The Trinity and Apocatastasis

Cardinal Dulles describes Balthasar’s stance toward universalism as leaving the question speculatively open, which has different practical implications than altogether refusing the question?

The former creates a right, conceivably a duty, to hope for universal salvation.

It seems Balthasar’s positive theology & pastoral strategy conspired to defend hope from either despair or presumption, either of which he considered a type of hope-less-ness.

Does that conclude our inquiry?

Hardly, for one must next argue whether a given proclamation of apocatastasis meets the criteria of presumption.

Our duty to hope & pray that all may be saved implicates the prohibition against proclaiming whether any or which are damned.

Indeed, after Balthasar’s exercise in positive theology, historically & exegetically, he reasonably inferred that the evidence for God’s desire to save all clearly outweighed any suggesting the factual damnation of some.

If one thereby chooses to either merely stipulate to or even clearly affirm apocatastasis as theologoumenon vis a vis belief, what adiaphora of praxis might that implicate?

Here we next encounter a question of theological anthropology:

How might we account for the way temporal human beings know & embrace the eternal order?

While there can be a fragility to any given hope that remains poised between despair & presumption, if we’ve successfully obviated presumption vis a vis apocatastasis, in particular, as mysterium, next we’ll encounter a polar relationship between tupos (figure, type) and aletheia (truth).

Semiotically, what figures or signs could make present any putative truth of a universal salvation?

How might such a sign participate in the efficacy of such a truth as it shapes – not only how we tell the story (cf Kimel), but – moves beyond a mere eschatological proclamation regarding what the future holds to a question of present praxis regarding how that future will necessarily shape our worship & theosis, i.e. liturgically & devotionally, formatively & pastorally.

What semiotic reality could make such a mystery, apocatastasis, proleptically present, thereby mediating a confident assurance in the object of our hope & via what form of temporal participation in our eschatological consummation?

Here, we recall the tripartite trinitological dynamism (ad intra processional & ad extra cosmic) of emanation, exemplarity & consummation, as well as the tripartite exemplars of vestige, image & likeness, as we present Origen’s tripartite division of shadow, image & truth as all signs of the Good News point to individual, ecclesial & cosmic conversions, transformatively (theotically), and a final consummation, apocatastatically.

I have borrowed the terminology of de Lubac’s “Corpus Mysticum” to frame up the questions above, wherein de Lubac explicated the underlying anagogy of his sacramental theology. For him, any knowledge of the Christian mystery requires a participatory approach, which transforms the believer by subjectively uniting her with the mystery’s objective content. Thus de Lubac provides an anthropological heuristic for spiritual understanding.

But, for a truly coherent accounting of an apocatastatic anagogy, we still need a more robustly detailed account of how we enjoy such proleptic tastes of any future perfections?

For that, we can turn to the Syrian, Isaac.

Unable to comprehend such mysteries through mere temporal reasoning & logic, according to Isaac, it’s a mind standing on eschatological thresholds in the state of astonishment, who’s further graced with wonder, who can embrace the ecstatic experience of the future world in the present, in a now moment.

For an account of Isaac’s sources, see Jason Scully’s Isaac of Nineveh’s Contribution to Syriac Theology: An Eschatological Reworking of Greek Anthropology

For an account of de Lubac’s anthropological heuristic for spiritual understanding, see Joseph Flipper’s Sacrament and Eschatological Fulfillment in Henri de Lubac’s Theology of History

Oh, did I forget to mention that de Lubac articulated his account of spiritual understanding and anagogy vis a vis the sacraments using Origen’s eschatological account and anagogia, i.e. how we might taste & see the truths regarding apocatastasis? Cf. Flipper

Prologue as Afterward

We must set aside the indefensible notion that the human will is either absolutely free or positively determined, whether scientifically, philosophically or theologically.

We can then ask “which aspects of human volition need to be free to what degree?” in order to be consistent with both our moral instincts & intuitions and common sense & sensibilities.

The answers to that question, by its very construction, will not be strictly formal & propositional (neither descriptively nor normatively deductive), but will be propositionally informal (abductively & inductively) and evaluatively dispositional.

Put more concretely, any answer to “which aspects of human volition need to be free to what degree?” will, in large measure, boil down to “how much constraint on human volition are you willing to acknowledge & accept?” before you would declare human moral obligations a dead letter?

Certainly, there’s an acceptable range & not just a jumping off point regarding what degree of human autonomy must be enjoyed if we are to be bound by moral obligation?

And the propositional views and evaluative dispositions of most of us, due to our shared moral instincts & intuitions and common sense & sensibilities, will fall safely within such a range.

However, some seem evaluatively disposed to assert the highest degree of autonomy conceivable (and in near absolutist libertarian terms) as being necessary in order to morally bind a human person to any meaningful degree.

BUT this begins to sound like something that would come from one who’s far more invested in his own WILLFULness than in growing her WILLINGness, for …

as Chris Green points out: Speaking of our freedom as absolute and supreme means (a) that freedom-from-God is itself the greatest good God can give us and/or (b) that our freedom is ultimately self-grounded and our destiny self- determined.

The Problem of Hell and Free Will
by Chris Green, Ph.D

Recent Musings:

Below are excerpts from “The Population of Hell,” First Things 133 (May 2003): 36-41.
In a reverie circulated among friends but not published until after he died, Maritain included what he called a conjectural essay on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, though eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape pain.
Karl Rahner held for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost. … Rahner therefore believed that universal salvation is a possibility.
The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell was proposed by von Balthasar, who said we have a right & even a duty to hope for the salvation of all.
Edith Stein , now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, defends a position very like Balthasar’s & finds it possible to hope that God’s omnipotent love finds ways of, so to speak, outwitting human resistance. Balthasar says that he agrees with Stein.
Avery Dulles : This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith.

Video of a 45 min lecture by Dulles in NY given Nov 20, 2002 & entitled The Population of Hell
Excellent responses to Dulles’ Population of Hell lecture / article.

From science & philosophy we know humans aren’t absolutely free but “adequately determined.” What about theologically? Freedom’s not absolute there either.

A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. ~ Lossky

See: The Problem of Hell and Free Will at

The practical takeaway is that modern categories (libertarianism & compatabilism) don’t measure up to Thomistic & Scotistic accounts. A human freedom constrained in some ways & degrees won’t obviate moral responsibility. Only absolutist conceptions need, in principle, reject universalism?
While I haven’t moved from my long & steadfast practical (Balthasarian) – to an in principle or necessary theoretic – universalism, I’ve been persuaded, by the collective cogency of many Orthodox approaches, that it can’t be a priori or in principle or necessarily ruled out.

The Thin Passibility of the Eternally Deliberative Human Will

Because comments are closed, above, to wit:

It recent reading regarding free will, both temporally & in the eschaton, a thought occurred to me.

Temporally, the issue of being equipoised deliberatively arises, raising a concern of arbitrariness.

Eschatologically, the nature of deliberation, itself, is questioned, presumably, because of a lack of dispositional potencies.

Now, in my view, our freedom necessarily derives precisely from both epistemic AND axiological distancing, both temporally & eternally.

Therefore, even when one realizes a given divine telos, precisely attaining its divinely specified epistemic-axiological intensity, whether that value-realization has gifted one a temporal equi-positioning (chocolate or vanilla?) or even an eternal dis-positioning (God or God?), that need neither, in the former case, implicate arbitrariness, nor, in the latter, obviate deliberative willing.


Because aesthetic intensity, alone, needn’t exhaust our notions of intentionality, whether temporally or eternally, whether of human volition or of the divine esse intentionale.

Integral to any coherent notion of intentionality, one must include the conception of an aesthetic scope, even if a relatively thin notion of post-mortem human enrichment, as one has thus happily moved from image to likeness (vis a vis our thin notion of divine passibility, as has been well articulated & defended by folks like Norris Clarke & Greg Boyd).

The human will thus perdures deliberatively, temporally & eternally, epistemically & axiologically distanced, varying aesthetically in scope even when not in intensity, appropriating novelty & enjoying diversity, moving from glory to glory to glory (hence nonarbitrarily choosing now vanilla, now chocolate, unless C.S. Lewis was correct regarding our heavenly desires for sex and ice cream).

Regarding those post-mortem, who’ve not thus closed their epistemic-axiological distance, haven’t been glorified, they, too, remain irrevocably deliberatively engaged, so to speak, on purgative & illuminative paths toward unitive beatitude.

Not to adopt Pastor Tom Belt’s irrevocability thesis but to instead embrace various irreversibility theses does violence to our common sense & sensibilities regarding personhood.

The Critical Importance of a Normative Account of Affective Conversion in the Authentication of any Doctrine of Apocatastasis

While pastoral concerns, as communications, do emerge last in the functional specialties (per their progressive nature), the theological task is not complete without a proper authentication of doctrines, which is where I locate Fr Kimel’s concerns.

In that context, a normative account of affective conversion matters greatly! All the more if his stance is a theolougemon in his tradition.

Don Gelpi, The Authentication of Doctrines: Hints from C. S. Peirce, Theological Studies 60:261-293 (1999)

The Trinity is a Mystery to be Lived & Not a Problem to be Solved

Something tells me that, if the Trinitarian accounts of Origen, Maximus, the Cappadocians, Thomists, Scotists & Palamites reconcile using the rubrics, below, as I’m confident they do, one shouldn’t approach the Mystery of the Trinity as a problem to be solved but as a divine reality to be lived, participatorily, via prayer & theosis.

If that approach does not suffice for one, existentially & speculatively, they could find themselves in real existential jeopardy of suffering the practical consequences of gravity, because they could very likely be among those withholding prudential judgments regarding same, while awaiting the speculative resolution of its mysterious relationship to quantum mechanics!

Here’s where the Trinitological Hullabaloo begins:

In a meta/ontology concerned with non/determinate realities, the equivocal predications of “is” must be disambiguated, because they can refer to logics of predication (properties), identity (objects) or temporality (relations).

Certain relational meanings of “is” specify realities as present (now), atemporal (timeless), omnitemporal (always), transtemporal (persistent in present period), nontemporal (now potentially temporal) or eternal (meta-temporal).

A couple of examples:

In physics, spatialized time could refer to a nontemporal reality, for example, if a given symmetric equation would suggest a potential temporalization of space (from 2-D to 3-D).

In personal identity theory, explanatory principles must ground both synchronic & diachronic individuation, often mapping the identities of non/determinate persons both eternally and temporally (including a-, omni-, trans- & presently), for example, regarding divine persons, in trinitology, human persons, in eschatology.

Neither reductionist (somatic or psychological) nor dualist (Cartesian) approaches can provide such principles without doing violence to our common sense & sensibilities and sacrificing narrative coherence & moral intuitions.

Why surrender those intelligibilities, sensibilities, coherencies & intuitions to such speculative ontologies, when more modest meta-heuristics can sustain them, while, at the same time, robustly fostering ongoing metaphysical explorations?
Such meta-heuristics include a variety of scholastic, pragmatic & analytical realisms, mostly consistent with Aristotelian-like syllogistics, which work rather well with determinate modes of being & formal modes of identity.

Those syllogistics can be derived from that logic of modal identity, which applies to nondeterminate realities (e.g. necessities, singularities, boundary & limit conditions, and other meta-nomicities).

While successful references to nondeterminate realities, in addition to formal modes of identity, include those of essences (e.g. properties) & existents (e.g. persons), those latter modes of identity are only analogous to essential & personal modes of being.

The exemplarist accounts of Scotus (e.g. immanent universal) & Origen (e.g. Platonic reversal), as well as the substantialist accounts, where the Godhead & persons relate like secondary & primary substances, function as meta-heuristics, which meta-ontologically gift us semantical & analogical intelligibility for realities, which cannot, in principle, be generically specified, ontologically.

Some label such approaches radically apophatic or mysterian. Others fail to note the analogical interval between essential & personal modes of identity & being, then mistakenly characterize them as modalist, tritheist, subordinationist, univocist, equivocist and so on. Either way, they’re critiquing caricatures.

The Mystery of the Trinity does not present a logical problem vis a vis consistency, as long as we properly attend to the equivocal predications of “is” and avoid conflations of determinate & nondeterminate realities, as they employ distinct, but related, syllogistics regarding their modes of being & identity.

The Mystery of the Trinity presents, rather, an ontological problem in that we cannot, in principle, successfully describe (via connotative-denotative generic specification) —

WHAT so loved the world THAT … … John 3:16 et cetera etc etc

Deo gratias, we do know Who!

A Glossary of Predications for Determinate & Nondeterminate Realities (not necessarily pertaining to divine realities but even pertaining to, for example, materially monist conceptions & other non/reductive metaphysical accounts)

An essential nature or esse naturale can be a non/composite nature w/ or w/o formal distinctions, where the 3 meanings of “Is” include:

  • Properties
  • Objects
  • Temporalities

Other predications made for realities concurrent with but not identical to a nature (esse naturale), which necessarily inhere, characterizing but not defining it, naming but not describing it, include univocal semantic references & analogical predications of meta-ontological & meta-nomological realities:

  • Propria – predicated essentially re: attributes
  • Idiomata – predicated personally re: exemplifications, hypostases
  • Epinoia – predicated relationally of kenoses, oikonomia, operations, energies, actions & apophatic attributes as non- & self-determinate sources (e.g. internal paterological ur-kenosis, external christological kenosis of incarnation & pneumatological kenosis of creating and trinitological transforming economy, whereby each creature’s resplendently transfigured & persons theotically so)

An esse intentionale via accidental properties can include volitional & intellectual relations to external realities, i.e. Cambridge properties that represent real but contingent relational changes, both:

  • External – via creation
  • Internal – via a thin passibility in aesthetic scope

as determinate effects (creative & theotic, i.e. vestigia, images & likenesses) ensue from transcendently non- & self-determinate sources

More Trinitarian Reflections:

DDS, MOF & Filioque

The filioque doesn’t, per se, implicate simplicity. It reconciles with the MOF & the formulation that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

For irenic accounts, see:

from a Catholic take:
Mark J. Bonocore

from an Orthodox stance:
Peter Gilbert

For what’s at stake, see:

Cardinal Dulles

Maximus acknowledged the Latin introduction of the filioque was done “in order to manifest the Spirit’s coming-forth (προϊέναι) through him and, in this way, to make clear the unity and identity of the essence.

Some worried, however, that, when coupled w/an emanationist interpretation (precisely imputed to an Augustinian DDS), the filioque’s logic of processions would yield an infinite causal chain of persons (it doesn’t due to distinctions like mutually opposed relations, active & passive spiration, principium/aition & causa, etc) and would compromise divine freedom. They were further concerned that natural rather revealed theology grounded its conceptions of nature & persons.

The DDS turns out to be a much stickier theological widget than the MOF, which I receive as dogmatic, or the filioque, which I accept as theolougemon.

A good DDS could accomplish a great deal of heavy lifting, idiomatically, while a bad one would be a dead weight. What we need, therefore, is a Goldilocks DDS, a metaphysical gruel that’s not so thick that it nullifies divine freedom or trivializes divine personhood & love, but, not so thin that necessary distinctions between determinate & nondeterminate realities disappear.

I would insist w/ D. B. Hart that we need some DDS & w/Norris Clarke that a thin divine passibility’s defensible, agree w/W. L. Craig that Clarke’s approach threatens many commonly understood Thomistic notions of same, disagree w/Perry Robinson that Thomist approaches are as incompatible w/some Eastern approaches as he imagines but agree w/his depiction of the coherency of those Eastern approaches, and have especially enjoyed reading the online irenics/polemics re: DDS of Michael Liccione, Edward Feser & Thomas Hopko.

In the end, surely we’ll need distinctions like un/conditional necessity, esse naturale/intentionale, inentionale as aspect of naturale, change in intentionale as thin passibility.

Norris Clarke actually contends that, in order to make intelligible the belief that what happens in the world does make a significant, conscious difference to God, the Thomistic metaphysical doctrine of no real relations in God to the world should be quietly shelved because it is no longer illuminating. Norris Clarke explains that the term `real relations’ carries a narrow technical meaning for Aquinas, one implying intrinsic change in the real intrinsic, nonrelative perfection of the subject of relation and the independent existence of the other term. Since neither of these requirements can be applied to God, Aquinas allows ‘intentionality relations’, in the purely relational order of knowledge and love in God towards the world, but technically refuses to call these `real relations’. Whilst defensible on technical grounds, Norris Clarke believes this perspective to be so narrow and incomplete, so difficult to convey, that this point of conflict with Process thought should be dropped. Norris Clarke affirms that it should be unambiguously stated that God is truly, `really’, personally related to the world by relations of knowledge and mutual love and affected in consciousness, but not in abiding intrinsic perfection of nature, by what happens in the world. ~ Robert Connor

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite online reads re: DDS, MOF & Filioque:

The Monarchy never entailed subordination

Nor Simplicity modalism

And a new filioque collaboration

Could end a thousand year schism!

What’s Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Or Rome with Constantinople?

Whether one reads Hart or Avery Dulles

She can be apokatastatically hopeful!

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