Objection to apokatastasis

David Bentley Hart’s defense of apokatastasis will be released in about five weeks. Apokatastasis has been a very hot topic in Eastern christianity for some time, but has either been ignored or gotten a watered-down defense in the West, the most well-known of which is Von Balthasar’s ‘hope for an empty Hell’ which Hart rejects as a half-measure. Hart has already exposed many of the weaknesses in the case against him. His new translation of the New Testament, for example, makes the traditional proof texts for a perpetual Hell far less probative and the ‘Universalist texts’ far more convincing, and he argues at length for the literalness of both. I’ve been saying for some time that I expect Hart’s new book to popularize apokatastasis in the West, and I don’t see anyone willing and able to slow him down.

I’m not Universalist but I don’t believe one can hold that God could save some after death but choses not to. So my view of the argumentative terrain is pretty extreme: one has to hold that apokatastasis is either necessary or impossible. I just think it is impossible.

Apokatastasis requires that repentance is possible after death, i.e. some who die having made a decision against grace acquire it later. Since contrary states can’t be simultaneous, apokatastasis requires temporal existence after death. While separated souls and angels are temporal in important ways, they do not have the sort of temporality required for sanctifying or deifying grace since

(A) The substance of persons separated from matter is not temporal or historical.

(B) Sanctifying grace is transformative within the substance of the person.

In defense of (A): Temporal or historical substance develops over time- from child to teen to adult, say – and neither angels nor the separated soul develop in this way. The same substantial reality that grows is also what corrupts and becomes other, but belief in a separated soul is already a belief in its incorruptibility.

This does not rule out angels or separated souls having effects in time, since the intercession of the saints requires that this be possible; nor does it rule out all sorts of development and change but only a change in the substance. The doctrine of purgatory clearly requires the possibility of some sort of moral development after death.

In defense of (B): Sanctifying of deifying grace transforms not only the will of the person, making them virtuous when they were not virtuous before but transforms their substance, making the person not only human but literally born again into being a partaker of the divine nature, i.e. possessed of something which, while not destroying human nature, is also not limited to it.

So on my account it is possible to for an immaterial being to choose grace provided he has not had a contrary decision before; and it is obviously possible for a material being to choose grace even if he has make a contrary decision before, but apokatastasis requires the impossible condition of an immaterial being choosing grace after a previous contrary decision. This at least rules out the possibility of a universal restoration of fallen angels and of separated souls prior to the general resurrection, there is at least a presumption in favor of repentance not occurring even after the general resurrection, since even if the substance of those raised is physical it does not seem to be allow for the sort of development in which repentance consists.






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