Universalist Systematic Theology?


Does anyone know if any good systematic theologies have been written from a universalist perspective? Since every doctrine affects every other doctrine, I think this is an important consideration.


Not really. Barth’s dogmatics would be closest, I guess; and he didn’t like being called a universalist.

On the other hand, Balthasar (who was certainly a Catholic universalist) is also famous for his systematic theology work; so if you don’t mind an RCC perspective you might look into that. (Unfortunately I’ve thrown away my most recent Ignatius catalog, so I can’t point you to the seminal works of his on systematic theology. A search on Amazon ought to turn them up.)

I am supposing by “systematic theology” you mean something like ‘a theology derived from exegetical study of scripture’. I’ll be starting a discussion series on systematic metaphysics here soon, which will arrive eventually at universalism after having arrived first at trinitarian orthodoxy. (Or anyway the pieces will be in place for the reader to arrive at universalism, since in my main text I don’t make that an explicit conclusion. For which Steve Hays at Triablogue called me a “snake in the grass”. :wink: )

Anyway, so (arguably) the most famous and highly regarded systematic theologian of modern Protestantism (Barth) and (arguably) the most famous and highly regarded systematic theologian of modern Catholicism (Balthasar) were both either universalists or (in the case of Barth) might as well have been. Having never read their works myself, I’m not in a position to assess their value as systematic theologians, but other people seem to think very highly of them. :slight_smile:

(I expect Gregory could add more info, if he would…? The new book he’s helping edit will feature essays on both of them, among other high-rankers across the ideological spectrum within modern Christianity.)


Update: I’m pretty sure Barth’s volumes of Systematic Theology are called “Church Dogmatics”.

Balthasar’s Systematic Theology volumes, though, are called “Explorations In Theology”. There are four main volumes (“Word Made Flesh”, “Spouse of the Word”, “Creator Spirit”, and “Spirit And Institution”), and at least two auxiliary volumes (“Epilogue” and “Elucidation”). An obviously related book would be his “Credo”.


Thanks Jason. I’ve read some Balthasar and like his thoughts on the topic. Ironically, though I am a Protestant I like his thinking a lot more than Barth’s thinking.


I would suggest the works of the Russian Orthodox priest, Sergius Bulgakov.

His little trilogy:

  1. The Friend of the Bridegroom (1927) [on John the Baptist]
  2. The Burning Bush (1927) [on the Theotokos]
  3. Jacob’s Ladder (1929) [on the holy angels]

His great trilogy:

  1. The Lamb of God (1933) [on Christology]
  2. The Comforter (1936) [on pneumatology]
  3. The Bride of the Lamb (1945) [on ecclesiology and eschatology]

Bulgakov was a hard-core universalist who held that universalism is an ontological necessity.


Great rec, Geoffrey!

I do want to add (being picky as I am), that Balthasar by report (I want to emphasize this, but it was reported by someone who was a fan and apologist for Balth) seemed to believe in the schism either of the substance of God (with the Father abandoning the Son in hell) or of the two-natures of Christ (with the divine nature of Christ docetically abandoning the human nature of Christ in hell; which in principle would be the same as the divine Son abandoning the human Son on the cross. And which would probably, a little more incidentally, also entail two utterly distinct persons of the Son.)

Not so much of a problem for some people, but a problem for me; and a problem (if accurate) for Balthasar self-consistently, insofar as he meant to affirm and teach elsewhere the non-docetic two-natures of Christ along with a unity of the substance.


Thanks Geoffrey! I am starting to figure out that my reading has been too exclusively based on Western thinkers so I’m glad to have some good Eastern Orthodox recs.

That is troubling about Balthasar, Jason. I’ve only read his book on the subject of Hell and universalism so I don’t really know much about his other views. To be honest though while I hold to what those ancient councils say about the two natures of Christ and such, I wonder about the metaphysic necessity of it all. Metaphysics is currently beyond me so I doubt if I’ll even understand your discussion of it later on another thread. :confused:


Yah, it’s technical. ({rimshot!} Bit of a pun there. :mrgreen: )

Leaving aside the question of whether Balthasar was (intentionally? inadvertently?) teaching one or more of those positions (I tried to get Fr. Oakes or Dr. Pitstick to clarify what Fr. Oakes had said or seemed to be saying on the matter, back a couple of years ago when they were debating Balthasar’s orthodoxy in First Things–but Dr. Pitstick didn’t reply, and Fr. Oakes didn’t understand the question)…

Put shortly: if the Person of the Father schisms from the Person of the Son, then we’re no longer talking about supernaturalistic theism but rather about some other very different theology (such as one or another type of Mormonism), assuming the two Persons are supposed to be ontologically on par with one another.

If the Father and the Son are not supposed to be ontologically on par with one another (such as in Arianism or neo-Arianism, where the Son is either a super-angel or a human super-hero or some mixture thereof–anyway, a created entity ontologically inferior to God), then God is not Himself directly involved in our salvation and is not sacrificing Himself for our sakes. Also, in this scenario we’re probably (though not certainly) talking about some sheer monotheism where God cannot be intrinsically an active interpersonal unity in His own self-existence (i.e. God cannot be love.)

If the Son has only a divine Nature, not (also) a human nature, then God’s participation with us in Nature, including for our salvation, is (at the least) not as extensive as it might otherwise be. (The old orthodox complaint on this, is that the nature which is not assumed is not saved. They mean “taken up into, corporately” by “assumption” there.) Some minority positions among Trinitarians, however, don’t have a problem with this per se, and consider the claimed human nature to be encroaching on the divinity of the Son. (The Coptic Christian church is perhaps the largest group of such Trinitarians.) More problematic would be that it would seem to make a hash of the scriptural data (in all four Gospels, and in the Epistles) pointing to the full humanity of the Son Incarnate. How the monophysite trinitarians get around this problem, I don’t know; but historically the docetite Christians got around it by claiming those portions were only a sham or an illusion or something of that sort. One upshot to that line of thinking is that the divine Son couldn’t have died on the cross, either: a position resolutely insisted upon by many docetists (such as the author and audience of the Gospel of Judas, where Judas is the one to die on the cross.)

If the Son has two natures, but only one nature (the human one) descends into hades, abandoned by God; then first it becomes difficult in principle to hold that the divine Son even died in the first place (with the consequent problems mentioned already), and second it becomes difficult in principle to coherently claim that God (Father, Son, Spirit, Whoever) resurrected the human Son. If there is no problem with God being ‘with’ the human Son for resurrection out of hades, then why was there a problem with God being ‘with’ the human Son in descent into hades?! At best the abandonment seems arbitrary as an action on God’s part. (Not even counting that it contravenes the Psalm, typically applied both to Christ and at least to faithful God-fearers, that God will be with us in hades.) At worst, it means that God could not be with the human Son descending into hades, and then we’re in all kinds of denial of supernaturalistic theism again. (How does the Son continue existing at all? Do souls in hades become self-existent independent facts, as Satan would have us believe? And what is absolutely preventing God from being present with the human Son, thus blocking God’s omnipresence? And if God cannot be present in action with the human Son, then who or Who is resurrecting the Son? The human Son himself? A God superior to God? Satan!?)

Getting back to the thread’s topic: strictly speaking, an exegetical theology (which is typically called “systematic theology”) isn’t supposed to be concerned with such debates. It’s only supposed to be concerned with identifying and (where possible) arranging into a system the doctrinal details being testified to in a set of scripture.

In practice, though, exegetes still invariably appeal to metaphysical rationales for how to cogently interpret the data. Which is why I prefer to start with the metaphysical rationales and take them as far as feasibly possible.


Incidentally, I just splurged on these yesterday. :mrgreen: Amazon had a great combo deal on all three as paperbacks.

I would have gotten Balth’s systematic theology for my library at the same time, but I already had just splurged even more on a mess of DVDs and software from Ignatius (from which, among other things, I hope to go through the works of Gregory of Nyssa). So since I doubt I can read both at the same time, I balanced my RCC purchasing spree with this set from the EOx.

I flagged Balthasar’s relevant works for purchasing later, though. I’ve been wanting to read him for years, but just haven’t gotten around to it, and I’m tired of talking about him at secondhand. :slight_smile: