An argument for universalism

In response to a critique by Brandon, Eric Reitan offered the following defense of universalism:

To be grieved by some aspect of reality is to be in a state that falls short of perfect joy. Put another way, you are not perfectly happy if there are aspects of reality that you can only regard as a profound tragedy to be grieved, and which you actively do grieve—a profound tragedy which never comes to an end, and which you therefore never stop grieving.

Hence, the particular blessedness that is intrinsic to heaven itself—possession of God as universal and consummate good by love and understanding—will result in something substantially less than perfect bliss if reality includes elements that warrant grief as the fitting response (that is, the response exhibited by anyone who is morally sanctified).

Simplified down to a middle term, we get:

Any experience for which the only possible response is grief is incompatible with blessedness

To know about the damned is just such an experience, etc.

And so the fact that anyone is blessed means that no one can be damned.

Now Brandon is right that the particular argument of the post neither addresses the hard problem that universalism requires universal contrition nor is formulated in a way that responds to the idea of blessedness advanced by the Fathers and Scholastics, but it’s an interesting argument all the same.

St. Thomas famously wrote three articles worth of material on the topic of how the blessed relate to the damned, though they were compiled and edited by his students after death. The question is (in)famous for supposedly claiming that the blessed rejoice over the sufferings of the damned, though the facts are a bit more subtle, even if not without interpretive problems. The first of the relevant texts is this:

A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy.

In other words, STA denies that the blessed look upon the damned with any sense of joy. There is indeed no indication that they look at the damned at all. They look at divine justice, and at their own deliverance, but they take no direct joy over the fact. But this text has to be read in context with an earlier one:

[W]hen contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

And so the claim is that the sufferings are perfectly seen, and perfectly seen so as to increase delight, and nevertheless there is no delight taken directly from the sufferings of the damned.

St. Thomas’s argument might me more a propos as directly applied to Reitan’s middle term. In explaining the relevant emotion of pity or grief, STA says that, in the blessed, it will not extend any further than reason, but it is irrational to want the impossible, and it is impossible for the damned to be relived of their sufferings. Thus, the damned will have no pity or grief in the face of the damned. The argument, however, does nothing here, since Reitan might take the premises as requiring that it be impossible that there be anyone damned (though, to be fair, it is not St. Thomas’s point here to prove that anyone is damned, only that such a state does not necessarily require that the blessed grieve over it).

1 Comment

  1. Gian said,

    January 1, 2014 at 5:15 am

    Are the damned “persons” or better thought of as “remains’ of persons?
    This view CS Lewis had in The Great Divorce. Hell is where being dwindles into non-being.
    Thus,we should be wary to talk of damned as living persons, same as us.


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