A Collatio in Response to Edward Feser’s review of That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation By David Bentley Hart, Yale University Press (2019).
Feser recently published this review: David Bentley Hart’s attack on Christian tradition fails to convince
Precis of Feser’s Review
For Hart, at the end of the day it is not scripture, not the Fathers, not the councils, not the creeds, not Holy Tradition, that should determine what Christians believe.
Feser: The possibility of eternal damnation is taught in Scripture, by almost all the Church Fathers.
Why did Jesus not explicitly say that everyone will be saved, if that is what he meant? Why did it take centuries before any Christian even floated the idea?
Feser: The Council of Trent rejected the view that a Christian can be certain of his salvation. As a non-Catholic, Hart would not be troubled by some of these facts, but his view is generally considered heterodox even in Eastern Orthodoxy.
Feser: Hart dismisses the traditional interpretation of the scriptural passages that teach the possibility of everlasting punishment. He claims that Christ’s words to this effect are either hyperbole of the kind typical of parables and apocalyptic literature, or have been mistranslated. When Christ speaks of punishment that is “everlasting”, he really means merely that it will last for an age.
Matthew Joss – Graduate Student of St. Mary’s College Logos Institute, University of St. Andrews writes:
DBH describes his hermeneutical method: obvious doctrinal statements (generally from the epistles) should be privileged over the figurative language of the Gospels and Revelation (93-94). There is an extended section dealing with the translation of aionios, which is quite helpful, although its actual application to texts is limited. He concludes, “The texts of the gospels simply make no obvious claim about a place or state of endless suffering”
Feser: On the philosophical side, too, Hart’s book is a mess. A line of argument developed by Aquinas holds that it is impossible for the will to change its basic orientation after the death of the body. The reason is that the intellect’s attention can be pulled away from what it judges to be good and worth pursuing only by the senses and imagination, and these go when the body goes. The view has been spelled out and defended in detail within the Thomist tradition, but Hart has little to say about it other than to dismiss it with a few insults and cursory objections which Thomists have already answered.
Feser: Hart argues that since rational creatures are made to know and love God, any choice against God is irrational. If a choice is non-culpable because it is irrational, how can we be culpable for any bad thing that we do (given that bad actions are always contrary to reason)? How can we deserve even finite punishments? And if we can’t, then why do we need a saviour?
Feser: DBH’s book freely indulges the boundless appetite for gratuitous invective and other ad hominem rhetoric for which he is famous.
Feser: Hart holds that all human beings are parts of Christ’s body in such a way that if even one person is damned forever, then Christ’s body is incomplete, and even his obedience to the Father is incomplete. Hart also holds that the individual self is destined to be “reduced to nothing” so that we can be “free of what separates us from God and neighbour.” What is left he compares to the Hindu notion of Atman. But all of this is hard to distinguish from a pantheism that blasphemously deifies human beings.
John Sobert Sylvest: That’s too facile a caricature to dignify with a response.
Divine & Human Agential Interaction
The Arguments of DBH Ed Feser Failed to Engage
This should be read in conjunction with: