An Open Invitation to Universalism – no matter how you square divine-human agential interaction

Anyone Could Bust a Universalist Move!

Scholars divide when evaluating individual church fathers & scholastics in terms of their stances toward determinism & freedom, compatibilism & libertarianism, intellectualism & voluntarism, and other such categories as pertain both to philosophical anthropology and to the relationship between divine & human agencies.

Such confusion reigns because they ignore the noncompetitive nature of divine & human agencies, a theandric reality implicit in Chalcedonian Christology, & even more perfectly explicated in Neo-Chalcedonian distinctions.

As a theoretic upshot of this noncompetitive agential account, absolutist readings of classical theologians will amount to facile caricatures. Those can otherwise be avoided by an appropriations theory approach, wherein theologians are better distinguished merely in terms of notable emphases, e.g. soft determinism, weak compatibilism, moderate libertarianism, moderate voluntarism, moderate intellectualism, etc.

In human agency, for example, the intellect’s necessarily operative just not wholly determinative in volition. In divine agency, for example, creation ensues – not from an essential necessity, but – a volitional inevitability of divine hypostases that are – not quidditatively, relations, but – qualitatively, relational.

As a practical upshot, this noncompetitive agential account should suggest (to those acquainted with universalist-infernalist debates) that arguments, among classical theists, for & against apocatastasis, need not turn on premises grounded in alternative accounts of divine-human agential relations.

After all, per some narratives, we might characterize Isaac of Nineveh, Gregory of Nyssa & Aquinas as weak compatabilists, Maximus & Scotus as moderate libertarians.

Furthermore, Augustinian, even Calvinist accounts, which altogether circumvent such agential issues, can be formulated consistent with apocatastasis. Finally, Báñezian accounts are consistent with a hopeful universalism.

How, though, do we negotiate the logics that might implicate an essential vs hopeful (practical) universalism?

One way or the other, whichever stance one takes, even totally for or against, the trick is to make some type of theological assertions, to ground them exegetically & patristically, to articulate them in some metaphysical idiom, & then, finally, to (legitimately) run for the apophatic cover of a positive mysterianism, whenever one’s interlocutors point out the unavoidable antinomial residues.

Our search for our (anti)apocatastatic apologetic, then, not escaping Gödelian constraints, will force a choice between consistency and completeness. As Hawking said, the good money’s always on consistency, i.e. accepting the unavoidable incompleteness. More aptly, as the Nazianzen did, we’re really just looking for the least inadequate way to convey our faith.

In some respects, then, if we’re going to have to embrace an ineluctable agnosticism, we can focus our arguments on exhaustively explaining HOW volition works, putting an end to our curiosity regarding the precise nature of noncompetitive divine-human agential interactions, opting for Augustinian, Thomistic or Scotistic emphases, while leaving an antinomial theological residue regarding WHAT God wills.

Or, we can focus our arguments on exhaustively explaining WHO God is, putting an end to our curiosity regarding the precise nature of WHAT God wills, opting for the universalist “hints” gifted us by Origen, Isaac of Nineveh, Gregory of Nyssa, the Nazianzen, Athanasius, Maximus & others, while leaving an antinomial anthropological residue regarding HOW human volition works. The good money, seems to me, remains with cultivating an abiding aporetic sense regarding the precise nature of noncompetitive divine-human agential interactions. After all – not just theological, but – enduring metaphysical aporia also abound regarding the origins of – not just human language & sapience, but – even animal sentience.

Thanks to Chalcedon, at least, we know via participation what it’s like to imitate the divine & even to grow in likeness to Christ. We remain otherwise stumped regarding “what it’s like to be a bat.”

When it comes to choosing one anthropological tautology over the next vis a vis our noncompetitive divine-human agential interactions, the tie-breaker for otherwise logically consistent accounts, for me, remains anthropological congruity with our time-honored, shared moral & aesthetic sensibilities. Any account, including speculative post-mortem anthropologies, that does violence to our quotidian experiences of human belonging, desiring, behaving, believing & becoming, I reject.

As a theological corollary, since we are imagoes & similitudines Dei, incongruous images of God that do violence to our most deeply felt anthropological sensibilities, intuitions & discursive reasonings, I also reject.

Accordingly, I heartily commend DBH‘s TASBS and offer my own Systematic Apocatastasis.

A Gelpian-Lonerganian Architectonic – a Missiological Meta-Heuristic

Be attentive, orient, describe, truth, eschatological, protological, transjective necessity or Ens Necessarium – analog of paterological uniqueness

Be intelligent, empower, interpret, unity, ecclesiological, interpretive, intersubjective intimacy – analog of hypostatic unity

Be reasonable, sanctify & consecrate, evaluate, beauty, soteriological, evaluative, charismatic, harmonic, unified self as intrasubjective integrity – analog of mystical, creaturely-divine, sophianic union

Be responsible, sustain, nurture & heal, norm, goodness, sacramental, ethical, normative, interobjective indeterminacy – analog of essential unicity

Be in love, save, contemplate, freedom, synergy, sophiological, liberational, theotic, intraobjective Logos-logoi identity – analog of unitary energeia

The above meta-heuristic provides the hermeneutical key to my Retreblement – a Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology per a Neo-Chalcedonian Cosmotheandrism

A Moderately Libertarian Approach to the Will – with Scotistic & Maximian influences

Both Duns Scotus & Maximus the Confessor sufficiently nuance their notions of the will in ways that sufficiently navigate past both voluntarist & intellectualist flaws.

The following strategies are influenced by but not developed solely from Scotistic & Maximian approaches.

relocate primary causation (as an immediate, continuously conserving cause) to the act of existence, which is in limited potency to an essential cause

recognize that secondary causality includes realities that vary in degrees of indeterminacy

relocate the will from a formal to an efficient causal act, which is in limited potency to a material cause

relocate the operation of grace from an efficient to a formal cause, which is in limited potency to a final cause

distinguish will (self-determination) from nature (hetero-determination)

distinguish an “assent to,” a “refusal of” & an “absence of refusal of” grace (as one can cease to refuse grace without assenting to it)

distinguish three logoi of being, well-being, and eternal being, God the sole cause of the first & third, while well-being’s intermediately caused by our sponaneous movement & gnomic willing (epistemic & axiological distancing), hence, intellect’s necessarily operative but not wholly determinative in volition

attribute gnomic will to evolution not a “fall”

distinguish freedoms to assent, refuse or permit (absence of refusal)


freedom from – an indeterminate willing w/o ratio (choosing among goods, including one’s choosing whether to will at all) from

freedom to – a determinate willing w/ratio (fallibly choosing between goods, per one’s constitutive desires & needs, and privations, iow, refusing grace) and

freedom for – a self-determined or self-limited willing (as in kenosis)

Helpful Resources:

The Subtle Doctor and Free Will, Part 1, Maximus Confesses

The Subtle Doctor and Free Will, Part 2, Duns Scotus on Freedom of the Will and Divine Foreknowledge

A paradox in Scotus account of freedom of the will by Gonzalez-Ayesta

Duns Scotus on the Natural Will by C. Gonzalez-Ayesta

Chapter 4, Duns Scotus on Freedom as a Pure Perfection – Necessity & Contingency by Gonzalez-Ayesta in
Margaret Cameron ed., Philosophy of Mind in the Early and High Middle Ages: The History of the Philosophy of Mind, Volume 2, Routledge, Jul 6, 2018

St. Maximus the Confessor on the Will—Natural and Gnomic by David Bradshaw, Ph.D.

But the Problem of Free Will by David W. Opderbeck, Ph.D.

Divine Freedom & Necessity (analogues & antinomies)

no best possible worlds but a pareto front of equipoised optimalities, choosing among the perfectly good – jssylvest

Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology, Oxford University Press, 2016

Brandon Gallaher shows that the classical Christian understanding of God having a non-necessary relationship to the world and divine freedom being a sheer assertion of God’s will must be completely rethought.

Review of Brandon Gallaher, Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: OUP, 2016), Reviews in Religion & Theology 24.4 (2017): 697-699–Justin Shaun Coyle.pdf by Justin Shaun Coyle

Retreblement – a Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology per a Neo-Chalcedonian Cosmotheandrism

One can find further resources regarding Scotistic & Maximian libertarian conceptions of the will within these notes, above, especially by searching for Mary Beth Ingham, Marilyn McCord Adams & Eleonore Stump.