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Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell Paperback – November 1, 1988
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The thesis of Balthasar in this book is this: We all, as Christians, are under the judgement of the Lord. We are all anticipating a final judgement. It is a judgement that we do not have a verdict for. So we must reckon with the real possibility that it is in our power to be lost. The path of good and bad lie before all. So we must be zealous for ourselves. We also can have a firm hope for everyone, because Christ has died for all, therefore all have died. On the Basis of Christ's universal atonement and desire for all to be saved, we can have a hope that all may be saved.
This thesis that we may have hope for all men should not have been controversial, but sadly it has been. This book can often be a bit dense and unreadable, and not much in the book was new or radical. None the less this book has garnered much controversy and is a testament to the hope that we have in Christ for the human race.
Balthasar argued that it is not. Yes, the Scriptures speak about eternal damnation and Jesus himself gives grave warnings that damnation is a real threat that may befall individuals. It would be improper to try and explain away these passages in scripture with a universalistic picture in mind. Where Balthasar differs from most conservatives (both Protestant and Catholic) is that he also claims that it would be improper to explain away the universalistic texts with an Augustinian view of hell in mind. In the New Testament there are two series of texts which are irreconcilable in one large scale interpretative framework without using one set to undermine what the other is saying. Since the 'hell-fire' texts come more easily to mind to me (and probably many Christians) I will quote below some of the universalistic texts:
"God...desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all." (1st Tim. 2:4)
"[Christ is] the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." (1st Tim. 4:10)
"Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (John 12:31)
"The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men." (Titus 2:11)
"God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all..." (Romans 11:32)
I could keep quoting but I think that I communicated the point. Throughout most of Church history this part of Scripture has either been ignored or interpreted through the lens of the 'hell-fire' passages so that they no longer have their true universalistic meaning applied to them. Since Augustine, the threats about hell hardened to actualities about the non-Christian other. An us vs. them mentality was spawned instead of a true Kingdom mentality. The tension between grace and judgment in Augustine (which goes back to Paul) was decided on the side of (punitive) 'judgment.' This tension in the writings of the Apostle Paul was abolished by Augustine and from him through the medieval era, through the Reformation and all the way down to many Christians today, the issue was decided.
The alternative view, embraced by Balthasar (and tentatively, me) is that a Christian can and should hope for the salvation of all, meaning the hope that God's grace reaches even the hardest of hearts in the end. Unlike universalists we do not state this hope as a certain fact. We live under judgment and we do not know. Neither can we state the Augustinian converse. It is not our place to judge but Christ's. The threat of hell is not spoken primarily about others but about me. It is placed to each individual reading Scripture or this blog entry. "...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt. 25:40)
Balthasar provides this quote from Josef Pieper at the end of his book Dare We Hope:
"In theological hope the 'antitithesis' between divine justice and divine mercy is, as it were, 'removed'- not so much 'theoretically' as existentiall: supernatural hope is man's appropriate, existential answer to the fact that these qualities in God, which to the creature appear contradictory, are actually identical. One who looks only at the justice of God is as little able to hope as is one who sees only the mercy of God. Both fall prey to hopelessness- one to the hopelessness of despair, the other to the hopelessness of presumption. Only hope is able to comprehend the reality of God that surpasses all antititheses, to know that his mercy is identical to his justice and his judtice with his mercy."
The book begins with the translation of _Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved?"_. Von Balthasar begins by considering the "Issue and the Charge" - i.e. the fact that we as Christians are under judgment ("It is the Lord who judges me." - 1 Cor. 4:4). Von Balthasar considers the views of different theologians regarding the nature of this judgment, noting that some maintain that should one not face up to the harsh reality of the thing then one runs the risk of "wearing rose coloured glasses". Von Balthasar shows how there are various threatening impostures mentioned in Scripture which point to the reality of Hell and could be interpreted to seem to indicate that it is not empty. However, von Balthasar makes a careful distinction between a pre- and post-Easter message. Thus, the pre-Easter Jesus frequently expresses the fact that one need fear Hell and judgment, but the post-Easter Jesus points to a more universalistic message after the salvation of mankind has been bought in His blood. Von Balthasar also considers the role of predestination in Christian thought and the reflections of Newman on Hell. Following this, Von Balthasar turns to the New Testament as a source for our understanding of the doctrine of Hell. Von Balthasar divides the statements made in the New Testament about man's judgment into two types - those that speak in a threatening manner about eternal damnation and those that speak in a more universalistic and hopeful manner. Von Balthasar considers the pre- and post-Easter messages of Jesus, distinguishing between the two, and noting the role of the prayers of the church for salvation of all souls. Von Balthasar also reflects on the letters of John and Paul, noting their messages about salvation. Finally, von Balthasar mentions the use of the term "apokatastasis" (the universal salvation) and noting the role that such a term may not have played in the writings of Karl Barth. Following this, von Balthasar turns to discuss Origen and Augustine. Origen is the church father perhaps most famous for teaching the universal reconciliation; however, certain of his teachings were later condemned. Von Balthasar discusses ancient formulas of the Faith and the Jewish sheol. Von Balthasar also discusses the thought of Origen concerning the apokatastasis and the "restoration of all things", even as this relates to the Devil himself. Von Balthasar mentions such writers as C. S. Lewis and Dostoyevsky to further illustrate his points. Following this, Von Balthasar discusses the thought of St. Augustine who affirmed the existence of Hell against the "compassionate" and the "misericordes", thus beginning the tradition of a strong knowledge of Hell which existed particularly in the thought of the Reformers and the Jansenists. Following this, von Balthasar turns his attention to St. Thomas Aquinas. Von Balthasar notes the doctrines of St. Thomas as revealed in his _Summa_, particularly as they relate to questions on Hell and whether one can hope for the salvation of someone else. Von Balthasar also shows how the Augustinian tradition and teachings on Hell came to play a role in later theological developments, particularly in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Following this, von Balthasar turns to the "personal character", emphasizing meditations on the Last Things, the role of Purgatory, and the cries of the souls in Hell. Next, Von Balthasar turns to "testimonies", emphasizing the testimonies of such mystics as St. Therese de Lisieux and St. John of the Cross regarding Hell. Von Balthasar also mentions his mystical mentor Adrienne von Speyr and her teachings on Hell and the universal reconciliation in this respect. Following this, von Balthasar turns to what he refers to as "Blondel's Dilemma", noting the role of Hell in the reflections of Maurice Blondel and the question of the salvation of all souls. Next, von Balthasar turns to "the eternity of Hell", emphasizing the fact that Hell is eternal and the role of Hell in the thought of the Church Fathers. Next, von Balthasar turns to "the self-consumption of evil", questioning whether evil will be self-consumed in the final reconciliation and the role of Satan, emphasizing his eternal damnation. Following this, von Balthasar turns to "justice and mercy", showing the roles of both justice and mercy in the nature of God and the way these may play out in the salvation of souls.
The second part of this book is a translation of _A Short Discourse on Hell_. Here von Balthasar begins by showing the reactions of some to his previous writings on Hell (_Dare We Hope_) and the "theologian's quarrel" that has broken out regarding whether such a hope is legitimate. Von Balthasar considers the situation as it exists in the church (regarding this quarrel on whether hope for salvation of all souls in justified), the role of Christian faith, the directives of Scripture, the idea of "Hell for others" and how this leads to spiritual conceit, the idea of "joy over damnation" and the horror von Balthasar expresses over such a possibility, the desire of St. Paul to be "accursed and cut off from my brethren for the sake of Christ", and the obligation to hope for salvation for all. Von Balthasar raises interesting points such as the hope of a mother for her wayward son or the attempts of men to place notorious "bad men" such as Judas Iscariot or various tyrants in Hell, despite the fact that the church takes no stance on their possible salvation. Von Balthasar ends this book with an epilogue dealing with the "Apokatastasis: Universal Reconciliation". Von Balthasar discusses the definition of this term "apokatastasis", mentioning that it occurs in the Bible just once in Acts 3:21 during Peter's sermon in the Temple. Von Balthasar explains how this term means a "reconciliation" and how it developed in the philosophy of the Stoics and the Neo-Platonists. Von Balthasar also explains how this term was taken up by the Alexandrian school, mentioning the role it played in the theological writings of such figures as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. Von Balthasar also mentions the importance of such ideas in the thought of Maximus the Confessor, which he has extensively studied. Following this, von Balthasar ends with possible responses, noting the different responses of theologians to the doctrine of Hell. Von Balthasar is heavily influenced by Origen on this point and notes the tentative nature of his speculations, despite his later condemnation (largely for political reasons). This condemnation was to shape the development for future Catholic theology. Von Balthasar ends by noting that one must have confidence in judgment and the mercifulness of God.
This book provides an important theological understanding of the doctrine of Hell and our desire to hope for the salvation of all men. While it remains controversial within the Catholic church, von Balthasar expresses a unique opportunity for us all to pray for all those who may have fallen by the wayside. While von Balthasar certainly does not deny the doctrine of Hell, he does maintain that we may hope that all men may achieve salvation.