The final chapter of Sergius Bulgakov's The Bride of the Lamb is around 150 pages long and is entitled "Parousia, Resurrection, and the City of God." The chapter contains a thorough rebuttal of penal-law eschatology (which dominates Western theology) and presents a rich and at times beautiful eschatology rooted in the doctrines developed earlier in the book.
Rejecting the penal-law notions he concludes "To frighten theologically is a fruitless and inappropriate activity. It is unworthy of human beings, who are called to the free love of God."
All of humanity is the Body of Christ and all humanity is resurrected.
Earlier this year my cousin debated on my Facebook page against my universalism and wasn't interested in doing any reading to inform herself about the topic. Here is one of the great defenders of orthodox theology stating this ancient Patristic doctrine. Universalism is nothing new. Origen believed that even Satan would be reconciled to God (Bulgakov considers that topic and doesn't settle on an answer). To believe that all humans are saved is an ancient and orthodox teaching of Christianity. I'm always surprised of when something I proclaim is considered heretical when it, in fact, isn't. There are "heresies" I do believe, universalism just isn't a heresy.
"Heaven does not exist in its fullness as long as and insofar as hell exists," he writes.
But Bulgakov's universalism has some interesting features.
We must therefore conclude that the very separation into heaven and hell, into eternal bliss and eternal torments, is internal and relative. Every human being bears within himself the principle of the one and the other, depending upon the measure of his personal righteousness. Since no human being is without sin, there is no one who does not have the burning of hell within himself, even if only to a minimal degree. Conversely, there is no human being whose soul is not illuminated by the light of paradise, even if only at a single point or by a distant reflection.
According to Bulgakov "eternity does not have any relation to time" but is a qualitative state. "Eternity is not an inert immobility but an inexhaustible source of creative life" (thank heavens, for Dante's image at the end of Paradisio has always horrified me a little). In the resurrected state we maintain our freedom and our creative ability, because we are the image of God. Our encounter with the love of God will be our judgement, which is a self-judgement. We then must expiate the sinful parts of ourselves and all will draw closer to God through the on-going process of deification, which is really becoming human in fullness. "Creaturely eternity is becoming, growth, ascent from glory to glory." And:
Every person has his own prot0-image, which corresponds to his personal idea. Originally, every human being is a living work of art, the artistic image of a personal spirit that comes out of the hands of the Divine Artist, the Creator of creation. It is in the image of these proto-images that our bodies will be resurrected.
I was reminded of Grace Imathiu's beautiful end to her sermon at the Festival of Homiletics that in the resurrection God will look at her and say, "You look like me!"
Bulgakov also rejects notions of individual salvation. We are a communion with all humanity. He writes:
The destiny of everyone is connected with the destiny of all; everyone is responsible for all. One certainly cannot accept the incongruous and monstrous idea that, having received and become absorbed in their "reward," the righteous immediately forget their brothers suffering in hell. . . this banishment into the outer darkness strikes all human beings in a certain sense, though in different ways and to different degrees. . . . Hell is therefore an affliction of all humanity.
The idea of two humankinds, divided and separated from each other at the Last Judgment, does not correspond to the fullness and connectedness of reality. Humankind is one.
All are saved with all, just as all are condemned with all and all are responsible for all.
To love God means one must love all of humanity. And to love humanity one must love the world we have created, which will participate in the new creation, which is not a starting over but a fulfillment of the first creation as we draw closer to whom God has always intended us to be.
A beautiful sentence ended the penultimate paragraph, "In this world, everyone finds himself with all and in all, in creation and history, in the kingdom of grace and glory, in the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit."
Then, the ultimate paragraph was an example of some of the (to liberal Protestant me) stranger ideas the book contained that didn't resonate with me, and which I've largely skipped in my blogging:
This is the most general and complete revelation that we have of the Church as humanity in Divine-humanity. And if this is the case, then is not the Most Pure Mother of God Herself in Her glory this personal head of the Church, the personal humanity of Divine-humanity? Is She not the Heavenly Jerusalem, which returns to earth from its heavenly home in the parousia of the Mother of God, in order to become here the spiritualized tabernacle of God with men? Is She not Sophia herself, creaturely but entirely deified, the peak of all creation, more venerable than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim? Is She not the glory and the joy of the saved peoples at the marriage feast of the Lamb? Is She not that perfect union of the divine and the human in which all creation, both the angelic choir and humankind, rejoices? She, the Spirit-Bearer, is Spirit and Bride, manifesting in Her very being the image of the hypostatic Spirit of God. And about Her it is said in the final words of the New Testament:
"And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come.
And let him that heareth say, Come!
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"