God’s got nothing to do with death or gratuitous evil

As always, there are some depthful conversations going on here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/if-god-is-going-to-deify-everyone-anyway-why-not-deify-everyone-immediately/

While no systematic theology can avoid all mysterian appeals or some degree of skeptical theism, those strategies should be reserved for matters involving divine modal identities & ontologies (that, what, this, where & when), as Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic.

We should not engage them in our existentialist & personalist understandings of God (how = Who) or of His operations (why), as gifted by revelation.

So, I thus hold fast to the belief that the divine nature remains sufficiently intelligible in terms of humanity’s shared aesthetic sensibilities & moral intuitions. To remain existentially satisfying for & rhetorically persuasive to me, no theological anthropology should sacrifice such intelligibility.

Pastor Tom Belt has well explicated what he calls DBH’s moral argument or what I refer to as his game theoretic analysis, which is an element integral to DBH’s multi-pronged defense of universalism. It demonstrates why the infernalists cannot coherently invoke the antecedent – consequent divine will distinction without sacrificing God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibility, eschatologically.

Faced with a choice between consistency & completeness, our accounts must remain consistent with revelation (e.g. per exegetical & patristic sources) vis a vis God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibility. We must otherwise accept the incompleteness of our metaphysical explanations.

To otherwise pretend that we have consistent metaphysical accounts, e.g. henologically & ontologically re the trinity, creation & incarnation, but an inadequate account of God’s moral character, seems bassackward to me.

Now, some seem to be arguing that what’s good for the game theoretic eschatological goose seems to be good for the morally inculpatory temporal gander.

Admittedly, on its face, that argument would appear to ignore the difference between an infinite & eternal quasi-Manichean parasitic evil and a finite & temporal one. But, even once stipulating to that quantitative & qualitative difference, the more salient takeaway that’s being urged is that the antecedent – consequent will distinction can’t salvage God’s moral intelligibility vis a vis finite, temporal parasitic evils, either. And I’m wholly sympathetic to that stance: God’s got nothing to do with death or gratuitous suffering. FULL STOP.

What we do not adequately grasp is not God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibilty. Rather, we lack formal definitions for the other Anselmian divine attributes, all in terms of “that which is greater than which cannot otherwise be conceived without falling into theological contradiction, anthropological absurdity & metaphysical incoherence.”

Our creedal contours define apophatic constraints on the God-references of our exploratory meta-heuristics. They don’t pretend to provide formal God-definitions in terms of explanatory metaphysics. That’s a feature – not a bug – of any coherent systematic theology.

Guess what. A materialist monist nihilism is also a mere exploratory meta-heuristic & not a robustly explanatory metaphysic. It, too, must avoid mereological contradiction & metaphysical incoherence, even as it asserts anthropological absurdity.

There are Gödel-like constraints on ALL theories of everything. Given the ineluctable equiplausibility of many competing worldviews, it’s eminently reasonable to choose among them based on their varying degrees of existential actionability.

God is love – yesterday, today & forever. He has nothing to do with death or gratuitous evil, eschatologically or temporally, instrumentally or permissively, antecedently or consequently. Death & evil did not ensue in the wake of some ontological rupture located in the past, even though they indisputably interfere with our teleological strivings oriented to the future.

We do profess an adequate understanding of divine omnibenevolence & omnipathy, theologically, even as our grasps of divine omnipotence, omniscience & omnipresence remain rather inchoate, metaphysically. Such a theoretic metaphysical incompleteness is no more fatal to classical theism than it is to a nihilistic materialist monism (which apparently prefers to grapple with gratuitous beauty).

I wrote the following (link below) musing before encountering DBH’s game theoretic analysis in TASBS. While the arguments in TASBS aren’t advancing a theodicy, I appropriate them as an indispensable prerequisite to any coherent logical defense or evidential theodicy, as well as for any exegetical & patristic inventory of the divine character (the latter sufficing for me).


Addendum – my contribution to a related thread at EO

I am deeply sympathetic with the earnest affective dispositions toward and grateful for your thoughtful probity of the problem of evil by various contributors at EO. That said, I do most strongly resonate with the stances shared by Robert, DBH & Jordan DW.

What eventually got God out of the dock for me, to use a criminal law metaphor, wasn’t mostly based in case theory (logical defenses, soul-making, evil as privation, free will) or circumstantial evidence (theodicies). Juries are instructed that they can rely on character witnesses, alone, for not guilty verdicts. Ergo, revelation satisfied me, existentially, i.e. Jesus revealing God as Daddy, Romans 8, etc

I can’t explain why God’s not guilty given the circumstantial evidence but do tenaciously hold THAT He simply can’t be morally culpable.

I still vacillate regarding – not only whether evidential theodicies could succeed, but – whether they’re even morally defensible, as they can risk trivializing the enormity of human suffering & immensity of human pain. So, I mostly take refuge in a skeptical theism.

BUT – I have speculated, nonetheless, looking for something – not just sufficiently compelling for me, but – more widely compelling to other earnest seekers.

This is not a suitable forum to go into the details but, generally, I adhere to versions of divine simplicity, although weakened, & impassibility, except with a thin passibility.

If creation is Incarnation, then, per an eternal simultaneity, God will have self-determinedly & kenotically opened Himself to a divine omnipathy. God will have known, then, how every creature will have felt, retro|pro-spectively vis a vis Romans 8, i.e. eternally aware that every scintilla of any Karamazovian nyets will have been replaced by Marian fiats, once affectively energized by the realities of universal restoration. God thus knows, eternally, via divine omnopathy, that no tickets will have been returned by Ivan, by any lion or lamb, by any quake or quark.

Beyond that, I have speculated, re creatio ex nihilo & ex Deo, that they needn’t necessarily be conceived as incompatible with a co-eternal prevenient  chaos or tehomic  profundis. Why must a co-eternal void (or abyss or  tohu va bohu or chaos or  tehom), whatever else its ineluctable logic might necessarily entail, be conceived in absolutely dualistic terms, i.e. as if any quasi-Manichean residue would have to remain eschatologically?

The exnihilating dynamics of creatio ex nihilo & Deo may also be operating ex chaos & profundis across a multiversal plenitude of incipiently telic realities?

It seems coherent to me to conceive of a dualistic, even pluralistic reality, without conceiving it in robustly Manichean terms. The bigger caveat would be the need to avoid a wimpy, nominalistic process God. I believe that folks like Joe Bracken & Norris Clarke navigate such conceptual shoals. And they can precisely accommodate the brilliance of those who anticipated them, e.g. especially Maximus, Bulgakov, Bonaventure, Eriugena, etc

I more exhaustively address such matters in my notes:


To be clear, I rely on neither my putative accounts of divine omnipathy (which doesn’t impair intrinsic perfections) nor of creatio ex chaos (non-Manichean dualism) to resolve the problem of evil, nor on logical defenses or evidential theodicies.

But I’m not wholly dismissive of such attempts & haven’t desisted from same, myself. Rather, I essentially take refuge in revelation and a nuanced mysterianism.

It is my fervent prayer that all may attain the consolations I have come to enjoy and avoid the desolations that can afflict us all, when beset by doubt, deep suffering or the existential angst that can set many on such a theodical quest.

Marrying the Theological Anthropology of David Bentley Hart to a More Compelling Systematic Theology

Metaphysically, we must resist proving too much. We shouldn’t pretend that we can somehow a priori and rationally unscramble reality’s epistemic-ontic omelet of in/determinacies. This is to recognize that we can’t always specify which of reality’s levels of aboutness and/or layers of aporia represent entities and processes that are variously in/determinable and/or in/determined and to what extent. Neither can we specify which of these are primitive and which emergent, as well as which are atomic and which aggregate.


A vague phenomenological survey does reveal different types of aboutness or teloi: teleopotent or veldopoietic, teleomatic or cosmopoietic, teleonomic or biopoietic, teleoqualic or sentiopoietic and teleologic or sapiopoietic.

Theologically, we must resist telling untellable stories, philosophically. We shouldn’t pretend that we can somehow a priori and rationally unscramble reality’s theological-metaphysical casserole of teloi. This is to recognize that we don’t know enough about reality’s initial, boundary and limit conditions to determine which of the prevailing equiplausible accounts is more probable (e.g. mereologically, which explanatory account necessarily commits or avoids a fallacy of composition).


From a high theoretical altitude, ignoring the cultivars (or weeds) of metaphysical nuance, those philosophical theological accounts essentially reduce to nihilism, pantheism, deism, panen-theism, pan-entheism and classical theism.


A nihilism can derive from either a thoroughgoing determined reality of primitives, forces & laws or a thoroughgoing indetermined reality of dynamical, energetic contingencies or even some blend of such necessity & contingency, pattern & paradox, order & chaos. In any case, such outlooks will unavoidably reduce to epistemic nominalism, evaluative voluntarism, normative relativism, interpretive skepticism and existential nihilism, at least, in terms of eternal & ultimate concerns. (Arguably, temporally & proximately, there most certainly can be evaluative & normative, including moral, realisms, as well as weak, epistemic foundationalisms.) Such outlooks remain inescapably brute vis a vis any PSR (principle of sufficient reason) in that they a priori suggest that reality as a whole might, some day, be sufficiently explained, i.e. by an exhaustive account of its parts, as well as ontologically in/determined.


The prevailing theistic accounts approach reality as – not brute, but – the fruit of an eminently personal deity, Who sufficiently explains as well as ontologically causes the whole of determinate reality.


Some are motivated to embrace one worldview versus another based on various indispensable methodological presuppositions like, for example, naturalism or a PSR (weak or strong versions). HOWEVER –


Just because naturalism is an indispensable methodological presupposition doesn’t mean it necessarily holds, metaphysically, it only means that we will be unfortunate if it does.


Just because some (weak) Principle of Sufficient Reason is an indispensable methodological presupposition doesn’t mean it necessarily holds, metaphysically, it only means that we will be unfortunate if it does not.


One opts for an ultimate nihilism or naturalism, deism or theism, then, with other than apodictic certainty and on other than a priori rational presuppositions or metaphysical foundations. Does that necessarily implicate an unavoidable fideism? No.


All human epistemology boils down, in my view, to a pragmatic, semiotic realism, which is essentially fallibilistic and consistent with a number of reasonable, even though contradictory, metaphysical accounts, including eminently defensible minority positions alongside more common-sensical majority positions and folk psychological approaches.


In my view, since a pragmatic semiotic realism accounts for most human value-realizations, no mere fideism need account for one’s leap of faith past an ultimate nihilism. Faced with otherwise equiplausible approaches to reality writ large that are both a/theologically consistent and metaphysically coherent, why not opt, existentially, for that approach to human value-realizations which is, ultimately & eternally, the most meaningful & least absurd, anthropologically?


And, especially, why not thus opt if there are reliable, credible, authoritative and trustworthy voices across millennia, who’ve given witness to such approaches, wherein & whereby certain human value-realizations have presented and which, moreover, have appeared to be effects otherwise proper to no known determinate causes? That’s not fideism but fides et ratio par excellence!


Anthropologically, then, I commend the stance of David Bentley Hart, which, from one perspective, might be portrayed in terms of a theological suite of apophatic eschewals, which negate

1) instrumental accounts of evil, suffering & pain

2) evidential theodicies

3) libertarianisms

4) compatibilisms

5) intellectualisms

6) voluntarisms

7) consequential (& instrumental) disproportionalities and

8) frozen human potentialities (limited potencies) post-mortem.


Systematically, while there are coherent accounts under classical theism, which can be sustained consistent with certain logical defenses regarding the problem of evil, in my view, unless one employs a nuanced incarnational divine omnipathy in that defense (as I’ve elaborated elsewhere), merely relying on such distinctions as divine antecedent & consequent wills and on such as privation theories to account for all evil just doesn’t render accounts that are sufficiently persuasive, rhetorically, or satisfying, existentially, to many minds & hearts because, however consistent they may be logically, they don’t square with our common sense & sensibilities vis a vis our quotidian personal interrelational dynamics. Others have well inventoried such shortcomings.


On the whole, though, a suitably nuanced version of a doctrine of divine simplicity will have much to commend it, especially if it properly distinguishes between the divine nature and will, between divine esse naturale and intentionale, allowing for a thin passibility and recognizing a wide Pareto front of equipoised optimalities (rather than any singular best world scenario). For their part, determinate realities would variously reflect vestigia, imagines & similitudines Dei, all with varying degrees of incipient teloi, intentionalities and freedom.


There could be a multiversal plurality of different tehomic, formless voids, each a prevenient & uncreated chaos, representing all manner of eternal and/or ephemeral teloi of varying degrees of in/determinedness, constituting structured (some more so & some less so) fields of activity, each inherently (although variously) receptive to all manner of divine invitations (creatio ex profundis) to participate in novel teloi (creatio ex nihilo).



Each new Imago Dei would be soteriologically eternalized (thus divinely & radically determined) and sophiologically poised for growth in intimacy as a Similitudino Dei (per one’s radically free response in every participatory space opened by divine kenotic indeterminacies).


Such an approach would remain phenomenologically vague, hence metaphysically agnostic. One couldn’t specify the precise nature of any tehomic chaos vis a vis, for example, its degrees of incipient telos, intentionality or freedom versus what novelty was introduced by the creative divine esse intentionale, beyond insisting that the latter, in terms of being, only ever introduces what’s ameliorative, therapeutic, invitatory & eternalizing, where truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom are concerned, all over against what would otherwise be metaphysically (inherently) unavoidable in the way of tehomic pain, suffering, natural evil and moral evil. The divine will would thereby always reveal that truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom greater than which could not otherwise be conceived without introducing metaphysical incoherence, theological contradiction or anthropological absurdity.


Such a dynamical, divine matrix (as that of Joe Bracken) in dialogue with classical theism and a personalist Thomism (as that of Norris Clarke) would escape the flirtations with nominalism & determinism that inhere in many process theisms.


Because my account remains metaphysically agnostic (e.g. vis a vis a given root metaphor), poised between process & classical approaches but inspired by Peirce’s pragmatic semiotic realism, I call it a Tehomic Pan-semio-entheism: creatio ex nihilo ex profundis.


It ambitions no metaphysic and no evidential theodicy, but offers a logical defense to the problems of pain, suffering and natural & moral evils. This would all be consistent with a radically, divinely determined, soteriological apokatastasis, where each Imago Dei enjoys an aesthetic freedom gifted by an emergent abductive inference, anthropologically, as well as with radically indetermined relational & moral freedoms, whereby each Similitudino Dei can grow in divine intimacy, sophiologically.

This is all more fully explicated in Retreblement.


David B. Hart: That All Shall Be Saved — What To Expect?

From early reviews and liberal previews of

David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved

it does not appear that DBH will be offering a sylly syllogism grounded in some neatly interwoven exegetical, philosophical argumentation, which pretends to prove too much.


Rather, he will offer an informal, rhetorical appeal to our common sense & sensibilities, grounded in our messy shared experiences, respecting the analogical interval between anthropological & divine realities while paying dutiful heed to certain participatory efficacies. Those would include the joyous, luminous & glorious effects of which are proper to no known determinate causes, as they transcend the mysteries of all suffering & the realities of all sin. Protologically & proleptically those efficacies constitute all manner of incarnational guarantees, seals, earnests, down payments & first fruits. Yes, we realize them now, in part, hence, we confidently believe & mandatorily proclaim their utter fulfillment eschatologically.

Below are interwoven threads of – not formal premises with coerced conclusions, but – shared human experiences and intuitions, which might weave a story, a tellable story, that would best resonate with the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Below are my words, my interpretations, of what I imagine DBH to be saying. His rhetoric entices me, more like getting caught in a web of meaning, a tad tangled but happily so, less like getting caught in a trap of logic, where the axioms are supposedly self-evident, although anything but.

  • God doesn’t need evil, suffering or pain. While those can be redeemed in His economy, any essential epistemic distancing can otherwise be closed via theosis. [Hence we reject morally repugnant evidential theodicies, while satisfied with unavoidably vague logical defenses & sustained by robustly pastoral existential consolations.]
  • Those theotic processes don’t absolutely determine reality since they require the synergetic cooperation of freely acting human persons. [Hence we reject compatibilisms.]
  • Human acts aren’t absolutely free; however, since all (trans-)formative processes, whether theotic or redemptive, are necessarily ordered toward truth, beauty, goodness & unity, our participations in same will grow that freedom, our practicing of same will grow virtuosity. [Hence we reject libertarianisms.]
  • The will and intellect, respectively, as efficient acts in potency to material causes & formal acts in potency to final causes, are integrally related, in human volition. [Hence we reject voluntarisms & intellectualisms.]
  • Our secondary natures, both virtuous and vicious, are situated between such acts (efficient & formal) and limited potentialities (material & final), reinforcing or impeding their telic realizations but never extinguishing those human potentials. [Hence any notion of frozen potentialities, post mortem, is anthropologically incoherent.]
  • Human persons are often guilty of willful blindness or vincible ignorance. But as finite, fallible persons, we will never attain such an absolute knowledge of either temporal or divine realities, such that we could be absolutely culpable for any, much less all, remnants of our ignorance. [Hence even a vincible ignorance could never warrant an absolute punishment, as that would be disproportionate to our inescapably finite offenses.]
  • It’s inconceivable that, given sufficient time, divine telic processes (theotic and/or redemptive) would not close enough epistemic distancing to situate every last person, beatifically, in proper relationship to God, others, cosmos & self as ordered toward truth, beauty, goodness & unity with an authentic freedom. [Hence we can not only hope for but can be confidently assured that all may be saved.]

Conclusion – I’m drawn to this theological anthropology of DBH. Curiously, while it works well enough in a classical framework, especially when tweaked by a more personalist Thomism (e.g N. Clarke), I can also square it with a process approach (e.g. D. Griffin, Joe Bracken), particularly one that eschews nominalism. Likely this is due to the inherent adaptability of an informal narrative vs a strict argument.

In the final analysis, though, while I consider certain classical and process approaches to be legitimate opinions within the theological contours of the first seven or so ecumenical councils, I find a creatio ex nihilo ex chaos process approach to be more pastorally consoling, existentially satisfying and rhetorically persuasive than even Hart’s classical articulation.

Human persons are determined-enough to enjoy value-realizations and free-enough for those to be deeply meaningful.
So, to Einstein and the compatibilists, I reply: “Yes, God does play dice.”

And to the nihilists and libertarians we retort: “But they’re loaded.”

To all, I’d observe: “One may, quietistically, refrain from playing and remain, essentially, an imago Dei. Or one may continue playing and, crapping out, increasingly become an imago Similitudino.”

February 2020

See this Twitter feed for an exhaustive list of reviews:


Meanwhile …

David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism

Condemned to Salvation: Considering Universalism with David Bentley Hart




Shall All Be Saved?

Making Nothing of Evil, and Everything of God: A Review of That All Shall Be Saved, Part 1






Against the Bad Place: A Review of David Bentley Hart’s “That All Shall Be Saved”



David Bentley Hart has Written a Silly Book



Episode 225 : David Bentley Hart – That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation

View at Medium.com




Review: That All Shall Be Saved




Good God?


David Bentley Hart: That All Shall Be Saved

Book review: That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart



Book Review: Hart’s “That All Shall Be Saved”


Will All Be Saved? The Question Which Will Not Go Away



That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation

A Christian Reviews “That All Shall Be Saved” by David Bentley Hart


The Dangerous Hart of Universalism

On Universalism: Is God Defeated If All Are Not Saved?


Rob Grayson reviews “That All Shall Be Saved”

David Bentley Hart – That All Shall Be Saved




That All Shall Be Saved: A Review



David Bentley Hart, on Grace Beyond Supply and Demand








Christian Humanist Profiles 169: That All Shall Be Saved



A Summary of “That ALL shall be Saved” by D.B. Hart – Pt. 1




David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism



What the Hell? That’s What Local Seminaries are Asking






Misreading David Bentley Hart on Universalism [I]

David Bentley Hart & the Wisdom of Universalism [II]

David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism

View at Medium.com

Review of That All Shall Be Saved, by David Bentley Hart

Marcionism, Allegorical Exegesis, and the Question of Universal Salvation


David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved

Recently read: Hart's 'That All Shall Be Saved'


How The Ancients Heard Resurrection: A Reply to David Bentley Hart

Will All Be Saved? David Bentley Hart on Universal Salvation, Reviewed by John Ehrett


To Heck with Hell

Three Responses to David Bentley Hart (and one pseudo-response)



Has David Bentley-Hart gone off his rocker?




Book Review: That All Shall Be Saved

God our Savior, Who Desires all People to be Saved

Is A Literal Hell Believable In The 21st Century?

When A Theologian Goes Rogue: David Bentley Hart’s Universalism


Does Hart’s Dogmatic Universalism Miss the Real World Engagement of Christian Hope?

The Gag-Reflex and the Doctrine of Hell


Hart, Martin, and the Evolution of Hell






Why Moderates (and Progressives) Should Reject David Bentley Hart’s Universalism

Book Review: Hart’s “That All Shall Be Saved”


David Bentley Hart’s The New Testament: A Review


I began my life’s work in philosophical theology herein:


And have completed (at least, it feels so, for now) that work herein:


With some clarifications of my theological anthropology here:





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


The Vestigia, Imagines & Similitudines Dei per Universalism & Apokatastasis

Human reality fully transcends the teleo-potent, -matic, -nomic, -qualic as teleo-logic

beyond the essential, dynamical human being/becoming (acting per existential, material & final human potencies), as vestigia Dei (autopoietic, but as more determined, less indetermined)

w/a distinctively human abduction as it transcends abductive instinct w/abductive inference, fostering a more versatile, plastic behavioral repertoire, aesthetically, i.e. vis a vis choosing among divine teloi & logoi w/an enlightened self-interest (erotically & proto-ethically), e.g. Bernardian love, Ignatian degrees of humility, Kohlberg’s stages, imperfect contrition, etc, of human persons as imagines Dei … every distinctively personal act constitutes a volitional disposition re both what to freely will (among divine logoi) and whether to (freely) will at all (i.e. choosing not just instinctively but inferentially), so as less determined, more indetermined

next (at age of reason) realizing a more versatile, plastic behavioral repertoire, ethically, i.e. vis a vis choosing among even more divine teloi & logoi by transcending self-interests (agapically & ethically), e.g. Bernardian love, Ignatian degrees of humility, Kohlberg’s stages, perfect contrition, etc, of a person becoming (virtuous and/or vicious 2nd natures), thereby with a more expansive aesthetic scope, too, as similitudines Dei, as much more indetermined

Considerations of human volition, a freely willing human, must avoid absolute notions of in/determinism, for the personal freedom of humans presents only in terms of degrees, whereby we are free-enough to truly enjoy meaningful (good-enough, beautiful-enough, dayenu) value-realizations.

It seems to me that human persons are determined enough so as to be radically unable to thwart the divine logoi ordered toward our personal being (essential nature as imagines Dei) but are indetermined enough so as to be radically able to thwart those divine logoi ordered toward our personal becoming (secondary nature as similitudines Dei).

All other conceptions of human freedom are facile & simplistic, and fall prey to tautological nonsense and analytical paradox, anthropologically, either indeterministically reducing to all sorts of ridiculous voluntarisms & libertarianisms or deterministically yielding silly intellectualisms & compatibilisms.

Neither Thomist nor Scotist nor Molinist theological anthropologies, properly approached, fall prey to such anthropological nonsense, essentially, because their explicit/implicit “theories of everything” embrace a priniciple of “sufficient” reason, which is neither the idealist monist PSR of Spinoza, which reduces to pantheism, nor a materialist monist PSR, which reduces to nihilism. There are various physicalist & naturalist approaches that vary in their interpretations of necessity & in/determinacy, but they go beyond the heuristic of a suitably nuanced Aristotelian hylemorphism to prove too much, in my view.

How one conceives human freedom vis a vis ultimate realities will always boil down to one’s stipulations re mereological (whole-part conception), metaphysical (root metaphor) and teleological (PSR version) primal realities.

Below are some reflections evoked by:

Despairing into Gehenna: Manis, Kierkegaard, and the Choice Model

One upshot of divine simplicity [DDS] and actus purus, when understood in terms of apophatic negation, would be that one way determinate being differs from divine being is that the former can act only in relationship to limited potencies.

The human being, constitutively, enjoys a freedom that phylogenetically (in its evolutionary lineage) presented with the emergence of symbolic language. Prior to the age of reason, where new freedoms (moral & spiritual) will emerge, ontogenetically (in its individual development), a human child already enjoys a freedom of choosing among equally optimal self-interested choices with a behavioral plasticity that differs – not only quantitatively, but – qualitatively from other primates.

Specifically, as a child matures, its (aesthetic) scope of self-interested choices is not limited to mere abductive instincts, which many animals exhibit, but is expanded by abductive inference, an if-then calculus driven by an early imagination that’s growing exponentially. This exponential expansion of behavioral plasticity precisely results from an unmooring of the nonarbitrary range of instinctive responses by the child’s growing repertoire of arbitrary symbol conventions.

I emphasize this constitutive freedom of choosing among equally optimal goods per a young human’s first order desires (what they want) to note its relationship to human eros, what St Bernard distinguished in terms of love of self for sake of self and love of God and/or others for sake of self. From this eros, young (and old) humans experience imperfect contrition, i.e. expressing sorrow due to our just punishment and growing in enlightened self-interest (choosing being over nonbeing). I mention this in the context of reminding all that such an imperfect contrition is all that’s ever been required “to be saved” and to observe that I was taught that it would be heretical to suggest otherwise.

Thus, it seems to me that, soteriologically, human beings are intrinsically constituted by all that’s both necessary and sufficient to be saved?

Furthermore, this elemental human freedom possesses a distinct proto-moral and proto-spiritual character, which means that it can potentially progress beyond its constitutive & soteriological essential nature to realize a more robustly elective & sophiological secondary nature, which might determine – not its eschatological destiny, but – its beatitudinal scope. By that, I mean to suggest that it could progress in Bernardian love, beyond the erotic to the agapic, i.e. love of God & others for their own sake, thus expanding its original frontier of equally optimal choices (what some would call a Pareto front), thus enjoying an expanded aesthetic scope of choosing among even more goods, albeit always acting within limited potencies.

Thus we can parse human freedom, constitutively & electively, soteriologically and sophiologically, erotically & agapically, in terms of aesthetic scope expansion, moral progress & growth in intimacy (theosis).

Thus we can distinguish between 1) willing among equally optimal goods, aesthetically; 2) whether we will or not, morally & spiritually; and 3) what we will. Our “willing among” goods and volitional option “between” willing or not (choosing between being & nonbeing, good & evil) refer to human freedoms. “What we will” has been determined by divine logoi, teloi, intentionale, etc.

Coming full circle to the DDS & Actus Purus, might this portrait of the imago Dei not illuminate our understanding of divine being? If we properly distinguish between the divine nature and will, esse naturale and intentionale, might we not glimpse a thin divine passibility, where the divine will chooses – never between good and evil, being and nonbeing, but – along an eternal Pareto front of equally optimal “best” worlds, no such choices entailing either improvements or impairments of an ever-perfect divine nature’s aesthetic intensity but only “affecting” a divine aesthetic scope? Would this not account, exegetically & Christologically, for the distinction between Jesus’ natural will and the Father’s will as He prayed for the passing of that particular Cup? Would this not account for human second order desires, theotically, for example, such as when we grow with holy indifference in Ignatian degrees of humility, from image to likeness, praying for our transformation even in “what we want to want”? That’s to say – not only regarding second order desires pertaining to our choosing “between” being and nonbeing, but – our longing to please others and God in our choosing “among” equally optimal goods in holy submission to wills not our own?

Of course, we differ from Jesus in that our natural wills have a gnomic character due to our temporal epistemic distancing, which may even perdure in some manner post-mortem for some duration. If my apokatastatic intuitions are correct, our gnomic willing affects and effects – not soteriological realities of our essential natures vis a vis the imago Dei, but – our sophiological trajectories as we grow our secondary natures in intimacy and beatitude.

These implications of my universalism thus turn on this distinction:

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

This implicates another distinction – that between our essential & secondary natures. Human freedom determines only WHETHER one chooses to will at all & not WHAT one wills (in participating with divine logoi), incrementally forming a virtuous or vicious secondary nature or various degrees of both.

Vicious choices are privative of being, hence eternally self-annihilating as God honors human freedom. This is to suggest that, whatever reality they exhibit temporally, will not perdure eternally (much less be eternalized instantaneously & proleptically like our virtuous acts).

Virtuous natures are eternalized, both proleptically (i.e. harvested, instantaneously, is every trace of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities) & eschatologically, by virtue of necessarily being joined to divine intentionale.

Even if, hypothetically, a given person’s eternal being was, in the end, constituted only by their essential nature as an imago Dei, having developed no virtuous secondary nature whatsoever (even after all epistemic distancing has been closed, whether temporally or even post-mortem), there can be no talk of self-annihilation for an imago Dei’s not self-determined (cf Lossky’s one will). Neither would God’s perfect will annihilate such an imago Dei, for that would amount to a divine self-contradiction.

What’s at stake, then, would be the nature of one’s eternal beatitude, perhaps in terms of aesthetic scope, which would be self-determinedly wider for one who’s developed a virtuous secondary nature.

Dogmatic Presuppositions of my theological anthropology

In a way, the answers — to such questions as

1) “libertarianism or compatibilism?”

2) “intellectualism or voluntarism?” and

3) “will or intellect or character?” — aren’t even wrong (regarding either divine or human natures).

For human persons, this is because there are 3 indispensable acts, limited by potentialities, involved in every human choice. These include

1) existence in potency to being,

2) efficient to material (will) and

3) formal to final (intellect), each necessary, none alone sufficient. Of course, this part wouldn’t apply to Actus Purus.

Character (habitus) stands halfway between those acts and potentialities, like iron forged into

1) leg braces, facilitating and/or

2) a bear trap, crippling the potentialities,

although in the latter case, never able (either temporally or eschatologically) to kill them, as they’re, in principle, inherently realizable (both temporally and eternally).

God does not punish habits, only acts, ergo, God allows misery only as a punishment for acts.

Why Suffering in God’s Presence doesn’t make sense to me

I am grateful for these conversations. They make me scratch my head and help me process my muddled thoughts. If anyone catches my drift, that’s a blessing for me. If anyone challenges me to be more artful in expression, that helps me, too. Most of all, any challenges to the substance of my views has, eventually, brought me closer to the truth and our God. In that spirit, then:

Even once casting aside the classical libertarianism & compatibilism framings as nonsensical category errors (what I mean by saying such “answers aren’t even wrong” but are gibberishtic anthropological caricatures), I have strived, awkwardly, to more intuitively grasp how to avoid the notion that a human person’s eternal destiny isn’t wholly determined.

In other words, while it may be logically valid and internally consistent to argue, analytically, that humans are created as “freely willing the Godly-determined” by using definitions of freedom that, to many, sound paradoxical (but make perfect sense! In terms of virtu-osity!), I still want more than a syllogism.

I want a story in which I can participate, holistically and imaginatively. Good news? From the online lectures (youtube) of DBH, one can tell that he will be gifting nourishment for both head & heart in _That All May Be Saved_.

Still –

If the will is located in efficient causation, free in the sense of WHETHER one chooses to will at all, and also in the sense of choosing AMONG goods, that, in my view, offers an eminently satisfying account of freedom, not just cognitively but emotionally. In these senses, persons are manifestly self-determined, created as freely willing.

There is another sense of freedom, which imagines a person’s capacity to choose WHAT is good, in other words to self-determine and to define and to appropriate being & goodness as they imagine same. In this sense, then, some view freedom in terms of choosing BETWEEN good & evil (apparent good), being & nonbeing (apparent being), virtue & vice. This view falls into incoherence because WHAT is good and constitutes being has indeed already been wholly determined by God and we are not free to determine or define same.

What about the “freedom” to choose otherwise, though, to opt for evil or nonbeing? That’s nonsensical on the grounds that evil or nonbeing, as privation, doesn’t successfully refer, ontologically. That definition of freedom lacks an ontic reference and entails an epistemic error, propositionally.

Nevertheless, dispositionally, our choices can, indeed, be culpable & such habits, clearly, vicious.

Under the true definition of freedom, to refrain from choosing among goods when acting, i.e. giving no “consideration” to what God has determined, is intuitively recognized by most as “inconsiderate” behavior. While such can be just a plain mistake rooted in finitude, it can also be culpable (sinful refusal). Such a willful and culpable blindness, in my view, constitutes a self-determined behavior, “freely” chosen in the “whether & among sense” even though not the “what & between” sense. And it can habitually accrete into a vicious nature. I just believe that God honors such free choices through eternal annihilation, which we can self-determine vis a vis our “second nature” or acquired dispositions.

And I doubt anyone wholly lacks some measure of a virtuous nature, which will indeed be eternalized.

Even a person’s essential imago Dei — if largely bereft of any significant growth (2nd nature) from that particular image to likeness, if primarily wholly determined, if self-determined to the most meager degree conceivable and if not even discernibly responsive to some post-mortem epistemic-closure & beatific illumination — would not experience the Presence in misery, precisely because God has wholly determined otherwise. In God’s governance, punishment ensues only from sin (moral choices).

1) Because our moral nature emerges as a second nature from our essential nature, and
2) because, eschatologically, there are no longer moral acts, and
3) because acts not natures are punished under any circumstances,
no such misery can be experienced.

However one approaches the reality of innocent suffering in a cosmos fallen into dis-order by sin, temporally, such a disorder will, by definition, be eschatologically repaired.

voluntarism, intellectualism, libertarianism & compatibilism – Oh my!

Any proper transcendence of the category errors of voluntarism, intellectualism, libertarianism & compatibilism won’t entail a dissolution of in/determinacies.

What we can will (among) has been determined, while whether we will at all has not, the former as formal acts in limited potency to final causes, the latter as efficient acts in potency to material. Halfway between such acts & potency, habitus presents as virtuous & vicious 2nd natures, able to facilitate or cripple, but never to kill, potentialities.

This is why Thomas Talbott can say: Personally, I seriously doubt that God causally determines every event that occurs, whether it be the change of state of a radium atom, a dog’s leaping this way rather than that while romping in the yard, or the free choice of an independent rational agent.


Why should such an irrational choice, even if not causally determined, be any more compatible with genuine moral freedom than a rigorous determinism would be? ~ Talbott

In our temporal affairs, we routinely impute guilt to those deemed willfully blind. In criminal law, we employ such terms as willful neglect, reasonable diligence, reckless indifference, knew or should have known, should reasonably have known, etc In our quotidian affairs we refer to willful blindness or ignorance and self-deception. Moral theologians distinguish in/vincible ignorance and nescience, more crass when deliberate than affected, blameworthy in either case, more gravely wrong for serious matters.

That all such behavior is irrational to various degrees, nevertheless, it retains its inculpating character. That’s why so many irrational choices, even if not causally determined, are universally deemed more compatible with genuine moral freedom than any rigorous determinism.

My rule of thumb in theological anthropology is to preserve, as far as practicable, our common sense & sensibilities, so as not to violate the integrity of the freely willing person. Therefore, tautologically concluding that all irrational behavior is, in principle, exculpating, does not sufficiently square with our ordinary moral intuitions. Our universalist apologetics, then, best appeal to infinite mercy & forgiveness rather than argue for a counterintuitive analytic, syllogistic innocence. Having deftly avoided the shoals of voluntarism, we must similarly steer clear of intellectualistic appeals, which ignore the vicious habitus that can impede the efficient cause of the will in realizing its potentialities.

Whether a vicious nature stands halfway between the acts & potentialities of the will or intellect, still, it can in no way, temporally or eternally, extinguish them, as they remain inherently realizable.

Pastor Tom Belt has persuasively argued a Maximian irrevocability thesis: “Hart’s view is an argument for the impossibility of the will foreclosing upon all possibility of Godward becoming. Such foreclosure would be teleological foreclosure.”

Again, invoking my rule of thumb in theological anthropology – to preserve, as far as practicable, our common sense & sensibilities, so as not to violate the integrity of the freely willing person – Belt’s Maximian irrevocability thesis squares better with our human experience than the overly speculative account of any putative irreversibility theses vis a vis avoiding such conceptual discontinuities between now & the eschaton as would render our anthropology unintelligible.

Now, if I may presume to paraphrase Talbott: Add to Belt’s Maximian irrevocability thesis the condition of minimal rationality and it seems impossible that anyone rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent would freely embrace an objective horror forever.

That’s as close as one can come to splitting the difference between a hopeful, practical universalism & an affirmation of a robustly theoretic universalism.

It seems to me that it’s quite possible a our viscious 2nd natures may not transist into the eschaton, especially if considered as privations of becoming. They may well thus be annihilated as God honors one’s choice for a self-determined non-becoming (refraining from growth in likeness). There can otherwise be no annihilation, in principle, for an imago Dei, as no one can freely self-determine non-being for an intrinsically good & absolutely valuable creation. The imago Dei plus any inklings of our virtuous 2nd natures (no one has none, whatsoever?) are eternalized, as God honors our self-determined choices for becoming (theotic realizations of divine & creaturely wills together).


Calvin, Luther, Aquinas & Scotus

The Antecedent and Consequent Will of God: Is This a Valid and Useful Distinction? by Andrew Hussman

Perhaps St. Anselm was on the right track when he classified the scriptural concepts under discussion here not as antecedens et consequens, but as misericordiae et iustitiae. This comes close to another distinction of God’s will, legalis et evangelicus. Law and gospel are found on every page of Scripture.

The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation edited by Paul M. Blowers, Peter W Martens

Bonaventure & Scotus on 1 Timothy 2:4


Gloria Frost: When the passages in which Aquinas and Scotus explicitly discuss the origin of contingency in creation are read in context with attention to the kind of contingency each is discussing, similarities between their views can be identified and the objections raised against their respective views can be solved.

In sum, for Aquinas the proximate reason for why an effect is contingently caused is the fact that it was produced by a contingently operating secondary cause. The ultimate reason, however, for why the effect was contingently caused is the efficacy of God’s will which willed for the effect to come about through a contingent mode of causation and thus, willed a contingent cause for it. Regarding the contingent mode of existence that belongs to all created effects, Aquinas says that the proximate reason for why every created effect is contingently existing is the fact that God freely causes every created effect.

In sum, when Scotus identified God’s contingent mode of causation as the source of the contingency of creatures, he was referring to the contingent mode of existence that belongs to all creatures. Like Aquinas, he thought that the capacity of the divine will to cause creatures contingently was founded on the fact that the divine will only necessarily wills the divine goodness, which is complete and self-sufficient.

Similarly, Scotus would have agreed with Aquinas’s position that effects are contingently caused by their proximate causes because of the efficacy of the divine will which chooses which kind of causes exist in creation.

Scotus, however, thinks that although the effects produced by God alone and those produced by both God and contingently operating secondary causes both follow from contingently operating proximate causes, they are fundamentally different in their modal features. The former effects have a single potency for non-existence, while the latter have double possibility for nonexistence. Thus, in Scotus’s view contingently operating secondary causes are a necessary condition for God to introduce into creation a secondary contingency, which adds an additional layer of indeterminacy to the contingent mode of existence which all creatures enjoy.

Scotus’s point is that God necessarily wills only those things that are necessary for what God loves in himself (i.e. his goodness). Thus, no creature is willed necessarily, since what is lovable in God does not require any creature for its existence. Like Aquinas, Scotus thought that God’s freedom not to create stemmed from the self-sufficiency and completeness of what is good, and therefore lovable, in God himself. If God’s contingent mode of causation with respect to creatures is traced to the self-sufficiency of the divine goodness, then the contingent mode of existence that belongs to creatures will similarly have this as its ultimate foundation.

Aquinas and Scotus on the Source of Contingency, Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy, 2014 by Gloria Frost

At Academia: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology

At Scribd: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology

More Eschatological Anthropology

I resonate with certain central elements of Dr Manis’ approach, e.g. that in *some* sense the divine will can be thwarted, that annihilation is incompatible with divine presence & that creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion.

I also resonate with Fr Aidan’s recognition that no metaphysical necessity’s imposed on God. It is from both general & special revelations that we have been gifted with some knowledge of the logic that onto-logically inheres and theo-logically coheres in the divine’s relationship with determinate realities. That relationship, of course, has ensued from – not metaphysical necessity, but – a self-determinate, divine kenosis.

Our knowledge of same, at the same time, remains fallible & inchoate. Regarding the problem of evil, for example, I reject (even recoil from) theodicies re the *evidential* problem, instead opting for Job 38 (where were you???!!!), but I do embrace a divine presence solution to the *existential* problem, i.e. (Be not afraid! I AM with you!).

More directly bearing on this discussion, though, I personally experience much consolation from many of the defenses to the *logical* problem of evil, ranging across the theological spectrum (from classical to process approaches).

To be fully coherent, then, it seems we must aspire to pull together a solution that satisfies the problem of evil in a way that’s — not only *logically* consistent (and even the best atheistic philosophers now concede that accomplishment, which is why they focus on *evidential* theodicies), but — *existentially* satisfying.

Such a solution, then, must be neither evidentially pretentious (re: why God allowed this particular evil) nor soteriologically presumptuous (re: why God must do this) in addressing divine reality (e.g. suggesting definite metaphysical and/or moral divine necessities).

Thus it is that the more nuanced universalist stances will, in my view, aspire to reconcile the best classical defenses with the best existential intuitions, the latter grown — not propositionally from logical argumentations, but — dispositionally from theotic participations.

Beyond the arguments of Athens & energies of Athos, those participations will also include such quotidian realities as, for a prime example, the raising of children.

There is, then, in all authentic human loving, a trans-rational apophaticism, which, beyond all proposals of speculative affirmations & negations, disposes one via a movement of the will (e.g. including a will graced with a virtuous habitus)? Such a movement of the will, whether of parental, spousal or other communal loves, pretty much inevitably & in principle, will come up short in what it can articulate via its co-causal movement of the intellect, which falters in its effablings regarding life’s truly ineffable experiences.

It is from my experience as a parent & grandparent, then, coupled with my gratuitously gifted formation & sacramental participation in a healing, reconciling & loving community of faith, that I want to proclaim “THAT all may be saved,” even as I struggle to give a metaphysical or theological account of *why* or *how*.

Yet, I’m here to learn how to better defend that hope, which is indeed within me, that I and others might move more swiftly, with less hindrance & greater consolation on our temporal journeys into eternity.

Another of my feeble efforts to defend my hope follows, but I am more sure regarding why Fr Aidan’s and others’ intuitions truly matter, much less sure that I can convey my own in a sufficiently artful & accessible manner.

I use a lot of question marks, below, not to solicit answers but to indicate my own intellectual tentativeness. My hope is firm but my expression falters.

While I find it problematic to conceive how there could ever be a definitive teleological foreclosure (cf. Pastor Tom Belt), neither would I want to deny the necessity of a creaturely freedom to refrain from willing. Further, properly understood, both the Thomistic and Scotistic anthropologies, in my view, suitably avoid the libertarian, compatibilist, voluntarist & intellectualist incoherencies. Human acts can indeed, at the same time, be irrational & culpable or impassioned & culpable, because the reality of human freedom presents in degrees.

Admittedly, we find it hard to define & difficult to discern exactly how and precisely when such thresholds get crossed in terms of degrees of both affectivity & rationality as they impinge on various degrees of culpability.

Still, if we deny our common sense & sensibilities regarding our experiences of human freedom, whether temporally or eschatologically, we risk abandoning what little intelligibility we enjoy regarding same. We inescapably must rely on that same intelligibility that we must employ in our daily approach to the realities of our dynamical human transformation (including moral conversion, spiritual formation & theosis).

Therefore, what?

While creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion, what if, like freedom, the reality of communion also presents in degrees?

Is there not a modicum of communion, even in that imago Dei, who’s not crossed the threshold into the human moral life, whether due to age, illnesses or deformative dynamics? Or, who enjoys little in the way of theotic participation in the human spiritual life, i.e. little or no growing in likeness? Or, who’s even culpably developed a vicious second nature, but undeniably remains divinely indwelled and teleologically oriented, eternally & inherently?

What *is* a vicious nature but a habit of refraining from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not *be-ing* per se, but — one’s *be-coming*? To refrain, that is, from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not one’s essential nature or very existence, but — one’s growing from image to likeness?

What if one could only self-determinedly choose — not to be or not to be, but — to become or not become?

What if, in the same way we mustn’t ontologize evil, perhaps, neither should we reify the concept of a vicious nature, which habitually chooses non-becoming?

What if we should otherwise also, in part, conceive of such an imago Dei in terms of what it has freely & definitively determined not to *become*, even though it would & must, nevertheless, thus persist in *being* for all eternity? Even that putatively definitive determination *not to become*, though, should be approaching the threshold of a practical inconceivability, at least for those of us who couple Belt’s irrevocability thesis with Talbott’s virtual impossibility thesis (my description of the latter)?

Even stipulating to such an eschatological anthropology, as would remain an essentially hopeful — not a theoretically necessary — universalism, there remains a question regarding how such an imago Dei, bereft of any robustly moral & spiritual becoming, might subjectively experience the Eschaton.

To what extent might its experience be tortuous, whether formatively, restoratively or retributively?

In my view, once determinate reality has been made whole, cosmically reconciled, in principle, creatures would not be susceptible to existential deprivations or depredations. An imago Dei, not grown into divine likeness beyond its irrevocable, essential nature, might, rather quietistically, enjoy a minimalist reverie of aesthetic scope, while others enjoy, in various degrees, more expansive scopes (as I’ve discussed elsewhere), continuing to exercise their freedom in an eternal fugue of choosing among divine goods.

So, perhaps, authentic freedom entails relational, just not existential, self-determination?
Perhaps one’s self-determined choice to refrain from becoming could, in principle, be exercised irrevocably & eternally, hence never definitively?

Perhaps such a choosing might best be conceived in terms similar to that of a sacred, precious imago Dei, as one who, prior to the age of reason, possesses the same absolute, intrinsic value as that shared by all innocent children?

Perhaps such a self-determined refraining (including post-mortem, even after all epistemic closures), eschatologically, no longer could involve a culpable refraining from the consideration or not of goods in one’s acts, in principle, since any such neediness as would have motivated such acts, temporally, will have been obviated, eschatologically, by the cosmic reconciliation?

In other words, such an eschatological reordering would be metaphysically incompatible with such deprivations & depredations as would’ve formerly been compatible with the old temporal, lapsarian dis-order?

Eschatological freedom would thus entail only whether one wills to will at all, i.e. one’s *choosing* or not (in & of itself) among eternal goods & becomings, as well as any choosing *among* such potentialities (that array of divinely determined goods & becomings)? It could not otherwise involve a choosing *between* divinely determined goods and reified evils (by disordered appetites or inordinate attachments), which would be ontologically nonsensical. Nor could it involve refraining from a choice from/for non/being, which has never been an existential prerogative of the imago Dei over against the divine will, anyway.

Eternal annihilation of any imago Dei remains off the table as conceptually incompatible with its essential nature and theologically incoherent, as it would constitute a reversal of the eternal divine intentionale?

I believe, therefore, that God honors the freedom of human persons by eternalizing all self-determined acts of human becoming (as synergetic divine participations) and by refraining from any eternalizations of our non-participatory acts (such as we refer to in terms of vicious 2nd natures) i.e. our choices “not to become.” As such, our virtuous 2nd natures transition into eternity along with our essential natures, while our vicious 2nd natures will self-determinedly perish (a virtual self-annihilation), which certainly remains, to an extent, and in *some* way, a lamentable thwarting of the divine will. What it would not amount to is an unmitigated loss. Such choices would (self-punitively & consequently) cost one tremendous but nonessential opportunities, but, in the end, no loss of an original & essential goodness. Such choices would amount to a gratuitous superabundance foregone, but with no loss of an abundant life redeemed, that’s to say, reoriented, saved, healed, sanctified & empowered, as a new creation.

Our participatory imaginations gift us, integrally & relationally, unity, beauty, goodness, freedom & truth, forming our dispositions (senses & sensibilities) toward various ways of belonging, desiring, behaving, transcending & believing, as expressed in our attitudes regarding & personal commitments to others, the cosmos, God & even our own selves, as told & retold in our stories.

One, who’s thus properly disposed & committed, can then imaginatively engage others thru inspired storytelling, thereby, in turn, fostering others’ healthy participations, dispositions & commitments.

Such storytelling may, more or less, lend itself to a more rigorous cognitive map-making, foundationally, which is to say, historically, exegetically, scientifically, philosophically & metaphysically. Theologically, such foundations can then systematically underwrite our ecclesiologies, soteriologies, sacramentologies, sophiologies & eschatologies.

There are countless pastors, homilists & spiritual directors from diverse faith traditions, who’ve articulated robustly pneumatological ecclesiologies, radically inclusive soteriologies, profusely incarnational sacramentologies, remarkably polydoxic sophiologies & universally efficacious eschatologies – as awakened & enlivened by human solidarity & compassion & retold in personal stories, thus implicitly grounded in their collective participatory imaginations.

Some are better than others, when it comes to explicitly mapping such dispositions, systematically & foundationally. Make no mistake, though, it can be done, especially, it seems to me, by those who recognize certain resonances between Franciscan, Scotist sensibilities & Eastern Orthodox sophiological approaches.

For example, however harshly one might wish to critique certain of Fr Richard Rohr’s explicit foundational apologetics, far more importantly & deserving of way more emphasis, implicit in the collective oeuvre of his lifetime’s ministry, is precisely such an ecclesiology, soteriology, sacramentology, sophiology & eschatology that I would to defend in my Retreblement: A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology.

This is to suggest that one shouldn’t ever miss the concrete, dispositional, participatory theophanic, theopoetic, theopoietic & theotic forests for the abstract, propositional, cognitive theological, metaphysical trees. As it is, robustly metaphysical descriptions & rigorous theological formulations necessarily elude us, in principle, while vaguely semantical references & broad heuristical contours guide us, in practice.

Following Ignatius, we must charitably presuppose the most orthodox interpretations of our theological interlocutors, not reflexively & habitually construing ambiguities & inadequate or inartful expressions against them.

Integrally, Fr. Rohr’s robustly pneumatological ecclesiology, radically inclusive soteriology, profusely incarnational sacramentology, remarkably polydoxic sophiology & universally efficacious eschatology are grounded in his Franciscan (common) sensibilities, Scotistic meta-heuristic (common) sensicalities & Eastern sympathies, both Orthodoxy’s sophiological tradition as well as the Orient’s nondual traditions. All of these presuppose, then, certain outlooks, theologically (i.e. paterological, Christological, pneumatological & Trinitological approaches) and anthropologically (as, continuous with all vestigia Dei & uniquely as imagines Dei, theotic intimacization invites each person to progress via similitudo Dei).

To wit:

A. implicatory trinitarian theology (of divine esse naturale):

  • 1) interpersonal propria
  • 2) intimate idiomata
  • 3) invitatory (ad intra ur-kenosis) relata

B. intertwined temporal missions of creation, conservation & consummation (mutually entailing acts of ad extra kenosis) via tri-personal presences (multi-form unitive revelations, i.e. mutual intimaci-zations not mani-fold encounters of separate exemplifications), where

C. inseparable “opera ad extra” are tri-personal while also especially revealing of particular exemplifications via their “proper roles” where the

D. immensity of the divine universal presence, which is variously im/mediate, in/visible & intense, the effects of which are tri-personally operative as well as personally appropriated in the theophanic operations of our creaturely “exitus” or production from God in divine creation, i.e. trinitologically & anthropologically … or as an

E. intensity of the particular divine presence via hypostatic extensions, the effects of which are – not only tri-personally operative & personally appropriated, but – personally “proper,” i.e. united to a given divine exemplification, in the theotic missions of our creaturely “reditus” or return to God in divine consummation, i.e. sophiologically & eschatologically … with the

F. immediacy (Emmanuel, God is with us!) of the divine mercy & urgency of its prompt succor, bringing about manifold & multiform proleptic creaturely realizations of the divine telos, as it’s entailed in these theotic missions. Such realizations anticipate & guarantee the divine missions’ universal efficacy, ecclesiologically & sacramentally, thereby effecting – in this eternal now – our creaturely salvation, redemption & reconciliation by God through divine conservation, i.e soteriologically.

G. implicated theological anthropology (of divine esse intentionale):

  • 1) indwelling vestigia
  • 2) imaginal uniqueness (essential nature of imago Dei)
  • 3) intentional & incremental theosis (dynamical & progressive intimaci-zation of secondary nature of kenotic similitudo Dei)

tags: interreligious dialogue, polydoxy, panentheism, pansemioentheism, retreblement, john sobert sylvest, richard rohr, universal christ, pneumatological missiology, apocatastasis, apokatastasis, david bentley hart, russian sophiology, joseph bracken, divine matrix, norris clarke, personalist thomism, charles sanders peirce, donald gelpi s.j., amos yong, palamas, duns scotus, logical problem of the trinity, richard rohr, michael morrell, perichoresis, universalism, universal salvation, free will, libertarian free will, cappadocians

In saying THAT, in creating & incarnating, the Divine Will is Nonarbitrary, we want to thread the needle between a vague, Logical Defense that merely refers to WHO & HOW God Is & a precise Evidential Theodicy that clearly describes WHAT God is & WHY He creates & incarnates

From divine energeia (vestigia & oikonomia), effects proper to no other known causes, we can indeed refer (via semantical univocity, ontological analogy & apophatic predication) to the divine esse naturale/intentionale

a) determinatively, denotatively & indexically, in 1 existential, 2 numeric, 3 quantitative & 4 locative senses,

i.e. 1 THAT 2 One 3 Infinite 4 Eternal cause did create & incarnate, as well as

b) denominatively, connotatively & iconically, in 1 qualitative, 2 implicitly metaphorical & theopoetic, & 3 explicitly analogical & theological senses,

i.e. WHO & HOW of idiomata & propria.

But we cannot describe, in
c) denotative-connotative pragmatic sense, either 1 generically or 2 contextually,
1 WHAT (naturale) created & incarnated or 2 WHY (intentionale).

We can know the creation & incarnation are nonarbitrary, denominatively & connotatively, because of WHO gifted the divine vestigia & oikonomia and HOW it all donatively presents in such a profound aesthetic harmony, but not because we know WHAT or WHY, generically or determinatively.

WHY did we come home to a locked house? I don’t know the reason but my Father always has loving purposes, so He locked it lovingly. Perhaps he had set off a poisonous pesticide bomb? Was that necessary? No, for he’s obscenely wealthy. We could’ve just moved to another house with no roaches. Or any number of other choices available on a Pareto Frontier of otherwise equal optimalities.

We could say we know THAT an act was purposeful & nonarbitrary because we know WHO authored it and HOW they always act (a defense), even as we insist we don’t know WHY (a theodicy).

While we don’t eschew vague answers (defenses) to the logical problem of evil, we resist specific answers (theodicies) to evidential problems of evil.

Deeper into the logic:

For determinate syllogistics, think 3 modes of being: essential, personal & formal; 1 of identity: formal.

For semantics of this modal ontology, think possibilities, actualities & probabilities, where, respectively: NC folds, EM holds; NC/EM hold; NC holds, EM folds.

Actualities/Persons in potency to Possibilities/Essences; Efficient in potency to Material for actualities; Formal in potency to Final for probabilities. Respectively, Acts of Being (naturale) & Willing/Becoming (intentionale).

For divine syllogistics, think 3 modes of identity: essential, personal & formal, as w/o modal ontology or potency, but w/immanent universal, i.e. pure act of being, self-subsisting esse naturale, essentially – like a primary substance & personally – an exemplification, semantically referenced, respectively, by propria & idiomata.

How would we analogically differentiate, though, divine from determinate esse intentionale?

For determinate rational beings, willing (intentionale) always entails becoming, either more or less, what the divine will intends them to be (naturale), as we freely (willingly) participate or not (willfully) in acts of being & willing per potencies or limitations as divinely willed.

Human persons are thus adequately but not fully determined, free to become or not, in degrees, only who we were intended, to participate or not, per divinely willed limitations or potencies, in being. We are free to be & to will to become walking self-contradictions.

For divine being, intrinsically, noncontradiction obtains essentially, personally & formally for esse naturale, as nondeterminate being.

For kenotic divine being, when self-determinate in extrinsic relations to determinate being via divine esse intentionale, excluded middle folds in that (noncoercive) space, where rational determinate beings participate or not in gratuitous divine acts, whether of creation or of grace.

What’s the difference between so called weak (Scotist) vs strong (Thomist) conceptions of DDS?

The “weak” DDS employs univocity with a formal distinction, semantically.

The “strong” DDS employs apophasis with analogia, ontologically.

The weak version chastens radical apophaticism, the strong – radical kataphaticism.

There are distinctions between the divine essence, energy & operations, the nature & will, formally & semantically, that gift a modicum of intelligibility, denominatively & connotatively, via revelation.

Ontologically, though, we predicate the DDS apophatically & analogically, gaining a modicum of intelligibility, determinatively & denotatively, i.e. locatively eternal, quantitatively infinite, numerically One & existentially necessary, although nothing can be known generically (what?).

Taken together, these versions aren’t in opposition but, indeed, emulate different steps in Dionysian logic:

God is | x | is true kataphatically & trans-analogically; as a simile, whether analogically & literally or metaphorically & nonliterally;

God is | not x | is true apophatically & literally; and

God is neither | x | nor | not x | is true relationally & really.

Those who affirm these types of distinctions will be able to reconcile Thomist, Scotist & Palamite approaches, Latin & Byzantine logics.

Some refer to extrinsic denominations & Cambridge properties in the context of categorial discourse, as they make connotative & denominative semantic claims about realities that are signified in terms of their relation to other realities, such as in a analogies of attribution, e.g. First Cause or Creator.

Even when considered semantically, such extrinsic denominations of contingent relations would still have metaphysical implications, for, as long as one hasn’t otherwise reduced any such reference to metaphor, as analogies, they’re predicated literally of their subjects.

Such predicates don’t describe a subject’s real properties, but are appropriate, i.e. make their subject intelligible, by virtue of the real properties of any realities to which the subject’s in relation.

As such, the extrinsic denominations & Cambridge properties of God discourse ad extra, e.g. creation, redemption & theosis, naming God’s contingent relations (gratuities of creation & grace), don’t compromise DDS or Actus Purus.

The Re-Enchantment of a never, truly disenchanted Reality

It’s not so much choices of root metaphor, metaphysically, or whole-part stances, mereologically, that will logically force an a/theological conclusion or foreclose divine aseity & human freedom.

Rather, it’s facile conceptions of telos – not predicated equivocally as teloi.

Metaphysical & mereological choices merely leave different questions begging, eg “Why not rather nothing?” changes to “Why not rather something else?”

Causal realities require more nuance than generally employed, not only differentiating ultimate & temporal teloi, but even within the created order of determinate realities, recognizing the plurality of teloi presenting as different kinds of “aboutness.”

These telic realities will reflect various degrees of indeterminacy, which, while ontologically suggestive, remain epistemically undecidable.

Couple a much too facile & univocal conception of telos to the Principle of Sufficient Reason [PSR] with any metaphysic cum mereology du jour — and

that naive realism will morph mere methodological stipulations into full blown metaphysical philosophies, e.g. Spinozan (PSR on steroids), Denettian-Dawkinsian materialism & rationalistic theisms, which, being sylly, rely – not on faith, but – syllogisms.

A rigorous emergentism has now rehabilitated, semiotically, the never truly disabled formal-final causes, re-enchanting our never truly dis-enchanted reality.

These telic causal joints don’t present as metaphysical gaps into which we’d fideistically place our gods, but neither can the neo-Nietzscheans guard the metaphysical perimeters, where reality’s initial, boundary & limit conditions can’t a priori be declared brute rather than a donative fruit.

Is reality thus brute, fruit or mute?

For most persons & most of history, reality has been interpreted as – not at all mute, but – having spoken.

A robust existential actionability has been cashed out of that interpretation & normatively justified in terms of augmented unity, beauty, goodness & freedom.

Conceptions of divine interactivity have ranged between the remotest of deisms & most intimate of spousal mysticisms.

Such conceptions aren’t urged or constrained by our metaphysics, though, only by our theodicy-free theophanies!

Misconstruals of Classical Theism’s Analogia are often located on the anthropological side

Many misinterpretations of classical theism, and its analogia, are not so much grounded in misunderstandings regarding the revealed divine nature, which as primarily love seems straightforward enough, but in impoverished conceptions of nature, in general, human nature, in particular.

If we don’t begin with a good anthropology of humanity and good phenomenology of nature …our analogical predications between our existential orientations (such as via an aesthetical primacy) and the transcendental imperatives — both suggested in nature, metaphysically, and specially revealed in the divine attributes, theologically (such as via an aesthetic teleology) — will be impoverished.

A theonoetic of divine omniscience gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of the future (open?), metaphysically, the nature of the human will (in/determined?), anthropologically, and the nature of freedom (libertarian & absolute?), itself, phenomenologically.

A theopathic account of divine omnipathy gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally, such as vis a vis the esse naturale or esse intentionale, whether divine or human, such as between natural formal distinctions and divine trans-formal distinctions.

And so on and so forth, re the theoethics, theo-perichoretics and theopoietics of omnibenevolence, omnipresence and omnipotence.

Below is just An Inventory of Questions.

It’s not an essay, just a punch-list of categories to help identify distinctions that can make a difference anthropologically, phenomenologically and theologically.

are metaphysics moonshine?

trying to thread the needle between an epistemic humility or hubris, epistemic virtue or vice, between apophatic and kataphatic, affective and speculative, or encratism, quietism, fideism, pietism, rationalism, evidentialism, as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications

but, before these are epistemological issues, theologically, we encounter them metaphysically, not just vis a vis divine causal joints but vis a vis emergent layers of complexity and their respective teloi or creation’s causal joints, hence, e.g. trans-formal distinction

so, metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism go hand in hand
re epistemic warrant, normative justifications, evidentiary standards and burdens of proof, all which must attend to the given subject matter at hand in an apposite way

are evidential, plausibilist arguments im/possible and/or un/necessary vis a vis various interpretations, whether quantum or theo-logical?

if im/possible and/or un/necessary in metaphysics, how so, then, theologically?

the weaker our arguments (via suitable epistemic humility and warrant) the less necessary any evidential, plausibilist argumentation, e.g. peirce’s humble argument or reformed epistemology’s proper basicality and the stronger our metaphysical agnosticism and/or theological skepticism, the less possible any evidential, plausibilist argumentation

the stronger our argumentation (via an unsuitable epistemic hubris and imagined epistemic warrant) and the stronger our metaphysical rationalism, the more necessary our evidential argumentation?

any perceived need for a plausibilist evidential argumentation is proportional to and commensurate with the perceived degree of epistemic warrant (scholastic notations?) for any given argument (abductively and deductively, possibly inductively)

epistemic parity metaphysically extends theologically and both thus require equiprobabilist principles and evidentiary standards applied to normative justifications

cumulative case of abductive-deductive musings like Peirce’s neglected argument contrasted with the virtually impossible evidential theodicies, which are, in many ways, like irreducible complexity arguments

the reasonableness of faith’s leap, an existential disjunction, avoids fideism via epistemic parity (equiprobability principle and normative justification), avoids rationalism via epistemic humility (e.g. metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism), avoids quietism via analogical predication and epistemic warrant, avoids encratism via analogical predication and liturgical cultivation

philosophical theology

reality of God, established via equiprobable epistemic warrant and defensible normative justifications

existential disjunctions at equiplausibility junctions w/axiologically forced, existentially vital and equiprobably live options

logical, abductive-deductive argument akin to argument, not argumentation, for reality, not being, of god

evidential theodicy, plausibilistic argumentation as im/possible and/or un/necessary?

type of creatio, whether ex nihilo, profundis, tohu bohu?

mereological relationships vis a vis fallacy of composition, mereological reality as mute, brute or fruit?

Divine Attributes

attributes of God, variously established


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-noetic vs theo-noetic?

misunderstandings, phenomenologically re nature of future and anthropologically re nature of human will?

open vs foreknown, but bad phenomenology re nature of future, 3ns, even 4ns?

compatabilist or incompatabilist? but bad anthropology re libertarian free will which involves epistemic distancing of personal agency via formative dynamics, freedom as authenticity?


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-pathic vs theo-pathic?

misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally?


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

misunderstandings re nature of evil, hence of goodness, privatio boni

e.g. moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological?unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable

instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

analogy of anthropo-ethical vs theo-ethical realities?


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

and per

panen- via classical or process, which must be phenomenologically triadic/pentadic and theologically penta/trini/tarian?

misunderstandings re communal and social-relational realities?

analogy of anthropo-perichoretical vs theo-perichoretical realities?

misunderstandings regarding essential, modal, conceptual and formal distinctions as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-poietical vs theo-poietical realities?

misunderstandings re nature of evil, e.g. moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological, unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

omnipotence compatible or incompatible with evil?

if incompatible, no genuine evil
evil genuine or illusory?

consequentialist or nonconsequentialist?

essential vs unavoidable?

irredeemable vs instrumental?

and in/defensibility of presuppositions re nature of divine constraints (essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic) vis a vis sovereignty?

and in/defensibility of logical arguments vis a vis the integrity of our god-conceptions (christopher mchugh) vis a vis compossibilities?

  • omnipathic defense
  • free will defense
  • tehomic defense
  • greater good defense
  • soul making defense

and in/defensibility of evidentialist argumentation?

arguments, logically, not argumentation, plausibly, evidentially?


epistemic distance and theosis are necessary and sufficient, so, suffering and evil are not necessary or essential, just unavoidable

epistemic dx as formative & exculpable vs moral & sinful?

ontic privations (absence of pleasure and/or presence of pain w/o suffering)

suffering & moral evil not in divine economy, none necessary or essential, not raw materials, some unavoidable waste products? recyclable vs irredeemable?

consequentialist or essential & nonconsequentialist or unavoidable?
some instrumental and/or recyclable vs irredeemable?

some essential or unavoidable, pain and ontic privation of epistemic dx?

epistemic distance via ontic privation w/o essential or necessary suffering or moral evil (nonconsequentialist) using epistemic dx and theosis as necessary means, but some suffering or evil instrumentally transformative, recyclable, some irredeemable, perishable

plus apokatastasis and constellation of eternalized human goodness: all wholesome trivialities, every beginning of a smile, an eternal constellation of luminaries of various intensities and diverse multiplicities

key concepts:

  • essential constraints
  • metaphysical constraints
  • kenotic constraints
  • cumulative case
  • forced, vital, live options
  • pragmatic – but not vulgar
  • equiplausibility
  • epistemic warrant
  • existential disjunction
  • normative justification
  • too weakly probabilistic
  • mere competing plausibilities
  • too bayesian, no consensus re priors
  • logical defense vs evidential plausibilities or theodicies
  • naturalist moral realism
  • minimalist aesthetic teleology
  • aesthetic Teleology
  • pentametric holonic
  • metaphysical agnosticism
  • theological skepticism
  • pneumatological imagination
  • panSEMIOentheism
  • anti-theodicial
  • pluralistic theologoumena
  • polydoxic
  • diverse sophiological trajectories
  • essential soteriological trajectory
  • human authenticity
  • lonergan’s conversions

Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy

As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis.

Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin.

An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

Now, in this scenario, anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

Did Hugh McCann offer a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

Or did he otherwise recognize that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, were definitely not necessary, and could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends?

As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil, itself, having no ontological status?

Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appeared to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remained teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who, alone, would have directly intended such an evil, hence, alone, committing a morally culpable act.

Perhaps this is all more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.

God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations.