The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Official Anglicanism, Hell, and Hope of Universalism

In 1996, the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England published a book called The Mystery of Salvation ( The British press responded to this Anglican publication with hype by saying things like, “The Church’s empty hell.” Theologian Richard Bauckham, formerly a member of the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England, responded to the hype in the press (

I don’t have access to the 1996 book The Mystery of Salvation, but Bauckham freely offers a link to his response, see above link. For example,

“We cannot say dogmatically whether in the end anyone will choose hell. But hell is an absolutely serious possibility of which people must be warned. No one should suppose that while refusing to know God now, they can always change their mind later. As in all areas of life, our choices now may limit the choices we can make in the future.”

This statement clearly implies that the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England accepts the possibility of universalism, sometimes called the hope of universalism.

We’re slowly getting there. The Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Anglicans all at least acknowledge the possibility, which is better than dismissing it as heresy! Now if we can just convince the Evangelicals… :slight_smile:

Lutherans, too, kind of! :smiley:

That’s a sweep of all the most ancient branches, I think. (OrOx? I suspect they did/do, too, considering the two founders of the Antioch school were universalists…)

Though keep in mind, there’s a limit to how far the RCCs can go: a pope already officially declared definite teaching of it to be heretical. They won’t go over that step unless they can keep his authoritative inerrancy.

Jason ~

while the RCC may officially condemn UR as dogma, i’ve heard Universalist sentiments from individual Catholics, and devout and informed Catholics, too. one fellow mused that if Christ’s death did not atone for the sins of all, it couldn’t have been very powerful.

the RCC officially teaches, in its catechism, that :

847 : Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

1058 : The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

seems like reason to have hope in UR can be found in the RC catechism, though not reason to declare it.

Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell (1988).

Balthasar was highly esteemed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Here is the blurb from Ignatius Press:

‘The Church’s teaching on Hell has been generally neglected by theologians, with the notable exception of Fr. von Balthasar. However, what he has said has stirred controversy both in Europe and in the United States. Here he responds in a clear and concise way, grounding his reflections clearly in Scripture. Revelation gives us neither the assurance that all will be saved, nor the certitude that any are condemned. What it does require of us is the “hope that all men be saved” rooted in a love of Christ that reaches even into the depths of Hell.’

RCC seems closed to dogmatic universalism but open to the hope of universalism, similar to Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodox.

There’s actually quite a debate among RCCs about whether Balthasar was encroaching too far against previously established ecclesial proclamations.

It is generally agreed that the Latin synod under the patriarch Menna, which picked up and affirmed the anathemas of Emperor Justinian against Origen, was confirmed by Vigilius in signature as “Supreme Pontiff” at that time (543).

Canon 9, the final entry, bluntly states: “If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.” (Relatedly canon 7 denies that Jesus was crucified for the sake of demons, although the phrasing is such that specifically it is denying that Jesus will be crucified at some future time for demons as He once has been already for sinful men.)

Not long afterward, Pope Pelagius I (writing his statement of faith in the letter “humani generis” to Childebert I, April 557, explaining the Catholic faith to that monarch) asserts again as part of his opening statement (indeed as part of his “faith and hope”!) that the wicked shall be given over by God to the punishment of eternal and inextinguishable fire, “that they may burn without end.”

Pope Innocent III, writing to Andrew the Archbishop of Lyons in January of 1206, mentions in passing as part of his explanation for why the RCCs insist on infant baptism, that while the punishment of original sin is (only) the deprivation of God (thus infants who died unbaptized are not tormented with everlasting hell but only with everlasting deprivation of God), the punishment of actual sin is torment of everlasting hell. (And by ‘everlasting’ he certainly means ‘everlasting’, since his whole point is that God seeks the salvation of even the smallest child and so has made provision to save as many as possible through infant baptism.) He also, sort-of in passing, tacitly dismisses the notion that the punishment of hell may be intended to lead to the salvation of those who suffer the punishment, by appeal that it is contrary to the Christian religion to force conversion on anyone, including by torture, seeing as someone may by torture make only a shallow conversion in order to avoid the torture (but that anyway the whole operation is the worst kind of tyranny unfit for any Christian ruler, much moreso for God.)

Innocent IV, during the 13th Ecumenical (Catholic) Council, (Lyons I, 1245, convened against the monarch Frederick II), wrote in a letter (“Sub Catholicae”) to the Bishop of Tusculum, of the Legation of the Apostolic See among the Greeks (i.e. the Greek Orthodox, concerning admission of Greek congregations into Roman Catholic communion), required that they reject even the possibility of universalism and shift their notion of purgatory into agreement with RCC dogma on that topic:

“Moreover [after asserting RCC doctrine about purgatory being a transitory fire not intended to save criminal or capital sins] if anyone without repentance dies in mortal sin, without a doubt he is tortured forever by the flames of eternal hell.”

(A note to this document does state that Innocent was not sending out dogmatic decrees at this time. But he treated the matter as already being settled RC dogma.)

Clement VI, Sept of 1351, in writing the letter “Super quibusdam” to the Consolator, the Catholicon of the (probably Jacobite, i.e. Oriental Orthodox) Armenian Church at that time, who was apparently seeking ecumenical audience, while busily asserting the primacy of Roman Pontiff, wanted to know if the Consolator was willing to agree (or perhaps was already teaching) “that all who have raised themselves against the faith of the Roman Church and have died in final impenitence have been damned and have descended to the eternal punishments of hell.” (Which he afterward sharply distinguishes from purgatory.) Later in the same letter, he indicates that the Armenians are in error for believing (much less hoping) for salvation from hell per se.

Eugenius IV, issuing the papal bull “Cantata Domino” in regard to Jacobite Armenians during the Council of Florence in 1441 (re-issued in what was then ‘modern style’ 1442), ended the bull with the assertion that unless a person died in 'the bosom and unity" of the Roman Catholic Church, that person could under no circumstances be saved afterward, but that all those who die while not living within the RCC “not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Beyond this there are several papal affirmations of the Nicene Creed portion concerning everlasting judgment, punishment or hell; by which in context with other proclamations on the topic since Vigilius (at least), they mean everlasting in an unbroken and unbreakable ongoing sequence.

I wasn’t able to find anything else in the current “Sources of Catholic Dogma” on that topic post, up through Pius XII (20th century); maybe Benedict or JP2, or one of their predecessors had something more to say on the topic.

But it’s going to be tough for Catholic universalists to hold even a hope for universalism while being in formal communion with the RCC, with this kind of dogmatic track record behind them. There really isn’t much room for debate (actually no room) as to what the papal teaching has been since the 6th century, without allowing for papal fallibility somehow.

Jason, since an esteemed RC cardinal published a book with Ignatius Press that encourages the hope of universalism, I don’t see how you can say that “it’s going to be tough for Catholic universalists to hold even a hope for universalism while being in formal communion with the RCC.”

Balthasar is awesome beyond reason, and extremely well thought of by a bunch of high-rankers; so he’s allowed more leeway than some people. Much like Gregory of Nyssa. :mrgreen:

Still, when Dr. Pitstick and Fr. Oaks debated one another about Balt in First Things a few years ago, I noticed (much to my Protestant annoyance) that they focused hardly any on what I considered the substantial issues (Balt’s scriptural arguments, if any; his theological coherency, if any–I never did get a straight answer from Fr. Oakes about whether he was saying Balt was teaching something amounting to a schism of the Persons of the Trinity in his notion of Christ’s descent into hell, to give only one example). No, mainly they wanted to hash over whether he was in dogmatic agreement with official church tradition, represented ultimately by papal decrees.

The fact however is that canon lawyers ought to have a pretty shut case against him even hoping for universal salvation. Papal declarations on this are just very strong. Indeed at least twice the declarations are crucial to Eastern congregations joining the RCC under the authority of the pope.

They’ll go far out of their way to keep from denying Balt died out of dogmatic communion with the RCC, of course, but he’s on track for sainthood confirmation, so there will be pressure building up eventually over the next few decades (whatever the minimum time limit is for the start of that process) about whether he even had to enter purgatory for suggesting heterodox views within his capacity as Cardinal.

Jason ~

yet the points in the RC catechism i cited above would seem to hold out a greater, wider hope for a more diverse group of people than those who died within the Catholic Church, and free from mortal sin.

what is your take on that? do those Papal decrees trump the implied wider hope of portions of the catechism?

Technically? Yes, the Pope (and the Magisterium, I guess), trumps the Catechism. :wink:

(And the Pope trumps the Magisterium.)

Also, item 847 affirms some version of inclusivism. That’s very different from universalism (as inclusivists are often quite quick to point out!)

Now, it’s probably worth pointing out that item 847, taken by itself (and I’d have to check the current Catechism to see whether it’s qualified), actually goes smack against what was taught by Popes ex cathedra concerning salvation outside communion of the RCC before death–namely, it ain’t gonna happen, ever, including (especially!) after death. I mentioned a couple of those items in my list upthread; there are others I could list.

Item 1058, by terms of the prayer actually prayed (“Lord let me never be parted from you”), is about persistence of the saints; not about praying that no one ever anywhere should be lost. For the RCCs that would be to pray against revelation of scripture and papal teaching. Which would be to put oneself outside communion with the RCC. (And dying in such a state would be, let’s say, bad. :wink: )

The RCC does kind of whiffle back and forth on persistence of God to save the elect–Calvin didn’t get his ideas from nowhere, nor just straight from scripture (that’s why he kept appealing to Augustine, and why Calvs often prefer to be called Augustinians). But as I think I noted in passing when quoting dogmatic source material earlier, the RCC generally affirms that even a nominal Roman Catholic, and maybe one who has actually received charismatic sacramentalism (not merely used the sacraments), could be permanently lost by their own choice of permanent apostasy. The concept there is that if even an RC refuses purgatory (much less any other salvation), then they won’t receive it, and it won’t be offered again after death. (But I think there’s debate over whether such people were ever truly in the Catholic Church or not, similar to Calv debates with Arms. I don’t know whether officially accepted popes have made declarations on both sides ex cathedra, but I suspect they have.)

Item 1058 is part of a summary of Article 12 of Chapter 3 of Section Two of Part One of the most recent (2008) Catechism.

It is immediately preceded by Items 1057 and 1056:

1056 Following the example of Christ, the Church warns
the faithful of the “sad and lamentable reality of
eternal death” (GCD 69), also called “hell.”

1057 Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal
separation from God in whom alone man can have the life
and happiness for which he was created and for which
he longs.

Topic Four of Article 12 is the key catechism statement on hell (items 1033 through 1037):

I can quote other Catechism statements, too. For example

I’m pretty sure I could quote some more. :frowning:

(I have the Cat, and its official companion commentary, on disc. I haven’t quoted from the commentary yet, since that’s only a learned commentary and not Magisterium teaching led by the Pope ex cathedra.)

Among Roman Catholics, there is a wide range of disagreement over what papal pronouncements are “infallible.”

There’s even disagreement as to whether reception by all the faithful is one of the criteria that has to be met.

Vatican I seems to rule out reception, but Vatican II seems to throw it back in the mix.

(one view is that papal prouncements don’t require formal ratification by bishops or laity, but if they’re never actually received and believed by the faithful, it’s evidence that they were never actually spoken “ex-cathedra.”)

Before he was Pope Benedict the 16th, Cardnal Ratzinger once said that any papal pronouncement that lacked sufficient support in scripture, creed, and the consenses of the Church, would lack the requirements necessary for it to be considered ex-cathedra (even if the Pope thought he was speaking infallibly.)

To make matters more confussing, Hans Kung said that Papal infallibility is neither true or false, it’s meaningless.

His teaching priveledge at Catholic universities was revoked, but he wasn’t excommunicated (and last I heard, he was still receiving communion in the Roman Catholic Church, and on speaking terms with the Pope.)

As Vatican I (the council that first declared papal infallibility a dogma of the Roman Catholic Faith) said that anyone who denied papal infallibility had cut himself off from the Church entirely, this could be taken as evidence that the teaching of Papal infallibility itself has never been fully “received” by the faithful.

(It’s also interesting the Cardnal Ratzinger once suggested that the Eastern Orthodox were right in according the see of Rome only a primacy of honor, and said that this was it’s position in the early Church.)

That’s a good point.

But there isn’t a wide range of disagreement whether a strong majority of the RC bishops and laity agree with papal declarations concerning the hopelessness of hell per se. So whether reception is appealed to or not as a technical issue, unless the RCC makes a place for faithful minority dissent from both constant papal teaching on the topic (across a wide range of papal releases including at least one papal bull) and strong majority acceptance, universalism can only be held to hopefully while being in technical schism (at best) from communion with the visible Church Catholic (as understood by the Roman Catholic Church).

The main reason leeway is allowed for people like NyssGreg and Balt, is because they are so incredibly highly regarded as champions of orthodoxy and supporters of the unity of the Church in other regards. Their rationales from principle reason and scriptural exegesis may (or may not) inspire respect for their disagreement (and in Greg’s case, the fact that he wrote on the topic before the first official papal decree on record about this topic), but at the end of the day they’re still attempting to trump papal teaching and majority faith consensus both within the history of the RCC.

I don’t say this lightly. What the RCC has done with the papal office is one of the main reasons keeping me (and many others, the EOx included) out of communion with Rome, despite my respect for the institution. But their authoritative stance since the 6th century on universalism, or even post-mortem salvation, means I can’t be in formal communion with them either. Not so long as I believe they’re going ultimately against both principle logic and scriptural testimony (taken altogether) to hold non-universalistic positions. (I strongly suspect they end up inadvertently contravening trinitarian theism, too, particularly for sake of holding to hopelessness.)

I would love to find that Balt had successfully argued otherwise. (I really need to read that book anyway, sometime, in my list of things to do! Mental note to do so before Christmas this year…) But listening to the debate back and forth among RCs, I just don’t get the impression he did so. (If anything, he himself seems to have schismed either the two natures of Christ, or the Persons of the Father and Son, in trying to defend his notion of Christ’s descent into hell!) And I’m not very happy with the idea that I have some kind of right to force the RCs (or the EOx for that matter) to accept me into their communion despite some pretty clear dissent on my part.

imo that is such a shame… Scripture holds out hope in it, many early men of God considered saints by the Catholic Church professed it, and yet the Catholic Church today can not consider it, because of the words of men, and how She interprets those words.

and it’s odd that their own catechism should hold out salvation as a possibility for those outside of the Church, while the Church itself technically teaches just the opposite. shouldn’t the catechism accurately reflect the official position of the RCC? why the discrepency?

for those interested, there’s a pretty interesting thread on Monachos (an Eastern Orthodox discussion forum) on the EOC’s teachings on universal salvation :

Universalism and the Orthodox Church

the Eastern Orthodox seem to be a lot less dogmatic, and more hopeful on the issue. though one can’t, as you’ve stated Jason, emphatically believe that all will be saved and be on par with Orthdox doctrine, one may safely hope that all may be saved. perhaps this is thanks to the Orthodox being more ok with mystery than the Catholic West.

If they still take an authoritative stance against universalism and post-mortem salvation, it’s strange that this prayer should be said at every mass.

Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

It’s hard to understand “our brothers and sisters, AND ALL THE DEPARTED” in anything but a universalist sense.

Majority agreement might be something less than reception by all the faithful.

Also, there are other issues involved.

Roman Catholics do not regard the Pope as infallible when he’s teaching something new.

Only when he’s “defining” something that’s already part of “the deposit of faith.”

If UR is taught in scripture, was taught by great saints like Gregory of Nyssa, and was the majority opinion for the first five hundred years of the Church, eternal torment could not be part of “the deposit of faith.”

Here’s that quote from Pope Benedict the 16th (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger):

Criticism of Papal pronouncements will be possible and even necessary, to the extent that they lack support in scripture and the creed, that is, in the faith of the whole Church. When neither the consensus of the whole church is had, nor clear evidence from the sources is available, an ultimately binding decission is not possible. Were one formally to take place, the conditions for such an act would be lacking, and hence the question concerning it’s legitimacy would have to be raised. (Das neuve Volk Gotts . Entwurfe zur Ekklesiologie, Dusseldorf:
Patmos-Verlag, 1969, p. 144.)

As far as the councils that Rome went right on having after the split between east and west, I believe Pope Paul the 6th once refered to them as “local synods of the Western Church,” which would mean that they’re not truly eccumenical (and lack the dogmatic authority of the seven Eccumenical Councils.)

Me too, but I can see how it can be interpreted so narrowly as to become (as Hans Kung said) meaningless.

And given historical facts like Popes being declared heretics by Eccumenical council (and other Popes), all Catholics recognize that a broad interpretation of papal infallibility (such as “everything the Pope says is infallible”) is impossible.

My problem with papal infallibility is not that I believe it presents some obstacle to a universalist understanding of scripture, but that I find it difficult to see any baby in the bath water here.

Maintaining such a highly qualified and restricted doctrine of infallibility seems not only meaningless, but misleading (and false) to me.

Also, since many Roman Catholic Theologians would agree that the split in 1054 A.D. was the result of a misunderstanding, and that there were heretical teachings (deserving of protest, though not taught as dogma) in the western Church at the time of Martin Luther, I fail to see how the office of Pope has done anything to preserve the unity of the body of Christ (which is what I believe most Roman Catholics would say was it’s purpose.)

P.S. As far as the EOC is concerned, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has a web site promoting UR, and represented the EO at a meeting in Rome (where he informed Roman Catholics that the Eastern Orthodox concept of hell was similar to their concept of purgatory.)

Regarding Roman Catholicism and Universalism:

A Universalist Pope could reason thus:

Previous papal pronouncements regarding Hell are all 100% correct, and they do not exclude Universalism. The previous pronouncements assumed that some men die unbaptized and/or with unconfessed mortal sins. And of course such persons would enter Hell. And these pronouncements said that any in Hell would never get out. That, too, is 100% correct. Thus we have the following truths of the Faith:

  1. All those dying unbaptized go to Hell.
  2. All those dying with unconfessed mortal sin go to Hell.
  3. All those in Hell never get out.

Do we know how many persons are in the first two categories listed above? No. Therefore, the number of each could be zero. For example:

At the moment before death Christ appears to each man, and each man consents to baptism and confesses all his sins. He then dies, and thus escapes Hell. Does Catholic dogma deny that possibility? No. Perhaps a man could say, “Where do you find this in the Bible or in Holy Tradition?” Well, plenty of good Catholics asked the same question regarding Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but that was defined as binding dogma in 1854.

Geoffrey ~

that’s an interesting position. i’m reminded a bit of Near Death Experiences, where people describe dying and meeting a beautiful, white, engulfing light, and some describe the figure of a man within the light. i don’t believe that anyone facing Christ and free to understand, without the barrier of sin, who He is would chose to reject Him. if they did, they would essentially chose hell, and chose all that goes with it.

does the Catholic Church hold out any hope of or possibility for post-mortem salvation?

According to the Catechism and Dogmatic Sources (as reffed above), no it does not. Hope or possibility for post-mortem salvation is explicitly and strongly excluded.

This is why some RCs go along with the route Geoffrey mentioned, which I take to be Balthasar’s position, namely that all sinners may be granted an at-death (but not post-death) visitation from Christ and so an opportunity to confess all sin, thus theoretically all sinners may possibly take this opportunity.

However, they would still necessarily draw the line at the demons (who are still sinning persons)–which again the Catechism and the Dogmatic Sources definitely and dogmatically assert (as I recall). At least one of the popes specifically anathema’d the idea that rebel non-human spirits will be saved by Christ.

And frankly, the tenor of the other statements on the topic is that some humans will definitely be put into hell. We just aren’t told which ones (aside from the Beast and the False Prophet in RevJohn, although I don’t recall offhand whether the RCC has a dogmatic position on these being real people and not some kind of mythical concept representations.) But their explicit denial of post-mortem salvation, plus their explicit affirmation of a post-mortem resurrection of the wicked and the good with the wicked going into the lake of fire, adds up to hopelessness for at least some human souls. They just don’t try to (dogmatically or even just doctrinally) say which ones.

The upshot is that an RC theologian might technically allow that Judas could have been saved by Christ at the point of death, although the theologian would have to be agnostic about whether that really happened; and might technically allow there’s good reason to believe all people are offered free salvation from Christ at the point of death (though RC dogma doesn’t affirm this outright–but doesn’t exclude it yet either); but he’d have to say some people certainly won’t be saved by Christ, first and foremost Satan and his minions, and apparently also some human sinners, too, although he technically cannot be in a position to say with any certainty who.

I don’t know yet how Balthasar gets around the apparent clarity of affirmation that some people will certainly be hopelessly condemned. I suspect he does so by appealing to the concept that all prophecies contain conditionals even if unspoken at the time of the prophecy (much as our own James Goetz does in his new book, which I’ve been enjoying editing off and on for the past several weeks btw! :mrgreen: ) But I don’t know yet.

That’s exactly it, Jason: Von Balthasar relies on prophecies being conditional. He interprets Christ’s relevant parables (such as the sheep and goats in Matthew 25) in precisely that way [putting it in my own words, here]:

“Hey! You human beings had better watch out! You each live under the very real possibility of Hell. So you’d better be baptized! And you’d better not die in mortal sin! IF you don’t listen to me, you’ll end up in Hell and never get out!”

As for the Beast and the Antichrist, the Roman Catholic Church does not insist upon their being historical persons.

At this point in Catholicism’s history, a person could believe that all men will be saved, but he would have to recognize that one can be a good Catholic and hold the contrary view. It is of course theoretically possible that in the future universalism will be dogmatically defined as Catholic truth. The converse is also of course theoretically possible.

The question of Satan and his demons is a thornier one. I suppose that a Catholic universalist could argue that Satan and the demons are not actual persons, but epiphenomena that arise from human sin and death. In this case, Satan and the demons are not creations of God but rather “creations” of sin and death. Thus, when sin and death cease to exist, Satan and the demons will ipso facto cease to exist. On this view, of course it would be heretical (and, frankly, bizarre) to assert the salvation of Satan and the demons. That would be no different than asserting the salvation of sin and of death. (“God is going to save Sin and Death, so they can go to Heaven!” :confused: )