Augustine’s liturgical case against Universalism

If the damnation of some were not eternal…

…[T]here is no reason why the Church should not even now pray for the devil and his angels, since God her Master has ordered her to pray for her enemies. The reason, then, which prevents the Church from now praying for the wicked angels, whom she knows to be her enemies, is the identical reason which shall prevent her, however perfected in holiness, from praying at the last judgment for those men who are to be punished in eternal fire.

City of God Bk. XXI c. 24

Though Augustine here argues against a peculiar if very clever form of Universalism (see c. 18 of the link), his argument generalizes to the idea that Universalism is contrary to the liturgical tradition of the Church, sc.

Universalism is mercy to all individuals

If mercy is to be shown to all individuals, there can be no exception to the individuals the Church prays for.

There are and always have been exceptions, viz. liturgical prayers for Lucifer.

The case generalizes further if we note that the liturgy frequently acknowledges eternal fire but never prays for those within it.


Pleasantries like hello, goodbye, how are you? are words that have different meanings than when (materially) the same words are used in conversation. For example, to ask “how are you doing?” to a person whom you’ve just met means something different from your therapist asking the same question several minutes into a session. Again, the Latin vale is from valere meaning “to be strong.” When used as a pleasantry it is the word one uses at the end of a conversation and translates as the English goodbye, but if one said vale in the midst of a conversation with someone whose strength was fading and needed encouragement it would be translated as be strong! The Spanish vaya con Dios is, as a pleasantry, again simply the English “goodbye” while if it occured in a conversation it would be go with God.

Pleasantries are generally short, have scripted responses, and occur outside conversation whether to start it, end it, as interruptions within it, or as replacements for it. They’re the sorts of words one can generally learn on the first day of a language course.

Compliments often function as pleasantries: how does everything taste? is, as a pleasantry, not asking for criticism or subtlety and the response everything’s great! is not a considered critique or even a judgment about the food. One can ask how something tastes to elicit a criticism (just ask Gordon Ramsay) but when he does the question is not a pleasantry.

Pleasantries are frequently misunderstood in moral discussions of lying. When one asks someone having a horrible day “how are you doing?” as a pleasantry, the true and correct answer is “fine” since any other answer is a failure to understand what the words mean. The words of the question are not eliciting a self-report or confession of mood but signify something else which not only aren’t conversational but could even be used to signify the refusal of a conversation. Ditto with the supposedly infamous question “how does this dress look?” As a pleasantry the true answer is “great!” while as an elicitation of a criticism the answer will demand a true judgment of the dress, though even this is conditioned by the demands of social refinement.

Those low in agreeableness or somewhere on the autistic spectrum might find pleasantries difficult to understand and perhaps even insipid. This is normal – people are foolish in all sorts of ways.

Thomism and the thin theory of existence

Asked to articulate why one would believe the thin theory of existence, BV* carefully laid out their argument:

1) ‘Pegasus does not exist’ is true. Therefore:

2) The sentence in question has meaning. (Only meaningful sentences have a truth value.) 

3) If a sentence has meaning, then so do its (sentential and sub-sentential) parts. (Compositionality of meaning.) Therefore:

4) ‘Pegasus’ has meaning. Therefore:

5) Something is such that ‘Pegasus’ refers to it. (‘Pegasus’ is a proper name, and the meaning of a proper name is its referent, that to which it refers.) Therefore:

6) ‘Pegasus’ refers to something that exists. (Everything exists; there are no nonexistent objects; one cannot refer to what does not exist for it is not there to be referred to.) Therefore:

7) Pegasus must exist for it to be true that Pegasus does not exist.

The argument put me in mind of Thomas’s opening distinction in De ente et essentia:

We should know that, as the Philosopher says in Book 5 of the Metaphysics, something is said to be a being [ens per se] in two different senses: in one sense, [only] those things [are called beings] that are sorted into the ten categories; in the other sense [calling something a being] signifies the truth of a proposition. And the difference between the two is that in the second sense everything can be said to be a being of which a [true] affirmative proposition can be formed, even if it posits nothing in reality; it is in this way that privations and negations are said to be beings, for we say that an affirmation is the opposite of negation, and that there is blindness in an eye. But in the first sense only that can be said to be a being which posits something in reality.

De ente et essentia c. 1

When we say “Pegasus does not exist is true” there is (i) the being of “is true” and (ii) the being of the existence denied. Both are the sort of being Thomas calls the “truth of propositions” since (i) is both about a fictional subject, and explicitly says it is considering the truth of the proposition. (ii) is a clear negation of existence. In addition to this, steps 2-4 are formally concerned with signification or meaning, which definitely seems to fall on the side of being as true. So the Thomist would see the whole argument as a sort of insight into the being proper to the truth of propositions. This is clearest if we insert the qualifications starting at (5):

(5) Something is such that “Pegasus” refers to it (and this something exists with the being that is the truth of propositions)

and then

(6) Pegasus’ refers to something that exists (with the existence that is proper to the truth of propositions.)

and then

(7) Pegasus must exist (with the existence belonging to the truth of propositions) for it to be true that Pegasus does not exist

The sense of (7) is that it is correct that given a thing exists with the truth of propositions it need not exist in reality, which is indeed formally true about what exists with the truth of propositions.


*To be clear, BV is a tremendous critic of the thin theory.

Disputed Question on existence a se

1.) It seems that a Democritean atom* (DA) exists of itself. For what always existed did not arise from some other and the DA has always existed. Therefore it did not arise from another.

2.) What cannot not be exists of itself. But a DA cannot not be because it is fundamental and indestructible. Therefore the DA exists of itself.

3.) The fundamental principle in any science is what exists by itself, but the DA is a fundamental principle in physics. Therefore it exists of itself.

Sed Contra. What exists of itself causes all things that exist by another. But no single, individual DA causes all things, even in the physical universe, and a DA exists as a single individual. Therefore, no DA exists of itself.

I answer that: The Democritean atom is whatever physical entity we take as unbreakable and indestructible into which other physical things are broken up, so to ask whether it exists by itself is to ask whether an unbreakable or indestructible physical entity exists by itself. Now indestructible and unbreakable involve negations of a possible destructive agent and so require specifying the domain in which one negates possible destructive agents. If a single stone was in an empty universe it would be indestructible since, ex hypothesi, there are no agents in the universe capable of destroying it.

But the DA is indestructible in a more fundamental way than such a stone. In negating destructive agents for a DA, we do more than simply imagine a world with no destructive agents but prove that the actual world can’t have them, like so: since no object is more simple than the particle there can be no agent capable of bringing about an object more simple. If X can’t be done, there can be no agent capable of X. So if a quark is fundamental and fills up S amount of space, it is impossible to take that quark and break off something that would fill, say, 0.8S. Thinking such particles are destructible is to fail to understand what fundamental means.

None of this shows that a DA exists of itself, even in the physical order. Even granting that a physical particle cannot be destroyed by being resolved into more simple parts it does not follow it cannot cease to exist. Particles are not the only entities in the universe and they might be destroyed into these entities or arise out of them.

Even if we assume that everything in the physical world resolves to fundamental physical entities, it still does not follow any of them exists of itself. If X exists of itself then if we understood what X is or the nature of X would know in that very act its existence in fact, but we understand what a thing is by an abstraction which considers it apart from its existence in fact. So if a physical entity exists of itself there is a physical entity whose essence is not knowable in any possible physics, and this is either impossible or amounts to nothing more than the analogous extension of the word “physical” to name an entity which by definition transcends the subject of physics or the study of nature, i.e. to begin speaking about the supernatural.

Response to objection 1: What has always existed means either (a) what exists at every time or (b) an entity presupposed to time itself and causing it. DAs exist only in (a) and not in (b), and so the argument only follows the existent is limited to what exists in time, i.e. the physical. But if all beings are physical then none exists in itself, as was shown.

Ad. 2. A DA cannot not be only in the sense that it cannot be resolved into more fundamental particles, but this is both logically and factually compatible with its ceasing to exist, and so it does not follow that it exists of itself because it cannot not be.

Ad. 3. Physics does take the DA as a fundamental principle, but the subject matter of physics cannot contain an entity that exists of itself, as was shown.

*Assuming it or something like it exists, of course. A large part of the post involves being open to the question of whether there are any such things. That’s why I avoided talking about “fundamental particles,” not because the post doesn’t say things relevant to what such a particle could be, but because I wanted to talk about fundamental physical entities as such, not the entities as they happen to be understood in contemporary, modern, or ancient theory.

word and Jesus

You make someone your Dominus to the extent that you put them in charge of your life. So if your Dominus has the power to raise even a dead man to divine life, you expect to be raised to divine life for the same reason that if the one you put in charge of your coffee makes coffee well you expect to drink good coffee. You expect eternal life even more if your friend is the one with the power to divinize life.

A Dominus as such is not an equal and so not a friend, but the same person can be both. We all know what it would mean to love a superior and even speak to him as friend. That said, the supreme Dominus will be described neither as Dominus nor friend but by a word as yet unspeakable to us and including the perfection of Lord and friend by transcending their opposition, along with the opposition between spouse and Father, luminous and incomprehensible, being present to all and undivided in himself, and all the other ways God’s essence is necessarily one in our intellect and divided into many.

Our intellect speaks that word when divinized in the order of intellection, when the triune God stands to our intellect in the intelligible order just as The Second Person of the Trinity stands to the humanity of Christ in the real order. We speak that word when born again as divine, having ascended the same ladder that the one born of the Father descended by being born again from the Virgin. The word is our beatitude and our beatitude is God, so when I say “word” here I mean both or either.

The mind is a sort of universe in which we walk in exile from the word yet spoken nowhere within it. On top of this there is the deeper and darker exile of the wounds of malice with respect to the word, the time spent seeking after goods other than the word and even repugnant to it, the collective social institutions indifferent and hostile to it, our idiotic fascination with treating human honors or finite pleasures as though they were the word, etc.

The intellect brings forth from within itself while the will reaches outside of us, and so we cross the chasm between us and the word by our will reaching to a good that the intellect cannot yet bring forth by its own life. We love the word as known to another and in our confidence of attaining it.

These abstractions become concrete in the passion of Jesus Christ. Love of the word is to love your enemies like that, to live the beatitudes like that, and to accept even that sacrifice rather than lose the word. This is impossible for flesh (i.e. human nature) which looks at the passion with timidity, resentment, doubt for the love of the Father in the face of the demand, and the feeling that the it would certainly arrange things better if flesh were omnipotent. Only life in the spirit can see this as blindness and folly, to say nothing of overcoming even the physical limits of the flesh.

The intellection of the first principle of intellect

Intellect is absolutely prior to all other acts of soul but intellect itself is sometimes actual and sometimes not, so the acts of our soul are caused by another. What is it?

OTOH, the question has an easy answer: Pure act causes imperfect ones, and the intellect is just another imperfect act. The intellect is moved by the same divine concursus that is primary in any action whether natural, intellectual, or even per accidens. But Thomas seems to have special reasons for regarding the actuation of intellect as arising from God, since, for example, in response to this objection

[W]e can will nothing but what we understand. If, therefore, in order to understand, the will moves by willing to understand, that act of the will must be preceded by another act of the intellect, and this act of the intellect by another act of the will, and so on indefinitely, which is impossible

he says

[E]very movement of the will must be preceded by apprehension, whereas every apprehension is not preceded by an act of the will; but the principle of counselling and understanding is an intellectual principle higher than our intellect —namely, God—as also Aristotle says (Eth. Eudemic. vii, 14)

There are several reasons to think that the first principle of intellect is itself intellectual:

1a.) Shall he who made the eye not see? (Ps. 94:9) The point is more intuitive than “Shall he who made the eye not be made himself?” i.e. The cognitive demands that its productive principle be cognitive but not that it be produced. Change traces back to the unchanging while cognition cannot trace back to the non-cognitive.

1b.) If intellection traces back to a non-intellectual foundation it is hard to see how the whole process has an order to truth.

2.) Nature is a principle of motion and so is primarily matter, but intellection is separation from matter. Simplicity is already assured by intellection, and further assent is only intensification of a simplicity already present in intellection.

3.) The human will seeks the universal good but the universal good exceeds what participated goods can formally cause. Compare this to how particular material agents cannot cause prime matter since it is in potency to all material forms (Wiggers In primam secundæ q. IX a. 6. p 99 in the link) But a form containing all forms is intellective, and the universal good is a good containing all goods.

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