Monthly Archives: September 2017

Aquinas’ conflicting account of God’s love and the reduction of personhood

Aquinas’ theodicy is one you don’t see argued for in the literature today. I don’t know if this is because it is fairly unknown or because it is disagreed with. (It suits best the Calvinistic view that some are damned for the glory of God.)

Here I want to expose what I think an inconsistency in Aquinas’ account of God’s love. This is related to theodicy and the existence of Hell because Aquinas held that the kind of universe God wanted to create requires the existence of the damned, for the universe requires the existence of corruption, failure, and punishment. I have argued elsewhere both a) for the truth that Aquinas did indeed hold this view; and b) its fundamental problem, which is that a “multiplicity of being” and in fact even corruption, failure, and punishment can exist in a universe that does not contain Hell. Indeed, Aquinas gives such an account of how this could be by describing the state of original righteousness of unfallen man, where he says,

“The cause of inequality could be on the part of God; not indeed that He would punish some and reward others, but that He would exalt some above others; so that the beauty of order would the more shine forth among men. Inequality might also arise on the part of nature as above described, without any defect of nature.” (ST I q. 96 a. 3 r. 3)

Anyone interested in a more thorough refutation of classical theology and the existence of Hell can see my post “Apokatastasis: The Only Eschatology Compatible with Classical Theism.”

I want right now, however, to point out another glaring inconsistency in Aquinas as I read him. I wish to argue that Aquinas gives a contradictory or unsatisfactory account of God’s love. And that this account ultimately entails a destruction of personhood.

In the chapter on God’s love (90) in Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Thomas gives us a beautiful definition of what love is:

“For this belongs properly to the nature of love, that the lover will the good of the one he loves. Now, God wills His own good and that of others, as appears from what has been said. This means, therefore, that God loves Himself and other things. Again, for true love it is required that we will someone’s good as his good. For if we will someone’s good only in so far as it leads to the good of another, we love this someone by accident, just as he who wishes to store wine in order to drink it or loves a man so that this man may be useful or enjoyable to him, loves the wine or the man by accident, but essentially he loves himself.”

Now, notice here the idea of loving a thing for its own good, and, in opposition to that, loving a thing insofar as it conduces towards the good of something else. This difference crops up often in moral theology. For example, John Paul II argued that this difference is enough to show us when our actions involve us treating others as genuine people (which is the Christian virtue of love) and when they involve us treating them as objects (and therefore failing to demonstrate Christian love.) Insofar as we consider the good of the person as such we are treating him as a person, as something of infinite value, as a good in himself. Insofar as we consider the good of the person as it benefits us we are treating him as something of inconsequential value or a personless object. As JPII says “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” (Love and Responsibility.)

At this point the question arises: if God creates some persons for the good of the perfection of the universe, and that perfection requires the punishment of hell, is God really loving the persons he creates for this end as persons?* It seems to me the answer to this is no.

Thomas tries to escape this conclusion by making a distinction in the act of love. The act of love can be considered a) in its vigor of action; and b) in the actual good which is willed for the one who is loved. Aquinas claims that a) describes an act of God, which is identical to his immutable nature and intellect and will, whereby he knows and causes all things. Further, the action of God is measured by his power, which is infinitely intense and unchangeable. Therefore, God’s act of love in this sense cannot be greater or less to any person and so God loves all persons in this way equally. The b) kind of love, however, can be variable according to Thomas. That is, the particular goods that God wills for people can be better or worse. For instance, he can will the gift of intelligence in X amount to person Y, but in X + 1 amount to person Z. And in this sense God can love some things more than others. Now, since God wills some goods more absolutely than others – such as the good of himself, represented by a multiplicity of good in the universe – he also wills the good of some persons more than others. And since God loves the good of the whole universe more than he loves any single person – since the good of the whole is better than the good of a part – God wills that some persons be damned for the perfection of the whole.**

Thomas finally links this logic of love up with the existence of Hell and punishment later on in question 96 when he says,

“However, God is said by similitude to hate some things, and this in a twofold way…The second way arises from the fact that God wills some greater good that cannot be without the loss of some lesser good. And thus He is said to hate, although this is rather to love. For thus, inasmuch as He wills the good of justice or of the order of the universe, which cannot exist without the punishment or corruption of some things, God is said to hate the things whose punishment or corruption He wills. In the words of Malachi (1:3): “I have hated Esau”; and the Psalms (5:7): “You hate all workers of iniquity: You destroy all who speak a lie. The bloody and the deceitful man the Lord will abhor.”

I think Aquinas has not thought carefully enough here, especially if he wants to use this reasoning to justify the existence of Hell. The first obvious thing is that it is not clear how God can be said to love the persons whom he gives these lesser goods to – goods which, actually, are the worst possible fate imaginable to a rational agent. But since I have addressed this trick of linguistics elsewhere (equating eternity in Hell as some sort of “good” that God grants), I will leave it alone for now. I want rather to focus on the following point.

It does not follow that, simply because God wills a greater particular good for one individual (call it good X), God wills that person a greater good absolutely (eternal beatitude, over and against damnation.) God could will different goods to each person, or even different combinations of goods, all of which result in the same metaphysical “amount” of good ultimately. For example, person Y may have good X, and person Z may have good W, and, although good X is greater in the sense that person Z lacks this good, still, person Z has good W, which person Y does not have. This distribution could result in an overall “equally blessed person.” To use a simple example, one person may have more intelligence, but another more beauty.  The person with more intelligence need not have more good absolutely than the person with more beauty. Rather, each has their share of the unlimited participated good of God himself, a good which in its entirety is unable to be communicated to a creature. And yet these participated goods need not be “better” or “worse” than each other.

Interestingly, Aquinas provides this very reasoning in his ST when answering whether God loves a repentant sinner more than an innocent who never sinned. It is worthwhile to read the whole article (ST I, q 20 a 4). However, what I want to highlight is only the following, where he says, “gifts of grace, equal in themselves, are more as conferred on the penitent, who deserved punishment, than as conferred on the innocent, to whom no punishment was due; just as a hundred pounds [marcoe] are a greater gift to a poor man than to a king.”

Notice how the grace given is equal. It is rather the modality of its reception on the creature that makes it appear different. We see here the inner workings of a system suggested above whereby finite goods are equal, yet different, and need not imply any absolute better or worseness.

Yet just in case this may lead someone to suppose that it is just as good to be a sinner as a saint, Aquinas also gives us another metaphysical tool to work with, which is this. We can consider gifts of God on persons as “better” or “worse” from the standpoint of time. That is, we can call one thing better than another by saying “at such and such a time it is better.” In the next reply he says,

“Since God’s will is the cause of goodness in things, the goodness of one who is loved by God is to be reckoned according to the time when some good is to be given to him by divine goodness. According therefore to the time, when there is to be given by the divine will to the predestined sinner a greater good, the sinner is better; although according to some other time he is the worse; because even according to some time he is neither good nor bad.”

Now, considering all the above, we have from Aquinas himself a way to synthesize the universal love of God, which respects the multiplicity of being (which he used to justify hell), but that does not necessarily imply hell’s existence. For God can a) give gifts of love that are neither better nor worse but simply different; or b) he can give better gifts at one time and lesser gifts at another, but he could still give, in the Eschaton, such a combination or summation or coalescing of goods to each person that was equally good.

It seems to me that precisely where Aquinas’ conception of God’s love goes wrong (which is the same place where his justification for Hell’s existence goes wrong) is that he does not conceive of a person as something of infinite value. He sees a person as a thing which can be objectified or destroyed or disregarded for the sake of something higher – some sort of order or gradation or symmetry.

Jacques Maritain, in his Aquinas lecture on the Problem of Evil, said the following.

“As for the universe of nature then, or the universe as a work of creative art we must say – according to the conception, rather pessimistic indeed but serenely so, which St. Thomas gives of nature – we must say that man and angel are parts of the created universe, as as parts of this universe it is normal, it is in the order of things that they are fallible; it is in the order of things that man be involved in sorrow, suffering and death, because by his very essence he is involved in nature which is corporeal, subjected to the change of production and destruction. But at the same time – and here we have the other aspect of the matter – man and angel are both persons, and in that light not parts but real wholes; for the person signifies in itself, wholeness… The sin of a man is the sin of a person, the disaster of a universe and a wounding of God (not as far as God’s being is concerned, but as concerns His love.) The suffering of a man is the suffering of a person, of a whole. Here he is considered no longer as part of the universe, but insofar as he is a person he is considered as a whole, a universe to himself; to suffer that pain as part of the universe in the perspective of nature or of the world taken as God’s work of art, does not do away with the fact that as far as the person is concerned it is an utter anomaly.”

I agree here with Maritain. I do not think that Aquinas dealt adequately with the value of a human person as such. I submit that if persons are wholes or things of infinite value, then Aquinas’ account of God’s love of persons is self-contradictory, as is his justification for the existence of Hell.

*(Thomas very infrequently calls humans “persons” – he is fond rather of the colder term “thing” or “man.”)

**As Aquinas says, “For in the order of effects, the better a thing is, so much the more is it prior in the intention of the agent. But the greatest good in things created is the perfection of the universe, consisting in the order of distinct things; for always the perfection of the whole has precedence of the perfection of the individual parts. Therefore, the diversity of things results from the original intention of the first agent, not from a diversity of merits. SCG II q 44


The End

The end

It is coming to an end
right now
for many across this transient globe
this life which passes like a mist
where we can vaguely recall
but one experience
in a thousand.
It is coming to an end
right now
for many sons and daughters
father and mothers
and children on the cusp of breaking out of their former husk
and experiencing life anew
in wonders various and sublime and terrible and startling
of which no one could guess,
except he lived them himself.
It is coming to an end
right now
for many older and for many younger than ourself:
to whom compared our life has been short
or long.
It has came to an end
for all those who have gone before
those moments uncountable of conscious life
now vanished
who we see as our comrades and our elder kinsmen.
As nothing the universe now counts them:
names innumerable, unknown to any now living,
but names that once reigned eternal in the soul itself
who once lived
who once breathed
who once held life to be an infinite gift.
Two things I take
from musing on all these kinsmen
those who are meeting or have met their end.
The first:
one day it will be so
for us
once for all.
This fact cannot be turned aside.
Let us reckon this often
and not shame the sacrifice of our forebears.
The second:
where reason fails us
and gives no certainty
let us live in the widest hope which this privilege affords:
where ignorance gives room,
let us not be satisfied with less than the infinite.

Sent from my iPhone

Universal Reconciliation and the New Testament Pt 1

Below I offer notes I’ve made on various eschatological passages of the New Testament. They are meant as notes only.
Colossians 1:15-23
This passage speaks of the fact that Christ is the first born of “every creature.” And that the entire cosmos was created through Christ and “for” him. It also speaks of the church as being “the beginning” and “the first born.” This makes little sense unless there are things that came afterwards (i.e. “second borns) who are not identical to those in the Church. Futher, Paul tells us what “pleases” the Father – namely the Incarnation (i.e. the “fullness” of deity dwelling in Christ) and the reconciliation of all hostile things through the peace of the cross. Paul also shows the preciousness of the humanity of Christ: for we are reconciled in “his body of flesh”, which indicates the union of Christ’s human nature to his divinity, since the flesh of a mere man could never reconcile us to God. Note then that these two things is what please the Father: the incarnation and reconciliation. There is no mention of ECT or even judgment. Also note that the “all things” that the Father is seeking to reconcile parallel the all things which Paul said were created by Christ: “things in heaven and on earth” – as if to indicate, the entire cosmos. The question is, is ECT or CI compatible with the teaching of this passage that God will *reconcile* “all things” to himself?
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Before this passage note that Paul “delivers to Satan” Hymenaeus and Alexander, but not to destroy them in the sense of ensuring their eternal torment, but for a corrective purpose – “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 1:20). This we have an example of a redemptive destruction that involves a handing over to Satan. To the passage at hand: Paul says we are to offer prayers, supplications, intercessions (interesting word) and thanksgiving for “all men” ( “thanksgiving” is often overlooked – he is advising we be thankful, even perhaps for men who wrong us.) Paul also says that God “desires all men to be saved” and that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” and that Christ is the “one mediator between God and men.” Now, God either desires absolutely all to be saved or he does not. If he does not, then he desires some to be damned, and it follows that Christ was not a ransom for everyone nor is he mediator for every one. This interpretation seems to contradict what is laid down in the passage. The passage could be interpreted in a Calvinist sense in which the “all” refers only to “all kinds.” However, the text does not contain those words and it is not the natural reading. In fact, the common argument that “all kinds” or “all classes” of men is implied because Paul first references “kings” and those in high positions, appears very weak. For if Paul intended to be describing the many “classes” of men God wanted to save, he would have actually given some examples of different class. Instead he simply mentions those who are in positions of authority (i.e. he mentions only one class of people.) One more note: some translations have “God *will* have all men be saved” rather than *desire.*
1 Corinthians 5:5
This verse plainly shows that there can be the “destruction” of a person, given as a punishment, with the end in view of saving the one punished. Paul says the person is to be given over to Satan so that his “flesh” may be “destroyed” but his spirit saved. There are several interesting things to note here. First, the word “flesh” in Greek is “sarkos” – the word continually used in Paul and the NT to mean the carnal and weak part of human nature. It is often juxtaposed to the spirit: see for example the famous passage at the beginning of Romans 8 where Paul describes this dichotomy. The second interesting point is that the word used here for “destruction” (olethros) is the same one used by Paul in 2 Thess. 1:9, a verse that is used by ECT and CI views alike. So, it has been shown by Scripture that it cannot be the case that destruction necessarily entails annihilation or eternal torment. Further, it has not been shown positively anywhere that it in fact can.
Romans 11:28-36
This passage describes enemies of God as also being elected and “beloved.” It’s main emphasis is that God permits the contrasting groups of people to be disobedient so he can highlight his own mercy and saving power and show that God loves both Gentiles and Israelites: “God has consigned all to disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” I don’t see here any explicit teaching on UR but I do see a sort of universal principle of God’s dealings with the disobedient. If in the end there is a third group – a group who God permitted to be disobedient but never showed mercy to – this would be an awkward display of the principle of God’s wisdom and judgment that Paul is highlighting here. The passage ends by claiming that all things are directed and tend toward God: “from him and to him and through him are all things.”
Ephesians 1:9-12, 21-23
Here Paul expressly declares the “mystery” of God’s will: to unite “all things” in Christ. This he goes out of his way to qualify: all things are “things in heaven and things on earth.” He further says this gathering together will come to pass “in the fullness of time.” Such uniting was a “plan” that God purposed to bring about. Paul also says that God works all things in accordance with his will: therefore it stands to reason that God will in fact accomplish his purpose of uniting all things – things in heaven and on earth – to himself by redeeming them through Christ’s blood. More is said at the end of the passage about the “age to come” where Christ puts all things “under his feet” and “fills all in all.” No mention is made of ECT.
Romans 5:16-19
The comparison is made between Adam’s transgression, which spread to all, and Christ’s obedience and act of righteousness, which spreads to all. The parallel is straightforward: however many were affected by Adam will be affected by Christ. How many were affected by Adam? All mankind. Therefore, all mankind will be affected by Christ. In what way will they be affected? Paul says: they will be made righteous, will be acquitted of their sins, and given life. The same mass of people who are made sinners by Adam and condemned, Paul says these same will be “justified” by Christ’s act. It is interesting to note those who think that all mankind inherit Adam’s guilt apart from any choice from themselves, and yet they deny that Christ’s act of righteousness will be similarly applied to all mankind. The logic of the parallel is simply this: all that are guilty of “condemnation” due to original sin by birth (and therefore whatever that entails on ECT or CI eschatologies – e.g. Hell) shall be justified for eternal life due to Christ’s obedience by birth.
1 Timothy 4:10
This verse is straightforward. It says God is the savior of all, “especially of those who believe” implying that God saves others besides “those who believe.” I’ll let it speak for itself.
1 Peter 3:18-23
In this passage we read Christ after he died “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” These people Peter tells us are those who were destroyed in the flood and were formerly disobedient. This verse overthrows two major assumptions of the ECT view (and even the CI view), for in it we see a) that what God destroys in the flood, he can still save (CI often use 2 Peter 3:6 to teach eternal destruction, but the same that “perished” are here preached to) b) after death, Christ’s power to save can still reach souls. (Chapter 3 vs 6 also says the gospel was “preached to those who are dead.”)
Romans 8:20-23
Here we read that the whole creation – that which was “subjected to futility” – groans for its own redemption. The parallel Paul makes is that the entire created order is under a curse, and it is this entire created order which will one day be liberated. Can this passage be true if ECT or CI are true? If so, in. what sense are the finally lost “freed”?
Matthew 18:11, Luke 19:10
Here we read that Christ came to save that which was lost. This word – “lost” – is used by in CI and ECT views to refer to those who either are tormented forever or are annihilated. But this single verse shows that just because a thing is “lost” (in Greek “apollumi” – a word that is used by CI to describe annihilation), it need not be irremediably lost. In fact Scripture speaks of many things being destroyed or lost that both ECT and CI do not believe are ultimately so: e.g. God destroys [apollumi—Septuagint] the blameless and the wicked (Job 9:22); and The righteous perishes [apollumi—Septuagint], and no man takes it to heart (Is. 57:1). In each case what is meant in the text is not absolute destruction where one is annihilated or tormented forever but only a relative destruction (otherwise we must conclude that the righteous go to Hell or are annihilated.) Several other verses are like this. The point is “death” and a state of “lostness” in Scripture need not imply something irremediable. Actually, they are a necessary condition for our salvation in the first place. We must lose our lives to find them (Matt. 16:25); the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and “die” before it produces grain (John 12:24); the “lost” coin is that which is found (Luke 15:8) the “lost” sheep is what’s hen shepard saves (Luke 15:6)
1 Corinthians 15:21-28
As many as die in Adam are made alive in Christ. To show that this resurrection does not mean simply the resurrection of the body after which there is a final destruction or torment, Paul says those made “alive in Christ” are done so in different orders. Some there are who belong to Christ, and others who, evidently, do not. There are “powers” and “authorities” and even “death” that are said to be destroyed or abolished, but no rational beings. Also it says that Christ must reign “until he puts all enemies under his feet” and that everything must be “subjected” to Christ. Now, that subjection, whatever it means, cannot mean total annihilation of what is subdued or torture or a forced bowing of the knee, for Christ, after he has completed his reign, is “subjected” himself to the father. This is followed by saying that God may be “all in all.” (The RSV renders it as God bein “everything to everyone.”) The passage thus indicates a universal harmonious and voluntary subjected of the entire created order to God through Christ in which all humans are alive.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Preceding this passage Paul speaks of the fact that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but that we must shed our current body and put on a new one – one that is imperishable. Now he says also that at the last trumpet “the dead will be raised imperishable.” This same imperishable substance is given “immortality” which swallows up death. There is no distinction or mention of some of the dead being raised and given perishable bodies or imperishable bodies that are eternally tormented. In fact, the very same class of people who are raised from the dead (which are everyone believes *all* people) will, according to the logic of Paul’s argument, be raised to immortality. The passage reads as if Paul says “at the last trumpet, all the dead will be raised and given imperishable bodies that shall never die.”
Ephesians 4:4-6
We have here asserted the universal fatherhood of God. He is the father of all and “over all, through all, and in all.” Vs. 10 says that Christ ascended into heaven so that he could “fill all things.” There is no mention of anything being outside of God in some state of eternal separation, whether that be annihilation or eternal conscious suffering.
Philippians 2:10,11
Here Paul says that every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord “to the glory of God the father.” Further on, in chapter 3:21 we read that Chris has the “power” to “subject all things to himself.” The question then is, which form of confession and bowing the knee glorifies the father most? A forced submission, or a voluntary one? Remember, the text says that Christ has the power to subject all things to himself. What kind of subjection – assuming God could do either – is more glorifying?
John 3:16,17 and John 6:52
The text reads that God loved “the world” and that Christ came to save “the world.” One can interpret that to mean less than the world, or to limit Christ’s saving power and God’s saving intent, but doing so requires stretching the text past its surface reading. Likewise the second text reads that Christ gave his flesh for “the life of the world.” Thus he gives his body either for the world, as the text says, or for less than the world. The second meaning is possible, but one must stretch the text. One also wonders why the word “world” was used in the first place.
Jude 1:7
Here Sodom and Gomorrah are said to undergo a punishment or penalty of “eternal” fire. Now there are two things to note here: a) this word, eternal, is a derivative of aiónios, the same word that is translated in Matthew’s parables of the sheep and the goats as “eternal” when used of the goats’ “eternal punishment.” It is also the same words used to describe the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and the angels in this chapter of Matthew. In other words, what is being told about in the case of Sodom we know to be a definitive judgment that lasted for a time and then came to an end. The same words are used to describe the punishment of the unrighteous in Matthew’s gospel, without elaboration as to what that entails. It is then not unreasonable to interpret the less clear judgment (found in Matthew) with the more clear one (found in Jude.) b) In Ezekiel 16:53-55 the Lord prophecies that he will “restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters.” And that Sodom will “return to her former state.” Taking all of Scripture together, then, we have in the case of Sodom an example of i) eternal destruction by fire and ii) a restoration of the very thing that is destroyed. This example alone is enough to show not only that this kind of judgment is one which God performs, but also the danger in taking an unclear or incomplete reference in Scripture regarding judgment and extrapolating that in a way involving absolute finality.
Titus 1:2, James 1:13
These verses tell us there are things God “cannot” do: lie or be tempted. Therefore there are certain things that are unworthy of God because of his character. It is reasonable then to think that there are certain actions towards his creatures which God is incapable of, such as tormenting them forever or annihilating them. If he cannot lie to his creatures, is it likely he could inflict pain on them for no remedial purpose or take them out of existence altogether?
Matthew 24-25
We have here the passage of the sheep and the goats. There are two important things to notice. i) This particular parable is only one of several given in a single discourse. Christ gives several images, each with different outcomes, which describe the end of the “age” he is referencing. These outcomes are: a) being cut in pieces and put with the hypocrites, which entail weeping and gnashing teeth; b) being shut out from a wedding feast; c) being cast into outer darkness; and d) being punished with eternal fire. ii) It must be noted that Jesus’ whole discourse in chapters 24 and 25 is unbroken, and his speech is in response to the disciples asking him “what will be the sign of the end of the age?” Thus, all the parables are given in response to this question. What is more, Christ says that all the things which he is foretelling will come to pass in the lifetime of some of his listeners: “truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Therefore evidently all the parables that Jesus mentions will have already came to pass, prior to, at the latest, 100 A.D. It seems reasonable then that these two chapters of Matthew refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Acts 3:17-26.

Here we find one of the first sermons, and by Peter himself. For those who do not listen to Christ, their “soul will be destroyed.” This is a quote from Deut. 18:18-21. This OT prophecy actually says that of those who do not hear the prophet (i.e. Christ), God will “require it” of them. We are not told what this means. The OT passage further goes on to give an even worse judgment to people who make false prophecies. These people will “die.” So evidently “destroyed” as used in Acts isn’t described as eternal torment in the OT where the quoted prophecy was given. In fact it gives a worse punishment for people who do something worse than “not listen.” Furthermore, the purpose, as described in Acts, of Christ coming is to bless those who are in sin, and to turn “every one” of them from their iniquities (vs 26). It is not to torment these sinners and unbelievers. What is more, some translations say that Christ was even “appointed” to come for those who had crucified his very self (vs 20, ESV, RSV). Lastly, note the mysterious idea of “heaven receiving Jesus until the restitution of all things” that evidently the prophets had spoken about “from of old.” No explanation is given of this “restitution” but it is at least consistent with a final reconciliation of all.