The human mind, in the darkness and confusion of being in a state of separation from He who is Truth, is capable of functioning in ways which are sometimes puzzling and sometimes difficult to deal with in discussions of theology. One of these difficult ways in which the mind functions is by presupposition, that is, rather than accepting facts that are presented to it and then changing course, the mind will come to a discussion with a pre-supposed “truth” and then bend all that it hears to fit that truth rather than changing its opinion.
An example of this would be the long-standing disagreement between Protestants and Catholic/Orthodox over the Eucharist. Protestants will approach the discussion in the presupposition that the Lord’s Supper is merely a bare memorial, a ceremony designed to remind us of His death, burial, and glorious resurrection. When confronted with the truth of the Real Presence, they will turn to the employment of any number of esoteric arguments in order to avoid certain facts: the Apostles taught that it is the Body and Blood of Christ (this in itself should be enough), we know that they taught this because those to whom they taught the Christian faith, men such as St. Ignatius, Polycarp, St. Irenaeus, etc. teach this in their letters, that all of Christianity taught this for 1500 years, and that the idea of a bare memorial only started being taught in the 16th century.
When confronted with these facts, Protestant apologists will go to sometimes absurd lengths to avoid confrontation with the truth. They will claim that the Eucharist was “invented” in the fourth century by a sun-worshiping pagan named Constantine when he declared Christianity the religion of the empire. They will try to connect anything in the Catholic/Orthodox faith with ancient Babylonian worship of Semiramis and Tammuz. They will insist that we are interpreting John 6 incorrectly. I call these actions “Theological and Interpretive Gymnastics.” In short, it is anything but looking at the facts of Christian history and theology, changing one’s mind, and then saying, “Okay. I’m wrong. Now what?”
“Now what?”, in my case, when confronted with the facts of Christian history and my erroneous Protestant belief system, was entering into the ancient apostolic faith called “katholicos” (Catholic)
I am having a similar hard time in a discussion with proponents of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). In addition to not wishing to hear the FACTS I keep presenting, the word “heretic” has been thrown at me in a very gratuitous manner, along with massive warnings that to believe God loves everyone enough to save them will send me to the eternal hellfire they believe in. Eventually some of the shouting has died down to a mild roar, and in a current discussion – one considerably more interesting than the usual mundane defenses of eternal hell with which I am opposed – I have been presented with a new response. What I have been told is that Apokatastasis is problematic because it conflicts with what is called, “Divine Simplicity.” (That God is simple and without parts).
My appeal is to the FACT that Scripture teaches us quite clearly that God is love. God IS. God IS love. If you want Divine Simplicity, it don’t get any more simple than that. God IS love. Period. That should end the discussion then and there, but what I have been accused of is that by stating that God is love and therefore deals with all mankind in that love, I am making God, who is free of all demand and constraint, to be not free:
ECT DEFENDER: You cannot say that’s God’s love for us compels Him to act or not act in any given way. I get your concern, and I’ll address it directly below. But you simply have to commit fully to the fact that God is not under compulsion or moral law. Ironically, to put Him under such a law to preserve His goodness would actually deny Him of Perfect Goodness, because then He would not be identical with His Being.
Let me offer why I think your particular concern doesn’t have to follow from God’s absolute freedom. You are essentially raising the specter of what’s called a Divine Command Theory of morality (which, by the way, takes us right back to the Euthyphro Dilemma — that’s one of the two horns!). On such a view, something is good simply because God does it. On such a view, God could command murder or lying or rape and it would suddenly be good. But something seems wrong about that. Yet we can’t put God under compulsion and say that He can’t command those things. So what gives?
The answer goes back to what I’ve already said: what is good is with respect to a thing’s nature. Indeed, “Goodness” in general is just the word we use to refer to that reality to which we are ordered. It is “good” for an eye to see. But an eye needs light, so light is “good” for the eye. But not too much, because too much light and the eye is blinded; so the right amount of light is good. But if you look at something too long, your eyes can dry out, so rest is “good” for the eye. And so on. It isn’t that light or rest are good in and of themselves. They are good with respect to the eye, and then in certain proportions. As already said, the eye has a nature (to see), so seeing just is good(ness) for the eye; and that which helps the eye see is good(ness) to that eye. And eye that fully sees literally exists more fully than one that cannot, because such an eye has been “perfected”, or its telos has been found.
And here, in the bold red, is the gist of my argument: God is love. That IS His nature. That is the very essence of what God is, therefore, the goodness of God is being what He is – i.e. His nature, love. As the eye that fully sees is perfected because it is existing as it should because of the nature of its existence, so also God, who forgives all men and women their sin is existing as He is, that is, He is existing as love. I am not saying that God is under any compulsion. I am agreeing with the premise – God is love, therefore, He loves. You will have to prove to me that God could act in any manner which is contrary to what He is, for in the course of this discussion, I was told that a proper definition of Divine Simplicity means that God IS what He does and does what He IS. And that seems pretty simple to me.
Now at this point, I do want to be sure to avoid any misunderstanding on the nature of how this love works out in practicality. To say that God forgives all is both scriptural (Rom 5:12-19) and in line with His nature. But it does not mean that when the wicked man who has despised God all his life, loved and practiced sin, and resisted conversion will be met with open arms and no consequence. The great saints of the Patristic Era who taught Apokatastasis, such as St. Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Syria, made it quite clear that there would be consequences – some dreadfully painful – in the next life for our choices in this life. St. Isaac went as far as to say that the experience of hell for the wicked was the “scourging of God’s love.”
Continuing the discussion, I encounter this:
ME: But can God act in any way that is outside of His being? In other words, what God IS God also will DO. He cannot do something that is outside of the bounds of what He IS.
ECT DEFENDER: I don’t know if this is just poor language or if there is still something not quite clicking yet, but I’m very uncomfortable with this phrasing. The first question is nonsensical. I mean that sincerely. It would be like asking of a triangle could be a four-sided figure. There are lots of problems. To list a few . ..
“any way” — This presupposes a range of possibilities in which at least one is limited. But this presupposes some limiting principle on God, which is meaningless.
“outside” — the idea of something being “outside” of God, much less the of idea of God acting in some way “outside” of Himself presupposes some limitations on God, either conceptual or even spacial, which is meaningless. God isn’t limited, so “outside” doesn’t really apply to Him in any meaningful way.
“His being” — and if we’re being technical, we should be careful with talking about “His” being as if it were something He possessed. God does not have a nature. He just is His nature. You have a human nature, so you are distinct from your nature. That’s incredibly important to Eastern theology, btw (and to all Christian theology); it forms part of the basis of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is one Person with two natures. If you were identical to your human nature, then so would Jesus be, and so He would be two persons!
Now if God does not have a nature, but just is a nature, then “His nature” is just what He is. And what is He? The Latin answer is ipsum esse subsistens — Existence Existing in Itself. That’s the reason that He is His actions. He is not a being that does this or that. Rather, He is identical with “the doing of that.” That’s just His essence — the act of being. And he “be’s” in whatever way He chooses to be. And that choice just is His essence, necessarily, and absolutely freely.
His essence, the “IS” of God, is that God IS love. Therefore, according to the very words of the gentleman who is disagreeing with me, His free essence, His very being, is love. I simply don’t know how it can be made any more clear than that!
And this is why I don’t particularly care for Medieval Latin theologians. One gets the sense that they are so enchanted with their thought processes and high-sounding words that they forget the simplest points of divine revelation. We have been told clearly from Sacred Scripture what God IS – God IS love. The ipsum esse subsistens is found in the declaration to Moses in Exodus 3: 14
“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”
But this answer is not God’s nature. It is the answer given when God was asked for His name. His name is “I AM that I AM.” We see the proof of this when Jesus uses the divine name in telling the Pharisees, “Before Moses was, I AM.” Their response was to immediately seek stones with which to stone this blasphemer. The name of God is not the nature of God. Or let me put that another way…..yes, God is self-existent existence and that is His name, which describes something about Him — but… that is not all He is. We have been told what He IS – God IS love. God’s nature is not dependent in any manner, being utterly free of all constraints, and that includes containing Him by saying that He MUST send sinners to an eternal fire of torment. The very thing I am being accused of – putting limitations on the utterly free God – my interlocutors are doing themselves by denying that He is free to forgive everyone.
Here is what I figured out about those who are opposing this. They are seeing love as A.) a “part” to God, rather than what He IS. In the understanding of divine simplicity, God has no parts. B.) They do not like the idea that the most wicked of sinners among us – I’m talking about the really terrible ones – will eventually obtain union with God’s love. To them, that is an eternal injustice. C.) They see my insistence that God can only act according to what He IS as restricting His freedom, which freedom is the essence of Divine Simplicity. In Divine Simplicity, God has no parts, that is, He is complete and dependent on nothing outside Himself, and He is totally free. No created being or thing outside of Him can put any demand or restriction on Him. He is utterly free to do whatever He is.
Which includes forgiving all sinners and restoring them because He IS love.