One More Illiterate Criticizer of David Bentley Hart.

It seems that certain people can’t wait to line up and take a shot at David Bentley Hart.

The problem with these articles is that they almost never actually address what Hart has said, but rather spend their time frantically looking for some obscure quote from some Early Father which will prove Hart, and by extension, all of us who believe in Universal Restoration, to be both wrong and heretics. The sad part is that the quotes which are usually thrown at us are mistranslated from the Greek. Here is an example from my research for my book, A LAYMAN INVESTIGATES UNIVERSAL SALVATION

But there is a more fundamental problem. The writings from which he quotes are not in their original Greek language. What is posted on his site are Western translations, and as mentioned before, many of the linguists who took on the translation of the Greek into Latin were deficient in properly understanding Greek. 

The first proof Wallace offers is from the Epistle of Barnabas: “The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death, with punishment.” The Epistle of Barnabas (70-130 AD).[1]

In what language was the original written? That’s right–Greek! With a Google search, I found the original text. From our earlier discussion of the Greek word “aionios” you should realize there could be a problem with the translation of Barnabas from Greek to Latin, and then to the English we read today.

[1] Wallace, “What Did the Early Christians Believe About Hell?” Para. 6.

If Hart’s detractors are not lobbing patristic grenades at those of us who believe in Christ’s all-encompassing work of salvation, they resort to the usual Bible-thumping from miserable translations like the KJV, which gets more than one word entirely wrong.

Anyway, I digress. I just wanted to post some reflections on this patent and illiterate nonsense passing itself off as scholarship. I am in no way equal to DBH, and he can certainly hold his own in a debate, leaving a lot of intellectual wreckage behind, but I always get this gnawing desire to respond to people and the lack of quality response from people who try to take him to task.  So here goes:

When the subject of Universal Restoration is broached in conversation, the fairly consistent response of Infernalists is to throw up the bulwarks of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. There is little actual discussion regarding the scriptural and philosophical points made by Universalists, along with hardly any discussion of the history of eternal damnation and from where it came.

There are numerous points that Hellists simply run right by (or ignore altogether) while at the same time launching false narratives in a fevered defense of their desire that the majority of mankind be horribly tormented forever. One gets the feeling that DBH was correct when he stated that hellism comes from being in the privileged class, those people who really do not see themselves for the sinners they are and are therefore really much better than the sorry hoi-poloi of Augustine’s massa damnata. It is pride at work, and nothing else. To believe that God will eventually find a way to bring all to repentance and deep ontological change means that my decision in this life to repent and follow Christ really means nothing. I am not special, and people can’t stand not being special.

In regard to Universal Restoration, you must examine this diamond from all facets, not just pulling to faulty translations of the Greek and throwing them about as if they mean something. Let’s look at some issues here:

1. Augustine mentioned that there were a “great many” who taught Universal Restoration. Immediately you should ask yourself how this could be if the primary belief of Christianity has been God frying souls for all eternity. You should also ask yourself how it is that for 500 years, four theological schools openly taught UR without a council being called or the slightest whiff of the word “heresy” being mentioned. How could this be if this is such a horrible heresy? Surely the Church would have attacked it as false, as they did with Arias’s heretical ideas regarding Christ’s divinity. Yet – NOTHING!

2. There is then the whole issue of protology being eschatology. This is the first of Hart’s four philosophical reasonings in TASBS which as not be addressed by those who criticize him. In fact, other than polemic and pejorative screed, I have seen little in the way of substantive answers to Hart’s questions and statements in TASBS.

In the issue of protology being eschatology, to put it in layman’s terms, things are created to ends. The protology determines the eschatology, which means that if the telos of 95% of humanity is eternally screaming in pain and terror, then God created them to that end. You cannot get around this fact, and according to Hart and others, this was the basis of UR in the Patristic Fathers who were Universalists. If God created mankind to the end of theosis (“God became man so that man might become god.” St. Athanasius), then this eschatological end must be achieved, and by the power of God, it will be. However, if God created mankind so that only a limited number would be saved and the rest tortured forever (I share Hart’s view of Calvinist theology as cretinous at best), then eternal hell was the eschatological end to which mankind was created.

Which makes God a monster beyond any comprehension of the human mind.

3. In reference to Point 1, how then could Greek speaking Fathers of the Church accept and teach UR if the Sacred Scriptures clearly teach an eternal hell? An examination of our modern translations shows they are in error. If the well-contested word “aionios,” translated as eternal but meaning “age-lasting,” actually did mean eternal, then either St. Gregory and the Greek Fathers were beyond stupid, illiterate, or simply dishonest heretics. If “aionios” does mean “age-lasting,” then it explains the eschatological milieu in which UR developed.

The fact is that Latin translators did not understand Greek and made errors in their work. Augustine said that he “hated the Greek language,” yet this did not stop him from, in an act of theological hubris, from translating a language he did not know into Latin and the developing a whole coterie of bad ideas from his misunderstanding.

In addition, you must factor in the Roman mindset, the overarching mindset of the Roman Empire, which included at the time, the Greek Byzantine Empire. Roman culture was deeply involved with LAW. Roman law was everything to the Roman citizen. In turn, because the law was everything, it provided a lens by which the Roman Christian read the Scriptures and developed his understanding of God as angry Judge offended by our breaking of the Law of God. Punishment must follow. This is entirely foreign to the thinking of the Orthodox Church, which sees salvation in terms of healing and restoration.

4. Then you need to examine the organic development of eternal hell teaching, incorporating the law mindset of Rome with the political melding of the Church at Rome with the Roman Empire. This was possibly the worst single thing that could have happened to the Church. She became the handmaiden of the Roman emperors, and no greater example of this exists than the emperor, Justinian. Justinian inherited a mess, an empire fractured by the Council of Chalcedon, with riots in the streets over doctrines of Christ’s person. In addition, in Jerusalem, the Origenists were causing the same massive problems.

Justinian’s political goals were to stabilize the empire, conquer lands taken by pagans, and restore Rome to her former glory. These goals cannot be achieved in a weak and divided empire, so Justinian shut down the four theological schools teaching UR and intruded upon the 5th Ecumenical Council by inserting his own canons against UR and Origen into the canons of the council. He had absolutely no right to do this. Modern scholarship has come to reject the 15 anti-Origenist canons of Justinian, to the point that the Catholic Encyclopedia online will not include them in the canons of Constantinople II. Yet hellists love to ignorantly point to them as if they are true and have weight in the argument against UR.

Finally, there is the whole misunderstanding of the Bible itself, partially due to horrendous translation problems and not realizing what Christ was talking about. I could go on for pages here in this regard, but have neither the time nor space.

In short, Hart’s detractors are lazy, having taken no time to really investigate or answer his and other claims. They do not consider the ramifications if the eschatological purpose of God in creation was that billions suffer eternally – what it means about the character of God and what it means for us. Their reactions are knee-jerk at best rather than well thought out responses that address the issues at hand instead of insulting the writer.

I have taken the time to delve into this issue. My thoughts, while not on the level of DBH’s intellect, can be found in my book (shameless plug):

2 comments

  1. “If God created mankind to the end of theosis (“God became man so that man might become god.” St. Athanasius), then this eschatological end must be achieved, and by the power of God, it will be.”

    This rests on a wholly unproven premise that a creature cannot fail to achieve its teleological end.

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    • Nothing rests upon the will of the creature in terms of achieving that which is impossible to mankind. It is the power, wisdom, and love of God which assures us that this eschatological end shall be achieved.

      Dr. David Bentley Hart reminds us that protology is eschatology in the Early Fathers of the Church. That is, simply put, things are created to an end or goal. If the eschatology of mankind is that 95% of all mankind (according to certain Roman Catholic saints) are to boil in hell forever, then this is the end that God created them for. After all, if God wills a thing, is there anything in His creation which has the power to subvert His will and bring it to naught?

      I don’t think so.

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