Why Rooney is right about the importance of addressing heresy (although he may well be wrong about whether he is a heretic or not)

(Water bear demons) A frustrated editor of Church Life Journal in the style of Odilon. (Image based on The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon.) Midjourney. 1/19/2023

This article is yet another one in a long series on how the priest Brother James Dominic Rooney is wrong about things like freedom, Christian hope, Pelagianism, how to exegete the Akedah responsibly, etc. Many of the same themes are reprised in his most recent article in Church Life Journal. And so a lot of my response also reprises arguments discussed elsewhere in the series. So why would I continue to engage his work here? Because while my reflections on his work do take the substantive questions seriously, I’m also interested in discourse analysis of these texts in other ways as well. So there’s something to the work of documenting the way stubborn anti-reconciling patterns worm their way back and forth through this body of work.

To help change things up a bit, here I’ll imagine what I wish the editor at Church Life Journal would have said in response to this submission. In this sense, the article also says something new. It is my answer to this question: How could an editor respond constructively, generously, and critically (all in due proportion) to a piece like this, one that is extremely hastily accusing the Notre Dame University Press of publishing blatant and ridiculous heresies … and accusing them in ways that don’t withstand even a low level of academic scrutiny?

Beyond this there are also some fresh heresy accusations flying around here, and a background debate about whether (and how) to say the “H word” of heresy at all. Part of the recent kerfluffle between Hart and Rooney has involved Hart describing Rooney as thuggish because of how aggressively and carelessly he is skittering among heresy accusations. Rooney has responded by defending the importance of heresy accusations. Still, my own sense is that Hart’s problem is less with the idea of accusing people of heresy in general, and more about whether one should do it as a “thug” or more in the style of a Mafia Don. Thugs charge around shouting heresy, hoping something will stick. But a Don just nods, and everyone knows what is implied, all while maintaining a layer of plausible deniability. So, for example, Hart comes extremely close to saying that anyone who rejects patristic universalism is some kind of heretic, but he isn’t so crude about it. Rather, he lets the reader draw the (at least reportedly) ineluctable conclusion for themselves: that only universal salvation is compatible with the traditional affirmations about God that we find in the ecumenical councils. (And therefore the majority position for a large share of church history is heretical.)

Here, even in the midst of all these fireworks, I like to imagine an editor who is willing and able to insist on a basic level of academic quality in Church Life Journal.

Unfortunately, it seems something else happened along the way.

(Pomeranian tardigrade demon.) A nursing home patient suffering forever, with deep anguish on his face. (Image based on The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon.) Midjourney. 1/19/2023

Still, in a better world than this one (a world that I believe is possible, and even possible to approximate more nearly in the near future), we might imagine this series of comments on Rooney’s most recent submission. I’ll quote and respond to most of the article below, in persona editori capitis.

How do you want to note that none of this, so far, contradicts patristic universalism? There is no question in this debate about whether people can sin, and whether sin has bad consequences. Please make this clear in the final draft so that you aren’t further engaged in strawmanning.

The only matter at hand, in that debate, is whether it is coherent for us to claim that God (classically understood) can logically and coherently be said to create a cosmos in which finite sin results in infinite punishment. On the patristic universalist view, finite sin results in finite κόλασις (correction/punishment). Your language here uses weasel words to imply otherwise, continuing to propagate ongoing confusions.

(Leading man and the memory of brontosaurus). A nursing home patient suffering forever, with deep anguish on his face. (Image based on The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon.) Midjourney. 1/19/2023

Hard Universalism, Grace, and Creaturely Freedom

Do they say that? Can you cite some of their own language to this effect? The distinction between saying that God “cannot avoid saving all” and that God, definitionally, has a character such that God freely wills that “all shall be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4) has been repeatedly highlighted in the public debate around your position. We don’t want to publish more strawmanning and misrepresentation in CLJ, especially when it goes to the core of your argument.

Do you have citations regarding claims that show all Christian universalists think that humans deserve God’s grace? Or any? The link above shows counter-arguments on precisely this matter. CLJ doesn’t want to promote continued strawmanning: you must address this before publication.

Again, there is a fundamental problem with this argument that has been publicly pointed out. If logical implication in general necessarily implies that ‘God cannot do otherwise’ than whatever is logically necessary, then we cannot speak of God’s freedom, love, or grace in a logical way at all.

In other words, if your argument holds then one cannot coherently say (L):

(L) If God is Love, in the sense that “love” and “God” are commonly understood, then it logically follows that God behaves graciously as an expression of God’s free will, not out of duty or compulsion or any force of any sort exterior to God. This is a definitional truth: it is simply an unpacking of what it means to say that God is Love in the context of orthodox, classical Christian theology.

Clearly, we must be able to draw logical inferences about the implications of grace and freedom without therefore undermining grace and freedom. To sharpen the point further, one could also say:

(F) If God is always free, then God is free in all instances.

Does this mean that God “cannot” help but be free in all instances? In a sense, yes: in the logical sense, which establishes the boundaries of the coherence of some particular model. However, does it mean that God lacks the capacity to be anything but free? (A second sense of “cannot”, which would arguably render the phrase in an internally incoherent way.) Well, not necessarily.

In this sense, a patristic universalist may or may not hold that God has a capacity to do otherwise than save all (one possible meaning of “can”) but God reliably and faithfully never uses that capacity, because God is Love and therefore chooses to graciously pursue each soul until it is finally saved. The use of “cannot” in this context is therefore functioning as a weasel word. Please avoid it in the final draft, and distinguish clearly between logical inference and material compulsion.

In TASBS, Hart offers a long series of arguments for patristic universalism. It mischaracterizes his work to suggest that YAG, a later work, provides the basis for his earlier work, TASBS, where the argument proceeds from a variety of claims. Please rephrase this, perhaps to indicate that it is “a metaphysical basis for his account of patristic universalism”.

This is an abrupt transition without a clear connection to the previous section.

Please make the connections you’re trying to draw between 2 Peter 1 and Hart’s work clearer, using Hart’s own language and reading him as charitably as possible. Also, this list of semicolons is confusingly parsing a series of sentence fragments whose provenance is uncertain. Are you implying that Hart has made these claims? If so, please provide citations, and accurately reflect the language used, ideally with careful attention to context.

This is non-standard use of semicolons, and worse it makes it harder to follow your argument. Instead, if you wish to associate these views with Hart (for example) please clearly say, “These claims by David Bentley Hart all imply that we are naturally divine: (insert claims, accurately represented, and with citations).” And cite your claims with relevant primary source citations.

CLJ certainly doesn’t want to be involved in lazily implying that a member of the Notre Dame faculty has made claims that they haven’t! Where the particular claims are in view, this should be made clear, and the passages should be exegeted in the context of his broader argument, and with care.

Again, this is simply not the basis from which Hart concludes that all shall be saved. Can you show Hart arguing that this is the basis of the argument in TASBS? Additionally, this citation goes to an article by Feser that doesn’t mention any of the arguments in TASBS. It is an entirely inappropriate citation for the argument made.

Additionally, what you do cite makes problems for your argument here in short order. For example, this is part of the substance of that debate that Feser cites, and the point is that there must be some sense (following Feser’s Thomism) in which human nature has divine capacity: obediential potency. If you wish to cite this article, please engage with its content, and the responses to it.

Do you really think that Feser’s analogy between a human and a computer is theologically appropriate and relevant? If so, please engage with that discussion if you wish to cite this article. As it stands, you will be taken to be insulting the intelligence of our readers, as if they are unfamiliar with the citation, or are uninterested in investigating its relevance to the point you are trying to make. We do not disrespect our readers enough to publish something like that.

Your argument proceeds to act like mediation of divinity is metaphysical nonsense, but it seems to be best aimed at Feser’s computer analogy, which clearly is about the notion that metaphysical divinity could be added (precisely) as if it is a part. Perhaps your real argument is with Feser?

Here it is becoming clear that your problem really is with Feser. Did you even read the work you cited?

At any rate, as you’ve noted, Hart has distinguished (in works of his that you have cited in this series of interactions) between our temporality, finitude, non-simplicity, etc and God’s divine/spiritual nature. For Hart our spiritual nature is simple, in the unity of subjectivity for example, although our fleshy nature is obviously and definitionally not. On what grounds do you think he would have a problem reading Acts 14:15 in light of his claim that we are not God, because we are in a process of becoming?

Here, it would be worthwhile to engage with Hart’s “Doors of the Sea”, for example, to investigate whether you are characterizing his views accurately at all. Can you explain, in Hart’s own terms, how Hart would disagree with this characterization of his position? If not, we recommend that you seek assistance in doing so, and then respond to that. It is a very bold assertion to claim that Hart’s position is necessarily the opposite of what he espouses on these matters, and would require extensive argumentation (which is lacking) to establish the point. Perhaps narrow the focus of this article so you are just trying to actually establish this point, in the face of the counter-evidence available in Hart’s ouvre?

The argument you are making here requires much more sensitivity to the development of vocabulary before and after Chalcedon. Also attend to de Lubac on the development of distinctions between nature and its opposites during the scholastic era. What do you make of his claims about the nature vs morality contrast, as opposed to the nature vs supernature contrast? You might also find something like Jacob W. Wood’s nuance on these matters both to be a good example to you of how to approach this, and also amenable to you in terms of its religious politics:

On the basis of the Aegidian tradition, de Lubac correctly imputed to Thomas the idea of a natural desire for the vision of God, but then incorrectly imputed to him the view that nature is active with respect to grace. A return to the delicate balance that Thomas strikes between natural appetite and natural desire can provide a way forward in present debates about de Lubac and the commentators, preserving de Lubac’s commitment to our “natural desire for a supernatural end,” alongside the commentators’ insistence that nature is passive with respect to grace. Finally, I will also suggest how contemporary theologians might begin a return, through Thomas, to Augustine’s individual and communal insights about nature, grace, and the desire for God.¹

It would also make sense to attend to Wood’s synthesis with respect to recent scholarship on this matter.² What you’ll notice quickly, however, is that the types of polemics you’re engaged in have essentially no place in any serious discussion of the development of these ideas. You may find that your perspective is defensible, and presumably substantially in line with Wood’s, and yet also find that this has little to no bearing on patristic universalism as such, and that Hart also has substantial precedent to draw on even in the scholastic period. (In this sense, he knows his target: it is, in fact, a sub-species of Thomism but not the entire tradition of Thomism, and certainly not the entirety of Catholic orthodoxy.)

Now let’s turn back to the really quite distinct Christological matters here, where “nature” should be carefully distinguished from the multiple uses of “nature” in scholastic debates. To abruptly and incautiously charge monophysitism would be inappropriate to bring into a discussion with our separated brethren in the Oriental Orthodox Church, but is even more problematic in dialogue with our fellow Chalcedonians. Note that while Hart’s universalism may be a minority position among the Eastern Orthodox, his metaphysics is decidedly not, and Fr. John Behr has lauded YAG. To go up against that body of work will require far more care than demonstrated here, and the problems are basic: you need to understand their philological arguments, or else you are (according to their considerable body of academic work) engaged in anachronistic reading by imposing later definitions on earlier discussions.

How do you understand the development of the use of the terms “nature” and “hypostasis” in this context? If you hope to now engage with Christological controversies in a scholarly context, there is some basic philological work that needs to be done. This article may gesture in the right direction for you on particular Christological matters. On the other hand, much of your concern seems to relate much more directly to scholastic discussions of nature, supernature and will. On that, you may want to consider the substantial intellectual complexity that emerges around the term “nature” in the work of Aquinas and Scotus, and you may also want to consider that Suarez opted to abandon the term “nature” altogether because it was too multivocal to be a source of anything but confusion. The last thing anyone should do is assume a univocal meaning of “nature”, not only across two millennia of sacred tradition, but even at any particular moment or within a particular work.³

You should be especially careful to avoid the implications of a collapse into Nestorianism for your own position, understanding that in other contexts your language might be taken in precisely that way if others read you as aggressively and ungenerously as you are reading them.

Of course, as any competent scholar of the development of doctrine knows, these terms are not in fact univocal across the history of the development of doctrine, and the proper Catholic unity that is achieved must also account for the various heresies being opposed at various times within sacred tradition. There is a real risk of others accusing you of Nestorianism as you are accusing Hart of monophysitism, and a Catholic publication is not interested in slipping into either error. As often happens, those who ungenerously hunt for heretics often end up in heresy themselves, especially in the area of Christology. We therefore insist that you approach the development of doctrine and language around these matters with far more care. This, too, might serve as the core of a developed article in its own right. The work involved in even fully articulating this thesis is much more extensive than what you gesture at so rashly here.

Doesn’t a process of becoming divine imply at least some sort of reception, perhaps even the reception of a Thomistic “obediential potency”?

You have chosen to very briefly prooftext an extremely contentious passage of scripture in Biblical Studies and Biblical Theology. Nonetheless, it is uncontroversial that Romans 11:6 is not addressing the point you make here. For reference, here it is:

11 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

It is especially ironic to cite this in a context where the main source you have approvingly cited is discussing an obediential potency which then leads to good works. If you wish to cite Romans 11 and Feser, perhaps consider writing a different article aiming to resolve the general issues that emerge from a proper and contextualized reading of the works you are citing. Once again, we respect our readers and we don’t allow authors to throw in citations on the presumption that no one will bother to inspect them more deeply, as if the magical aura of the footnote’s authority is what we are after. We expect that sources are cited in ways that support the argument, and our ideal readers are, in fact, the kinds of people who check the footnotes and think critically about the relationship between the substance of the citation and the substance of the argument being made.

The absence of citations here is also a problem, and your characterization of Pelagius seems post-Pelagian. Please cite original sources and/or scholarship in support of what is, once again, an enormously tendentious thesis. This is yet another claim which would take a whole article to begin to develop properly. To be clear, the proper development of the argument wouldn’t necessarily vindicate you, but it would at least help articulate your case in a way that invites serious scholarly engagement.

Hart has stated that this debate really has nothing to do with Pelagianism, and it isn’t clear that you’re accurately characterizing either Hart’s position or Pelagianism. Consider these chapters from “Against Pelagius”, for example. Certainly, Hart affirms that God’s grace both creates and sustains the universe. Arguably, the trouble with Pelagius here is naturally interpreted as being related to something like “deism” (as it is sometimes called): the view of a clockwork universe that God winds up and abandons. Hart’s views couldn’t be farther from “Pelagianism” as condemned here, on both the question of God’s sustaining grace, the need of God’s grace for moral action (and any action) and even on the question of universalism. The problem of “Pelagianism” here seems to be a matter of sustaining grace that is needed in an ongoing way as opposed to a merely creational grace. This rather straightforward reading goes directly against your contention, which takes the contestation with Pelagius to be about doctrinally mandating a conflation of grace with supernature. There is no such doctrinal mandate, and (at least as de Lubac has long since argued) there is good reason to question the antiquity of such a conflation.

Also, if “Pelagianism” is to be conflated with universalism, why was Pelagius apparently so anti-universalist? Please offer scholarly citation(s) and address the complexity of accurately characterizing Pelagianism, first, and the difficulties of associating it with Hart’s position when they are so clearly opposite in so many ways. Church Life Journal hopes to meet at least these sorts of minimal scholarly standards in our pages.

Perhaps it would help to review this section of Augustine’s “Against Pelagius” with care:

The persistent pattern with this article is that you move with dizzying speed from one highly tendentious and uncited (or inappropriately cited) claim to the next. The strategy is sometimes rewarded in high school debate contests, but is especially inappropriate in any serious academic context.

(Boars.) A nursing home patient suffering forever, with deep anguish on his face. (Image based on The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon.) Midjourney. 1/19/2023

This argument appeals to something that has been publicly and clearly refuted, and is also mentioned above. No, to say that God always freely loves in a way that transcends duty and desert (a logical statement) in no way implies that this grace is owed. You are simply restating a prior mistake, one that is demonstrably absurd on its face, and one that has repeatedly structured your writings. If you hope to establish that the statement “God always freely loves, as a manifestation of God’s abounding grace” necessarily implies that God’s love is a duty owed to humanity, you need to argue for it. Simply repeatedly making assertions that presume this conflation is not acceptable, especially when your public interlocutors have thoroughly and repeatedly responded to this maneuver, without you responding to it in kind.

Part of the difficulty is that if your argument that conflates logic, nature and duty in this way held, then there could be no theology of grace whatsoever: to speak logically about grace would always convert the grace to duty, and it would therefore always be logically contradictory to try to speak coherently about grace (which is contrasted definitionally with duty). This would, of course, render vast swathes of theological writing throughout sacred scripture and sacred tradition incoherent.

Also recall that you haven’t actually cited Hart conflating grace and duty in this way: you are both in error and strawmanning in ways that have been publicly noted, and continue to do so. Please review the relevant discussions and literature and understand them before submitting this sort of thing to Church Life Journal again.

For example, contrary to your portrait, this is what Hart actually says in YAG:

“An intrinsic rational desire for God would constitute a “right” to God’s grace only if our nature were our own achievement. Yes, in a sense God does manifestly owe his creatures grace, within the terms of the gift of creation; but that is a debt he owes ultimately only to his own goodness.”

Or again, at the close of the first essay, this is Hart in his own words, explicitly refuting the notion that there is duty to God’s grace.

I should note, by the way, that I do accept some version of a principle of proportion between natural desires and their final ends; but the conclusion I draw from this principle is quite the opposite of the one reached by traditional Thomism. I take it to imply that the natural capacity of rational creatures — though it is a capacity that can be satisfied only through the aid of another — is formally and teleologically infinite. Thus, as Nicholas of Cusa so acutely notes, the natural desire of spiritual creatures is ultimately oriented to God not as some kind of comprehensible quiddity, but solely as the incomprehensible infinite.28 By its very nature, spiritual desire can never be formally teleologically finite, as the finite cannot be its own index of rational desirability. As Nicholas says, “Quod nisi deus esset infinitus, non foret finis desidere”: “Were God not infinite, he would not be the end for desire.” The natural desire of spiritual creatures is nothing less, in its fullness, than an infinite intention corresponding to an infinite gift. That certainly was the conviction of Gregory of Nyssa, who would never have guessed that grace and nature might be conceived of as two opposed categories, who believed instead that human nature in its very essence is meant to become an ever more radiant mirror of the divine beauty and ever fuller intimacy of the divine presence, and whom I tend to trust more than just about any other theologian on these matters. From eternity, God has brought spiritual creatures into existence in the only way that such creatures could be formed: by calling them to ascend out of the darkness of nonbeing into the infinite beauty of the divine nature. To exist as a spiritual creature is simply to have heard and (from the very first instant) responded to this total vocation. Creation is already deification — is, in fact, theogony. For that eternal act — that summoning of all created natures out of the primordial darkness — is most certainly an entirely free and unmerited gift of being, imparted to those who were not and who in themselves had no claim to be; but it is also, and no less originally, the call that awakens the gods.

But what do you have to say to the claim that patristic universalists understand this on the basis of revelation such as 1 Tim 2:4? You are now arguing against something other than scripture.

Still, you haven’t offered any serious attempt to exegete 1 Tim 2:4 after bringing it into the discussion, and your objections to the patristic universalist readings have serious flaws, as noted above. Now you turn to an argument that might be relevant to natural reason, but which has no bearing on the basic logic of scripture. The upshot is that it remains plain, on the face, that God would not be achieving the purposes laid out in 1 Tim 2:4 if God does not achieve the purposes laid out in 1 Tim 2:4. Do you have a response that addresses this rather straightforward argument, which proceeds more-or-less from revelation and tautology? (Sometimes an apparent tautology isn’t as tight as it seems, but this is something that a contributor to Church Life Journal will show by argument, rather than simply repeatedly asserting accusations and, here, arguing against arguments from reason in the face of arguments from revelation.)

This is, of course, a passage about love. Can you find a comparable one about hatred? A persistent problem of poor citations plagues this project. Please work to find the best and most appropriate citation for your claims. Otherwise, you dramatically weaken your argument.

Look, we here at Church Life Journal would really love to teach Hart a lesson. He has himself violated the norms of academic conduct among theologians with a great deal of polemical overstatement. He has all-but-called everyone who even dares to be a mere hopeful universalist heretics, and then goes around whining about people talking about heresy. Who could help but see that he is also functionally accusing “Two-Tier Thomists” of heresy (and, presumably worse in his view, ugliness)? And then he retreats to calling heresy claims thuggish when someone measures back to him what he is dishing out? What a thin-skinned bully. These guys are always happy to dish it out, but they can never take it.

Nonetheless, this particular response makes us look bad, too. We need something that is at least done to the level of a good undergraduate paper, which means that you are able to state an argument and cite relevant sources appropriately in support of your thesis. When you cite a passage about love in support here, you just set things up for them to come back and, again, use your own mis-applied sources against you.

Doesn’t sacred scripture and sacred tradition teach that God defeats evil through sinners repenting and being saved? It seems that there is rather abundant revelation available on this topic. Here, as has been noted with respect to your previous works, here and here, it seems that you are slipping far from Christian hope and Christian doctrine and into a kind of stoic fideism. Also note that while TASBS is presented as a logical argument that follows “ineluctably” from its premises, those premises are eminently theological ones that are also revealed truths, especially ones regarding sacred scripture and sacred traditions’ revelation of God as love, as impassible, simple, omnipotent, etc. So Hart’s position is not that patristic universalism follows from reason alone, but rather that it follows from Nicene Orthodoxy. Once again, you (somewhat implicitly) strawman Hart’s position here.

Your points about grace and freedom have been shown to be a kind of strawmanning, above and in other responses to your work. Furthermore, all of this stands as an almost immediate refutation of the stoic fideism you are presenting above: you are defeating your own prior points precisely by now turning to these areas of revealed truth, but only appear to be defeating patristic universalist points by continuing to strawman in your implications that the logic of God’s grace undermines grace and converts it to duty.

Can you lay this out in any kind of logical way? Patristic universalists can easily grant the fall, and the need for God’s activity to repair it. (The idea that God ultimately saves all really very unambiguously makes God’s activity central.) There is really no point in the body of this paragraph where you refute a single real patristic universalist claim, even vaguely.

For example, the typical patristic universalist could simply say:

They literally just have to continue to cite the text you’re citing, without stopping at a sentence fragment, and need not have any problem at all with the rest of what you say here. We Catholics have really been working very hard to recover from the critiques that we abuse and ignore scripture and just prooftext it here and there, sprinkling it on our theology like confetti. If we publish this, it will be deeply embarrassing in the sense that it seems to prove their point all too well.

See above. Patristic universalism and Hart’s metaphysics allow for failure precisely within the process of becoming. Hart’s claim that you have cited is better read as a claim for the capacity of a kind of temporal minimalism (in his metaphysics) to account for all of the various problems you highlight: in essence, his claims can be understood to be that “becoming” vs “Being” provides his theology with what it needs to hold these sorts of traditional claims about freedom, a ‘pre-temporal’ fall, etc, when taken in an orthodox way.

(Omega Pig.) A nursing home patient suffering forever, with deep anguish on his face. (Image based on The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon.) Midjourney. 1/19/2023

Please review current scholarship on Maximus and the character of the grace-nature distinction here. What are the terms of the current debate? While we aren’t just here to toot our own horn, it wouldn’t hurt to engage substantively with the differing view expressed in Jordan Daniel Wood’s recently-published work, The Whole Mystery of Christ, from right here at Notre Dame Press. If you don’t have the time or space to engage with the scholarly literature explicitly, the next best thing is to humbly note the contours of the present debate and to articulate your non-expert perspective’s relationship to it.

Please also be aware that the presence of a firm distinction between grace and nature at points in the writings of Maximus doesn’t necessarily mean that the distinction is precisely the one you are now wanting to draw. Please attend carefully to context, the development of language and meaning, the whole operation of the system of thought, the interlocutors of Maximus, and the contours of contemporary secondary literature in your consideration of these matters. We aim to engage with scholarship respectfully on its terms here at Church Life Journal, and simply making bald assertions based on a fragment of text here and there is far from the standard we hope to meet.

Here, for example, please consider the development of the use of “hypostasis” as it relates to earlier uses of “nature”, especially as “nature” relates to “genesising/genus/kind”, by way of the classical notion that no being can genesis another kind of being. (After all, goats don’t give birth to flowers.) Darwinian evolution also raises interesting problems here that may be worth engaging, especially because it represents an argument from mediation that (in some ways) resembles Feser’s analogy between “obediential potency” and a mechanical computer-like mediation between the “human computer” and its possible upgrades. Perhaps you’d like to challenge Feser regarding the implications of his analogy, especially as it seems to support transhumanism/posthumanism? This would represent an appropriate engagement with the material that interests you in this particular round of engagement with Hart, and perhaps there are possible connections that can be drawn between YAG and TASBS. Still, this seems more likely to pit you and Hart together against Feser’s approach to the mediation of natures.

It would also be worthwhile to engage Luke’s genealogy, in Luke 3, which closes by calling Adam the Son of God in a construct that is directly parallel to the way it calls Seth the Son of Adam. From conversation with you, you seem to interpret this genesising of Adam spiritually, and it is worth considering the spiritual nature of God’s parenthood of all humanity in light of this. Also consider ancient constructs of the flesh-soul-spirit distinction here, especially as Hart understands it: the ancients, as Hart has argued, saw spirit/breath as a different kind of rarified matter. In short, there is a lot of work to do here on your spiritual reading of some texts, your fleshy reading of others, and the proper relationship between Hart’s claims and a classical patristic theological anthropology.

Is it coherent to discuss choice atemporally? If not (and it seems on the face that this is impossible, at least in terms of gnomic deliberation) then what conception of freedom do you suppose Maximus is working with? Here again we have a topic that is worth an article in its own right, but it is difficult to reconcile the apparently voluntarist/libertarian notion of freedom involved in the idea of humans rejecting grace, here, with atemporality (aidios eternity).

Why should we not consider the perspective of those who suffer in Christ? This seems gravely morally deficient.

This conflation of disability and sin is deeply morally disturbing. We expect disability advocates will be up in arms over this if we are foolish enough to publish it. Furthermore, it bears an extremely uncomfortable resemblance to the erroneous views of the disciples in John 9:1. Similarly, is “sinner” an enduring personality type, or can sins be repented of and turned away from? The Church has never held that “sinner” is a personality type, although this perspective can be found in various ancient sources in close proximity to the Church in the development of orthodoxy.

Is damnation compatible with union with Christ? How, for example, does scholarship on 1 Cor view the role of union with Christ and its relationship to salvation? (The two are deeply and closely connected.)

If you hope to develop a doctrine that union with Christ has no necessary relationship to salvation, be aware that this is a novel, radical, and deeply tendentious construction. It has an especially troubling relationship to the traditional understanding of the Eucharist. It isn’t appropriate to suddenly assert such a radical theological novelty in the close of an article in which you are purportedly defending orthodoxy. A detailed argument for this sort of theological novelty could be an interesting exercise, perhaps placed in the mouth of Screwtape, Scabtree or another demon in a narrative. Otherwise, you may find yourself on the wrong side of the heresy debate that you have escalated here. It wouldn’t be the first time in Church history that the half-truths of an overly eager heresy hunter ended up being expanded and expounded and overstated until it turned out that the plank is in the hunter’s eye.

I will simply refer to the more thorough response to the spiritual formation and moral problems involved with this, here. We can add these to the problems above, which include possible heresy on your part with respect to the notion that union with Christ lacks any soteriological implications.

Perhaps as part of your writing process you will review the catechism with respect to the Eucharist, as well as some commentaries regarding the role of ‘Being in Christ’ in 1 Corinthians.

There is a cold and tragic beauty to this, and a kind of romantically heroic egotism. According to this surreal vision it seems that the absolute and temporally deified human will, insuperable in its capacity to overcome even God, has become the one true God.

Nonetheless, it seems profoundly remote from the heart of Christian hope as it is expressed, for example, in Spe Salvia. Your eschatology breathes an altogether different air.

And…scene. Our imagined editor’s temporal aion has, at last, come to its end. No longer engaged in the process of becoming, we can only hope that his brief and fantastical suffering has ended. May his soul rest in peace, wherever imagined beings go when their work is done.

[1] Jacob W. Wood, To Stir a Restless Heart: Thomas Aquinas and Henri de Lubac on Nature, Grace, and the Desire for God, ed. Matthew Levering and Thomas Joseph White, Thomistic Ressourcement Series (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2019), 358.



Jacob W. Wood, To Stir a Restless Heart: Thomas Aquinas and Henri de Lubac on Nature, Grace, and the Desire for God, ed. Matthew Levering and Thomas Joseph White, Thomistic Ressourcement Series (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2019), 404–431.


Jacob W. Wood, To Stir a Restless Heart: Thomas Aquinas and Henri de Lubac on Nature, Grace, and the Desire for God, ed. Matthew Levering and Thomas Joseph White, Thomistic Ressourcement Series (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2019), 390–391.



Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.

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Daniel Heck

Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.