Note 15/11/2017: I have since come to an understanding of why protestants say “sola fide” and what Luther originally meant by it, and as such these condemnations are out of date and inaccurate (Thank God that I was not actually Pope when I drafted them!). I leave them here unedited as a historical curiosity, but let it be known that I no longer hold to many of these opinions.
Concerning Grace and Salvation
- If anyone claims that man is saved by faith let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that man is saved by works let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that man is saved by Grace alone let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that it is necessary for a man to freely cooperate with Grace in order to be saved let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that Grace is irresistible let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that Grace can be resisted forever let them be anathema
Concerning faith, works and Justification
- If anyone denies that man is justified by works let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that man is justified by faith let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that man is justified by faith alone let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that man is justified by works alone let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that faith and works are inseparable let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that every good work is a demonstration of implicit justifying faith in Christ, regardless of whether or not the person performing the good work is Christian, let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that the good works of non-Christians do not demonstrate implicit justifying faith in Christ, and do not increase justification, let them be anathema
- If anyone says they are saved or justified “by faith alone, but faith is never alone” let them be anathema
Concerning the law
- If anyone claims that the moral component of the law has been abrogated, and need no longer be followed, let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that man is justified by following the law, whether the moral component alone, or the entire mosaic law, let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that breaking the moral law leads to a damaged soul and merits temporal punishment, let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that it is only necessary to follow the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law, let them be anathema
Concerning non-Christian religions
- If anyone claims that Muslims, Jews and Christians worship different Gods, let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Muslims, Jews and Christians all worship the same, one true God, let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that Muslims or Jews have an exhaustive and inerrant understanding of the one true God, let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Calvinism is a form of Satanism, let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Calvinists attempt to worship God, but unintentionally worship Satan instead, let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that Christ was merely human and not divine let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that Christ was merely divine and not human let them be anathema
- If anyone claims that Christ was partly human and partly divine let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ was fully divine let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ was fully human let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ had a single nature that was both fully human and fully divine let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ had both a divine nature and a human nature let them be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ had only a single nature let him be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ had two natures let him be anathema
- If anyone denies that Christ had only a single nature, yet simultaneously had exactly two natures let him be anathema
- I solemnly and dogmatically declare that both Mary and Christ possess infinite Justification
- I solemnly and dogmatically declare that Mary is “Intercessor of all Graces”: every single Grace that God sends is united to a prayer of Mary, she prays in perfect accordance with the will of God, down to the smallest detail.
- I solemnly and dogmatically declare that Mary is “Co-Redemptrix”: salvation depends on her freely given consent to God’s will that she be the mother of Christ; the gateway through which God enters creation.
- I solemnly and dogmatically declare that both Mary and Christ are perfect icons of the invisible Holy Spirit, as both Mary and Christ perfectly display the fruits of the spirit
- I solemnly and dogmatically declare that Mary possesses perfect and infinite theosis: She is fully human by nature, and fully divine by participation in Christ’s divine nature.
Only One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church?
I have been meeting with Later Day Saint (LDS) Mormon missionaries on and off since December 2017. As I learn more and more about their faith and beliefs, I find myself affirming much of what they tell me. It has actually got to the point where I feel comfortable officially converting via re-baptism, and I am planning to do this after the exam period (I won’t say too much about my motivations, except that 1. I sincerely believe in most/all LDS doctrines, and 2. I am following Saint Paul’s example in becoming all things to all people, so as to save all people. Mormons need to hear the Gospel promise too!) Of course because I have a strong classical theistic grounding, and have been shaped by the liturgical life of Apostolic Catholic Christianity, as well as the theologies and philosophies of the east (Hinduism, Buddhism); So I interpret Latter Day Saint doctrines through a very unique and eclectic lens.
In any case, one thing that has always bugged me is this doctrine of “The Great Apostasy”. On one level, I completely affirm that all churches, religions, institutions and organisations have been commandeered by Satan and no longer clearly preach the Gospel. However on another level, I understand the Catholic and Orthodox argument that the apostolic succession of Bishops has never been broken, and it is possible to trace a line all the way back to Jesus through the Sacramental laying on of hands. According to this understanding, the church that Jesus founded has been around since day one, and the divine authority of Christ never left the earth.
Now, I intend at some point to blog about the doctrine of emergency. The short version is that in an emergency, anyone can perform any of the sacraments. I argue that this is exactly what happened in the case of the visions of Joseph Smith (And I likewise argue that the very same thing has happened to me). I might get the details a little wrong here, but supposedly the story goes that Joseph Smith retreated into the forest to pray to God and ask for guidance as to which church he should join. As he was praying, he was told by God that all of the churches have apostatised, and he should restore the true church himself. In a subsequent vision, Jesus, Peter, Paul and John descended from heaven and directly ordained Joseph Smith as a Prophet and Apostle.
According to the doctrine of emergency, I have no issues with this story. Joseph Smith was not ordained in the standard line of apostolic succession, but that’s fine – he was ordained directly by Christ in a vision. This gives credibility to the line of apostolic succession that exists in the churches that can trace their origins to Joseph Smith (primarily the Fundamentalist church (FLDS), the Restored Church (RLDS), and the mainstream LDS church, but there are also other groups).
So this would imply that the traditional Apostolic churches and the new restored churches are in actual fact the same church. There is only one true church, and it is both Mormon and Catholic. This represents my current understanding.
The Great Apostasy
However the missionaries who I speak to naturally understand the great apostasy to imply that at some point, the traditional apostolic succession was broken. My question has always been, “When?” – because the historical record is really working against the LDS account of events on this score. Today my question was answered in the form of the following lecture by Hyrum Smith:
In this video, Hyrum Smith proposes a timeline of events which state exactly when the apostolic succession was broken, and exactly when it was restored. He starts by verbalising the following relevant questions: “Why was the church restored when it was? If a restoration was necessary, why did God wait till 1820 to do it?” (I was thinking to myself, mainstream Christians face a similar problem. Why did God wait to send Jesus when he did? Why couldn’t Jesus have just come and sorted everything out straight away, rather than leaving us to suffer the pains and sufferings of history?) Hyrum then declares that he’s going to tell us exactly why 1820 was the only time that the church could have been restored. He then whips up a long timeline that goes like this:
- 0AD – A saviour is born – Jesus of Nazareth
- 30AD – Jesus is all grown up and begins his ministry
- 33AD – Jesus establishes his church, is rejected by the world and crucified.
- 42AD – Peter goes to Rome and establishes a church there. He ordains a bloke called Linus as a bishop.
- 43AD – Paul goes to Rome, susses out the scene and discovers that the entire church had apostatised. Paul establishes a new leader – Deacon Linus.
Let’s pause here for a moment. Allegedly the apostasy that Paul discovered upon visiting Rome is recorded in Romans chapter 1, but I’m not sure which part of this chapter Hyrum is referring to. For one thing, the letter to the Romans strongly implies that Paul had not actually visited the Roman Christians at the time the letter was written. It is also somewhat convenient and confusing that the deacon that Paul ordains has the same name as the existing bishop of Rome. I’m wondering what the sources are for this claim, as it’s the first that I’ve heard of it. I suspect that it allows LDS apologists to read the historical record in their favour, by splitting references to Pope Linus into “Good Linus” and “Bad Linus”. But I’m open to further information and inquiry.
The timeline continues:
- 64AD – The emperor Nero kills Linus the deacon. And the authorised church completely disappears from Rome
- 70AD – The Roman army destroys Jerusalem. From this point until 1948, Jews have no homeland to call their own.
- 78AD approximately – Bishop Linus, the Pope of Rome receives a letter from a mate. This letter claims that the Roman church is incredibly universal. Pope Linus is like “Heck yeah, let’s call ourselves the universal (Catholic) church.” The Roman Catholic Church is born.
So apparently the moment Linus the deacon was killed, the “true” church disappeared from Rome, and the one that was left behind was apostate. This is also a rather creative retelling of the origins of the Roman Catholic church, but I’m guessing there is a hint of truth to it. Only a hint though.
- 96AD – All of the other apostles have been murdered except for the Apostle John. John is banished to the island of Patmos.
- 101AD – The Apostle John passes away and the great apostasy is complete. There was no longer anyone on earth with the authority to say “Thus sayeth the Lord”
So according to this understanding of events, the apostolic succession of Rome is invalid because the “real” leader was murdered, and presumably failed to ordain a successor. Mysteriously, the other apostles didn’t ordain anyone either. As such, once the apostle John died, no one was left to carry on the torch.
I find this incredibly problematic and implausible. For one thing, even if the apostolic succession in the church of Rome was invalid, that doesn’t deal with the apostolic successions in the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and the rest of the world. When and how did those successions die?
Hyrum continues with a sweeping survey of mainstream church history:
- 320AD – The Early Christians – despite technically being apostates – had a very rough time. Emperor Constantine calls the Council of Nicaea with the purpose of establishing an ecumenical understanding of God. The Nicene creed is produced and the Roman Catholic church becomes formal church of the state. The “Reign of the Popes” begins
- 785AD – The Empress Irene is in charge. She calls another council of Nicaea. Saints become canonised. Idol worship begins in the Catholic church.
- 900AD approximately – We have a female pope! Pope Joanna. The Catholic church denies this fact but the Lutheran church supposedly has detailed documentation.
- 1100AD – There are three popes simultaneously. They all excommunicate each other and go to war.
- 1200AD – The printing press is invented. Pope innocent the Third is fighting a lot of wars and runs out of money. He invents “the sale of indulgences.” Apparently this meant “you could pay to have your sins remitted”. And you could even pre-pay for your future sins.
- 1300AD – There is an intellectual revolution in Europe: The Renaissance.
- 1492AD – Columbus discovers the new world.
- 1515AD – Martin Luther emerges. With his access to ancient documents he begins to have a problem with indulgences. “Jesus didn’t say anything about it.”
- 1523AD – Luther is excommunicated. The Church declares that to kill Luther would not be murder. Luther goes into hiding. German princes shelter him and he becomes head of the Lutheran church.
- 1534AD – Henry VIII has problems with the wife. He wants a divorce. The Pope refuses to agree and grant him one. The Anglican church is born.
- 1540AD – John Calvin starts up the Huegenots.
- 1560AD – John Knox founds the Puritan movement.
- 1575AD – Bartholemew day. The Catholics in Paris round up and slaughter all of the Protestants.
- 1620AD – The Puritans migrate to America, because they are fed up with the lack of freedom in the continent. The nation of America has its formal beginnings.
- 1776AD – America gets sick of King George and his bullshit; they tell him to fuck off and that they aren’t gonna pay taxes to him any more. Independence is declared. War begins. There is no way that this war could have been won apart from the direct intervention of God.
- 1787AD – The constitution is established. For the first time in history, a nation has freedom of religion firmly baked in to it’s most fundamental laws and principles of governance.
- 1805AD – God raises up a leader: Joseph smith is born in upstate New York
- 1812AD – The war of 1812. Britain is defeated. USA establishes its’ own navy.
- 1817AD – Satan also raises up a leader: Karl Marx is born. There are 700,000,000 communists today, so there’s still lots of work to do to save the world.
- 1820AD – Joseph Smith wants to know what church to join. He goes into the forest to pray. Jesus Christ appears to him and the Restoration begins.
- 1830AD – The Church is formally re-established on earth. More progress is made in this year than in all 5000 years past.
- 1860AD – “Family trouble.” – The Civil War
During his presentation Hyrum makes the point that 1820 is the only time the church could have been re-established and survived, because religious freedom was necessary and it was only at that time in America that religious freedom had been established. This is an interesting point.
In the end I find the account of the great apostasy proposed by Hyrum Smith to be wanting. There are simply too many holes in it. Instead I’m happy to affirm that 1. All churches are apostate, including the Catholic church and LDS church, and 2. Both the LDS church and Catholic church have valid apostolic successions.
I look forward to learning more about the LDS faith, but I am as yet unconvinced of the great apostasy narrative as they understand it.
RSV-CE 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
This translation was done during an LSD trip, so you can be assured that it’s extra inspired and even more accurate and divine than it would be otherwise.
Curiousities that I encountered during translation include the consistant use of the plural form for “darkness” – tenebrae. I am not expert enough in Latin to say with confidence why this plural form features so prominently, but I figured there must be some sort of theological significance and so chose to translate it as “darknesses”. This is definitely an area for further speculative theology to explore: the multiplicity of the primordial darkness from which all things sprung. What could it mean?
During translation, I tried my hardest to preserve the original Latin tenses. I was interested in a “wooden” and “literal” translation, and had no interest in smoothing over the grammatical quirks and clunkiness for the sake of an elegant English reading. I prefer to have direct access to the original constructions when reading a translation, regardless of how odd it sounds in English. I value strict accuracy of translation above literary excellence. Rather than having the paraphrase in the text and the original in the footnotes, I prefer to do things the other way around. This is why my prefered New Testament translation is the David Bentley Hart edition.
Please give feedback! I am still learning Latin, and would appreciate any comments.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth.
the earth was also formless and empty
and darknesses were above the face of the abyss
and the spirit of God was being carried above the waters
and God said
“let light be made”, and light is made
and God saw the light, that it is good.
and he divided the light and the darknesses
and he called the light “day” and the darknesses “night”
and the first day was done, evening and morning.
God also said
“let a firmament be made in the middle of the waters
and let it divide the waters from the waters”
and God made the firmament
and he divided the waters that were below the firmament from these that were above the firmament
and so it was done
and God called the firmament “heaven”
and the second day was done, evening and morning
God truly said
“let the waters which are beneath heaven be gathered in one place and let dry land appear”
and so it was done
and God called the dry land “Earth”
and the association of waters he named “Sea”
and God saw that it is good and he says
“let the earth grow the green herb and make seed
and the fruit-bearing tree making fruit according to its genus
which seed in itself is above the earth”
and so it was done.
and the earth brought out green herb and delivered seed according to its genus
and the tree made fruit
and having a unique sowing according to its species
and God saw that it is good
and the third day was done, evening and morning.
God also said
let lights be made in the firmament of heaven
that they may divide day and night
and let them be [made] into signs and times and days and years
that they may shine in the firmament of heaven and may illuminate the earth
and so it was done.
and God made two great lights: the greater to shine that it may rule over the days and the minor to shine that it may rule over the nights and stars
and he placed them in the firmament of heaven
that they may shine above the earth and they may rule over the days and nights
and they may divide the light from the darknesses
and God say that it is good
and the fourth day was done, evening and morning.
God also said
let the waters bring forth creeping living souls
and flying creatures above the earth and beneath the firmament of heaven
and God created large sea monsters
and even all the living moving soul
that the waters had brought forth according to their species
and all the flying things according to their genus
and God saw that it is good
and he blessed saying to them
“increase and be multiplied and fill up the waters of the sea
and birds, let them multiply above the earth”
and the fifth day was done, evening and morning.
God also said
“Let the earth produce living soul in it’s genus
beasts of burden and crawling things and beasts of the earth according to their species”
and so it is done.
and God made the beasts of the earth according to their species
and beasts of burden and all creeping things of earth in their genus
and God saw that it is good and he said
“let us make man in according to our image and likeness
and let him rule by the fish of the sea and by the birds of heaven
and by all the beasts of the earth
and all the creeping things that are moved in the earth”
and God created man according to his image
according to the image of God he created them
Male and female he created them
and God blessed them and said
“increase and be multiplied and fill up the earth and subdue it
and rule to the fish of the sea and to the flying things of heaven
and to all the living things that move above the earth”
and God said
“Behold, I have given to you all herb conducting seed above the earth
and all trees that in themselves bear seed according to their genus
that to you may be into food and all living things of the earth
and all winged things of heaven and all that move on the earth
and in which there is a living soul that they may have eating
and so it was done
and God saw all things that he had made and they were very good
and the sixth day was done, evening and morning.
Original Latin Text
In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi : et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas. Dixitque Deus : Fiat lux. Et facta est lux. Et vidit Deus lucem quod esset bona : et divisit lucem a tenebris. Appellavitque lucem Diem, et tenebras Noctem : factumque est vespere et mane, dies unus.
Dixit quoque Deus : Fiat firmamentum in medio aquarum : et dividat aquas ab aquis. Et fecit Deus firmamentum, divisitque aquas, quae erant sub firmamento, ab his, quae erant super firmamentum. Et factum est ita. Vocavitque Deus firmamentum, Caelum : et factum est vespere et mane, dies secundus. Dixit vero Deus : Congregentur aquae, quae sub caelo sunt, in locum unum : et appareat arida. Et factum est ita. Et vocavit Deus aridam Terram, congregationesque aquarum appellavit Maria. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum.
Et ait : Germinet terra herbam virentem, et facientem semen, et lignum pomiferum faciens fructum juxta genus suum, cujus semen in semetipso sit super terram. Et factum est ita. Et protulit terra herbam virentem, et facientem semen juxta genus suum, lignumque faciens fructum, et habens unumquodque sementem secundum speciem suam. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum. Et factum est vespere et mane, dies tertius. Dixit autem Deus : Fiant luminaria in firmamento caeli, et dividant diem ac noctem, et sint in signa et tempora, et dies et annos : ut luceant in firmamento caeli, et illuminent terram. Et factum est ita.
Fecitque Deus duo luminaria magna : luminare majus, ut praeesset diei : et luminare minus, ut praeesset nocti : et stellas. Et posuit eas in firmamento caeli, ut lucerent super terram, et praeessent diei ac nocti, et dividerent lucem ac tenebras. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum. Et factum est vespere et mane, dies quartus. Dixit etiam Deus : Producant aquae reptile animae viventis, et volatile super terram sub firmamento caeli.
Creavitque Deus cete grandia, et omnem animam viventem atque motabilem, quam produxerant aquae in species suas, et omne volatile secundum genus suum. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum. Benedixitque eis, dicens : Crescite, et multiplicamini, et replete aquas maris : avesque multiplicentur super terram. Et factum est vespere et mane, dies quintus. Dixit quoque Deus : Producat terra animam viventem in genere suo, jumenta, et reptilia, et bestias terrae secundum species suas. Factumque est ita. Et fecit Deus bestias terrae juxta species suas, et jumenta, et omne reptile terrae in genere suo. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum,
et ait : Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram : et praesit piscibus maris, et volatilibus caeli, et bestiis, universaeque terrae, omnique reptili, quod movetur in terra. Et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam : ad imaginem Dei creavit illum, masculum et feminam creavit eos. Benedixitque illis Deus, et ait : Crescite et multiplicamini, et replete terram, et subjicite eam, et dominamini piscibus maris, et volatilibus caeli, et universis animantibus, quae moventur super terram. Dixitque Deus : Ecce dedi vobis omnem herbam afferentem semen super terram, et universa ligna quae habent in semetipsis sementem generis sui, ut sint vobis in escam : et cunctis animantibus terrae, omnique volucri caeli, et universis quae moventur in terra, et in quibus est anima vivens, ut habeant ad vescendum. Et factum est ita.
Viditque Deus cuncta quae fecerat, et erant valde bona. Et factum est vespere et mane, dies sextus.
As is well known among scholars, the Greek word λογος is untranslatable into almost any other language. But curiously it can be translated into Chinese, as that all important word, dào 道. The philosophical similarities between Lao Tzu’sdào 道 and the λογος are far too numerous and significant to be ignored. This is why I took great pleasure in translating this first chapter of the 道德經 into Greek. Where most translations stumble on how to translate the crucial word dào 道, the Greek language conveniently supplies a term that is almost exactly equivalent in meaning. The really marvellous thing is that both the mythical Lao Tzu and the Greek philosopher Hereclitus both lived at roughly the same period of history (approx 5th century BC), but on opposite sides of the planet. Despite being totally isolated and cut off from each other, and speaking fundamentally different languages, they both managed to penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos and discover the same fundamental principle that permeates it.
This 道/λογος equivalence also comes to play in Chinese translations of the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Where most translations have to settle for translating λογος as some variation of “Holy/Living Word”, Chinese translations have the privilege of an almost directly equivalent word that they can employ: dào 道. Unfortunately many modern Chinese translations (Including the official Catholic one – the Studium Biblicum Version) have begun to jettison this beautiful translation, in favour of Chinese terminology which is not so loaded with traditional Taoist connotations (For example the SBG translates λογος as 聖言, literaly “Holy Word”). I cannot speak to the motivations of the translators, but to me such a move seems to be driven by a desire to separate and distinguish Christianity from other faiths, cultures and traditions. To me it comes across as anti-ecumenical, fundamentalist, and bigoted. Why insist on a watered down translation like that, when a perfectly good direct translation exists?
Please comment on my translation! I am trying to improve my Greek, Latin, and Classical Chinese skills and would appreciate any and all feedback. Thank you!
The Tao that can be Told is not the Eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the Eternal name.
Without name: the origin of heaven and earth
With name: the mother of all things
Never desire, in order to behold its ineffable essence;
Always desire, in order to behold its manifest aspects.
Both these things are the same – arche and teleos – but under different names.
Together, they are the mystery of qualia.
Indeed, the mystery of mysteries;
A doorway into infinite bliss.
Latin and Greek Translations
(of the first two sentences)
Divinitas quod potest describi divinitas aeterna non est.
Nomina possunt nominarier, sed nomen aeternum non potest.
´ο λογος τουτον μπορώ λεγεται, ´ο αιωνιος λογος μυ εστι.
´ο νομος τουτον μπορω νομεται, ´ο αιωνιος νομος μυ εστι.
Original Classical Chinese Text
Hanyu Pinyin Mandarin Romanisation
dào kě dào fēi cháng dào
míng kě míng fēi cháng míng
wú míng tiān dì zhī shǐ
yǒu míng wàn wù zhī mǔ
cháng wú yù yǐ guàn qí miào
cháng yǒu yù yǐ guàn qí jiǎo
cǐ liǎng zhě tóng chū ér yì míng tóng wèi zhī xuán
xuán zhī yòu xuán zhòng miào zhī mén
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!
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.
Eternal and Temporal Punishments
In 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
The 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
There 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)
Wednesday of the 6th week of Eastertide – Feast of Saint Paul VI, Pope
Daily ReadingsClick here to View
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.
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.
Gospel Acclamation – John 14:16
The Father will send you the Holy Spirit, says the Lord, to be with you for ever.
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.
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.
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!
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.