Ah Universalism

Fr. Al Kimmel, now going under the alias Aidan, is a universalist, or at least he flirts with it openly. The likely reason why he does so is somewhat a matter of public record, though I will not go into it here. I mention it only because his web-log contains this: “Readings in Universalism.” One who knows even a bit about the topic won’t be surprised at the list. What they may be surprised to find, however, is Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart’s comments which, inter alia, confirm what many of his readers have long suspected, namely his own universalist leanings.

Agree or disagree, he raises several interesting, even challenging, points which, I imagine, are difficult to refute by his lights. And by “his lights,”I mean the lights of contemporary Orthodoxy theology which, at its best, is Patristic-oriented, Christocentric, and deeply spiritual. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s free from certain pathologies, not the least of of which being its tilt toward the oracular. Perhaps it all points to something profound so many of us have long missed. Or maybe it’s not saying much at all. Either way, his remarks are worth a gander.

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  1. I think the most interesting about this is that DBH is working on an NT translation for Yale UP: “The Apokatastatic Standard Version.” I like solo translations of the NT. (My favorite so far is Richmond Lattimore’s).

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      May 14, 2015

      Lattimore’s is quite good. I should read it again.

      Reply
  2. Diane Marie Kamer
    May 15, 2015

    Geezeress Anecdote Alert. Proceed at your own risk.

    Back when I was an undergraduate, shortly before the Flood, I spent a semester in Italy. (An utterly magical semester, but that’s beside the point.) During part of this semester, my classmates and I were in Rome. And my closest friends and I, Catholics and Anglicans, became friends with one Canon Davies, an elderly Welshman, dean of Ogni Santi, the Anglican parish in Rome.

    We were also friends with a Catholic (Paulist) priest, Father Jim Fisher, whom we had come to know the previous month during our Italian-language studies in Perugia. (Father Jim was studying at the same place — the Universita per Stranieri — and he went on to his assignment at Santa Susanna in Rome at around the same time that our college group moved from Perugia to Rome.)

    Got all that? OK.

    Well, one time my friends and I were all out to dinner, and Canon Davies and Father Jim were with us. At one point in the conversation, Canon Davies remarked that he could not believe in Hell and that he was sure all people would be saved.

    Father Jim responded, “Well, I see that Calvinism is not dead in the Church of England.”

    I was surprised. I had always thought that Calvinism was very keen on damning people to Hell. Predestining them for that fate, in fact. How could Canon Davies’ universalism qualify as a form of Calvinism?

    When I expressed my surprise to Father Jim, he explained that Universalism was really just the flip side of Calvinism. Just as Calvinism says that God forces some people to be saved and others to be damned, so Universalism says that God forces everyone to be saved. But in both cases it’s coercion. There’s no free will. The saved are forced to be saved, whether they want it or not.

    This conversation stuck with me, and I still think it’s spot-on. I know DBH deals with the free-will objection, but he’s not very persuasive IMHO. I don’t see any way around it. God wants sons and daughters, not slaves, not robots, not automata. The Calvinist/Universalist scenario inevitably dehumanizes human beings, reducing them to automata. Thanks but no thanks.

    I understand that Father Kimel was at one time associated with a large evangelical Episcopal parish in Falls Church, Virginia. Perhaps he imbibed some Anglican Calvinism there, and perhaps it influences his Universalism. Perhaps English Calvinism even exerts more influence on Father’s universalism than the Orthodox fathers do. who knows how deeply buried memories and the subconscious mind work. I sure in heck don’t. Which is why this is all just airy-fairy speculation. But anyway….

    I feel sorry for Father Kimel. Losing a child is horrible. It is the wound that never heals. It is understandable that he should turn to universalism for solace. But…but…that’s not the only option for solace in such a situation. There’s also the Divine Mercy. We cannot know for certain the eternal fates of our unbelieving loved ones who have predeceased us, but we can pray for their souls (which is very powerful; it even works retroactively ;)) and we can commit them to Infinite Divine Mercy. I believe that one can trust in Divine Mercy and derive immense solace therefrom without necessarily embracing the heresy of universalism, which turns God into a tyrant.

    Reply
    1. Owen White
      May 15, 2015

      The historical link between Calvinism and univeralism is there, or at least in some of its classic environs. I believe that by the end of the 19th century nearly all of the clergy of the Church of Scotland were univeralist.

      But most universalist theologies operating today do not assert coercion as the means through which universal salvation comes to fruition. And there have been universalist theologies that have developed independently of Calvinism. And there were universalist theologies prior to Calvinism. Those (majority) of scholars who believe that Gregory of Nyssa was a universalist, including DBH, describe universal salvation as Gregory (according to them) believed it in a manner that involves no coercion.

      Reply
      1. Diane Marie Kamer
        May 16, 2015

        Yes, my own native New England illustrates the trajectory you mention. It’s kind of a textbook case, in fact.

        But I would not necessarily assume that contemporary American Orthodox are not influenced by Calvinist ideas, even if they do not consciously embrace them. An old professor of mine (Edwin Tait’s thesis adviser, in fact, David Steinmetz) once observed that all Americans are Calvinists, whether they realize it or not. He was only half joking.

        Reply
    2. Peregrinator
      May 23, 2015

      “Thereโ€™s no free will.”

      I think this is a misunderstanding of free will. For example, the angels in heaven can’t fall, but they have more free will than we do. The problem isn’t that we have free will (which is the ability to choose the good), but that we are slaves to sin.

      Reply
      1. Diane Marie Kamer
        May 25, 2015

        Peregrinator, you can’t be serious. The angels were the Textbook Case for free will. As you may recall, a whole big bunch of them rebelled against God, refused His Will, and rejected Him. “Non serviam,” and all that. If that’s not free will, what is?

        The obedient angels who remained in Heaven are now incapable of sin and rebellion. So what? The souls of just men and women who have attained Heaven are also incapable of sin and rebellion. So, what does that prove?

        God gave the angels a period of testing, when they could choose either for or against Him. He gives us humans a similar period. It’s called our life here on earth.

        Far from undercutting my case, the example of the angels reinforces it.

        I don’t have a Pelagian bone in my body. I believe in Grace, Grace, and more Grace. But, as the Catholic Church has consistently taught for two thousand years, it is possible to reject Grace — even to reject it up to the bitter end, in the very face of Christ’s boundless mercy. Yes, it’s hard to understand how someone could reject Grace up to the bitter end, but apparently it happens. And God allows it, because He wants sons, not slaves. And ultimately, as C.S. Lewis noted, He gives us what we want.

        How do Grace and Free Will coexist? It’s a mystery. If you are Orthodox, you should know all about mystery. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Sorry, Peregrinator. That dog don’t hunt.

        Reply
  3. William Tighe
    May 15, 2015

    “I understand that Father Kimel was at one time associated with a large evangelical Episcopal parish in Falls Church, Virginia.”

    Not to my knowledge, and I think unlikely, as, when an Episcopalian, he always was a definite Anglo-Catholic (although favoring, or at least accepting, WO).

    Reply
  4. Anthony
    May 16, 2015

    Universalism makes Christianity moot as it goes against both the Gospels and tradition. If universalism were true, we would be wasting our time praying for the deceased. As with same sex marriage, many people embrace universalism based on emotions. They may have a loved one who died unrepentant and want the comfort that they will make it to heaven. When I hear of Catholics or Orthodox who believe in universalism, I wonder why they don’t just worship Gaia or Mother Earth, as religion would make no difference if all are assured salvation.

    Reply
    1. Diane Marie Kamer
      May 16, 2015

      I agree that emotional reasons often play a huge role in the attraction to universalism. I sympathize with those reasons. I find them very understandable. I know a woman whose 15-year-old son was killed in a horrific car accident two Septembers ago. He was an only child. She has not embraced universalism — she just assumes that her son is in Heaven, and frankly I think she’s probably right. (Well, the kid may be in Purgatory, but the point is I think he’s saved; he was a good kid and a believing Christian.) But anyway, to say that this woman’s life has been changed forever would be the understatement of the millennium. Something like that — it’s simply overwhelming. There are no words to describe it. If it ever happens to me, I will be a basketcase; you will find me in the local mental hospital.

      All that said, though, as this woman’s case illustrates, such a horrible loss does not necessarily lead to universalism. My own mom died estranged from the Church, but I have good hope of her salvation. In the days leading up to her death, I prayed my socks off for her. I was a pretty lousy Catholic myself at that time (not that I’m a good one now, but I was worse then). But I believe God heard my prayers. Why? Because Divine Mercy. Jesus does not force anyone to yield to Him, but He does everything short of this (IMHO) to draw souls to Himself. I know why my mom had issues with the Church; her reasons were very understandable. I also know that part of her was always open to God. I know she was never dead-set against Him. IOW, she was not obdurate. I believe Jesus and Mary (she always loved Mary!) reached out to her during her final coma.

      In fact, I will go farther. I think that God leads one to pray for a person’s salvation (even if one does so after the person’s death; God is outside time and can apply prayers retroactively!) precisely because He foreknows that that person is reachable and savable. At Fatima Our Lady said, “Souls fall into Hell like snowflakes because there is no one to pray for them.” Do I understand that? No! But it tells me I’d better pray my socks off for everyone in the world, “especially those most in need of [Christ’s] Mercy.”

      None of this is universalism, and all of it is compatible with Catholic Teaching.

      I’m with you, Anthony. Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium all; testify that Hell is eternal and that it is not empty. Yes, that’s dreadful. But we must turn Our Lord’s own words upside down (making them merely “hortatory,” as von Balthasar does, so eisegetically ;-)) in order to avoid any other conclusion. However, this should not lead us to despair. It should lead us to implore Divine Mercy.

      I don;t know whether Father Kimel has ever read Saint Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul. IMHO it is a very special and significant book meant especially for the times we live in. It certainly changed my life, thass for sure. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
  5. aka
    May 18, 2015

    The perhaps unintended insinuation of, “Fr. Al Kimmel, now going under the alias Aidan”, is unwarranted. As is typical in Orthodoxy, he was received into that church with a new name. For those converts who are then ordained, that new ‘Christian name’ is used rather than the name on their birth certificate. As an Orthodox cleric, “Fr. Aidan” is no more an alias than Francis is an alias of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

    And that is quite apart from whether Fr. Aidan is correct on universalism, whether he should have been ordained in the Orthodox church, whether or not he is a good man, a good pastor, or reliable as a guide.

    Now, were he to be somehow hiding behind his new name in an effort to deceive or whitewash his past, perhaps, but that hasn’t been the case. He signs his About page as “Fr Aidan (Alvin) Kimel”, mentions his old blog, how “The Pontificator” himself has changed, his (almost) loss of faith, and his ‘eclectic’ spiritual journey “from Anglicanism to Catholicism and finally to Eastern Orthodoxy… into Western Rite Orthodoxy” and his practical retirement from parochial ministry. So, he’s up front with who he is. I would argue there is a well-established stream of such eclectics in Orthodoxy retired in one way or another from active ministry, so he’s probably where he should be.

    Reply
    1. Diane Marie Kamer
      May 18, 2015

      “so heโ€™s probably where he should be”

      Well, that’s a matter of opinion. But yes, y’all do seem to get the restless church-hoppers. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Some of them keep right on hopping straight into agnosticism or even atheism. I hope and pray that won’t be the case for Father Kimel — and I think it probably won’t be — but it sure does seem to happen a lot. As Owen himself once said, for many converts, Orthodoxy seems to be the last way-station before unbelief.

      I pray all the time for Father Kimel’s return to Catholicism. But his embrace of universalism seems to make that less and less likely. One you start making up your own pet beliefs (with a Father or two to back you up), then you’re much less likely to appreciate the need for a Magisterium and a consistent body of formally defined dogma. And, in Father Kimel’s case, of course, emotional factors also play a role, and, as I’ve said before, I sympathize with those emotional factors. I have never lost a child, so I am in no position to judge Father Kimel. It would be outrageous on my part to do so. Only Jesus knows the heart.

      At the same time, I can express my opinion on universalism itself — on the “doctrine,” not on its adherents — and, I’m sorry, but I think it is a dangerous heresy.

      Reply
      1. Diane Marie Kamer
        May 18, 2015

        and I think it probably wonโ€™t be

        I didn’t mean that to sound as presumptuous as it sounds. I can’t read souls.

        Any one of us could lose the Faith. That’s why we pray for perseverance. But God is gracious. Even when we falter or even fall away, He is there for us, and He pursues us with His love and mercy to the very last nano-nano-second of our lives.

        I do know a number of once-zealous converts to Orthodoxy who are now either atheists or agnostics. But that doesn’t mean they will remain in unbelief. Let’s pray for them…and for all those who have abandoned Christian belief, for whatever reason.

        Reply
      2. Anthony Ferrara
        May 18, 2015

        I agree with you Diane, that universalism is not only a dangerous heresy, but the most dangerous heresy. I believe universalism’s proponents truly think it is a compassionate teaching and a comfort to those who mourn. However, it is exactly the opposite of compassion, as it is a lie to proclaim we will all end up in the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of time.

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        1. Diane Marie Kamer
          May 19, 2015

          However, it is exactly the opposite of compassion, as it is a lie to proclaim we will all end up in the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of time.

          Amen!!! My late dad just assumed (based on who knows what) that everyone goes to Heaven. He never showed the slightest interest in thinking seriously about anything, and he was mean and hyper-critical all his life. Thankfully, he received the Last Rites, which I do think was a tremendous grace, and I hope and trust that this means he made it to Purgatory. ๐Ÿ˜€

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          1. Diane Marie Kamer
            May 19, 2015

            Ruh-roh–now I sound like Dreher, dissing my dead relatives. Well, I definitely had a difficult relationship with my late dad; what can I tell you? But I hope and pray he’s saved. And now I will shut up about that!

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