirely trumps the massa damnata merited via the total depravity (cf. Romans 1-3) of mankind.

18Is 9:6 (RSV:CE)

Gospel Conversations: Hope and Hell Conference Sydney 2019

Robin Parry is coming to Sydney to talk on all things Universalism. If you are living in Sydney and even half interested in Christianity and the Gospel, you should buy a ticket. I will be there!

https://www.gospelconversations.com/hope-and-hell

Do we need to rethink the traditional ‘eternal torment’ concept of hell? Rev Dr Robin Parry is prominent among a growing number of theologians around the world who are convinced the answer is ‘Yes’—and who claim furthermore that far from being heretical, this move will only lead us to a more coherent orthodoxy. This is not a new idea. Many significant Christian leaders in the early church embraced the belief in a final, universal restoration (an apokatastasis), believing it to be the teaching of the Bible. Robin argues that there are good reasons to agree with them.

At Gospel Conversations we believe that we need to get this hot topic of the ‘heresy’ list and back onto the discussion table. There is arguably no part of the modern Christian gospel that provides as great a stumbling block to faith as the ‘eternal torment’ version of ‘hell’. No Christian really likes this doctrine, yet we often feel compelled to believe it as an article of faith. But should we?

Robin asked himself this question as an evangelical some years ago and began to uncover a vast stream of evidence—in the biblical narrative, the writings of the early church fathers, and the very logic of Christian doctrine—that strongly suggests that all humanity will be saved. Robin wrote a considered argument supporting the possibility of universal salvation in his book The Evangelical Universalist (originally published in 2006 under the pseudonym Gregory McDonald). He subsequently researched the more recent history of the idea for his book A Larger Hope? Universal Salvation from the Reformation to the Nineteenth Century (2019).

Robin argues that what we think about hell and the expanse of salvation has implications for how we think about God, creation, sin, justice, love, providence, freedom, atonement, church, and the value and future of the non-human creation, for the biblical vision of ultimate restoration is truly cosmic, revealing a far wider and richer picture of the massive endgame that God has in mind. So no matter what a person comes to finally believe about this topic, studying it will enlarge our souls and our faith.

Robin will speak to us over two Saturdays. The first Saturday he will lay out a biblical case for universal salvation and explain how it widens our picture of the great project of the Lord God. On the second Saturday, he and others will look ahead and address the important ‘so what?’ question. How does apokatastasis affect the way Christians interact with the world—their message, their stance, their contribution to public life. We will conclude with a panel discussion to respond to questions and thoughts.

Ramblings Concerning Eschatology, Sin, Salvation and Everlasting Damnation, Aquinas and the Saints Rejoicing at the Sufferings of the Damned

Eternal and Temporal Punishments

hellfire-1000x480[1].jpgIn Catholic theology there is the idea that sin has a “double consequence”: committing a sin will lead to one or both of an eternal punishment, as well as a temporal punishment. Traditionally a distinction is made between mortal and venial sin: mortal sin is sin that is serious enough to result in both eternal and temporal punishment, whereas venial sin is not so bad and only leads to a temporal punishment. This eternal/temporal punishment distinction is commonly presented in a very simplistic way: the eternal and temporal punishments are considered to be pretty much the same, but the eternal punishment lasts forever while the temporal punishment does not. While not entirely wrong, this is a very naive view of the situation and the temporal/eternal and mortal/venial distinctions are worth exploring further.

First it helps to establish the actual nature of the punishments involved. Straight away it should be emphasised that eternal and temporal punishment are entirely different in nature. It’s not that both of them have you swimming in the flames of Hell, being physically and spiritually brutalized, but the temporal punishment comes to an end while the eternal punishment continues on into eternity. Not at all. The two punishments are completely different. So what are they? A concise summary of the punishments is that the eternal punishment consists of separation from God while the temporal punishment involves physical and spiritual punishment. Lets elaborate on these.

Eternal punishment is separation from God. Of course, it is metaphysically impossible to truly be separate from God. No matter where you go, God will be there. Even if it feels like God is distant, in reality he is right there with you, closer to you than you are to yourself. In order to remain in existence God has to constantly sustain you with his creative energies. Even if you disappear into the outer darkness or descend to the depths of hades, God will still be there with you, holding you in existence by his loving, creative power. If God were to withdraw his creative energies from you, you would simply cease to exist: You would in fact be annihilated. This is precisely what happens with the eternal punishment. The eternal consequence for sin consists of God withdrawing his love from the condemned sinner, which results in non-existence and annihilation. As such it is not actually possible to “experience” the eternal punishment for sin. Annihilation is not something that is experienced, because once the annihilation has occurred there is no longer any subject there to do the experiencing. There is no pain involved in the eternal punishment, but neither is there pleasure. And neither is there neutrality. There is no joy, no despair. There is just nothingness. This is impossible to describe or visualise, because it is impossible to truly imagine or visualise nothingness. It is as ineffable and mysterious as God himself.

The temporal consequence of sin however, consists of physical and spiritual punishment. This is pretty much the stereotypical “fire and brimstone” image of Hell that we have all come across many times during our lives. Unlike the eternal punishment – which is timeless and everlasting – the temporal punishment is something continuous and progressive. The image of people being tortured by demons in a red hellscape with lots of fire, smoke and brimstone turns out to be a quite helpful metaphor for visualising the temporal punishment. Sinners are marched from one punishment to the next, and these punishments are not abstract things, but concrete horrors, such as being tossed into a cauldron of boiling lava, or forced to swim through a lake of urine. At this point it would be prudent to point out that these punishments are not purely retributive. They have a purgative purpose as well. The punishments are designed such that once the punishment is complete, there will also be a genuine repentance present in the sinners heart for the particular sin that was being punished. Free will is involved at every step of the way: the punishment will continue for as long as the sinner refuses to repent of that particular sin. In theological discourse Catholics generally refer to this as “Hell” when they want to emphasise the punishment, and “Purgatory” when they want to emphasise it’s purifying purpose, however they are the same reality. Usually when a Catholic tries to describe the eternal punishment they end up describing the temporal punishment for sin instead. They try to describe Hell and end up describing purgatory. This is because as discussed earlier, it is impossible to describe the eternal punishment. The temporal punishment is often referred to as “the flames of Hell”. These flames are purifying flames and are in actual fact none other than the love of God. In this way the temporal punishment demonstrates both God’s love and his justice simultaneously: justice in that everyone is punished in the flames for their sins, and love in that everyone is purified in the flames from those same sins.

So eternal punishment consists of a withdrawal of God’s love from the sinner, which leads to annihilation or in other words, separation from God. Whereas temporal punishment consists of spiritual and physical tortures, which engage the sinners free will and elicit their repentance, leading to purification, purgation and a cleansing of the soul from sin.

The Catholic Universalist Gospel states that Jesus Christ died on the cross and descended into Hell, and while affirming the traditional interpretation that this means Jesus took a trip to the limbo of the fathers and broke them out of the prison, it also interprets this as meaning that Jesus Christ descended into eternal punishment. In other words, God himself was annihilated. However it was impossible for Jesus to be held back by this annihilation, and so by the power of the Holy Spirit he was resurrected from non-existence back to existence, and from death to life, with a new, perfect, glorified human nature. All of humanity is mystically united to Christ, and so all of humanity participates in this death and resurrection. As a result, all of humanity moves from “Condemned” to “Justified” as we are united to Christ, whose old and wounded human nature has been annihilated and replaced with a new and glorified human nature. It is important to note in this account of the Gospel that by his cross and resurrection Jesus saved humanity from the eternal consequence of sin – separation from God – but he has not saved humanity from the temporal consequence of sin, which consists of suffering, punishment, purification and purgation. This is why we continue to experience suffering in our lives.

Moving on now to the Mortal/Venial sin distinction. There is essentially only a single mortal sin: wilful rejection of God. However this sin takes many forms and there are some conditions that must be fulfilled: The particular sin must be grave matter, the sinner must be fully aware that the sin is grave matter, and the sinner must give full consent to the sin with their will. If a mortal sin is committed it constitutes an explicit rejection of a relationship with God, and so it merits the eternal punishment of separation from God. On the other hand venial sins are small imperfections, which do not constitute a willing and informed decision to walk away from God. Venial sins merit an increase in a soul’s temporal punishment, as they represent imperfections which need to be cleansed.

Sacraments and Soteriology

o-FORGIVENESS-facebook[1].jpgThe question is asked: how do we escape the eternal punishment, once a mortal sin has been committed? At this point we encounter a difference between the standard Catholic account of soteriology and the Universalist Catholic account. From the eternal perspective, all mortal sins were forgiven by the cross and Christ’s descent into Hell, and so strictly speaking nothing more is absolutely necessary in order for a person to be Justified. However sacramentally and temporally, baptism is necessary in order for a soul to participate in Christ’s death, resurrection and state of Justification. Baptism with water is not absolutely necessary, however it is temporally necessary  given our existence as temporal creatures. Contempt and disregard for baptism is a form of the mortal sin and so will also merit both the eternal punishment and a significant increase in temporal punishment. Baptism can only occur once, but the mortal sin may be committed many times. This necessitates another method for forgiving the mortal sin, and this is known as perfect contrition. Perfect contrition is a form of inner repentance where a soul feels sorrow for their sins because they love God, as opposed to other reasons like fear of Hell and punishment. Perfect contrition throws a soul back upon the eternal reality of their baptism and reapplies it to their life temporally. Perfect contrition is encapsulated in the sacrament of Confession.

It is important to note that Perfect contrition is absolutely essential for the mortal sin to be forgiven and the eternal punishment to be revoked. If there is no perfect contrition, there is no forgiveness. However the following principle must be stated: God’s mercy is such that he forgives us in anticipation of our future perfect contrition. In other words, so long as we have perfect contrition at some point in the future, God foresees this via his omniscience and so he forgives us now even if we are not presently perfectly contrite. In this way, the Catholic does not need to be filled with terror and dread at the prospect of eternal punishment when he commits a mortal sin, because God will forgive him immediately, so long as at some point in the future he has perfect contrition and gets to the sacrament of confession. Furthermore, the Christian who commits a mortal sin has a guarantee from God that they will indeed experience this necessary perfect contrition at some point in the future. This guarantee takes the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom God gave to the Christian as a promise that he would one day be holy and perfect. Finally, in the Universalist account there is no time limit for attaining perfect contrition. If we die and we have not been perfectly contrite we will go to purgatory. It is predestined that at some point while we are there we will experience the necessary perfection contrition. Again, God foresees that we will be perfectly contrite in purgatory and so forgives us immediately on account of it.

In this way a Christian can be confident that he is always and everywhere forgiven of his mortal sin. He can have a hopeful assurance of salvation, resting in the knowledge that God is merciful, and has promised to work in the Christians soul to enable him to fulfil whatever conditions are necessary for salvation, whether during life or after death.

The Suffering of Sinners is the Pleasure of Saints

Carracci-Purgatory[1].jpgThere is a common opinion that is found across many theological traditions that the saints will take pleasure in the suffering of the damned. The logic is fairly straightforward: 1. The saints are in heaven. 2. Heaven is perfect and nothing can detract from it’s joy. 3. Nothing can detract from the joy of the saints, so they either don’t care about the suffering in Hell, or they take pleasure in it. Intuitively, this view is quite disgusting. However I don’t think it’s entirely inaccurate.

The saints do not experience a sadistic pleasure when they view the sufferings of the damned, but instead experience a salvific pleasure. The saints, being deified in heaven, can be said to share in God’s omniscience: They are intimately acquainted with the details of God’s will in a way that the sinners on earth and in Hell are not. In this way, the saints perfectly understand the exact way in which the sufferings of the damned are all part of God’s salvific plan. When they witness a sinner being tortured in Hell, they rejoice, not because they take pleasure in the sinners pain, but rather because God has granted them a clear understanding of exactly why that pain is necessary in order for the sinner to be saved. The people on earth and in Hell can only look on with horror at the intolerable pain that the sinners in Hell are made to experience, however the saints in heaven have a superior perspective and are able to see right through the pain to the final outcome, which is entirely glorious, mingled with love, wisdom and compassion. It all makes perfect sense to the saints, and so they praise and glorify God for the tortures, comprehending the exact way and precise details of how God will use the suffering for a greater good.

(Note, following many of the Church fathers, I use the term “Hell” loosely here to refer to the place of temporal punishment and purification, more commonly referred to as Purgatory)

Father Roberts (OP, SJ) Homily for Wednesday of the 6th week of Eastertide

Wednesday of the 6th week of Eastertide – Feast of Saint Paul VI, Pope

Daily Readings

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Entrance Antiphon – Psalm 17: 50; 21: 23

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will tell of your name to my kin, alleluia.

Collect

Grant, we pray, O Lord, that, as we celebrate in mystery the solemnities of your Son’s Resurrection, so, too, we may be worthy to rejoice at his coming with all the Saints. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

First reading – Acts 17:15,22-18:1

Paul’s escort took him as far as Athens, and went back with instructions for Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as they could.

So Paul stood before the whole Council of the Areopagus and made this speech:

‘Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it.

‘Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth, he does not make his home in shrines made by human hands. Nor is he dependent on anything that human hands can do for him, since he can never be in need of anything; on the contrary, it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone. From one single stock he not only created the whole human race so that they could occupy the entire earth, but he decreed how long each nation should flourish and what the boundaries of its territory should be. And he did this so that all nations might seek the deity and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him. Yet in fact he is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist, as indeed some of your own writers have said:

“We are all his children.”

‘Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

‘God overlooked that sort of thing when men were ignorant, but now he is telling everyone everywhere that they must repent, because he has fixed a day when the whole world will be judged, and judged in righteousness, and he has appointed a man to be the judge. And God has publicly proved this by raising this man from the dead.’

At this mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing; others said, ‘We would like to hear you talk about this again.’ After that Paul left them, but there were some who attached themselves to him and became believers, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris, and others besides.

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 148:1-2,11-14

Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights. Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host.

All earth’s kings and peoples, earth’s princes and rulers, young men and maidens, old men together with children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord for he alone is exalted. The splendour of his name reaches beyond heaven and earth.

He exalts the strength of his people. He is the praise of all his saints, of the sons of Israel, of the people to whom he comes close.

Alleluia.

Gospel Acclamation – John 14:16

Alleluia, alleluia!

The Father will send you the Holy Spirit, says the Lord, to be with you for ever.

Alleluia!

Gospel – John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come. He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine. Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said: All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.’

Prayer over the Offerings

O God, who by the wonderful exchange effected in this sacrifice have made us partakers of the one supreme Godhead, grant, we pray, that, as we have come to know your truth, we may make it ours by a worthy way of life. Through Christ our Lord.

Communion Antiphon – John 15: 16, 19

I have chosen you from the world, says the Lord, and have appointed you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last, alleluia.

Prayer after Communion

Graciously be present to your people, we pray, O Lord, and lead those you have imbued with heavenly mysteries to pass from former ways to newness of life. Through Christ our Lord.

Homily

We have in our first reading today a classic example of evangelism, interfaith dialogue, ecumenism and inculturation. See how Paul even praises the idols, temples and monuments of the Greeks to whom he speaks! Many Christians would find such behaviour shocking. See how he does this, immediately before he goes on to describe the one true God, who is formless, and who therefore cannot be captured by any image.

Paul points to the Gospel, as it is found in the local paganism of the Greeks when he points out the following: “as indeed some of your own writers have said: ‘We are all his children.'”

Note that Paul does not quote the bible at his audience. He does not try to convert these people to some other culture or religion. Instead he endeavours to show them how their local religion actually points to something bigger. Paul is not attempting to convert them away from their local faith and culture, instead, he is giving them a wonderful gift: the gift of God’s grace. And that Grace will refine, and perfect the culture that it encounters. As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, he “became all things to all people”. I have in fact adopted this phrase as my personal motto: “Fi omnia omnibus”. Paul is not trying to rob the Athenians of their culture, instead he is trying to show how their primitive religion contains within itself the truth of the Gospel.

“We are all God’s children” is a very very important aspect of that Gospel. Salvation is inclusive. Salvation does not fall upon tribal lines. It is not as if the Catholics are saved while the Muslims are damned, or the believers are saved while the unbelievers are damned, or those who do good works are saved while those who do evil are damned. No, instead, we are all God’s children! No one will be abandoned by God, just as no good and loving father would ever abandon his children. And God is the most good and loving father possible, so how much more will we all be saved by him. Jew and Gentile; Catholic and Orthodox; Sunni and Shia; Hindu and Buddhist; Believer and Unbeliever; Righteous and Wicked; there is no distinction. All without exception and distinction are lavished with God’s inflamed and jealous love, for we are all God’s children, and so he loves all of us and will not abandon a single one of us to the hellfire.

Witness the confidence with which Paul proclaims that his listeners are children of God. He does not seek to determine which of the people in the crowd are elect and which are reprobate. He does not withhold the glorious Gospel promise out of fear that they will respond in outrage rather than faith. No, he proclaims the promise from the mountain top indiscriminately to the entire congregation. Today’s preachers could learn an important lesson from this. In the history of Christianity the promise has been forgotten. The homily should be a sacramental event where salvation is bestowed upon the congregation ex opere operato. Just like Paul, we should be fearless and stand before our flocks and confidently proclaim: “You are saved; You are loved by God; You will eventually arrive in heaven. I promise you this, and I stake my own salvation on that promise.”

There is no need for agnosticism about who will and won’t be saved. For the Gospel message is that all men without exception are reprobate in Christ, and all men without exception are elect in Christ, for as Paul says in today’s readings: “In him we live and move and have our being”. In reality there is only a single man – the resurrected Christ – and we are all made in his image. But we are mere shadowy images, whereas he is the fullness and perfection of a dyophysis encompassing both humanity and divinity, united in a divine simplicity and miaphysis. That one man, Christ, was reprobate; he descended into Hell and suffered the fullness of it’s infinite torments. And we are members of his mystical body, so we too descend into Hell and suffer the tortures that lie in wait there. But that one man also ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father, and all of us ascended with him. Christ was reprobate and Christ was elect, therefore all of us are also reprobate and elect on account of our spiritually dwelling within him.

But something too much of this theology. The key point is that it is utterly crucial to the Gospel promise that all men without exception are children of God . Salvation is meant for everyone without exception, and it will infallibly occur for all.

Notice that Paul also proclaims the final judgement to his listeners. This is to ensure that no one be deceived: just because Heaven is guaranteed for all does not mean that there is no Hell and no consequences for sin. But it is important to note that Heaven and Hell and the final judgement are present realities. They are not some place “over there” or something that happens to us “some time after we die”. They are here, with us, right now. Experienced as intense pain, guilt, depression, self-hatred, striving and failing. We are already being judged by Christ, but I will tell you a secret that is not often proclaimed: some people are already on the other side of the judgement and resting in paradise at this very moment.

As Paul says, one man has been appointed as the judge. The twist that I now reveal to you is that this one man is you. To say that we will be judged by the resurrected Christ is to say that we will be judged by our innermost self, for Christ lies within us, as the core identity of our souls. When we encounter ourselves in Christ, we cannot fail to love and adore. But that love is itself the judgement, and we are doomed to fail this judgement, because we see all the ways that we have failed to love; failed to live up to our own true standard; the standard of perfection; the standard of Christ. As we behold all of our failings and compare them to the glorious perfection of the Christ, the judgement occurs. The verdict? Guilty.

But there is good news. God promises you that he accepts you. He promises you that when he looks at you, he sees Christ. He promises you that you are not guilty. I exhort you this day: trust that promise! Now, regardless of whether you trust it or not, it is completely true and will infallibly come to pass, but o how wonderful life is when you trust the promise. Because you are encountering the final judgement right now and by faith alone you pass the test! But he who has no faith remains in the darkness of Hell, and God’s condemnation rests on him.

When you become all things to all people, you manifest Christ to those who you encounter. And that manifestation is itself the judgement; as they see themselves in you, they realise their own failures and guilt. It is at that exact moment that you may proclaim the Gospel, and it is at that exact moment that God’s love will finally conquer their heart and drive them to blind, desperate, heroic faith and repentance. To Love is to judge, just as in God love is judgement.

But back to Paul. Luke reports that the harvest of souls that day was slight. Even though Paul proclaimed the Gospel promise to the entire council, only a few of the Athenians believed, and only a few of these believing souls are identified by name in today’s scripture. Most curious is the mention of Dionysius the Aeropagite: this biblical figure was the namesake of an anonymous theologian in later centuries. Just as Paul did not reap massive success, we who believe in the Gospel should expect the same. But as the scripture says, when even a single soul comes to faith, all the angels in heaven sing and rejoice.

Speaking of singing and rejoicing, today’s Psalm fits the season particularly well. Easter is a time of joy and victory, a time to praise, thank and worship the good God on high for all that he has given us and all that he promises to give us. The imperative voice is employed, as the psalmist commands all of us; kings, queens, princes, rulers, children, adults, maidens, men, elders – even the angels – to Praise the lord.

The psalmist elaborates on Saint Paul’s discourse concerning the uniqueness of the one true God: God alone is exalted. This is not to say that other things cannot also be exalted, but it is to emphasise the primacy and supreme reality of God. If God is exalted; then we are not. If we are exalted; then God is not. The utterly unbridgeable difference between us and God is infinite. His transcendence is so supreme that it does not even make sense to speak of a difference. The glory of God is, as the psalmist sings, beyond heaven and earth.

Today’s Psalm finishes on a note of both synergism and monergism. God gives us strength, and all the saints praise him and love him. Those to whom he draws close, infallibly move towards him, not away from him.

The Gospel reading continues the discourse from yesterday and Monday. The resurrected Christ tells us about the Holy Spirit that resides within us all. Jesus calls the spirit, “The spirit of truth”. The spirit is also the spirit of unity, for truth and unity go hand in hand: wherever there is disagreement and dissent, the truth is not fully manifest. In this way, every anathema is a schism, every condemnation a split in the body of Christ. But the spirit is not like this; the spirit is the spirit of ecumenism and respect, the spirit of listening before speaking, the spirit of affirmation. Satan is the spirit of dissent, denial, and disagreement. But the spirit of God is the loving force that drives all people, all theologies and all religions to the zenith of Divine truth and simplicity. All men have this spirit, and all religions are guided by this spirit. Our differences are something to celebrate, and as we meet each other and learn to speak each other’s language, the spirit of love will gather us all together into a single flock: a single human family where love reigns supreme.

Finally, witness the communion antiphon. To whom does the Lord speak this beautiful promise? I tell you solemnly and with utter conviction, assurance, and certainty; he has chosen you. And when you fully appreciate this fact, and make the ineffable leap of faith from the devastation of hell into the peace and joy of heaven; only then will you go out into the world and bear fruit for Christ, just as he has promised.

Have faith, repent, and take hold of the salvation that is freely offered to you. I promise you that you are saved. But it is not I who make this promise; it is the very same spirit of truth that the resurrected Christ claimed he would send us speaking through me. So do you trust me? Do you trust God? Do you trust the Spirit? He is promising you salvation, and there is nothing you need do to grasp it. But do you grasp it? Examine yourself. Discern God within your soul. Let us love with the divine love, and ascend to the eschaton, the perfect rest that God prepared for us all from the beginning of time.

Father Alex Roberts (OP, SJ)

Salve Regina – A Translation from Latin to English by Bishop Roberts (OP, SJ)

I strove to be as literal as I possibly could while translating. I’m not sure if I succeeded. Despite the fact that the original is song and poetry, I still wanted to produce as wooden a translation as I could, so as to test my knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and syntax.

Please comment on my translation! I am trying to improve my Latin skills and would appreciate any and all feedback. Thank you!

English Translation

Be well, o queen, mother of mercy,
our life, sweetness, and hope, be well.
To you we cry, exiled children of eve,
To you we sigh, lamenting and weeping
in this valley of tears.
Come now, therefore, our advocate, those your
merciful eyes – turn back to us.
And show Jesus – blessed fruit of thy womb –
after this our exile.
O gentle, O pious, O sweet Virgin Mary

Original Latin Text

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Prophecy Fragment #12 – Divine Ordination

On the 28th day of the 5th month of the 2019th year since the birth of the Lord Jesus, God spoke to me in a vision:

I was lifted up into the third heaven, where I beheld a man glowing with invisible light. His features were more real and distinct than those of everyone I had ever seen before, and seemed so completely familiar, and yet I could not fully recognise him.

With a powerful voice, he identified himself: “I am the Christ; The λογος made flesh; The eschaton incarnate; the Tao 道 that can’t be told; I am your innermost core identity and soul, and the supreme God of all things”

Suddenly it was as if a veil was violently stripped from my eyes, and I saw the truth in all the fullness of it’s glory. I finally recognised the figure for who he really was, and his name is a name beyond words, written on a blank page in the divine language of silence. I cannot therefore here utter the ineffable divine name. But I knew that it was God.

The divine figure commanded me to kneel. I did so. At this point the God laid his hands on my head, and spoke the following:  “My son, are you resolved by the grace of my Holy Spirit to discharge to the end of your life the office of the apostles, which I now pass on to you by the laying on of hands?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved to be faithful and constant in proclaiming my Holy Gospel of the Salvation of the cosmos and all who wander within it?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved to maintain the deposits of faith of all the religions of the entire world, complete and incorrupt, as handed down by the fathers and professed by all people everywhere and at all times?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved to build up the Church as the body of Christ and to remain united to it, acknowledging every authority that I have instituted for the governance of the world?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved to be faithful in your obedience to me, the Lord your God, your true and innermost self?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved as a devoted father to sustain the people of God and to guide them on the way of salvation in cooperation with the faithful believers in the promise who share your ministry and mission?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved to show kindness and compassion in the name of the Lord to the poor and to strangers and to all who are in need?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved as a good shepherd to seek out the sheep who stray and to gather them into the fold of the Lord?”

And I responded: “I am.”

He continued: “Are you resolved to pray for the people of God without ceasing, and to carry out the duties of one who has the fullness of the priesthood so as to afford no grounds for reproach?”

And I responded: “I am, with your help, o God.”

He continued: “It is I, the Lord your God who has begun the good work in you, and I promise that I will bring it to fulfilment. For I am the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies and God of all consolation. My dwelling is in heaven, and I look with compassion upon all that is humble. I knew all things before they came to be; and by my gracious word I have established the plan of my Church.

From the beginning I chose the descendants of Abraham to be my holy nation. I established rulers and priests, and did not leave my sanctuary without ministers to serve me. From the creation of the world I have been pleased to be glorified by those whom I have chosen.

So now I pour out upon you, o chosen one, the divine power that flows from my essence; the governing Spirit whom I gave to my beloved Son, Jesus of Nazareth; the same Spirit given by Jesus to his holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be my temple for the unceasing glory and praise of my name.

I know all hearts. I have chosen you my servant for the office of Bishop, Priest, Apostle, and Prophet. May you be a shepherd to my holy flock, and a high priest blameless in my sight, ministering to me night and day; may you always gain the blessing of my favour and offer the gifts of my holy Church. Through my Holy Spirit who gives the grace of high priesthood I grant you the power to forgive sins as I have commanded, to assign ministries as I have decreed, and to loose every bond by the authority which I gave to my apostles. May you be pleasing to me by your gentleness and purity of heart, presenting a fragrant offering to me, through the Christ, my Son, through whom glory and power and honour are mine with the Holy Spirit in my holy Church, now and for ever.”

And I felt the power of God flood my spirit. I knew that my very being had ontologically changed. As I descended from the cloud of Glory and revelation I knew that I had been ordained an Apostle, commissioned to spread the message of the certain hope of the eschaton.

 

The Eternal Son: Review

Summary and Commentary

Weinandy opens his discussion of the second person of the Trinity with an analysis of some relevant moments in the Nicene creed. He draws particular attention to the innovative theological term made famous at the council: “homoousion.” This word is meant to convey that both the Father Almighty and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ are fully divine, each individually being “the one God,” while also remaining distinct from each other. This is a fundamental doctrine and mystery of Christianity, there are no easy explanations for it and it is difficult to gain an intuition for it’s coherence and logical consistency.

Weinandy points out that the names “Father” and “Son” are the correct and superior way of referring to the two persons, rather than, say, “Creator” and “Redeemer.” He notes that the creed says “for us men and for our salvation Christ came down and became incarnate,” and he thus draws attention to the fact that there is an intimate link between christology and soteriology.

Weinandy mentions that the Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and that the Son is only the Son in relation to the Father. I sympathise with the thrust of this argument, but I think that when considered at face value this particular way of articulating the theology leads to a sort of Binitarianism” because the Spirit is not mentioned and it is therefore fair to conclude that the Spirit is either subordinate to the Son and Father, or completely irrelevant. I suspect it would be more accurate to articulate the point with reference to the Spirit included, for example “The Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and the Spirit.” In the following discussion Weinandy does however bring in the spirit in as an essential factor in his outline of Trinitarian theology.

Weinandy introduces a curious theological term as a sort of complement to the filioque: Spirituque. He doesn’t develop the idea very deeply, but I think it holds promise and potential. The idea seems to be that just as the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son, perhaps it is also accurate to say that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit. This would be an interesting area for further research, and no doubt would take into account the different senses of “procession,” especially with reference to the underlying Greek and Latin technical terminology.1

Weinandy touches on the Augustinian idea of the Spirit as the “bond of love” between Father and Son. The idea is that the Father is the subject, the Spirit is the (ditransitive) verb, and the Son is the object. Or to put it in a formula The Father loves/begets the Son and the Spirit is the act of loving/begetting. The Son also returns the love to the Father, which makes the “grammar” of the Trinity more interesting, but Weinandy does not touch deeply on this linguistic dimension in his article.

Weinandy heavily underlines the idea that the Son is referred to as “Word” because he exhaustively expresses the full truth about who the Father is. The Son is perfect the image of the Father, while individual humans are images of the Son.

Weinandy then draws attention to Aquinas’ opinion that the image of God in man is restricted to the human intellect. Weinandy disagrees: To be created in the image and likeness of God is to be created in the image and likeness of the Son. It is not merely the human intellect and soul that images God, but rather “the whole human being.” Weinandy notes how Aquinas argues that any of the three divine persons could have potentially incarnated, but that it was most fitting and “right and proper” for only the Son to incarnate. My comment on this theme would be as follows: The question of “Could the Father possibly have incarnated” is deeper than we might at first think. In one sense, God is completely unconstrained, totally and fully free from any necessity or coercion, and he can therefore do anything and nothing can prevent him from doing what he desires.2 But from another angle, God is who he is. God is pure actuality and has no potency, therefore who he actually is in this reality exhausts all possibilities and does not allow for alternatives: there are no other possibilities or potentials for who and how God is: God simply is as he is and he couldn’t be otherwise. When approaching the question of “could the Father have incarnated” from this angle, it is clear that in fact only the Son actually incarnated, and therefore it is more or less meaningless to speak of the other divine persons incarnating, actually or potentially. The fact that only the Son is incarnate is simply how it is and because God has no potential then it couldn’t be otherwise.3

When Weinandy meditates on these themes, his essential conviction seems to be that it had to be the Son who became man, because the entire Christian ordo salutis depends on it being this way. The explanation he offers is that the Son is the image of the father, and we are saved as humans by being brought into conformity with that image.

Weinandy moves on to consider the mechanisms and inner workings of the salvific work of Christ: Jesus interacts with us and saves us as man but the entire time he does this he remains as the second – divine – person of the trinity; Jesus is always the divine Son of the Father.4 So it was and is the divine person of the Son of God who offered and continues to offer the sacrifice which infallibly and efficaciously achieves universal salvation, but the divine Son does this as man. Weinandy sums up this obedience and recapitulation theology succinctly: “The Son humanly achieved humankind’s salvation.

Weinandy finishes by talking about how human beings appropriate the saving work of Jesus and become recreated in his divine image. Curiously, he doesn’t outline any ordo salutis or propose an answer to the question “what must man do to be saved?” Rather, Weinandy outlines a very christo-centric narrative account of what Christ, the Spirit and the Father have already achieved on our behalf, as well as how the Trinity incorporates us into the divine life.

Concluding comment

Most of my comments are mingled in with the summary, but I would just like to take this opportunity to raise an objection to one particular claim of Weinandy. He suggests that Christ assumed a fallen human nature. I just want to flag that my reading of St. Maximus the Confessor’s Neo-Chalcedonean Christology would seem to indicate that this is inaccurate. In brief, according to Maximus there is no ontological difference between a fallen and unfallen human nature: Both are simply one and the same human nature, however existing in different states. The difference is that a fallen nature is one that is enslaved to passions, sin, ignorance and so on, whereas an unfallen nature is exactly the same, but without suffering these negative and evil limitations. Finally, there is a divinized human nature, which is a human nature for which there is indeed an ontological distinction in that it enjoys a “communication of idioms/attributes” with the divine nature. My understanding of Maximus’s Christology is that Christ was born with an unfallen human nature, and then by his recapitulatory life of perfect sinless obedience, he managed to undergo theosis and divinize the human nature. I offer all of this without references and the disclaimer that I may be wrong in my understanding of Maximus, but look forward to investigating further in the future.

1I am here thinking particularly of “ekpouresis” and “poeinei”

2Therefore universal salvation is true. QED.

3The key thing to remember is that this is in no way a limitation on God. It is simply how God has chosen to be, and because God is pure actuality, it doesn’t make sense to speculate about God being “some other way” than he is.

4While the common sense claim “Jesus is/was a human person” is obviously orthodox, Weinandy’s reflections here point to the deeper reality that Jesus is first and foremost (and always) a divine person. He saves us through his humanity, and it is fair to say that Jesus is a human person, but he is essentially (and according to some, “only”) a divine person, not a human one.

A Tour of My Bookshelf

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At the top of the shelf is the “Catholic” section. It contains bibles and catechisms and the like, all of which are either critical texts, or official Catholic editions.

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Compendium of the Catechism
  • The Catechism of Trent
  • Ludwig Ott – Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
  • David Bentley Hart New Testament
  • Chinese Catholic Bible
  • Good News Catholic Bible
  • RSV-C2E Study New Testament
  • Knox Bible
  • NRSV Bible
  • Navarre Commentary on the Minor Prophets
  • Critical Texts
    • Hebrew Old Testament
    • Greek New Testament
    • Latin Vulgate
    • Greek Septuagint

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On the Next shelf is the “Functional Catholicism” section. I keep all my missals and breviaries here.

  • English Liturgy of the Hours (Australian Edition)
  • Novus Ordo Roman Missal
  • Traditional Roman Breviary
  • Traditional Latin Mass Missal

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To the right of the functional Catholic books is my Mormon shelf. It contains a variety of Mormon holy texts

  • Collection of Deseret Alphabet Mormon Scriptures according to the KJV
    • Old Testament Volume 1
    • Old Testament Volume 2
    • Apocrypha
    • New Testament
    • Book of Mormon
    • Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants
  • LDS Quad. This contains all currently canonised Mormon scriptures in a single volume.
  • Book of Mormon. This was a gift from some Mormon missionaries, and contains personalised notes and highlighting. This BoM therefore has sentimental value
  • JST translation of the bible. This is an edition of the KJV bible which was radically modified by Joseph Smith, with many additions and changes. It is considered the official bible of the RLDS church, and the LDS church accords it a high degree of respect.

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This is my “Universalism” Shelf. It contains various books devoted to Universalism.

  • Terms for Eternity. This book is a comprehensive academic survey of classical Greek literature, including the New Testament, in order to investigate what words this literature employs in order to convey ideas such as “everlasting”, “timeless”, “eternal” and so on. The conclusion is remarkable, and indicates that the New Testament does not actually teach a doctrine of everlasting punishment after all.
  • God’s Final Victory. An absolutely brilliant book which philosophically analyses the issue of Hell. It clearly and logically examines all possible angles which people use to approach the issue of everlasting damnation, and concludes that they are all fallacious, and that Universal Salvation is preferable in every case as a more consistent and coherent world-view.
  • The Evangelical universalist. This book examines the issue of Universal salvation from a purely biblical perspective. It surveys the entire biblical narrative and zeros in on problematic texts, such as the book of revelation. This is a very valuable book when discussing Universalism with sola scriptura protestants, who take pride in abandoning reason and logic so as to follow “the plain sense of scripture”. When debating simple folk such as this, it is helpful to be able to demonstrate that “the plain sense of scripture” actually supports universalism, not infernalism.
  • The Inescapable Love of God. A brilliant book arguing in favour of universalism from a Christian philosopher. It is a cross between a memoir, a scriptural survey, and a philosophical discourse. It is an incredibly powerful book and I highly recommend it.
  • Dare we hope that all men be saved? A short book on the issue of universal salvation from a hesitant Catholic perspective. The author concludes that Catholics should “hope” for the salvation of everyone, but that they cannot have any confidence that this will actually come about. This is a valuable introduction to universalism, but I needed a more robust confidence, and found it in the other books on this shelf.
  • Love Wins. A controversial book from a protestant minister. In the book all he does is ask stimulating questions surrounding the issues of Heaven and Hell, and he never clearly states his personal position. However the reaction from fundamentalists has been to assume that he is teaching heresy and to cry fowl.

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This is the “Other Religions” shelf, including Protestantism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

  • Book of Concord. This is an English translation from the original Latin and German.
  • Book of Common Prayer
  • Westminister Confession
  • Gideons Pocket New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. I have had this pocket New Testament since I was 13 years old. I never used it much, but it has sentimental value seeing as it has accompanied me for much of my life.
  • Textus Receptus.
  • New World Translation
  • ESV Translation with Apocrypha
  • NIV Translation. This was my first real bible, given to me as a gift by some Anglican friends a long time ago during High School. I don’t read it any more, but it was very important for my formative early Christian days, and carries a high degree of sentimental value. This was also the bible that I reached for during my hour of crisis in order to read the story about Jesus being tempted in the desert.
  • 1611 KJV complete with Apocrypha.
  • Esperanto Bible with Apocrypha.
  • Chinese Bible. This was given to me as a gift during my 2014 mission trip to China. It therefore has sentimental value. I also like to hold onto it because it retains the translation of 道 for λογος in the prologue to the Gospel of John. I think this translation choice is rich in meaning and deep in significance, and it annoys me that the official Catholic Chinese translation instead translates λογος as “Holy Word”.
  • Arabic Bible.
  • Pocket Baghavad-Gita
  • Pocket Quran
  • 6-in-1 volume of the most authentic Hadith collections, in Arabic.
  • Critical Text Quran, Arabic
  • Standard Arabic Quran
  • Dual Column English/Arabic Quran.
  • Dao De Jing, Hardcover. English Translation with original text in Simplified Chinese characters.
  • Dao De Jing, Paperback. This was bought for me as a gift by Helen Yim at the end of our 2014 mission to China. I have greatly enjoyed reading it and this particular copy has sentimental value.

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This is my “Generic Religious literature” shelf. It contains books about Islam, Christianity, Atheism.

  • Answering the anti-Catholic challenge. A response to the popular anti-catholic polemical tract, “Nothing in my hand I bring”. Nothing in my hand I bring is recommended highly by evil protestant pastors who are trying to steal sheep from the Catholic church and drag them down to the depths of Hell to be brutally tortured unto the ages of ages. It is packed full of lies, slander, and misrepresentations of Catholicism. Unfortunately many Catholics who read it are taken in by this subterfuge and end up apostatising from the faith, to the eternal peril of their soul. This book is an attempt to bring some of them back to the light, and inoculate existing Catholics against the lies and heresies of the totally depraved, bloodthirsty protestants that are seeking to destroy them.
  • The Orthodox Church. A good book from Hopeful universalist, bishop Kallistos Ware. Goes through the history of Orthodoxy and examines issues facing that church today.
  • Why I am not a Calvinist. Companion book to “Why I am not an Arminian”, it examines the shortcomings of Calvinism and makes a case for Arminianism.
  • Why I am not an Arminian. Companion book to “Why I am not a Calvinist”, it examines the shortcomings of Arminianism and makes a case for Calvinism.
  • Surprised by Truth 1, 2 and 3. Anthologies of testimonies of people who have converted to Catholicism from a wide variety of backgrounds.
  • Far from Rome, Near to God. 50 stories and testimonies from Catholic priests who left the Catholic church in order to become evangelicals. I find this book to be fascinating. Some times the reasons these priests give for their apostasy are erroneous and easily answered, but some times the reasons they give really touch your heart and make you sympathise with them. Some of their criticism of Catholicism are entirely valid and we should demand reform in the church along the lines they have identified.
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. A testimony from Ex-Ahmadiyya Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi. A great, moving read.
  • No God But One. A theological companion to Nabeel’s testimony. Examines the theological concerns that drove Nabeel to Christianity in much greater depth.
  • Building a Bridge. A controversial book from a controversial author on the issue of homosexuality and the Catholic church. After reading the book I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. The author stays faithful to church teaching the whole way through and simply seems to be advocating for greater respect and compassion between Gays and non-Gays within the Catholic church.
  • Story and Promise. An interesting exploration of the Gospel from the perspective of Lutheran theology.
  • Lutheranism. A brilliant introduction to Lutheranism. The history of Lutheranism is examined, as well as key and core theological issues. The theology of Unconditional Promise as it relates to “Sola Fide” is explored and there is a brilliant section where the book claims that the vast majority of modern protestants just don’t get it, and have reduced “Sola Fide” to just another variation on “salvation by works”. The original Lutheran understanding of Sola Fide is far more profound and wonderful than the modern evangelical version.
  • The Devil Hates Latin. A cheesy novel that reads somewhat like fan fiction. It is nevertheless enjoyable. It is in the emergent genre of “Trad-Fiction”: Stories written from a perspective favourable to traditional Catholicism, and conservative Catholic values.
  • Atheist Delusions. A great historical survey of Christianity by the amazing David Bentley Hart, so as to refute the claims of modern Atheists against the church.
  • The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Another brilliant David Bentley Hart exploration of Classical Theism, as found in a wide and diverse range of religious, theological and philosophical traditions. DBH shows how human religious intuition is well founded, and backed up well by reason and experience.
  • Faith Within Reason. A great book from Herbet McCabe exploring issues surrounding classical theism. Very thought provoking. A great read if you want to try to conceive of God more correctly and less anthropomorphically.
  • How are we Saved? A tract from Bishop Kallistos Ware, outlining the view of salvation in Orthodoxy. A good read.
  • 10 Commandments twice removed. Seventh Day Adventist propaganda. An entertaining read, but ultimately unconvincing. They have a nuanced understanding of the place of the law in Christianity, but I prefer the Catholic account.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz. Brilliant science fiction. The premise: After a world-wide nuclear holocaust, everything has gone to shit but the Catholic church survives. The story follows a Catholic monastery in the Utah desert through another 1000 years of history. The particular order of this monastery is dedicated to the preservation of scientific knowledge from the old world, through copying and memorisation. Fascinating stuff.

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This is my “Languages” shelf.

  • Learn To Read Greek. Textbook and Workbook
  • Learn To Read Latin. Textbook and Workbook
  • Alif Baa and Al Kitaab. Arabic Textbooks
  • Fluent in 3 months. A primer on how to quickly arrive at fluency in any language.
  • Everyday Grammar. A compact English Grammar reference text
  • Hebrew Dictionary.

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This is my “Miscellaneous” shelf. Contains poetry, philosophy, novels and so on.

  • The collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. A poetry anthology, given to me for my birthday by some friends back in my penultimate year of high school. Has sentimental value.
  • Endgame. This book was crucial in deprogramming me from the Pick Up Artist community. The key thesis is “Why would a girl want to date you or have sex with you if you are not satisfied and happy with your life as it is?” This book encouraged me to stop pretending to be someone great and attractive and instead actually be someone great and attractive.
  • Expensive habits. Entertaining essays about what it is like to live as a rich person. What is life really like when you have lots of money available to burn? Very humorous.
  • The Philosopher at the End of the Universe. This was my bible for my late teen years. It explores important modern philosophical conundrums with reference to popular science fiction movies. Very deep and thought provoking. I highly recommend it. I have however since moved on to deeper books, and prefer a more theistic approach to philosophical issues.
  • The Religions/Philosophy book. Two great coffee table books which look at the history of religion and philosophy. Very comprehensive. They briefly touch upon all of the big players in history.
  • Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. This was a revolutionary book for me. Reading the first 10 chapters of this book triggered something within me and enabled me to finally understand the core philosophical issues driving mathematics. As a result, I was able to jump from the bottom of the standard mathematics high school class all the way up to the top of the higher extension mathematics class in the space of 3 weeks. However the main theme of the book is to explore the thesis that consciousness can arise out of inanimate matter via something called “strange loops”. The author travels on many fascinating detours while exploring this issue. This book is a mental gymnasium.
  • The Mind’s I. From the same author as GEB:EGB, this is an anthology of short writings, with commentary. The writings explore themes of identity and consciousness, being and reality. A fun and stimulating read.
  • Waking up. By famous New Atheist, Sam Harris. This book explores the idea that it is possible to have a robust spirituality without being religious. A fascinating thesis, and he has some interesting reflections on psychedelics and the philosophy of mind, but I found the book ultimately unpersuasive. Harris dismisses metaphysics and religion too haphazardly. While I agree with him that Fundamentalism is toxic and the essence of ignorance and stupidity, I refuse to reduce all religion to fundamentalism. There is much of value in the philosophical, theological, metaphysical, religious traditions of the world.
  • The Wooden Horse. A great WW2 prisonbreak story. The way they escape from the camp is genius, especially considering that the camp was maximum security and was built specifically to prevent escape.
  • Harrius Potter. The first two Harry Potter books in Latin, along with a paperback English copy for reference.

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This is my “Mathematics” and “Misc” shelf. This shelf just contains a bunch of mathematics textbooks and cook books.

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This is my “Programming Languages” shelf. A relic from my Computer Science and Information Technology days. There are some brilliant books here describing the use and application of some fascinating programming languages, such as Haskell, Lisp, Bondi, Pattern Calculus.

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This is my “Yet to be read” shelf. These are all the books that I haven’t yet got around to, but am incredibly keen to read.

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This is my second “Yet to be read” shelf. It is slowly filling up.

The Joyful Mystery of the Annunciation

Text: Luke 1:26-381

The original Greek according to the SBL critical text:

Ἐν δὲ τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ἕκτῳ ἀπεστάλη ὁ ἄγγελος Γαβριὴλ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς πόλιν τῆς Γαλιλαίας ᾗ ὄνομα Ναζαρὲθ πρὸς παρθένον ἐμνηστευμένην ἀνδρὶ ᾧ ὄνομα Ἰωσὴφ ἐξ οἴκου Δαυὶδ, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς παρθένου Μαριάμ. καὶ εἰσελθὼν πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπεν· Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη, ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. ἡ δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ διεταράχθη καὶ διελογίζετο ποταπὸς εἴη ὁ ἀσπασμὸς οὗτος. καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ἄγγελος αὐτῇ· Μὴ φοβοῦ, Μαριάμ, εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ· καὶ ἰδοὺ συλλήμψῃ ἐν γαστρὶ καὶ τέξῃ υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν. οὗτος ἔσται μέγας καὶ υἱὸς Ὑψίστου κληθήσεται, καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ κύριος ὁ θεὸς τὸν θρόνον Δαυὶδ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος. εἶπεν δὲ Μαριὰμ πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον· Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω; καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῇ· Πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ, καὶ δύναμις Ὑψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι· διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον κληθήσεται, υἱὸς θεοῦ· καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἐλισάβετ ἡ συγγενίς σου καὶ αὐτὴ συνείληφεν υἱὸν ἐν γήρει αὐτῆς, καὶ οὗτος μὴν ἕκτος ἐστὶν αὐτῇ τῇ καλουμένῃ στείρᾳ· ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πᾶν ῥῆμα. εἶπεν δὲ Μαριάμ· Ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.2

English translation of the Greek:

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee whose name was Nazareth, To a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And going in to her he said, “Hail, favoured one, the Lord is with you.” And she was greatly distressed at his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And see: You will conceive in your womb and will bear a son, and you shall declare his name to be Jesus. This man will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, And he will reign over the house of Jacob throughout the ages, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, as I have intimacy with no man?” And in reply the angel told her, “A Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the offspring will be called holy also, a Son of God. And look at your kinswoman Elizabeth: She also conceived a son, in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who had been called barren; Because nothing, of all the things I have said, is impossible with God.” And Mary said, “See: the slave of the Lord; may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel departed from her.3

Exegesis

Canonical Context

The Annunciation episode chronologically is the second “annunciation” in Luke’s Gospel. Occurring immediately prior (1:5-25) is an account of the angel Gabriel announcing the birth of John the Baptist to John’s father Zechariah. The fact that there are two annunciations one right after the other is important. In the first episode, Zechariah responds to the annunciation with disbelief, doubt, scepticism and incredulity,4 and the consequences are negative.5 This contrasts directly with Mary’s response to her annunciation, where she expresses confusion,6 yet total fidelity.7The parallelism is thus a narrative contrast between a correct response (trust) and an incorrect response (scepticism) to God’s promises.

The Annunciation episode is followed by Mary’s famous Magnificat,8 which is a crucial text in the liturgical life of the church, recited in the Divine Office every time Vespers is prayed.

There is a shorter account of the annunciation to be found in Matthews Gospel (1:18-23). In this version the angel is not identified by name (and so may or may not be Gabriel), and delivers the message to Joseph rather than Mary. The content of the message is similar in this version (ie, Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit and is therefore still a virgin), however it occurs in the context of Joseph preparing to quietly back out of his betrothal on the assumption that Mary has been unfaithful; The annunciation in Matthew therefore has the purpose of reassuring Joseph and encouraging him to stay committed to Mary.

Characters

  • The Angel Gabriel

  • Joseph, husband of Mary

  • Mary, “highly favoured one.” The Holy Virgin and Mother of God.

  • Jesus, “The son of the most high”, “The Son of God”

  • David, Famous King of Israel.

  • Jacob: The Patriarch of Israel. Israel is sometimes called “The house of Jacob”

  • Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • Elizabeth, friend of Mary, Mother of John the Baptist.

  • God the Father, sends Gabriel to announce Jesus’ conception. Sends the Holy Spirit to actually do the conceiving.

Text and Images

There is not much “imagery” in this passage, but there is lots of interesting terminology. For example:

A Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

In this phrase, David Bentley Hart translates “Πνεῦμα ἅγιον” literally as it appears in the underlying Greek, ie, without an article. This is controversial as it goes against Christian Tradition which identifies this spirit as The Holy Spirit, not some other, indeterminate holy spirit. Hart is consistent with his omissions of articles and follows the Greek text scrupulously (and controversially). Another important example is:

The offspring will be called holy also, a Son of God

See how Hart renders “υἱὸς θεοῦ” as A Son of God, rather than The Son of God, as in almost every other translation; purely on a grammatical level this is correct, but more traditionally minded Christians will most likely take issue with such a translation.

Much theological controversy revolves around the word “κεχαριτωμένη.” In Catholic translations (such as the RSVCE) this is translated as it is found in Catholic Liturgy and Popular piety: “Full of Grace.” This is more in line with the Latin Vulgate biblical textual tradition, which renders the Angel’s greeting as “Ave gratia plena.” In more evangelically-leaning translations (as well as Hart’s translation) the word is rendered in line with the Greek as “Highly Favoured one.” Theological arguments have sometimes been made for and against Mary’s sinlessness and perpetual virginity purely on the basis of this single word.

Towards the end of this passage is Mary’s famous Fiat: “Ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου.” The RSVCE translates this according to the popular English tradition: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Compare with the Latin: “Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.”9

Structural Issues

The pericope is structured according to the following divisions:

v. 26,27Establishes context; Mary, Joseph and the Angel introduced as main characters. Joseph’s royal lineage (house of David) is noted, and Mary is pointedly and repeatedly referred to as “the virgin.” Angel speaks to Mary.
v. 28, 29 Gabriel greets Mary and calls her “κεχαριτωμένη,” Mary is confused by this form of address
v. 30Gabriel reassures Mary and explains the greeting
v. 31-33Gabriel announces that Mary will miraculously conceive a son and tells her what to name him (Jesus). Gabriel prophesies that Jesus will be a king and rule over an everlasting kingdom.
v. 34Mary expresses confusion to Gabriel about how this miracle could be possible (it seems that having children is not something Mary was expecting; the exact reason for this is debated amongst theologians)
v. 35Gabriel gives a (somewhat cryptic) explanation for how Mary will come to conceive (“The Holy Spirit will come upon you”), and then (arguably) prophesies that Jesus will be divine (“the Son of God”).
v. 36, 37Gabriel also prophesies the birth of John the Baptist, and delivers the important theological dogma “With God, nothing is impossible.”
v. 38Mary delivers her famous fiat, where she faithfully consents to these prophesies of Gabriel, and then Gabriel departs.

Literary Forms

All of the gospels – including Luke – are in the “Religious biography” genre, similar to the Hadith in Islam, and the sayings of and stories about the Buddha in the Pali canon. This particular pericope is part of the infancy narrative sub-genre.10 The main purpose of this genre is to simply to relay stories about Jesus during his youth, however there is often profound theological depth to be extracted from the straightforward surface of the tales and this pericope is no exception. In this particular passage the subject matter is Christ’s conception.

Historical Content

The pericope takes place in “a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” At this point, Palestine had been in shambles for quite some time, being successively conquered and ruled over by various foreign powers, the most current (at the time) being the Romans. Levitical temple sacrifices were once again taking place after a long period of interruption, and the Jewish community was doing its’ best to stay true to its heritage, mission and tradition. However the situation was very tenuous, with many different factions competing for influence, power and control. Importantly, there was much anticipation among Jews of the day that the many Messianic prophecies of the old testament were soon to come true. As it turns out, some of the most important of these prophecies are fulfilled in this very pericope: The annunciation that Mary will miraculously conceive a child just is the annunciation that the Messiah is imminently about to arrive. Understanding this historical context is important for understanding the significance and impact of the pericope: this is not merely a tale about an angel telling a woman that she is going to miraculously conceive a child; instead, it is an account of the very moment when God announces through Gabriel that all of Israel’s Messianic yearnings are about to come true in the baby Jesus. What begun as a private revelation to Mary is here immortalised in scripture as a message to all of Israel that their Messiah has arrived.

The fact that Mary is confused and startled by the announcement that she will have a child hints at an important fact concerning her social situation. Mary was betrothed to Joseph: Under normal circumstances, a betrothal would conclude in a wedding, a marriage, children and family life. Therefore Gabriel’s announcement that Mary is going to conceive should not have caused Mary so much confusion. The fact that it did indicates that Mary was not expecting to have children. There is debate as to exactly why this might be,11 but the standard (and compelling) Catholic apologetic is that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity and so her marriage to Joseph was not planned to include sexual intercourse and children.12

Traditional Interpretations

There are so many profound reflections of the fathers on this pericope, and it is impossible to discuss all of their insights here (on account of the word count for this assignment). However, look what Augustine has to say:

[Gabriel was sent to announce] to a virgin, for Christ could be born from virginity alone, seeing He could not have an equal in His birth. It was necessary for our Head by this mighty miracle to be born according to the flesh of a virgin’ that He might signify that his members were to be born in the spirit of a virgin Church.

To fully understand Augustine here requires a deep, familiar, and intimate knowledge of his theology of anthropology, virginity and sexuality. In any case, the fact that Christ was born of a virgin holds extreme theological significance for Augustine:13 See how he describes the virgin birth as “necessary.” It is informative to pair this with some commentary from Saint Jerome:

And rightly an angel is sent to the virgin, because the virgin state is ever akin to that of angels. Surely in the flesh to live beyond the flesh is not a life on earth but in heaven.

Jerome seems to indicate that Mary was living in a heavenly or eschatological manner, and it was fitting that Christ be born by means of someone living this sort of “perfect,” or “beyond the flesh” life.

Saint Ambrose has the following provocative reflection:

But what could be imputed to the Jews, or to Herod, if they should seen to have persecuted an adulterous offspring?

Ambrose seems to indicate that if Mary had not been a virgin, and had instead engaged in unethical, unlawful, unloving intercourse and conceived thereby; in this case the Jews and Herod would be justified in persecuting Christ. There is deep anthropology and theology of the body at play here.

Saint Jerome has the following to say about vs 28-29:

And it is well said, Full of grace, for to others, grace comes in part; into Mary at once the fullness of grace wholly infused itself. She truly is full of grace through whom has been poured forth upon every creature the abundant rain of the Holy Spirit.

This is a fascinating reflection, relevant to the notion of Mary as “Mediatrix of all graces.” Jerome here indicates that Mary possesses the “fullness” of grace infused into her, and “through” her grace is poured fourth upon “every creature.” Jerome immediately follows this with:

But already He was with the Virgin Who sent the angel to the Virgin. The Lord preceded His messenger, for He could not be confined by place Who dwells in all places. Whence it follows, The Lord is with you.

This is an interesting reflection. It’s not that God came to Mary and filled her with grace at the moment of the annunciation. It’s that she was always full of grace and God was always with her.

Origen has this to say about the greeting:

For if Mary had known that similar words had been addressed to others, such a salutation would never have appeared to her so strange and alarming.

A question that comes to mind here for me is whether or not similar words have indeed been addressed to others. Clearly the salutation is unique and strange and uncommon, but perhaps there have been many husbands who have made similar declarations of love and devotion to their wives throughout history? Perhaps such husbands insist on seeing their wives as perfect and full of grace, just as Mary was perfect, even in the face of contradictory evidence? Perhaps “full of grace” is in fact how all men should perceive their wives? Perhaps such a startling address is the recipe for a happy marriage?

Saint Chrysostom relates the following startling reflection:

By the word behold, he denotes rapidity and actual presence, implying that with the utterance of the word the conception is accomplished.

This is interesting as Chrysostom indicates here that the very annunciation itself is the very moment that Christ is conceived in Mary’s immaculate womb. There is much space for theological reflection here on how the utterance of the word effects that which it announces; is it not similar with the kerygmatic gospel proclamation? When Jesus – by means of the preacher or a minister of a sacrament – declares the sinner to be elect, predestined, saved and righteous – does not such a proclamation effect that which it proclaims, especially when the one to whom such a glorious promise is spoken places their trust (faith) in the message conveyed?

Saint Ambrose again offer some cryptic reflections:

But all are not as Mary, that when they conceive the word of the Holy Spirit, they bring forth; for some put forth the word prematurely, others have Christ in the womb, but not yet formed.

I would like to examine the Greek text of this patristic quote, but in the absence of time am unable to do so. But simply reflecting on this English rendition, it is curious how Ambrose seems to indicate that other women conceive of the Holy spirit too, but “prematurely.” I suspect there are some theological reflections to be made here concerning the phenomenon of “Josephite Marriage”14 in Christian history. Perhaps having total self control over your humanity and sexuality, and yet nevertheless getting married is a good way to emulate the Holy family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Perhaps having control over your sexuality in a way akin to Mary and Joseph has flow-on effects for the personalities and holiness of the resulting children? “Others have Christ in the womb, but not yet formed” says Ambrose; perhaps a Josephite marriage is the way to conceive holy, godly and saintly children?

Commenting on vs 34 and 35, Ambrose offers the following reflection:

She avows herself willing to do that which she doubts not will be done, but how, she is anxious to know. Mary had read, Behold, she shall conceive and bear a son. She believed therefore that it should be but how it was to take place she had never read, for even to so great a prophet this had not been revealed. So great a mystery was not to be divulged by the mouth of man, but of an Angel.

Ambrose understands this passage to convey that Mary did not doubt the fact that she would conceive, but rather was just baffled as to how this was to take place. Presumably Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity and so the possibilities that came to mind would have included 1. rape and 2. renouncing her vow. As it turns out, Mary was to conceive apart from sexual intercourse, which is an incredibly surprising miracle.

Saint Gregory Nyssa offers the following reflection:

Hear the chaste words of the Virgin. The Angel tells her she shall bear a son, but she rests upon her virginity, deeming her inviolability a more precious thing than the Angel’s declaration. Hence she says, Seeing that I know not a man.

It’s interesting here how Saint Gegory Nyssa juxtaposes Mary’s virginity with Gabriel’s declaration. He understands that Mary is fully committed to her virginity, such that even if Gabriel announces that she is to conceive Mary does not doubt her own sinless commitment to her virginal vow. Perhaps to a lesser woman, such an announcement would produce feelings of guilt and despair, as she thinks to herself that she will fail to keep her promises. Or perhaps a lesser woman would be (sinfully) relieved, thinking that she is free to break her vows with impunity in order to fulfil a fateful prophecy. Whereas Mary does neither of these things, and instead has faith in both herself and God.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa again offers some reflections:

Do you say, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Nay rather, shall it happen to you for this very reason, that you have never known a husband. For if you had, you would not have been thought worthy of the mystery, not that marriage is unholy, but virginity more excellent.

Gregory draws attention to the irony here: the cause of Mary’s confusion about how she could possibly conceive is simultaneously the very reason and justification for why she does indeed conceive. This is a profound paradox: by pursuing the perfect self-control of virginity and holiness, Mary proves herself worthy of conceiving the child so utterly perfect that he is in fact God himself. There is a profound lesson to be learned here for every day men and women: self-control and selflessness in the sexual sphere is a very good thing: By loving each other in a selfless way, and by a husband and wife mutually refraining from gratifying the flesh; when they do decide to have a child it will be very intentional and drenched in divine love and compassion (as opposed to an unplanned “accident”). The resulting children will more or less be predestined to saint-hood. The bottom line is that self-control and loving abstinence are beneficial even in marriage.

Saint Basil offers the following reflection:

Hence also, St. Paul says, God sent forth his Son, born not (by a woman) but of a woman. For the words by a woman might convey only a mere passing expression of birth, but when it is said, of a woman, there is openly declared a communion of nature between the son and the parent.

This lends support to the formula of Chalcedon, or at least the theological judgement that Christ was both fully human and fully man. Christ receives his human nature from Mary.

Literal Sense

Luke is here simply trying to tell the story of the annunciation, and hit the key notes: firstly, Mary was, is, and was intending to be a virgin. Secondly, she was informed that she was about to conceive Jesus by an angel. Thirdly, Mary was confused by this announcement while remaining faithful and consenting to the will of God.

Luke doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda himself in relating this episode (beyond relaying the facts), but the later church has found incredible theological and practical significance in that which he here records.

Application

The classic way of approaching the “application” of a passage is to look at it from four perspectives: the moral sense, the anagogical sense, the allegorical sense and the typological sense. In terms of the moral sense, this essay has already touched upon this, but I think it is fair to draw out of this pericope that Josephite marriage is the ideal form of marriage. Firstly, sexual intercourse between a married couple is lawful, beautiful, wonderful and holy; and yet there is a current in the tradition which holds sexuality to always and everywhere be infected with evil and sin. There is often also a “vocational dilemma” in young Catholics attempting to discern God’s will for their lives, in that the Church proposes celibacy and marriage as two mutually exclusive possibilities and then requires individuals to choose/discern between them. I would like to here tentatively speculate that Mary’s virginal marriage to Joseph represents the solution to this dilemma, in an incredibly profound way. Recall Christ’s words that “whoever loses his life will find it, and whoever holds onto his life will lose it.” I suspect that this can be applied to the human sex drive (which is arguably the most fundamental human “need,” going beyond the human needs for food, drink and sleep). Perhaps the one who is able to more fully “detach” themselves from their fundamental human need for physical sexual expression is the one who is more “holy” in general. In this sense, Josephite marriage (where the couple attempt to abstain from physical expression of their love) is not something “weird,” but rather a valuable spiritual disciple. Now, assuming that this is true, perhaps a couple who is better able to live out a Josephite marriage will be happier and enjoy a better relationship with both each other and God. Granting this, it raises a couple of questions: firstly, when do they have sexual intercourse, assuming that sexual intercourse and marriage are intimately related?15 Secondly, what is to be said about the Children resulting from the union of a couple committed to a Josephite marriage? Finally, if Joseph and Mary are the perfect expression of marriage, what implications does this have for the fruit and offspring of their marriage (ie, Jesus)?

For some tentative and speculative answers to the questions: Firstly, I propose that Mary and Joseph do actually engage in a physical consummation of their marriage and therefore they actually do have physical sexual intercourse, however this consummation of sexual intercourse is something that occurs in the eschaton rather than during their earthly lives, and furthermore that the biblical book of the Song of Songs is a description of what this “divine consummation” is like.16 I tentatively propose that during their earthly lives, Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage, and yet in a timeless, spiritual, heavenly and eschatological sense they do indeed consummate their marriage – and conceive Christ – in the eschaton.17

The bottom line of all this in terms of moral application to our lives is something like the following: even the virgins, celibate, priests, monks and nuns have a soul mate waiting for them, and their commitment to celibacy is (somewhat paradoxically) the very way by which they sanctify their heavenly marriages yet to come. For those who are already married, Mary and Joseph’s marriage is an ideal: it’s appropriate to feel love and longing for you partner, but the longer you and your partner are able to mutually and charitably agree to postpone the physical consummation of your love, the deeper your love will become and the more holy and saintly will be the resulting children.

Finally, I tentatively propose that Mary’s perpetual virginity was necessary for Christ’s sinlessness. If celibate Josephite marriages are the ideal and lead to better children, then the ultimate and perfect Josephite marriage – that of Mary and Joseph themselves – lead to the ultimate and perfect offspring; Jesus the sinless son of God. In other words, the practical implications of this pericope for day to day christian living is that practising self-control, restraint, and moderation in the sexual sphere is actually a recipe for having better, holier children!18

Conclusion: The Immaculate Conception

Theologians have typically understood the word “κεχαριτωμένη” – traditionally translated as “[you who are] full of grace” – to be subtle and implicit scriptural support for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. In minimal form, this doctrine simply states that Mary was born without original sin. More maximally, the doctrine teaches that Mary remained free of any and all sin for the entire duration of her life. The linguistic arguments surrounding κεχαριτωμένη are dense and detailed, but suffice it to say that it is an unusual word and hard to translate directly to English. The word is rich and deep enough in meaning to fuel entire Mariologies. However, rather than here getting bogged down in linguistic arguments, I will survey the doctrine itself by means of some choice magisterial quotes.

Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi discusses Mary in the following terms:

Venerable Brethren, may the Virgin Mother of God hear the prayers of Our paternal heart – which are yours also – and obtain for all a true love of the Church – she whose sinless soul was filled with the divine spirit of Jesus Christ above all other created souls, who “in the name of the whole human race” gave her consent “for a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature.”

It was she, the second Eve, who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his unhappy fall, and her mother’s rights and her mother’s love were included in the holocaust.19

Notice how the holy father explicitly attributes “sinless” and “free from all sin, original or personal” to Mary. This is reflective of the sensus fidelium surrounding Mary at the time the encyclical was written, in the mid-20th century.

Pope Pius IX dogmatically defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus like so:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.20

This definition only concerns Mary being free from original sin, and does not explicitly affirm Mary’s personal sinlessness throughout her life, but it would be hard to interpret the entire encyclical in such a way as to conclude that Mary sinned. The thrust and atmosphere of Catholic writings – magisterial, mystical and popular – leans only towards the idea that Mary was completely sinless in every way.

1In producing this exegesis, I tried to follow the formatting of the example provided on blackboard (“An Analysis of Luke 8:4-15 – The Parable of the Sower”). I include this note because I am a little uncomfortable with the quantity of dot points used in this assignment, but I am doing so on the assumption that following the style of the example exegesis is valid (as well as being the easiest way for me to complete this assignment!) I pray that this doesn’t cost me any marks.

2Luke 1:26-38 (SBLGNT)

3Luke 1:26-38 (DBHNT)

4“How can I believe what you say? For I am an old man, and my wife is past the age of child-bearing.” – Luke 1:18

5“Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” – Luke 1:20

6“How can this be since I am a virgin?” – Luke 1:34

7 The Fiat: “Let it be done to me according to thy word” – Luke 1:38

8Luke 1:46-55

9Literally “Behold the helper of the Lord; Let it be to me according to your word”

10This is a sub-genre peculiar to Christian tradition, but there are analogues in Hindu literature and there is even an Islamic account of Christ’s early years in Surahs Maryam (19) and al-Imran (3) of the Qu’ran. There are also other apocryphal Christian infancy gospels which did not make it into the canon of scripture. The early chapters of Luke are the “official” account received by the church.

11Protestants are generally hostile to the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and tend to oppose the Catholic teaching with a polemical stance that Mary and Joseph did indeed engage in sexual intercourse after Jesus was born.

12The scriptural references which seem to indicate that Christ had siblings are tentatively explained by Catholics in a variety of ways. Perhaps they were cousins of Jesus, or potentially they could have been children of Joseph from a previous marriage.

13I would like to do further research on this theme.

14Josephite marriage is the phenomenon of a man and woman being married – and truly loving each other as husband and wife – but (almost paradoxically) totally abstaining from sexual relations.

15Cf Saint John Paul II’s theology of the body.

16There are many profound and beautiful patristic commentaries on the Song of Songs which could be marshalled to elaborate on this.

17Further speculative implications of such a view would include the fact that Joseph was indeed Christ’s biological father, even when granting that Mary maintained perpetual virginity for her entire earthly life (which is to say that DNA testing would reveal a genetic link from Joseph to Jesus as from a (human) Father to a (human) Son).

18Which makes one wonder at the holiness yet to be revealed in the children of the many monks and nuns who have successfully lived lives of perfect celibacy for the sake of the church and the kingdom!

19Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi 110

20Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.

αποκαταστασις: ευαγγελιον! Universal Salvation: Good news! The Forgotten Essence of the Gospel

Doctrinal Definition

Literally, the word apokatastasis means “restitution” or “restoration”. There are many different construals of the doctrine of apokatastasis, some being closer to the orthodoxy that we recognise today (eg, St Gregory of Nyssa) and some being much more alien and exotic (eg, the fantastical theology of St Origen1). This paper cannot hope to comprehensively cover all the different varieties and nuances of Apokatastasis that are extant in the tradition.

Merriam-Webster provides the following minimal working definition of Apokatastasis:

The doctrine of the final restoration of all sinful beings to God and to the state of blessedness2

A more fleshed out definition – to which I will be adhering for the purpose of this paper – would be:

That by his incarnation, sinless life, passion, crucifixion and resurrection, Christ achieved complete and entire victory over Hell, Death, Sin, Evil, Satan and Suffering, such that they no longer have any power to enslave or damn anyone, and therefore all souls will be saved.

Scriptural Support

The idea of apokatastasis permeates throughout scripture and can be discovered at the level of both systematic analysis and low-level proof texting. A plenitude of scriptures could be cited, but I will limit myself to Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, 1 Corinthians and Phillipians.

In Romans 1-8, the broad argument of Paul is that all of mankind exists in a state of total depravity, as the result of original sin. This is most clearly expressed in chapter three which reads as follows:

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands, no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.”3

In chapter five, Paul balances this picture of total depravity with a Christocentric universal salvation. He claims that just as in Adam all die and suffer damnation, so too in Christ all are made alive, justified and saved.

Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned— sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be justified. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.4

Note that the RSVCE (and many other English translations) renders “the many” without the definite article, thus slightly taking the edge off of the universalising thrust of Paul’s argument as written in the original Koine. I have slightly modified the translation to include articles where they are usually dropped, so as to better bring out Paul’s universalism.

In Chapter eight, Paul talks about the certain and infallible assurance of salvation that comes with faith in Christ’s apokatastasis:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.5

In Chapter 9, Paul raises the question “If Christ has saved everyone, then why are the Jews rejecting him?”

I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race. They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever. Amen.6

After three chapters of painful reflections, Paul reaffirms the theology which he had already sketched out in chapter 5: All of the Jews will indeed be saved, but every individual gentile must be saved first in order to make Israel jealous:

Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full totality; every individual Gentile has come in, and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written7

During the painful reflections of chapters 9-11, Paul poses an important, relevant and disturbing hypothetical: “Do we worship the sort of God who creates some people for salvation and other people for damnation?”:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?8

Many people don’t notice that Paul is asking a question here, and wrongly believe that he is providing an actual description of the character and temperament of God. However by the time we get to chapter 11, Paul has answered his hypothetical question in the negative, by reaffirming the foundational universalist theology he had already sketched out in chapter 5. All are simultaneously vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy:

For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.9

Paul’s doctrine of apokatastasis also crops up in 1 Corinthians 15, in the letters conclusion wherein Paul is aiming to concisely summarise the entire gospel. He claims that the whole creation and everything in it will eventually be ruled over by Christ, and finally God will permeate everything:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all.10

In Phillipians 2, Paul again outlines his vision of apokatastasis:

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should freely bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue lovingly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.11

The word Paul uses for “confess” is ἐξομολογήσηται, which has the connotation of a confession which is made “freely” and “lovingly”. There’s no sense of anyone being forced or coerced to confess that Christ is Lord in this passage. Christ is not being portrayed as a violent and tyrannical king who forces his subjects to bow down to him. The people who are bowing their knees and confessing Christ as lord are doing it freely and lovingly here. Paul is once again outlining a vision of the Apokatastasis.

Patristic Support

Throughout the 2000 years of Catholic and Orthodox tradition, there have always been three competing eschatological traditions: Universalist, Infernalist, and Annihilationist. Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sergius Bulgakov – a dogmatic theologian, patristics scholar, and a firm believer in apokatastasis – offers the following reflection:

The Church has not yet established a single universally obligatory dogmatic definition in the domain of eschatology, if we do not count the brief testimony of the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed concerning the second coming (“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end”), as well as concerning the resurrection of the dead and the life of the future age. These dogmas of the faith, attested to by the Creed and based on the express promises of the Lord, have not, all the same, been developed by theology. They are considered to be self-evident for the dogmatic consciousness, although that is not, in reality, the case. All the rest, referring to various aspects of eschatology, has not been defined dogmatically; it is an object of dogmatic doctrine that has yet to undergo free theological investigation.

If it is maintained that the absence of an ecclesial definition is compensated by the existence of a firm ecclesial tradition, patristic and other, one must call such an assertion inaccurate or even completely erroneous. Aside from the fact that this tradition is insufficient and disparate, the most important thing here is the absence of a single tradition. Instead, we have at least two completely different variants: on the one hand, a doctrine originating in Origen and stabilized in the teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa and his tacit and open followers; and, on the other hand, a widespread doctrine that has had many adherents but none equal in power of theological thought to those mentioned above. (Perhaps in this group we can put Augustine, the greatest teacher of the Western Church, but the originality of his worldview sets him apart in general, especially for Eastern theology.) As regards both particular patristic doctrines and the systematization of biblical texts, an inquiry that would precede dogmatization has yet to be carried out.

Given such a situation, it would be erroneous to maintain that the dogmatic doctrine expounded in the scholastic manuals represents the authoritative and obligatory dogmas of the Church, and to demand subordination to them as such. In response to such a demand it is necessary to established decisively and definitively that this is an exaggeration and a misunderstanding. The doctrine expounded in the manuals can by no means be accepted without inquiry and verification. It only expresses the opinion of the majority, corresponding to the current status of theological thought on this subject, not more. Characteristic of a specific period of the past, this doctrine is losing its authority more and more at the present time and at the very least requires revision. There is insufficient justification to accept theological opinions as the dogmatic definitions of the Church, especially when these opinions are proper to only one type of thought. Eschatological theology remains open to inquiry even at the present time.12

Eastern Orthodox author and theologian Brad Jersak – another firm adherent to the Gospel of apokatastasis – has this to say:

Our obsessive attempts to harmonize the Scriptures into artificially coherent, stackable propositions—as if they required us to contend for their reliability or authority—actually do violence to their richness.13

Eclectic Eastern Orthodox priest Fr Alvin Kimel adds the following comment:

One finds within the Bible specific texts that may be reasonably interpreted to support each of the three major construals of eschatological destiny—infernalist, annihilationist, and universalist. Perhaps we need to hear all three voices.14

Catholic patristics scholar Ilaria Rameli offers the following outline of church fathers who were favourable towards the doctrine of apokatastasis:

The main Patristic supporters of the apokatastasis theory, such as Bardaisan, Clement, Origin, Didymus, St. Anthony, St. Pamphilus Martyr, Methodius, St. Macrina, St. Gregory of Nyssa (and probably the two other Cappadocians), St. Evagrius Ponticus, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, St. John of Jerusalem, Rufinus, St. Jerome and St. Augustine (at least initially) … Cassian, St. Issac of Nineveh, St. John of Dalyatha, Ps. Dionysius the Areopagite, probably St. Maximus the Confessor, up to John the Scot Eriugena, and many others, grounded their Christian doctrine of apokatastasis first of all in the Bible. 15

Dogmatic Standing

There is a common misconception among Catholic and Orthodox Christians that Apokatastasis has been dogmatically condemned by the church. This misunderstanding is encountered at all levels of the hierarchy: there are those who deny the doctrine on the basis of ecclesial authority among priests, bishops, laypeople and theologians.

When first presented with the universalist hope, many Orthodox and Roman Catholics immediately invoke the authority of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 553), citing the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas: “Apokatastasis has been dogmatically defined by the Church as heresy—see canon 1 … case closed.”16

Father Kimel of Eclectic Orthodoxy outlines why this is a mistaken assumption. In summary, the scholarly consensus is that the anathemas against Origenism and apokatastasis were not actually promulgated by the council17, which raises questions as to their dogmatic status. Do they still carry full dogmatic weight if they were not really approved by the bishops of the council? Are they magisterially authoritative purely on the basis that later tradition received them as if the canons had really been promulgated? Fr Kimel calls this the as if approach to fundamental theology:

The following passage from the life of St Sabbas was read to the assembly by Cosmas: “At the fifth holy General Council held at Constantinople, Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, together with the speculations of Evagrius and Didymus concerning the pre-existence and restitution of all things, were all subjected to one common and Catholic anathema all the four Patriarchs being present and consistent thereto.” Hence it is clear that by A.D. 787 the wider Church had accepted the attribution of the fifteen anathemas to the Second Council of Constantinople.

Perhaps we might call this the “as if” theory of dogmatic reception: the Church has received the anti-Origienist anathemas as if they had been officially promulgated by an ecumenical council and as if they condemned the universalist views of Origen, St Gregory Nyssen, and St Isaac the Syrian. Rejection of apokatastasis, after all, has been the standard teaching of Latin and Eastern Christianity for almost a millennium and a half. Doesn’t that qualify as ecumenical dogma, even if initially based upon a historical blunder? If we believe hard and long enough that an ecumenical council has dogmatically condemned all forms of universal salvation, then surely it must have. “Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong,” as the saying goes.18

This mindset is quite common among Catholic and Orthodox Christians: “We all believe that apokatastasis is heresy because we have always believed it to have been condemned, regardless of whether or not it actually was”. Father Kimel questions this attitude and firmly rebukes it:

How and when does a doctrinal teaching achieve irreformable dogmatic status? Does it need to be formally defined by an ecumenical council? How long does it take for a doctrine to be properly received, and what are the criteria for reception? May the Church revisit either a dogmatic definition or a long-standing doctrine for compelling theological, historical, and pastoral reasons? Ask Orthodox theologians these and other related questions and one will received multiple, and often contradictory, answers. Hence we should not be surprised when internet apologists, parish priests, and even respected theologians who should know better dismiss the hope of universal salvation with the mere wave of a dogmatic hand. “The Fifth Ecumenical Council settled that long ago,” some tell us. “The Synodikon has infallibly anathematized the universalist hope,” others pontificate. But dogma is too important to be so superficially treated. And the universalist hope is too important to be so cavalierly and hastily dismissed. Substantive and important arguments have been raised against the traditional doctrine of everlasting damnation. They can only be addressed head-on, not dismissed by lazy appeals to authority. And if these arguments should prove compelling, then the question of apokatastasis must also be reopened, for nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. 19

However, someone may hear all of this and be emotionally committed to the idea that the council really did condemn apokatastasis. They would dismiss all of this historical criticism of the tradition as disrespectful and blasphemous sophistry. “We believe what we have received, and we have received the anathemas of this council. These anathemas cannot be questioned by historical criticism. Science cannot trump tradition”. Fr Kimel responds:

Catholic Christendom came to believe that the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas had been promulgated by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (for a brief summary of the evidence, see Green, pp. 42-46).

Let us therefore assume that the council did officially publish them. There still remains—and this is the crucial issue—the challenge of interpretation and application. Not all universalisms are the same. Just as there are both heretical and orthodox construals of, say, the atonement or the Incarnation, so there are heretical and orthodox construals of the larger hope. The apokatastasis advanced by St Gregory of Nyssa, for example, differs in decisive ways from the sixth-century theories against which the anathemas were directed. The latter appear to have belonged to an esoteric metaphysical system cut loose from the Scriptures, as even a cursory reading reveals. The chasm between the two is enormous.20

Even if the council did condemn apokatastasis, this does not give one the authority and power to silence those who remain in favour of the idea.

We simply cannot take a dogmatic definition or conciliar anathema and make it apply to whatever views we disapprove. We must interpret it within its historical, cultural, and theological context. Not to do so would be a kind of conciliar fundamentalism, akin to someone who rips a commandment from the book of Leviticus and then insists that it remains obligatory upon Gentile Christians today.21

Hermeneutics is unavoidable, and everyone has an individual responsibility to engage with it, especially theologians. While we must respect the authority of the magisterium and the tradition, we nevertheless have a responsibility to engage in interpretation of the deposit of faith independently. We cannot offload our responsibility for wrestling with the truth to the church or the bible: the church can guide us, but ultimately we also have the responsibility to do it for ourselves.

Conclusion

Apokatastasis is a beautiful and life-giving doctrine, and once all is said and done, the gospel can’t really be said to be “good news” without it. While a certain construal of Apokatastasis may have been condemned at the fifth ecumenical council, the doctrine of Apokatastasis per se remains a legitimate expression of Orthodox and Catholic faith. Let us respond to apokatastasis as St Paul responds; with rapture and doxology:

For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.22

Bibliography

Bulgakov, Sergius. The Bride of the Lamb. Grand Rapids, MI, United States: William B Eerdmans, 2001

Hart, David B. “Saint Origen,” First Things, October 2015. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/10/saint-origen

Jersak, Bradley. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem. Eugene, United States: Wipf & Stock, 2005

Kimel, Alvin F. “Readings in Universalism” Eclectic Orthodoxy (blog). WordPress.com, May 15, 2015 https://afkimel.wordpress.com/essential-readings-on-universalism/

Kimel, Alvin F. “Apocatastasis: The Heresy That Never Was” Eclectic Orthodoxy (blog). WordPress.com, October 29, 2019. https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/apocatastasis-the-heresy-that-maybe-never-was/

Rameli, Ilaria. The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis : A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena. Leiden, Netherlands: BRILL, 2013

1David B. Hart, “Saint Origen,” First Things, October 2015. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/10/saint-origen, While not being officially recognised as a saint by either the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, Saint Origen was infallibly and dogmatically canonised on the heavenly and magisterial authority of the glorious and omniscient theologian, Dr David Bentley Hart, in the October 2015 edition of First Things.

2Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “apocatastasis,” accessed May 19, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocatastasis.

3Rom 3:10-12 (RSVCE)

4Rom 5:12-21 (RSVCE, slightly altered)

5Rom 8:35,38-39 (RSVCE)

6Rom 9:1-5 (RSVCE)

7Rom 11:25-26 (RSVCE, slightly altered)

8Rom 9:22-23 (RSVCE)

9Rom 11:32 (RSVCE)

101 Cor 15:20-28 (RSVCE, slightly altered)

11Phil 2:5-11 (RSVCE, slightly altered)

12Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb (Grand Rapids, MI, United States: William B Eerdmans, 2001), 379-380

13Bradley Jersak. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (Eugene, United States: Wipf & Stock, 2005)

14Alvin F. Kimel. “Readings in Universalism” Eclectic Orthodoxy (blog). WordPress.com, May 15, 2015. https://afkimel.wordpress.com/essential-readings-on-universalism/

15Ilaria Rameli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis (Leiden, Netherlands: BRILL, 2013),

This is not an exhaustive list; there are a multitude of other church fathers who can be cited in favour of the doctrine. Refer to the book for a comprehensive survey of the entire patristic tradition

16Alvin F. Kimel. “Apocatastasis: The Heresy That Never Was” Eclectic Orthodoxy (blog). WordPress.com, October 29, 2019. https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/apocatastasis-the-heresy-that-maybe-never-was/

17Kimel, “Heresy That Never Was”

18Kimel, “Heresy That Never Was”

19Kimel, “Heresy That Never Was”

20Kimel, “Heresy That Never Was”

21Kimel, “Heresy That Never Was”

22Rom 11:32-36 (RSVCE)