Saturday, June 3, 2017

Unquenchable Fire

One can often tell how far a heresy has spread and how much it needs the antidote of refutation by the amount of ink it gets in blog columns.  I remember one young priest writing in a church magazine a piece summarizing the Church’s traditional teaching on gender and opining that the heresy of theological feminism had become widespread.  As if to prove his point, the editor was immediately deluged with indignant letters threatening to withdraw their support of the magazine and writing angry responses protesting that the proffered traditional teaching and its author were misogynist and fit only to be raked over live coals.  When the priest requested the opportunity to respond to the criticisms he was refused, for the editor said that if he printed anything further from the author the magazine would face financial ruination.  Since the priest wrote the piece upon an explicit request from the editor, the situation had its own share of irony.
            My own recent blogging experience offers the same kind of lesson.  One can often gauge the strength of a heresy by reading and counting the number of times a traditional statement of the Church’s teaching draws indignant fire.  In my own blog, many if not most of my blog posts draw hardly a whisper of response.  Thus I wrote a piece entitled, “All Kinds of Everything” about the Benedicite hymn and how everything in the world was a gift from God.  I wrote a piece entitled, “That’s an Outrageous Thing to Accept”, about the legitimacy of mission work.  I wrote a piece entitled, “A Lethal Legacy” about the importance of church-going in the raising of children.  I wrote pieces about the Feast of the Entrance, Palm Sunday, Pascha.  None of these pieces drew a single comment. 
Compare this with a piece on Deaconesses, which pointed out that the “revived” office now being considered bears faint resemblance to the ancient one.  This drew 16 comments.  And compare several pieces I wrote on Universalism, the teaching (popular today) that everyone will be saved.  The piece “Christian Universalism” denouncing the heresy drew 26 comments.  An examination of Dr. Ramelli’s book pushing universalism drew 21.  A piece discussing the meaning of the Greek word “aionion” (usually translated “eternal”) drew 34 comments.  A piece entitled “The Morality of Gehenna” drew 91 comments.  It is clear that in discussing the issue of the eternity of Gehenna I had struck a nerve.  Universalism was not long-dead heresy, surviving only among the “Unitarian-Universalist” churches.  It was apparently a going concern even among the Orthodox.  It could be found promoted among such books as Rob Bell’s Love Wins, such blogs as “Eclectic Orthodoxy”, and such scholarly writings as those of David Bentley Hart.
Some of the comments to my blog pieces were very insightful and thoughtful.  (Some of course were simply rude, but one expects this in the blogosphere.)  To respond to them even partially meant doing a lot of research, which I dutifully did before drafting my responses.  It soon occurred to me however that the topic required much more research and writing than could fit into a blog post or a blog’s comment section.  It would mean writing a book.
So, that is what I did.  The book is now available from Ancient Faith Publishing and is entitled Unquenchable Fire.  It aims at being both popular and thorough, and so contains chapters on Christ’s teaching on the subject of hell in the Synoptic Gospels, views of divine judgment in the time of Christ, the witness of St. John and that of the Acts of the Apostles, the apostolic teaching in the Epistles and in the Apocalypse, an examination of the Fathers’ words on the subject, a look at Origen and his legacy (including a look at St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Gregory the Theologian), an examination of the Fifth Ecumenical Council and its significance, a look at the Church’s cultural understanding of the subject through its hymns and icons, an apologia for the morality of the doctrine, and a chapter examining the teaching sometimes called “Conditionalism”—i.e. the view that the damned will cease to exist after the Last Judgment, a view comprehensively championed by Edward Fudge.  The work comes in at 240 pages, and is available for $18.95.  And yes, this is a shameless plug.

But the point here is that I did not write the book for the modest royalties it might garner or to alleviate boredom, as if a parish priest has nothing to do but sit around and pound a keyboard.  I really do believe that Universalism (or the doctrine of the apokatastasis—everything sounds better in Greek) is heretical, and if taken completely seriously and lived out represents another Gospel.  The book was written to provide people like my own flock with an antidote.  No doubt people more scholarly than I could do better.  But until their works are offered through Ancient Faith Publishing or some other English language publisher, this will have to do for now.  Please allow me to commend it for your consideration.

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