-“The Harrowing of Hell”, by Jacob van Swanenburg, a teacher of the young Rembrandt, ca 1586-1638, oil on copper, H: 48.8 cm (19.2 in); W: 71.1 cm (27.9 in), last sold Christies, London 24 April 2009, $75,906, please click on the image for greater detail.
(imma binging on Netflix’s “Lucifer”, where they mos def believe in Hell) Please click on the image for greater detail.
“In recent years there has arisen a movement that might be called “neo-universalism,” according to which it may be that all men, without exception, go to heaven. Advocates of this movement often say things like, “The Church does not teach that anyone is in hell,” and they cite statements from Church leaders and documents which sound—taken out of context—as if they teach this. If one reads the documents carefully, it is clear that the Church is notsaying that no one at all is in hell, but that it has not taught that any particular human mortal who has lived can be known to be in hell. It is simply unknown, up to the present moment, as God has not chosen to reveal it to the Church Militant. Known only to the Churches Penitent and Triumphant.
The doctrine of hell is so frightening that numerous heretical sects end up denying the reality of an eternal hell. The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, the Religious Scientists, the New Agers, and the Mormons—all have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell so radically that it is no longer a serious threat (Ed. or truth, as the Lord teaches). In recent decades, this decay has even invaded mainstream Evangelicalism, and a number of major Evangelical figures have advocated the view that there is no eternal hell—the wicked will simply be annihilated.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).
In his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope St John Paul II wrote that too often “preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell” (p. 183).
Concerning the reality of hell, the pope says, “In point of fact, the ancient councils rejected the theory . . . according to which the world would be regenerated after destruction, and every creature would be saved; a theory which abolished hell. . . . [T]he words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matt. 25:46). [But] who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard” (pp. 185–6).
Thus the issue that some will go to hell is decided, but the issue of who in particular will go to hell is undecided (Ed. or unknown, in our case, to us).
The early Church Fathers were also absolutely firm on the reality of an eternal hell, as the following quotes show.
“Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him” (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1–2 [A.D. 110]).
“If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect His commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment” (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).
“But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’” (ibid., 17:7).
“No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire” (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).
“We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire” (ibid., 21).
“[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with His angelic host, when He shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then He will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, He will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons” (ibid., 52).
“Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).
“When you know what is the true life, that of heaven; when you despise the merely apparent death, which is temporal; when you fear the death which is real, and which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the everlasting fire, the fire which will punish even to the end those who are delivered to it, then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world” (Letter to Diognetus 10:7 [A.D. 160]).
“[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one. . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated” (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177]).
Theophilus of Antioch
“ [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . . For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).
“[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire” (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).
“The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever” (ibid., 4:28:2).
“After the present age is ended he will judge his worshipers for a reward of eternal life and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending” (Apology 18:3 [A.D. 197]).
“Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. . . . The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending” (ibid., 44:12–13).
“To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).
“I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments” (Octavius 34:12–5:3 [A.D. 226]).
“An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life” (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).
“[T]he sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire. . . . The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment” (Divine Institutes 7:21 [A.D. 307]).
“We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past” (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
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IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
Her father arranged for her to marry but her fiancé died before the wedding. After having been betrothed to her fiancé, Macrina did not believe it was appropriate to marry another man, but saw Christ as her eternal bridegroom. Instead, she devoted herself to her religion, becoming a nun.
When all her siblings had grown, including Sts Basil the Great & St Gregory Nazianzus, and left the parental home, Saint Macrina convinced her mother, Saint Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another.
After the death of her mother, Saint Macrina guided the sisters of the monastery. She enjoyed the deep respect of all who knew her. Strictness towards herself and temperance in everything were characteristic of the saint all her life. She slept on boards and had no possessions. Saint Macrina was granted the gift of wonderworking. There was an instance (told by the sisters of the monastery to Saint Gregory of Nyssa after the death of Saint Macrina), when she healed a girl of an eye-affliction. Through the prayers of the saint, there was no shortage of wheat at her monastery in times of famine.
Macrina had a profound influence upon her brothers and her mother with her adherence to an ascetic ideal. Her brother Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work entitled Life of Macrina in which he describes her sanctity throughout her life. Macrina lived a chaste and humble life, devoting her time to prayer and the spiritual education of her younger brother, Peter. Gregory presents her as one who consciously rejected all Classical education, choosing instead devoted study of Scripture and other sacred writings.
In 379, Macrina died at her family’s estate in Pontus, which with the help of her younger brother Peter she had turned into a monastery and convent. Gregory of Nyssa composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia (P.G. XLVI, 12 sq.), to commemorate Macrina, in which Gregory purports to describe the conversation he had with Macrina on her deathbed, in a literary form modelled on Plato’s Phaedo. Even on her deathbed, Macrina continued to live a life of sanctity, as she refused a bed, and instead chose to lie on the ground.
Saint Macrina is significant in that her brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, was able to set standards for being a holy Early Christian woman. He believed that virginity reflected the “radiant purity of God.”
Universalists, including Hosea Ballou and J. W. Hanson, claim Macrina as a Universalist in her teachings, citing works which they believe demonstrate Macrina’s belief that the wicked would all eventually confess Christ.
Troparion — Tone 8
The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother, / For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. / By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away, / But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. / Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Macrina, rejoices with the Angels!
“Today is the feast day of Macrina (330-379), older sister and theological/spiritual mentor of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most formative theologians and leaders of the early Church. Both of these great theologians pointed to their sister as their mentor in the faith. She was the theologian behind the theologians. Another brother, Peter of Sebaste, also became a bishop and saint.
In his book, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Gregory recounts a dialogue with Macrina in which he asks his sister and teacher a series of questions about the nature of the soul and the resurrection and related things. It might be that Gregory uses Macrina as a literary device to convey his own thoughts similar to the way Plato sometimes uses Socrates in his dialogues. Or maybe this really conveys things he learned directly from Macrina. In any event his respect for her is clear. Towards the end of On the Soul and the Resurrection, Macrina says this:
“To evaluate the way a person has lived, the judge would need to examine all these factors: how he endured suffering, dishonor, disease, old age, maturity, youth, wealth, and poverty; how through each of these situations he ran the course of the life allotted to him either well or badly; and whether he became able to receive many good things or many evil things in a long lifetime or did not reach even the beginning of either good or evil, ceasing to live when his mind was not yet fully developed. But when God brings our nature back to the first state of man by the resurrection, it would be pointless to mention such matters and to suppose that the power of God is hindered from this goal by such obstructions.
He has one goal: when the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightway even in this life purified from evil, others healed hereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him, which the Scripture says eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor thought attained.
This is nothing else, according to my judgment, but to be in God Himself; for the good which is beyond hearing, sight, and heart would be that very thing which surpasses everything. But the difference between a life of virtue and a life of wickedness will appear hereafter chiefly in allowing us to participate earlier or later in the blessedness which we hope for. The duration of the healing process will undoubtedly be in proportion to the measure of evil which has entered each person. This process of healing the soul would consist of cleansing it from evil. This cannot be accomplished without pain, as we have discussed previously.”
– On the Soul and the Resurrection, pp. 115-116
Note that Macrina and Gregory are not soft on the reality of death and judgment – this cannot accomplished without pain. We will be judged.There is reason to bear in mind the “Time of Scrutiny” (Sirach 18:20). There is still good reason to take our own piety with utmost seriousness and to invite others to participate now in “the blessedness which we hope for.”
They do seem, however, to understand The Judgment as having more to do with purgation and healing than final eternal punishment and torture. It is unclear whether or not they believed it is possible that some souls might hold out eternally against blessedness. But, they seem convinced that God, in His relentless love, will never give up on anyone – even beyond death and forever.
This hopeful universalism is quite different from an “all-y, all-y in come free” complacent universalism. Macrina anad Gregory are not alone in expressing some version of this. One could add Isaac the Syrian (7th century), Maximos the Confessor (7th century), Frederick Denison Maurice (19th century), C. S. Lewis (20th century), Karl Barth (20th century), Hans Urs von Balthasar (20th century), and many others…”
“We are talking about universalism, a doctrine that was considered to be a heresy, that is a heresy, something that was condemned in 543 by the church because it teaches that we can know with certainty that every single human being or possibly every creature, including the devil himself, will be saved. It goes all the way back to the ecclesial writer origin of the third century, with his defense of what he called “Apocatastasis,” or universal reconciliation, reconstituting or restoration to God. This idea that all things will be all in God, everyone shall be saved. And so many of these Universalists, you see them pop up throughout church history and there’s a few prominent ones today. I talked about David Bentley Hart in the previous episode, he wrote this book, “That All Shall Be Saved.” He’s an Eastern Orthodox Theologian, there is even some Catholic theologians that lean towards this view, even though they really shouldn’t.
Among evangelicals, probably the most famous evangelical to argue about this is Robin Parry, I believe that’s his real name. He wrote under a pen name, George McDonald, for the longest time because he has a controversial view and he chose to write under a pen name. But Robin Parry I believe is his real name and he shows up in a great anthology put out by Zondervan. If you want to learn more about how people disagree about particular doctrines, which is more common you see in the Protestant world than in the Catholic world, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Counterpoint or Multiple Views series. I have a few of them in my office and they’re great for me to see the different views people have on specific issues and be able to see people’s arguments and counter arguments very quickly and efficiently.
So for example, I’m working on a Trent tracks right now called, “Hell Be Damned,” and it’s about arguments against hell. We’ve covered that a little bit here on the podcast and we’ll cover more of it today because Universalism is a response to the doctrine of hell, the idea that people might be separated from God for all eternity and endure eternal conscious torment because of that. So Zondervan has a really great series on all different kinds of issues, on biblical inspiration, interpretation, moral issues, theological issues. And for example, there is… And Catholics get on the game too. There is an anthology, I’m looking around my office to see if I can find it. I know it’s here. It’s on the role of faith and works. And Michael Barber, friend of the apostolic, great guy, great Catholic scripture scholar, is in that anthology on the role of faith and works and he puts forward the Catholic view about how works integrates with faith along with Protestants who defend the traditional sola fide by faith alone view and some Protestants who take the really radical view that your works have nothing to do with your salvation.
There are Protestants who believe that once you’re saved, you could become an atheistic serial killer and you couldn’t lose your salvation. Now, you may not get a bunch of rewards when you get to heaven. Your tickets to redeem at the heavenly gift shop are going to be pretty zero, but you still won’t be in hell and you’ll still have eternal life with God. So that is one that boggles the mind that I’ve actually covered in length in my book, “The Case for Catholicism,” available through Ignatius Press if you want to check that out.
So when people ask me, “Trent, what do you think about once saved, always saved or eternal security?” I say to them, “What do you mean by that? Because there’s two different ways of looking at it.” You could have, like in my debate with James White back in 2017, the view that you can’t lose your salvation but if you, a Christian, become an atheistic serial killer and never repent, that only proves you weren’t saved in the first place, which I think has a bunch of logical holes in it when you really start to think about it, nobody could ever really know that they’re saved. I don’t understand that view and I think that comes out well and my debate with James White. But then the other view is like what Charles Stanley and I think Robert Wilkins is another person who defends this view among Protestants. They say, “Yeah, once you’re saved, can’t ever be undone,” which really doesn’t make sense to me when you look at what the Bible teaches about the possibility of losing salvation.
I bring that up because it’s great to see in this series and one of them is actually on hell. And so this one has annihilationism, well, has a traditional view of hell that many Protestants and Catholics share, eternal separation from God that a person is aware of. Other views, it has the annihilationist view, the view that I discussed with Randal Rauser several months ago, that hell is real, people go there. It’s forever, but only in the sense that the damned are destroyed in hell.
Then the other view would be Universalism, that would be the idea that, well, some people go to hell, but you don’t stay there forever. We talked about that in the previous episode. I love one of the contributors to that anthology, John Stott, who’s an Annihilationist says that Universalism represents the triumph of hope over exegesis. That you really, really want something good to be true that just flies in the face of all the biblical evidence thrown at you, as well as for Catholics the magisterial evidence where the church teaches, it’s very clear, that hell exists and it is eternal and people who die in a state of mortal sin go there. So where do you go from there with Universalism?
Well, there’s this other view and that would be Hopeful Universalism. What is that? Hopeful Universalism espoused by Bishop Barron, though it draws its roots mostly from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s two books he wrote in the late 1980s that were eventually compiled together into one book that’s called, “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved.” So what do Bishop Barron and von Balthasar believe about Hopeful Universalism and how do we contrast that with regular Universalism that the church condemns? So I’ll fill you in a bit more about von Balthasar then I’ll let Bishop Barron explain it in his own words from a video he posted several years ago.
So basically von Balthasar was a Swiss Theologian and he had a lot of interaction with Protestant Theologians like Carl Bart, who denied some fundamental aspects of Christian belief. And von Balthasar didn’t go that far, but he tried to find a compromise or a halfway ground, especially in understanding the relationship between salvation and hell and whether universal salvation was possible. He’s held in very high standing among Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict the 16th. He was elevated to being a Cardinal, but he died two days before receiving his red hat.
Now some people say, I mean, what does that mean he died two days before getting his red hat? Some people say, “Well, that’s so he couldn’t spread his heretical beliefs as a Cardinal.” Well, if there really were heretical beliefs, I have a hard time thinking Pope Saint John Paul II would have elevated him to being a Prince of the Church if that were the case. Rather, Fr. Hugh Barbour, the chaplain here at Catholic Answers, offers a funny commentary on that, that Hans Urs von Balthasar died just a few days before Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who started the SSPX schism. Not, the schism has been lifted, but the society of Saint Pius the 10th, he illegally consecrated several bishops without the permission of the Pope. And he was planning on doing this and what Fr. Hugh said is that Hans Urs von Balthasar apparently prayed that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre would die before he would engage in a schismatic act, like ordaining bishops without the Pope’s approval.
And so it could just be a kind of divine irony that God says, “You prayed that Archbishop Lefebvre would go to heaven before he would do this. Mr. von Balthasar, maybe you would like to go to heaven instead.” And so he died a few days before that happened.
So the point of von Balthasar’s position is that hell is a real possibility for people. In fact, I’m going to let Bishop Barron explain Carl Bart’s Universalism and then von Balthasar’s Hopeful Universalism and then I’ll extract more of the differences between the two.
Now come up to the 20th century, the great Protestant Theologian, Carl Bart, one of the most influential of the modern theologians. He stakes out a position, not all that dissimilar from Origins or Rob Bell’s. It’s pretty much a Universalist position that in the cross of Jesus, all people are saved and the church’s job is to announce this good news to the world. Now, one of his colleagues, a fellow Swiss and a friend of his was Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Catholic theologian. Balthasar took in a good deal of the Bartian spirit, I think reacted against this Augustinian and Thomistic rather dark view on hell. Balthasar said this, “We may reasonably hope that all people will be saved.” You see, what he’s doing is he’s pulling back from Bart and Origin and from a complete Apocatastasis position that we know all people will be saved. No, no, we don’t know that. But we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved. Why? Because of the dramatic thing that God did through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So to pull this back, to make sure we understand here what Bishop Barron and von Balthasar are saying, you go back to the words of von Balthasar, he does not say everybody’s definitely going to heaven. In his book, he writes, “We stand completely and utterly under judgment and have no right, nor is it possible for us to peer in advance at the Judge’s cards,” i.e., God’s verdict, which is really something that he does per se, but we do through our own freely chosen actions. Whether we choose to spend eternity with God or not. But here’s the thing, if Universalism were true, all of the Judge’s cards, the verdicts of people’s eternal destinies, it would all be the same basically. At the very least, would either be you’re going to haven now or going to haven later after you get purified in hell. That is not what von Balthasar is saying that everybody’s going.
But what he and Bishop Barron seem to be saying, here’s what von Balthasar, how he puts it, “Love hopes all things. It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from the Christian standpoint, not only permitted but commanded.”
And this is how Bishop Barron puts it, he doesn’t go as far as von Balthasar in many respects, this is how he puts it, or at least that’s the FAQ on his website, “Bishop Barron is convinced we have a reasonable hope that all will be saved, but the first step in assessing and critiquing an argument is to understand the terms as its proponent is using them. It’s important to know how he’s using those two words in this context. First, he means reasonable in the sense that we have good reasons to ground our hope, namely the cross and resurrection of Jesus and his divine mercy. Bishop Barron isn’t making any sort of probabilistic judgment as if to say reasonable means, very likely, or quite probable. Second, we should recognize hope to mean a deep desire and longing tied to love for the salvation of all people, but without knowing all will be saved, thinking all we saved or even expecting all will be saved.”
So there is a sense in which I wholeheartedly agree with von Balthasar and Bishop Barron. There is a sense in which we all should, but the key here to make that agreement is making a distinction between two things, it’s very important for you to take away from the discussion of Hopeful Universalism. There is a difference between hoping that anyone will be saved and hoping that everyone will be saved. So it makes sense, everyone should agree with this. I think even someone who thinks that most people are going to hell. The church has a wide variety of views about how many people end up in hell, that hasn’t been clearly defined. It has been clearly defined that there is a hell, it is eternal, but what percentage of the human family will be there? The church hasn’t explicitly said. There has been a tradition what Bishop Barron first tune his video, is the dark view of Thomas and Augustan, that the majority of human beings will end up in hell.
But here’s the funny thing when you think about that, well, it’s actually not funny hell is not a funny thing. Here’s the interesting thing when you think about that, it could be true. Both of these statements could be true that the majority of human beings are in hell and the majority of human beings are not in hell based on the time you make that statement. Because it could be the case, when Augustan was writing or St. Thomas Aquinas was writing, that the vast majority of human beings rejected God, or the world was still shrouded in pagan darkness and they never came to know God regardless of how God revealed himself, even if it wasn’t through the gospel, but it was through nature and through conscience. It could even be the case today, that maybe up to this point, a large percentage or the majority of human beings are damned.
But we have to remember what if the human race continues for another 1,000 years, or 10,000 years, or 30,000 years? We’d not only populate new planets, we’d populate new dimensions. We can travel to parallel universes within what God has created. Who knows what could happen in 10,000 years? You never know. But it could be the case that by that point, let’s say the gospel, we see a surge in Evangelism and a new Renaissance in the church. It could be the case further down in the future that so many people are saved and go to heaven it actually counterbalances this dark age the church dealt with for its first few thousand years of its existence. So I don’t know, I’m always trying to think of the big picture with these things. So sometimes it’s helpful to move our perspective up and remember us in the present, it’s a very, very, very tiny perspective for us to be in.
Now, what do I think though, of Hopeful Universalism as Bishop Barron espouses it and von Balthasar espouses it? Well, I would say I’m not a big fan of the term reasonable hope because even though it’s defined in the FAQ, on Word on Fire website, that’s not really how most people take the term to me. I know it’s how Bishop Barron does, and that’s fine. But if I say, “I have a reasonable hope that I’m going to pass my class,” usually take that to me and I’ve got at least a 50% shot, even a 30% shot. I’ve got something significant, but that’s not what he’s saying about hell. And that’s not what von Balthasar is saying. Well, I don’t know. von Balthasar is pretty strong. He quotes Edith Stein as saying that it’s infinitely improbable that someone would end up in hell. And Bishop Barron says he’s not going to go that far.
So I think a better term to use is not a reasonable hope all men will be saved, but a rational hope all men will be saved. For example, if I buy a lottery ticket, I don’t have a reasonable hope that I’m going to win the lottery. There is a small, tiny, tiny outside chance I could win. I don’t say I have a reasonable hope I’m going to win, but I have a rational hope I’m going to win because I have a ticket and it’s within the realm of possibility. If I said, if I was at home, “Do you think you’re going to win the lottery?” And I said, “Well, I didn’t buy a ticket, but the winning ticket might magically appear on my coffee stand out of thin air. I’m hoping for that,” that would not be a rational hope. That would be an irrational hope.
So I think, to be more charitable to Bishop Barron’s position, to make it more defensible, you could say, “All right, one could have a rational hope that it’s not irrational to believe that God would make it the case that everyone went to heaven.” I don’t think von Balthasar and Bishop Barron would say that the people who go to hell will be purified and end up in heaven. The von Balthasarian position rather is that no one ever ends up dying in a state of mortal sin and so no one ever ends up in hell. Now, when I hear that to me, I say, “Well that sounds incredibly unlikely,” but once again, it’s just the same as me saying, “I could win the lottery.” Yeah, that’s incredibly unlikely, but given that we desire the salvation of all people and if we love all people, is it okay for us to hope for an incredibly unlikely outcome that is for the good of all human beings?
I would say yes provided that we’re not hoping for something that’s impossible. So that’s the trick here. When it comes to Hopeful Universalism, if the church teaches not only that hell exists and that it’s eternal, but that certain individuals are in hell or that the church teaches, it is impossible for it to be the case all people are going to go to heaven. Then we couldn’t have Hopeful Universalism is a viable belief system or a permitted theological opinion any more than you could hope that it turns out original sin was all just a dream and it never really happened, and I wake up and it turns out Patrick Duffy on Dallas was actually alive and the whole thing was a dream. All you TV aficionados, you’ll know what I mean with that terrible retcon on Dallas. You know, Patrick Duffy wakes up like it was all a dream. No, we can’t hope for that because original sin did happen. We have to deal with the consequences of it.
So what does the church teach on this matter? Does the church teach there are individuals in hell and so it’s impossible, even on the remote, crazy outside chance, 10 million to one, it’s impossible for all human beings to have ended up in heaven? Well, Avery Cardinal Dulles, who is a very Orthodox thinker, somebody that I trust, he says, “This Dare We Hope position of Balthasar seems to me to be Orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive.” So minatory would be that they’re a warning. It’s kind of like when Jonah went to the Nineveh and said, “In three more days, four more days or whatever, 40 days Nineveh shall be destroyed.” But Nineveh ended up not being destroyed. So the prophecy was really more of a warning that if you don’t listen to me, this is what’s going to happen.
So the defenders of the von Balthasarian position would say that Matthew 25, when Jesus is talking about people going to hell, being in hell, that the gate is wide to destruction, the road to life is narrow. That these are warnings rather than predictions. Now you might say, “Well, how can you believe that? That’s got a contradict with what the church teaches because Jesus clearly teaches here in scripture that there are people going to be in hell. It’s just the plain meaning of the passage.” Well, here’s the thing. What we believe as Catholics does not derive directly from what we consider to be the plain meaning of a biblical passage. For example, the church has no official teaching on what hell is like, but Jesus certainly does teach in scripture, he uses analogies or descriptions to talk about hell being a place of fire, being a place where the worms die not. But the church doesn’t have an official position on whether hell is constituted with literal fire or not. The church doesn’t weigh in on it.
That maybe something that’s affirmed in scripture, but just because scripture says something, we always have to go about interpreting it too. And when it comes to interpreting scripture, the church gives us guidance on being able to interpret, especially guardrails of scripture cannot say this, like Jesus is not God. It can say this, Jesus is God, fully man, fully God. And then there are other areas where there can be multiple interpretations of something where the church has not officially weighed in on it, such as the meanings of certain parables or passages. There’s a lot of things in scripture have multiple meanings to them.
Even when Jesus said, which I think is one of the clearest arguments that somebody is in hell in Matthew 26, 24 Jesus said of Judas, “It’s better for him to never been born.” To me, what I take that as just the intuitive reading of that passage is that Judas was lost. He was lost, he is condemned and it’s better for him to have never been born because if he were born, even if he sinned grievously, he would still end up in heaven, but the church doesn’t have an official position on either that passage or the fate of Judas himself.
And there is a possibility, I’ve read some biblical scholarship on this, that when Jesus says, “It would be better for him to have never been born,” he’s using a Hebrew Semitism, an expression or hyperbolic way of speaking saying if you betray the son of man, that’s a terrible thing for you to do. You’re going to be facing a lot of fires of purgatory for what you’re doing here. It’s really, really bad. Just like it would be better for them to have had a millstone tied around their neck than to have caused one these little ones to stumble. Now, as I said, I think that is a minority interpretation of what the passage probably means. But for me, when I look to see what scripture says, I want to go back and see what does the church teach on that. Because 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “The church is the pillar and foundation of truth.”
So in order to answer the question, if von Balthasar and Hopeful Universalism is a permitted theological opinion we’d have to see, has the church ever definitively taught, has it ever taught that there are individuals in hell? Or that universal salvation is an impossibility? And I’ve gone to the citations and I haven’t found them. There’s one from the First Lateran Council that says that, “Jesus will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and the elect, all of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear. So as to receive according to their desserts, whether these be good or bad.” This profession of faith from the First Lateran Council, I would say, it could only allude to maybe the possibility there are definitely people at that time who were in hell. It doesn’t state it explicitly.
The fact that it uses language like there are the reprobate and the elect, and you know the damned or the saved basically, these are two classes of people or sets, but one of the sets could be empty. It’d be like if I was a teacher and I told my class, “Listen to me, tomorrow when we all come to school the punctual will be given their rewards and the truant, i.e. the people who don’t show up, will be punished.” But it could be the case there are no people in the truant class. Now I personally, I don’t think that. I think that even if this is a permitted theological opinion, it’s not one that I endorse because I still think there’s a heavy amount of evidence against it. I think it’s fine, once again, to hope for the salvation of anybody. Even Judas, we should pray that any person, that’s why we always pray for someone who dies. We don’t say, “We know…”
Some people say, “Well, the church prays for the salvation of everyone.” Yeah, in a sense. We always pray for the dead because we don’t have infallible knowledge what the state of their soul is, so we pray for anybody even if they died, apparently, totally unrepentant. The fact is God delights in repentance, he does not delight in the death of the wicked and we’re not privy to that. So we say, “Well, Lord help him. Lord help me at the hour of my death,” and we pray for that. We would want people pray for that for us, we pray for that for others. But once again, hoping for the salvation of anyone is not the same thing as hoping for the salvation of everyone. You definitely should hope for anybody’s salvation, but everyone, that seems to be a very, very distant remote possibility for me. Even if this is a permitted theological opinion.
Now other evidence would be Benedict the 12th, set in the 14th century, “Furthermore, we define that,” which is evidence of infallible teaching, “According to the general plan of God, the souls of those dying in actual mortal sin descend to hell soon after death.” And the defender of the von Balthasarian view could say “Right, but it could be the case that no one ever dies in mortal sin.” Once again, I think that’s unlikely, but we don’t have an explicit teaching from the church saying that there definitely are people who die in mortal sin and go to hell.
So just to summarize, when I look at the magisterial teaching, what we see from the Pope’s and magisterial documents from ecumenical councils, I agree with Avery Cardinal Dulles that the position Bishop Barron holds, it does not contradict what the church teaches because the church has never definitively taught that any particular person, even Judas, is in hell. And so for me, I would take that to show that this Hopeful Universalism he espouses would be a permitted theological opinion. And the church allows for lots of those. For example, let’s take predestination and free will. The church says in paragraph 600 of the catechism, “You got to believe God has a plan for us. He predestine people to salvation,” but we’re not puppets. We can freely choose to reject God’s plan. Predestination and free will, you got to believe in both, but how do they work together?
The church has an answer that question, you can hold the Thomists view of that predestination, the Molinists view of predestination or maybe your own view as long as it holds to the bare minimum standards of what we believe about predestination and free will. So when it comes to hell, you have to believe in the bare minimum that hell exists. It’s a real possibility and it is eternal in nature. It’s not a path to heaven, it’s not a path to annihilation. But aside from that, you could hold the von Balthasar position, as Bishop Barron does, it doesn’t contradict any church teaching. But just because you can hold something, it doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
And as a separate question as they note on the FAQ that there’s a difference between a view being Orthodox and it being prudent. I mean, you can believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. The church doesn’t have a teaching on the age of the earth. I don’t think that you should because that contradicts all the scientific evidence we have. Much the same way, I’m very concerned about the von Balthasar position of Hopeful Universalism, I just don’t see what benefit it holds. I don’t see how it benefits us in Evangelism if we hold out this possibility that all people can be saved.
That’s not the same thing as saying the possibility of non-Christians being saved. I don’t think that hurts Evangelism because if someone believed, if you never heard who Jesus was and you were automatically going to hell because you were born in the wrong century, I think a lot of people would give up their belief in a good God if God would damn someone because that person happened to be born in the wrong time and place, not because the person ever rejected God’s offer of salvation. Even if it was presented to him or her under a very basic, minimal terms such as through nature and through conscience. But this view, I don’t see how it’s that helpful. Some people may say, “Well, it shows God’s love that he’ll go to any length to save us, and he loves us,” and I don’t doubt that. It’s good to show God desires the salvation of anyone, as I’ve mentioned earlier.
But it seems to subtly reinforce the view that it would be unloving of God for him to allow somebody to go to hell. God will be perfectly loving if he offered salvation and there are people who spend eternity with God and people who do not do that. Hell does not contradict the love of God, something we’ll probably have to explore in a future lecture.
So to summarize, I think that the view is a permissible one to hold. It hasn’t been contradicted by the official teaching of the church, but I think the probability of it being true is extremely low. So it’s not one that I want to bank on, I have serious prudential aversions to holding or promoting this view. And that’s something that we, as Catholics, can reasonably disagree about. But people have asked me what do I think about this, that is what I think.”
“Is everyone definitely going to heaven? Are we all mistaken about hell? I will break down universalism and examines the biblical arguments that are used in support of this heresy.
‘YOU get eternal life with God! And, YOU get eternal life with God. And, YOU, etc.” Wrong., not everybody gets eternal life with God. That would be Oprah if she was preaching universalism.
[Universalism exists] because one of the critiques of Hell, if you recall last time when I had Randall Rouser on the show, we looked at one critique of Hell, which says that, “Yes, Hell exists, but it’s not permanent and the damned are destroyed there.” That would be annihilationism. Another view of Hell is that Hell exists, but it’s more like purgatory. Hell is something where people are purified and so eventually all of the damned, at some point after death, will eventually embrace God, love God, they’ll repent of their sins and then have eternal life with God.
So, universalism is the view that all people or possibly all creatures, which may include the demons and even the devil himself, will be saved. And this is a view that you can find going far back in church history. It’s not a common one, it’s an extreme minority view in church history. You can find a few church fathers or a few ecclesial writers endorsing this view, but it’s a very small minority view. It probably goes back as far as the ecclesial writer Origen in the third century. He espoused a doctrine called apocatastasis.
So, apocatastasis means restoration, reconstitution, and it was his view that all human beings would eventually be drawn to God and all things will be reconciled to God and no one would be in Hell. People dispute a little bit over what Origen meant, because some people accused Origen of saying that even the devil would be redeemed and he would be in Heaven, I think Origen actually denied that view. But regardless of what happened, several centuries later in the sixth century, the church condemned Origen’s views and they condemned the doctrine of universalism, I think around the year 543 AD. Now, they condemned the specific view that we can know with certainty that all people will be saved. There are other variants of universalism that he will put forward, like hopeful universalism that are different in many key respects, like what Bishop Barron proposes and we’re going to talk about later here in the podcast.
So first, let’s start with the doctrine of universalism, classical universalism, that says we know for certain all people will be saved. And then we’ll move to what is called Von Balthasarian hopeful universalism, or the universalism that Bishop Barron promotes, which is based on the writings of the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.
So, to go to classic universalism, there’s a recent book that just came out that I was reading through by an author that, I guess I grudgingly enjoy him. He’s an Eastern Orthodox theologian named David Bentley Hart, and he has a very eclectic writing career. The guy is legitimately smart. Like when I read through books, I normally can read through a book and I can get everything the author is saying, but one insight that Hart is very well read, is that he has an incredible vocabulary.
I mean, he had a personal library of something like 20,000 books that he eventually donated to charity or donated to university, but the guy is really well read. So, when I read through his stuff, the vocabulary he uses, every other page, I’m looking up words and normally I don’t have to do that. I think I have a decent command of vocabulary, a verbose vocabulary, if you will, but Hart will just say things that I’m like, “Okay, where is this coming from?”
Or the other thing that he does, this is the thing where it makes it grudging for me, that I like him because he’s smart. I think he puts forward decent ideas. In some areas he’s better than others, I think some of his arguments against atheism are great. He’s actually a great defender of the doctrine of divine simplicity, the idea that God is not divided into parts, but God is just infinite being itself. But there’s other things that he argues for that I think he’s comparatively weak on. He’s a big defender of socialism. I’ve critiqued him on our online magazine and he gets critiqued in my book I’m co-authoring with Catherine Bacolic called Why Catholics Can’t Be Socialist. He’s not Catholic, but he’s still espouses a Christian view saying that Christianity and socialism, Christians ought to be socialists, and so I take him to task for that in my book, though I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Hart taking me to task. I mean I might, but I would love a response from him, to this book.
Well, the book he wrote is called, let’s see here, That All Shall Be Saved, Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation. There’s a great review of it on the Gospel Coalition website, this is a Protestant website, by Michael McClymond, and McClymond actually has written a really big treatment of the history of universalism in the church. And he comes down on the view that it’s a minority doctrine held by only a few fathers in the church, and that it’s a destructive doctrine and that it promotes, I think, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. This idea that if everyone is saved, then it really cheapens the offer of salvation, the offer of grace that God gives us.
So, McClymond reviews Hart’s book, and I love, though, what he says about Hart’s rhetoric, because one thing that’s distinctive about David Bentley Hart is his rhetoric that he uses. So, he has a wide vocabulary, but he also knows the right words to tear people apart. So, this is what McClymond says. “One cannot consider Hart’s arguments for Christian universalism apart from the ethos and pathos of his prose. Willis Jenkins speaks of Hart’s adjectival petulance, while Douglas Pharaoh calls him, ‘an intellectual pugilist who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.’ For better and for worse, Hart’s verbal pyrotechnics are as obvious as a bomb blast in a reading room. In That All Shall Be Saved, he claims that his intellectual opponents and their views are viciously vindictive, exquisitely malicious, specious reasoning, inherently incredible, morally obtuse, ostentatiously absurd, extravagant absurdities, an intoxicating atmosphere of corroborating nonsense.”
And that’s actually just a collection of insults from the first 20 pages of the book. He has all kinds of things he likes to throw at people as he goes on. And so what I want to do in this episode, though, I’m not going to go through Hart’s book bit-by-bit, I just want to use it.
That’s an introduction to the topic, because there’s really two different kinds of arguments that Universalists use. One, they’ll say, is that Hell is inherently unjust and so they’ll make philosophical arguments saying it would be unjust for someone, for God to allow someone to choose Hell or to be consigned to Hell for all eternity. And so I might address that in a future podcast, just focused on the philosophical arguments related to Hell. Instead, in this episode, I want to focus more on the biblical data, the data from divine revelation to say, “What has God told us about this?”
Because you might be thinking, “Well look, Jesus warned us about Hell. He said that people can go to Hell. The, you know, the gate is wide to destruction and narrow for those who find life. How can you get more obvious than that?” Well, universalists take a look at scripture and they do two things. One, they argue that the references to Hell are only temporary references. So, when Jesus uses adjectives like eternal, the Greek word ionian … This is similar to, you know, my discussion with Randall rouser on annihilationism. They’re talking about how it’s a punishment in the age to come, not one that necessarily lasts for an eternal duration.
But the problem I have with this, and I mentioned in my previous critique of the annihilationist, is that in Matthew 25:46, in Matthew 25, Jesus makes a parallel judgment of the sheep and the goats, the sheep that follow him, that feed the poor, clothe the naked, that follow Jesus’ teachings, they have eternal life with God. And so they have an eternal reward, they have eternal life. But then there’s a parallel with the goats who reject Jesus, who refuse to follow his commands, and they go into ionian colossan, eternal punishment.
And so ultimately though, if it’s not really eternal punishment, if it’s just life in the age to come and punishment in the age to come, then the sheep and the goats kind of end up in the same place. Because the goats, no matter how bad that purifying process is that they go through in Hell, when you compare it to the eternal, infinite happiness that awaits them in Heaven, it’s not going to be really any big deal at all. So, there’s a severe lack of justice in that result, and it doesn’t make sense of the biblical warnings that Christ gives for Hell. So, most Universalists, they try to argue Hell is just a purifying state and that all people will end up in Heaven, but that doesn’t make sense of the descriptions we have from Hell.
Now, if that were their only argument, then it would be a pretty weak position for them to run through. But the positive evidence that universalists offer is, they’ll pick Bible passages where it talks about how God desires the salvation of all people and that all people will be reconciled to God, and they’ll say, “Okay, well that shows that God is going to save all people. God wants all people to be saved.” 1st Timothy 2:4, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
So that’s true. God wants all people to be saved. But just because God wants something, it doesn’t follow that’s going to happen. God wants me to not ever commit a sin in my life. Now, that makes sense, right? Does God want Trent Horn to sin? No, he doesn’t want me to sin. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect like your Heavenly father is perfect.” God wants me, from this moment going forward, to not commit a sin. Am I going to commit a sin? You bet I’m going to. In fact, James 3:2 says that we all stumble in small ways. So, there are many things that God wants, and that represents his perfect will for us, but he understands that we are not puppets on a string, we are not marionettes. And so, there are things God wants for us, but we can choose to not go along with his plan.
And one of those things is that God wants all people to be saved and the only thing that would keep that from happening is the free choice that God has given to his creatures. So what that means is, for example, for angels, angels are forever cut off from God because their decision to rebel against God before the creation of the world is fixed for all eternity. The catechism in paragraph 393 says this. It says, “It is the irrevocable character of their choice,” the angels who rebelled against God, “and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”
One of my arguments for why I believe Hell is eternal is that the damned make it eternal by continually sinning and rejecting God. They just double down on their sins and continue to wallow in them and routinely choose them over God for all eternity. And you probably know people like this who are stubborn, who are malicious, that even when they’re offered mercy and grace, they turn it down and they double down on their own sins and they find almost a sick kind of pleasure in their own sins and in their own stubbornness. And I think that that’s what Hell is, that Hell, it has a lock, but the lock is on the inside. That people choose to not unlock it, that if you took someone out of Hell and place them into Heaven, they would curse God and march right back into Hell and consider it to be better.
In fact, and to be sympathetic to David Bentley Hart, there is an Eastern view on what Hell is. I don’t believe it is compatible with the Catholic view of Hell, because if you look in the catechism in paragraphs, it’s between, I think it’s like 1035, 1033 through 1035, it says that the chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God. And so Hell, you’ll get everything you wanted in life, you’ll get yourself and you’ll be cut off from everything that is completely good in life, which is God.
A common view in Eastern Orthodox theology though of Hell, which I find really intriguing, I actually really want to believe it, but it seems to contradict what the church teaches about Hell being a separation from God. Many Eastern theologians have said that Hell is just the reaction that the damned have to God’s presence, that God’s holiness, for example, that when God’s holiness is received by different people, it is experienced in different ways. So, those who are saints in Heaven, the canonized, so the saints in Heaven who are freed from sin, they experience God as infinite bliss and it’s wonderful. The saved who are in purgatory, who are being purified of their sins, they experience God as possibly a painful kind of cleansing environment, that they see they’re moving towards the good, but it’s not a pleasant road going along the way. For them, the experience of God is kind of like the experience of going to the dentist, to use an analogy that’s helpful with children to explain what purgatory is like.
But the damned, what makes Hell Hellish is they experience God and it is just awful for them. They are in torment because they hate that goodness since they love themselves. Have you ever seen a narcissist? Somebody who is just in love with themselves, they’re always bragging about themselves. When they’re among a group of people and they’re with somebody who is objectively better than them, someone who is smarter, funnier, better looking, more accomplished, they’re always trying to one up that person and they can’t, and it just drives them crazy. And so, they don’t want to be a part of that. They don’t want to have to deal with that, it’s irritating to them. And so if that was magnified infinite fold in Hell for people to experience God, then it’s almost like there’s a kind of justice that in the afterlife everybody gets God and your temperament, how you’re fixed at death, whether your soul was fixed, oriented towards God or away God, will determine how you receive him for all eternity.
Now, just to repeat, that’s the Eastern view of Hell. I find it intriguing, but I do not think that it is compatible with the Catholic view, because the catechism in paragraph 1035 makes it very clear that Hell is eternal separation from God. Not that you receive God, but it’s just a horrible feeling because you’re not well disposed to receive him because you don’t desire that. The sin you cling to recoils at the love of God.
So, going back to Universalists, they’ll quote Bible passages like this. 1st Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” So, the Universalist says, “Okay, because of Adam, we all, every human being ended up in sin, and because of Christ, every human being will end up in Heaven.” That is not what Paul is saying here. He uses the phrase, in Christ, is a phrase that’s very specific to Pauline theology, and it refers to the saved. It refers to people who have the grace of God, who are united to Christ through baptism. It doesn’t refer to all human beings. So yes, “For as in Adam,” we all come from Adam because of biological generation, “all die,” all have original sin. So also, “In Christ,” those who are in Christ, “shall all be made alive.” All of those who are in Christ, not all human beings whatsoever.
This also explains what Paul writes in Romans 5:18. He says, “ASs one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” So the Universalist will say, “Oh, see here, it’s saying through Adam, one man’s trespass, all were condemned. And to have the symmetry through one man’s act of righteousness, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, this leads to acquittal and life for all men.” But once again, Paul is not saying that all human beings will be saved through Christ, in virtue that Christ has just died on the cross and so automatically all human beings will be saved.
He’s talking about life for all of those who are in Christ, and we know that in Romans 5:18, to sort of summarize, Romans 5:18, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” It would be easy to read universalism out of that passage, but that’s not what Paul is talking about because we have to go back one verse. Remember, watch out for proof texts. You got to look at the context. A proof text without context is nothing but a pretext. I think that was the Protestant exigent D A Carson, who once said that.
In Romans 5:17 Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will.” and here’s the key part, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” So, Paul says that before Romans 5:18 and he says it’s not every human being, it’s those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. Just because something is a free gift doesn’t mean that you have to receive it. I get free gifts and free offers in the mail all the time. “Free credit card offer, here you go.” Guess what? I’m not going to receive it because I don’t want that. Now, the free offer, the free gift of God? I will cooperate with God’s grace to receive that because I see that that offers the greatest thing I could ever have. Eternal life.
Okay, so let’s summarize where we’re at. We’ve been talking about universalism. That is the view that all people, possibly all creatures will go to Heaven and that Hell is a way that they are purified and that’s how they get to Heaven. But as we see, there’s no biblical evidence for this view, and it’s contradicted by the Bible’s teachings that Hell is something that’s really bad. Hell is not a stopping point on the way to Heaven, Hell is something that you don’t want to end up to. Hell is a place of death.
That’s why the annihilationist view makes more sense than the universalist view. The annihilationist will say, “Yeah, Hell is a place where you’re lost.” Because think about when Jesus talks about the lost, “I’ve come to save the lost, come for those who are lost.” If universalism were true, then the people who go to Hell, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. They’re delayed, they’re going to be purified in Hell, and then eventually they’re going to spend an infinite amount of time with God in Heaven. So, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. The annihilationist view makes more sense because they would say the damned are lost because they are destroyed in Hell.
Now, I disagree with them because it seems clear that the descriptions of Hell are that it is a never ending place of torment for those who were separated from God, and that the eternal separation the damned endure is not one where they go out of existence and so they’re apart from God for all eternity. Like if I delete an email, I don’t say it’s eternally deleted, it’s just it’s deleted, it’s gone. No, there’s this kind of enduring separation that takes place. And so it contradicts what we have from the biblical data, what we have from the teachings of the church that Hell is a real reality, that it’s not purgative, that not everyone’s going to have … And universalism was condemned in the sixth century. You cannot hold the view as a Catholic that you know for certain all people are going to Heaven.
Now, that brings us to Bishop Barron and so I’m going to have to tease out the end of this podcast here, but don’t worry. We’re going to continue this discussion in part two episode of this week, where I want to give enough time and treatment to this topic. I guess I thought I could cover both of these in one episode, but that’s fine, we’ve got flexibility here.
So, now we’ve seen what universalism is. You can’t believe that, the view that it’s definite all people are going to go to Heaven. But what about another view? What about a view we might call hopeful universalism? That’s the view where we’re saying, “Well, we don’t know for certain all people are going to Heaven, but is it possible that no one will be lost? Is it possible that no one will end up in Hell? That Hell exists? It’s eternal, but it’s empty. No human beings end up there. Is it possible and something we should hope for that all human beings will end up in Heaven?” That would be the view called hopeful universalism espoused by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and it’s more popularly espoused today by Bishop Robert Barron. So, that view is not the same as universalism. It is not the same.
And so there’s two questions I would ask of that view. One, is it an Orthodox view, is it a view that a faithful Catholic can hold? Does it contradict church teaching? And two, is it a prudent view? Is it a view that we ought to hold? Is it a good idea? Those are two different views, but I want to make sure I give that view the best treatment in my next article.”
Love, Lord, give me the grace to worthy of Your reward at my judgment, particular, and universal(final, last),
-The Awesome Judgement — icon of the Second Coming. From Christ a river ﬂows forth: it is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is ﬁery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant are depicted.
“The prolific author and Eastern orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has just released a new book that covers a very old topic: Universalism, or the belief that all creatures will definitely be saved. In his new book That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, Hart argues that eventually all people (which may include fallen angels, though Hart doesn’t explicitly come out and say it) will spend eternity with God in heaven. That’s because an eternal hell is supposedly so unjust that if it were an essential part of Christian doctrine it would be (in Hart’s words) “proof that Christianity should be dismissed as a self-evidently morally obtuse and logically incoherent faith.” (As an aside, my colleague Karlo Broussard has done some great work showing hell is not unjust.)
The possibility that hell is empty is not a twenty-first century novelty. In the third century, the ecclesial writer Origen argued for apokatastasis, or a “restoration” that would unite all things, including unrepentant sinners, to God. This would seem to rule out the possibility that anyone would spend an eternity in hell, though modern commenters are divided over the implications of Origen’s theology on this question. According to Bible scholar Richard Bauckham:
“Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated. . . . Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation . . . though these few included some major theologians of the early church.”
The Catholic Church condemned universalism at the regional council of Orange in 543 AD, though a few theologians still held out hope for all creatures to be saved. This uniformity of thought began to change, however, with the rise of denominations like the Universalist Church of America (which exists today under the name Unitarian Universalism).
Most Christian universalists like Hart agree that hell is real and even believe that some or many people will go there. But from their perspective hell is a temporary “purgatory-like” condition and the Bible’s references to it being “eternal” only mean hell is a temporary punishment that the damned face in “the age to come” because the Greek word for eternity (aionion) can also mean “age” (Hart even refers to hell as “the purifying flames of the Age to come”).
As I’ve shown in my engagements with others who dispute the eternal aspect of hell, the endless nature of hell is quite obvious from the biblical texts. Given the strength of the Catholic Church’s case, universalists can’t just claim that the punishments of hell might not be permanent. To be convincing, they need to show positive evidence that all people will eventually be saved. When it comes to providing positive evidence, universalists usually cite biblical passages that, from their perspective, describe God effecting the salvation of every single person.
Hart seems puzzled, though, that these passages were not given more attention by theologians throughout the Church’s history, noting “how odd it is that for at least fifteen centuries such passages have been all but lost behind a veil as thin as the one that can be woven from those three or four deeply ambiguous verses that seem (and only seem) to threaten eternal torments for the wicked.”
But perhaps that’s because these passages don’t teach that everyone will be saved. Instead, they express the hope that anyone can be saved.
In 1 Timothy 2:4, for example, St. Paul says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But God also desires that we not sin, and yet we still do. God desires the good for all of his creatures, but because he has also given human beings and angels the gift of free will, it follows that God will allow us to enjoy or suffer the consequence of this good gift, even if it means eternal separation from him.
Although Hart admits he doesn’t like “reducing biblical theology to concentrated distillates (prooftexts)” he proceeds to do just that by listing nearly a dozen verses, including their original Greek and Hart’s own rendering of them from his own strange, overly-literal translation of the Bible. Unfortunately, his translation doesn’t offer much in terms of exegesis or understanding of these crucial texts.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” but this doesn’t mean that through Christ all people shall be brought to eternal life. What it means is that all who are “in Christ” (a phrase Paul often uses for the saved or elect) shall be brought to eternal life. This logic also explains Romans 5:18, wherein Paul says, “As one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
This refers to life for all believers, or those who are in Christ. We know this because in the previous verse Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” This is talking about the salvation of all believers, not the salvation of all people. Jesus himself says that he will “draw all men to himself” (John 12:32), but that doesn’t mean that people can’t reject him even after being so drawn. In this passage Jesus also foreshadows his own crucifixion, which may mean that all people will have their sins atoned for on the cross but the grace that Christ accrues for them may not be applied to their souls if they choose to reject it.
In other words, Christ draws all men to Himself and He died for every single person, offering them the gift of eternal life. But each person still has a choice, and some people will tragically refuse to accept Christ’s mercy and salvation. That is why the Church prays for the soul of anyone who has perished: because God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
If Hart’s universalism is true, then those who reject the gospel would cease to be “the lost” Jesus came to save (Luke 19:10) and become instead “the delayed,” who just have to wait a little longer for the heavenly rewards they rejected in life.
The evangelist who foolishly thinks universalism will make it easier to preach the gospel will see that without the “bad news” the “good news” isn’t taken seriously. On this view, Christianity becomes a faith that seeks to merely make “heaven on earth,” and by that point it’s nothing more than secular humanism playing dress-up on Sundays.
Contrary to Hart’s assertion, it is not the presence of hell that makes Christianity a “morally obtuse and logically incoherent faith”— it is its absence.”
(Ed. a great obstacle to all in properly understanding, and therefore properly having an INFORMED opinion of Catholic teaching or doctrine, is understanding the degree to which any given teaching is authoritative, the highest being a Church council of bishops, issuing documents to clarify or define teaching, which must be approved by the Pope, or no dice; think Vatican II, and then re-read your history of Christianity, and for two thousand years this has been so, back to the question regarding circumcision of Gentiles and Peter and Paul’s disagreement.
Christ DID NOT promise there would never be disagreement, or scandal, or controversy. In fact, He told us there would be these things, but NOT to fear! Because of what He would promise and do for us. He endured these negatives while still here on earth. He did promise His peace, to be with the Church always, and to send the Paraclete to protect His Church He founded from error. He even gave to its leader the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He gave its bishops the authority to loose and to bind, and that the gates of Hell would NEVER prevail against His Church!
Clerics and religious are human. They sin, just like the rest of us. They get it wrong and have bad days. Do the wrong thing for what they misunderstand or just get plain wrong, what they want to be right or justifiable reasons. They become afraid. They doubt, they grow tired and old. They question what they have devoted their lives towards, just like the rest of us.
But, thanks be to God, very, very literally, our faith is not about clerics or religious, or Church structures, or politics, or nastiness, or even sin. It is about the God-man, Who is perfect!!! Who is worthy of all praise and adoration. Who DID save us from the fires of Hell!!! Praise Him, Church!!! Praise Him!!! Turn away from sin. Turn to Jesus, and LIVE!!! He is all perfect, all calming, all soothing, all righteousness, all contenting. He IS God, ALL sufficing, loving, and supreme. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Rest in His peace, which He promised, and which He gives, which the world neither understands or could fantastically imagine providing, in truth and reality. Amen. Amen. Amen.
Please understand, I have not found the app which clearly and completely defines the authoritative degree of any given chapter number in the Catechism (CCC) in an attractive GUI & easy to understand definitions of each degree of authority, but there’s an idea app-innovators!!!! AND, there are opinions, and politics!!! Human fallen nature makes it SO EASY!! Not.) 🙁
“I have called universalism “the most attractive heresy.” For a lover of God’s love, universal salvation might seem to be necessary. (I guarantee you that some neo-fundamentalist will take that sentence out of context and attribute it to me without acknowledging what follows.)
However, I’m not a universalist. On the other hand, I’d rather be a universalist than a true Calvinist (i.e., a five point Calvinist who believes in double predestination).
Someone once asked me whether I would still worship God if somehow I became convinced the Calvinist view of God is correct. I had to say no. Sheer power is not worthy of worship. Only power controlled by love is worthy of worship.
If somehow I became convinced that universalism is correct, would I still worship God. Yes, but….
I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely. Of course, someone might argue that, in the end, every creature will freely offer love to God and be saved (e.g., Moltmann). I would just call that optimism. There’s no way to believe that true other than a leap of optimistic hope.
Everyone harbors some heresy in his or her heart and mind. The only question is–how serious are the heresies one holds? Of course, nobody thinks they harbor any heresies (in the sense of theologically incorrect beliefs).
I agree with Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (and others) that universalism is heresy. It is unbiblical and illogical. However, that does not mean a person who holds it is not a Christian. I have never met a Christian who was one hundred percent theologically correct. Scratch hard enough and you’ll always find some heresy beneath the surface (if not on the surface). That’s true for me as much as for anyone else. If I thought I held no heresies, I’d think I had already arrived at the fullness of truth–something even the apostle Paul did not claim.
I think universalism is a minor heresy SO LONG AS it does not interfere with evangelism. (See my earlier post here about why universalism should NOT interfere with evangelism.) I also evaluate the seriousness of universalism by its context–viz., why does the person affirm it? If universalism is evidence of a denial of God’s wrath and/or human sinfulness, then it is much more serious. Barth’s universalism (yes, I believe Karl Barth was a universalist and I’ll post a message here about why later) did not arise out of those denials which is why he didn’t like the appellation “universalist.” The term is usually associated with liberal theology. In that case, as part of an overall liberal/modernist theology, I consider it very serious indeed.
Strictly historically speaking, any universalism is heresy–according to all major branches of Christianity. The Catholic church allows hope for universal salvation but not confident affirmation of it. But, of course, as Luther demonstrated, all branches of Christianity can be wrong. That is why I reject paleo-orthodoxy and any appeal to absolute authority of tradition. Tradition gets a vote but never a veto. The Bible trumps tradition. (Ed. Mr. Olson is NOT rejecting Tradition here. He is insisting, as is correct, that you cannot have either/or, ever. You MUST have and/both. Which is correct, and required.)
When universalism is believed on biblical grounds (as in The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald–a pseudonym), it is much less serious than when it is believed as part of a liberal theology that denies the wrath of God and the sinfulness of all human beings (except Jesus Christ, of course).
(Sidebar regarding neo-fundamentalism: A neo-fundamentalism is someone who will take what I have written here and claim I have affirmed universalism or at least given aid and comfort to heretics. A neo-fundamentalist, like a straightforward fundamentalist, is a person who cannot distinguish between non-absolute condemnation of error and error itself. Count on it. Some probably Southern Baptist heresy-hunting neo-fundamentalist will pick up on this blog post and spread it around as “proof” that Roger Olson harbors sympathies with universalism. That is, however, evidence of either a weak mind or ill will.)
So, what is my final word on universalism? I don’t have a “final word” on it because “it” is not all that clear. What kind of universalism? Based on what? I consider all positive affirmations of universal salvation that include denial of everlasting hell heretical. But not all are equally bad or condemnable. Some are based on confusion. Some are based on liberal theology. Some (e.g., Karl Barth’s) are based on the logic of God’s love and electing grace (viz., “Jesus is victor!”). All are wrong, but not all are equally bad.
Let me be clear. (This is necessary because of the power of neo-fundamentalists within evangelicalism today!) I am not a universalist nor do I sympathize with universalism. I am simply trying to get people to consider the possibility that not all versions of universalism are on the same level of error. There is egregious error and there is simple error. One kind of universalism (based on denial of God’s wrath and human sinfulness) is egregious error. Another kind (based on confusion about God’s love requiring his overriding free will) is simple error. I hope I don’t hold any egregious errors, but I’m sure I hold some simple errors. I am open to having those pointed out to me.”
Love & His mercy,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine