Fr. Florovsky on Repentance After Death and Universalism

Fr. Georges FlorovskyProtopresbyter Georges Florovsky 1893-1979

Now, sin has been destroyed and abrogated—it can not be said that “sin” has been redeemed, only persons may be redeemed. But it is not enough to acknowledge by faith the deed of the divine redemption—one has to be born anew. The whole personality must be cleansed and healed. Forgiveness must be accepted and assessed in freedom. It cannot be imputed—apart from an act of faith and gratitude, an act of love. Paradoxically, nobody can be saved by love divine alone, unless it is responded to by grateful love of human persons. Indeed, there is always an abstract possibility of “repentance” and “conversion” in the course of this earthly or historic life. Can we admit that this possibility continues after death? [E]ven in the concept of Purgatory no chance of radical conversion is implied. Purgatory includes but believers, those of good intentions, pledged to Christ, but deficient in growth and achievement. Human personality is made and shaped in this life—at least, it is oriented in this life. The difficulty of universal salvation is not on the divine side—indeed, God wants every man “to be saved,” not so much, probably, in order that His will should be accomplished and His Holiness secured, as in order that man’s existence may be complete and blessed. Yet, insuperable difficulties may be erected on the creaturely side. After all, is “ultimate resistance” a greater paradox, and a greater offense, than any resistance or revolt, which actually did pervert the whole order of Creation, did handicap the deed of redemption? Only when we commit ourselves to a docetic view of history and deny the possibility of ultimate decisions in history, in this life, under the pretext that it is temporal, can we evade the paradox of ultimate resistance.

St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated a kind of universal conversion of souls in the afterlife, when the truth of God will be revealed and manifested with compelling evidence. Just at that point the limitation of the Hellenic mind is obvious. Evidence seemed to it to be the decisive motive for the will, as if “sin” were merely ignorance. The Hellenic mind had to pass through a long and hard experience of asceticism, of ascetic self-examination and self-control, in order to overcome this intellectualistic naïveté and illusion and discover a dark abyss in the fallen soul. Only in St. Maximus the Confessor, after some centuries of ascetic preparation, do we find a new and deepened interpretation of the apokatastasis. Indeed, the order of creation will be fully restored in the last days. But the dead souls will still be insensitive to the very revelation of Light. The Light Divine will shine to all, but those who once have chosen darkness will be still unwilling and unable to enjoy the eternal bliss. They will still cling to the nocturnal darkness of selfishness. They will be unable precisely to enjoy. They will stay “outside”—because union with God, which is the essence of salvation, presupposes and requires the determination of will. Human will is irrational and its motives cannot be rationalized. Even “evidence” may fail to impress and move it.

Eschatology is a realm of antinomies. These antinomies are rooted and grounded in the basic mystery of Creation. How can anything else exist alongside of God, if God is the plenitude of Being ? One has attempted to solve the paradox, or rather to escape it, by alleging the motives of Creation, sometimes to such an extent and in such a manner as to compromise the absoluteness and sovereignty of God. Yet, God creates in perfect freedom, ex mera liberalitate, that is, without any “sufficient reasons.” Creation is a free gift of unfathomable love. Moreover, man in Creation is granted this mysterious and enigmatic authority of free decision, in which the most enigmatic is not the possibility of failure or resistance, but the very possibility of assent. Is not the will of God of such a dimension that it should be simply obeyed— without any real, that is, free and responsible, assent? The mystery is in the reality of creaturely freedom. Why should it be wanted in the world created and ruled by God, by His infinite wisdom and love ? In order to be real, human response must be more than a mere resonance. It must be a personal act, an inward commitment. In any case, the shape of human life—and now we may probably add, the shape and destiny of the cosmos—depends upon the synergism or conflict of the two wills, divine and creaturely. Many things are happening which God abhors—in the world which is His work and His subject. Strangely enough, God respects human freedom, as St. Irenaeus once said, although, in fact, the most conspicuous manifestation of this freedom was revolt and disorder. Are we entitled to expect that finally human disobedience will be disregarded and “disrespected” by God, and His holy will shall be enforced, regardless of any assent? Or it would make a dreadful “masquerade” of human history? What is the meaning of this dreadful story of sin, perversion, and rebellion, if finally everything will be smoothed down and reconciled by the exercise of divine Omnipotence?

Indeed, the existence of Hell, that is, of radical opposition, implies, as it were, some partial “unsuccess” of the creative design. Yet, it was more than just a design, a plan, a pattern. It was the calling to existence, or even “to being,” of living persons. One speaks sometimes of the “divine risk”—le risque divin, says Jean Guitton. It is probably a better word than kenosis. Indeed, it is a mystery, which cannot be rationalized—it is the primordial mystery of creaturely existence.

Brunner takes the possibility of Hell quite seriously.

There is no security of “universal salvation/’ although this is, abstractly speaking, still possible—for the omnipotent God of Love. But Brunner still hopes that there will be no Hell. The trouble is that there is Hell already. Its existence does not depend upon divine decision. God never sends anyone to Hell. Hell is made by creatures themselves. It is human creation, outside, as it were, of “the order of creation”. The Last Judgment remains a mystery. (Creation and Redemption, Vol. 3 in the Collected Works, p. 262-265. Chap VII Eschatology: The Last Things and the Last Events)

Speak Your Mind