on November 30, 2001
This is one of my two favorite books written by Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Catholic Church asserts that certain individuals are in Heaven, but never declares a specific individual to be in Hell. In fact, the Church still hopes that in their final moments of life, even the greatest sinners such as Judas Iscariot and Adolph Hitler would have repented of their terrible sins.
In this book, Hans Urs von Balthasar pushes the hope that in their final moments of life, all souls will repent and make their peace with God. He hopes all will be saved, not because all deserve Heaven, but rather because all will come to know the great mercy and forgiveness of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, von Balthasar HOPES for the salvation of all. He does not maintain all will indeed be saved, but rather this is his hope. Several times in the work, von Balthasar reminds the reader that Hell remains a very real possibility, and that man must always keep this possibility before his eyes.
. . .by the late Catholic theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar -- but arguably one of the most important.
Critics have unfairly suggested that Fr. von Balthasar is either denying the existence of a literal hell, or denying that anyone is/has been/will be located there. These critics miss the point entirely.
My (extremely brief) summary of Fr. von Balthasar's argument does not concern the existence of hell but rather of the duty of the Christian, which is to fervently pray and hope that all men ARE eventually saved; that the love of Christ CAN eventually reach and be accepted by all; and that knowing through Holy Writ that some will NOT be saved and will choose against God does not free the Christian from the duty of praying for such persons.
In today's troubling times, von Balthasar's message is of timeless importance. To dare to hope and to dare to pray that the love of God will melt the heart of even the most heinous of sinners is a difficult duty. Indeed, such a reminder is liable to make many people angry. But it is, nevertheless, a reminder which needs to be made.
This book is less technical than much of von Balthasar's work, and thus should be much more widely accessible to the informed layman.
"We are allowed to hope that no human is eternally damned. This is a founded theological hope, it is not a certitude. Indeed each person must existentially live with the real possibility that he or she might be doomed. The thesis itself is prompted, we believe, by mercy." Balthasar
Hell and Salvation:
The Church's teaching on Hell has been generally avoided by Christian theologians, who believe that the Lord's own desire that everyone be saved 1Tim 2:4. Hans Urs Cardinal von Balthasar is a notable exception of this attitude, who amended Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"? With a Short Discourse on Hell (1988).
Apokatastasis, Restoration of all things:
Since the soul is essentially rational, argued Origen, it will eventually be restored to the divine truth, salvation will follow. The word Origen used to describe this process of universal salvation "restoration of all things," was apokatastasis. Prompted by his idea of the pre-existence of souls, Origen may have come to view the mission of the temporal Church as "a gathering up of all lost, fallen souls into a unity resembling that which subsisted primordially." Origen could not rationalize the standard Christian idea that certain souls will inevitably fail to achieve salvation, and be plunged into eternal torment. Apokatastasis, may be viewed as restoration, the culmination of gathering souls in a unity of faith. "Origen held a firm conviction that not a single rational being will be lost to the darkness of ignorance and sin. Even the most recalcitrant sinner, he argued, will eventually attain salvation." Edward Moore.
A Historical Debate:
Since Origen proposed his breaking through hope, some of the Church Fathers, including Gregory of Nyssa, and Didymus the Blind held for the universal restoration and salvation of all (apokatastasis). Ultimately Emperor Justinian who provoked the condemnations of Origen was compelled to respond to this teaching through a Church council. This condemnation, directed at those labeled 'Origenists', was adopted by a provincial Synod in Constantinople in 543, approved by Pope Vigilius during his detention in Constantinople (547-55).
Balthasar on Salvation:
Von Balthasar mentions as well theologians and other Christian writers who, he maintains, agree with what he is saying. In all cases these men speak of hell as being a "real possibility" but few ask the specific question about whether any humans are actually damned. von Balthasar charges that when writing and speaking of hell "the great man, to whom posterity owes so much, did not do that within the limits laid down by the Gospel."
Balthasar Contra Infernalists:
The in the manner in which he describes the convictions opposed to his, unveil the pain he took writing these views reflects in the unusual amount of reactionary polemic the author targets those criticising his views or are in contradiction of his own, characterizing them as 'infernalists.' He recognizes that some of the Church's historical teacher and theologians; from Augustine, Gregory the Great, Anselm, to Bonaventure, Aquinas, and recently John Newman, belong to this group. von Balthasar finds Augustine's opinion "has cast an enormous shadow over the history of Western Theology," worthy of sharp criticism, while being praised for his ardent charity and as being the pioneering 'Father of the Western World,' " We might ask the great Augustine... whether he ever worried, after his conversion, about his eternal salvation."
von Balthasar's Hell:
"I claim nothing more than this: that give us a right to have hope for all men, which simultaneously implies that I see no need to take the step from the threats to the positing of a hell occupied by our brothers and sisters, through which our hopes would come to naught. I do not wish to contradict anyone who, as a Christian, cannot be happy without denying the universality of hope to us so that he can be certain of his full hell: that is, after all, the view of a large number of important theologians, especially among the followers of Augustine. But, in return, I would like to request that one be permitted to hope that God's redemptive work for his creation might succeed. Certainty cannot be attained, but hope can be justified. ... If we take our faith seriously and respect the words of Scripture, we must resign ourselves to admitting such an ultimate possibility, our feelings or revulsion notwithstanding. We may not simply ignore such a threat; we may not easily dismiss it, neither for ourselves nor for any of our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Comment from a Blog:
- "On the one hand, hell is very real, though it is not about what God is going to do, but about what we are capable of. On the other hand, may hell be empty!, because the Crucified experienced the heart of human darkness and desolation. Passionate, beautiful stuff." kim Fabricius
*In memory of my father, who believed in the merciful restoration.
on June 25, 2009
This was a great book which helped me clarify my position on this important doctrine which directly bears on the issue of salvation, eschatology, and the Gospel itself. In this book the notable Catholic theologian Balthasar outlines his position on hell in which he takes issue with much of church tradition, especially Augustine, the Scholastics and Calvin. According to Balthasar their egregious error was their certainity that most or much of humanity was and is damned. How do they know this? Is this the unassailable conclusion received from the Scriptures?
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."
on October 19, 2009
Are our beliefs about Hell changing? I would say that they are. Many Christians today, I think, are deeply uneasy with the notion of a place of eternal damnation and unremitting punishment. Their faith in God is strong. But they have real questions as to whether any soul can really merit everlasting torment. ---- And non Christians report that the concept of Hell is something that stands between them and embracing faith. ----- This does not mean people don't want to face the consequences of sin, I don't think. It means that they have trouble grasping the finality of damnation and the everlasting punishment for sins committed by flawed human beings. -----Whatever the case, many are troubled by the concept of Hell, but they long to be faithful to their God, to the Scriptures, and to their churches. Does that mean they have to believe more people go to Hell than to Heaven? Does that mean that they have to believe people are burning in Hell now and will be for all eternity? This book by a brilliant theologian explores the possibility that we might indeed hope that all humans can be saved. Balthasar examines Scripture, Christian tradition and the writings of the saints on this subject. And he quotes much very impressive material. Whatever one concludes, after reading this book, one has to be aware of the complexity of the questions surrounding Hell, and God's justice and mercy.
on May 12, 2007
This is a supremely important and courageous work on whether God's infinite love and mercy will allow the people he himself created to perish forever in hell, which is VERY REAL. Dare we hope that hell will be empty, that God was even able to save that poor man, Judas Iscariot? Hans Urs von Balthasar, perhaps the greatest theologian of the last one hundred years, seems to think that "we can dare TO HOPE that all men will be saved." Personally, I dare to hope and pray that all my brothers and sisters in the human family will be sitting with me at the table in our Father's house.
on November 4, 2007
_Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved?" With a Short Discourse on Hell_ is an English translation of two of the more controversial writings of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar consisting of von Balthasar's reflections on the doctrine of Hell and his interpretation of that doctrine, published in 1988 by Ignatius Press. Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905 - 1988) was a Swiss theologian and priest who was nominated to become a cardinal and who remains one of the most important conservative Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. Von Balthasar was a Jesuit who became involved for some time with the mystic Adrienne von Speyr, which involvement may have shaped many of his subsequent theological views. In this book, von Balthasar presents a controversial thesis that has led to much criticism of his views. Von Balthasar maintains that while it is impossible to know who is to be damned (or indeed whether any are to be damned) that we may certainly hope that all men may be saved. Officially the church has never dogmatically stated that any given individual soul is damned to Hell, but nevertheless maintains dogmatically that Hell exists. Thus, while the doctrine of Hell cannot be denied it is certainly possible for us to hope that no one is in it. This is the controversial stance that von Balthasar takes and it is precisely this stance which caused some to feel that his beliefs were unorthodox. However, I believe that the insight and hope of Von Balthasar is basically sound and thus that it is indeed possible for us to hope for such a thing despite the fact that we cannot know it to actually be the case.
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.
on October 16, 2013
Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes this book fundamentally on the subject of hope. What may we, as Christians, hope for? Let me say right from the start, this book is 100% Orthodox and in line with the magiestirium of the Church. This is proved by the fact that Balthasar was one of John Paul II's favorite theologians, and he elevated him as a cardinal shortly before his death.
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.
on September 19, 2008
Good, short read. von Balthasar is clear to make the distinction between hope for all men and universalism. In fact, the real question is can we hope that all men be saved as opposed to hoping that every INDIVIDUAL is saved (there is a difference there). I appreciated his quoting of many church fathers and doctors. For example, he quotes a beautiful passage from Catherine of Sienna in which she begs and pleads with our Lord that all men be saved. If nothing else, that was very eye opening for me; that we need to strive to the point of begging our Lord that all men be saved, that not a single soul is lost But I digress.
Alas, it still isn't clear to me if the Church does indeed allow us to hope that all men be saved. It was an enjoyable read from one of the top theologians of last century.
Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was a Swiss Catholic theologian and priest, who had been nominated by John Paul II to become a cardinal, but he died two days before his ordination. He has written many other books, such as Engagement with God: The Drama of Christian Discipleship,Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter,A Theology of History (Communio Books), etc.
He wrote in the first chapter of this 1986 book, “which man knows whether… he has lived up to God’s infinite love, which chose to expend itself for him? Must he not, if he is honest and no Pharisee, assume the opposite?... On the basis of this reverential state of being UNDER judgment, the question arises of just which form and scope Christian hope may, or may not, take.” (Pg. 13-14)
He continues, “a dispute arises about whether one who is UNDER judgment, as a Christian, can have hope for all men. I have ventured to answer this affirmatively,” (Pg. 16) He adds, “I have … brought out that the threatening remarks are made predominantly by the pre-Easter Jesus, and the universalistic statements (above all in Paul and John) with a view to the redemption that has occurred on the Cross… What we have here are two series of statements that, in the end, because we are UNDER judgment, we neither can nor may bring into synthesis.” (Pg. 21-22)
He observes, “it is clear… that we cannot say that God has ‘created hell’; no one but man can be blamed for its existence… the idea of a self-condemnation of man… is most convincing where the hardened unlovingness of man runs up against the word of God’s absolute love.” (Pg. 53-55)
He points out, “Even if someone could know himself as being in the ‘certainty’ inherent in Christian hope, he still does not know whether he will not transgress against love and thereby also forfeit the certainty of hope. It is therefore indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted… with the possibility of his becoming lost... according to Christian belief, no one can be so sure of his standing in grace that he cannot be mistaken by it.” (Pg. 85-86)
He notes that “[the book of] Revelation… is not a historical but a visionary book… Revelation unfolds its imagery outside of the concrete events in the Gospel… This purely visionary character of Revelation, which leaves the historical aside, prohibits us from drawing any conclusions about earthly historical events, including those in the Gospel.” (Pg. 138-139)
He quotes from Walter Kaspar’s “The Church's Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, “which was discussed sentence by sentence in Rome: ‘Neither Holy Scripture nor the Church’s Tradition of faith asserts with certainty of any man that he is actually in hell. Hell is always held before our eyes as a real possibility, one connected with the offer of conversion and life.’” (Pg. 164-165)
In an afterword, he notes about the controversy that originally surrounded the present book, “The solution that I had suggested… that God does not damn anyone, but that the man who irrevocably refuses love condemns himself, was not considered at all. I had also offered the consideration that, along with the words of threat, Holy Scripture also contains many words of hope for all… my words were continually twisted with a view to claiming that he who hopes for the salvation of all his brothers and sisters ‘hopes hell empty’… Or that he who voices such a hope advocates the ‘universal redemption’ condemned by the Church---something that I have expressly rejected… But: if I hope for you, for others, for everyone, then in the end I am also allowed to include myself.” (Pg. 165-166)
He asks, “Is the transition from the threat to the KNOWLEDGE that it will be carried out necessary? It seems all the more logical if we are convinced that God, with his redemptive grace, does not wish to force anyone to be saved, that man alone and not God is to blame if he refuses God’s love and thus is damned.” (Pg. 183)
He quotes many Bible passages which have a seeming ‘universal’ focus [e.g., 1 Tim 2:4; 1 Tim 4:10; Jn 12:31; Titus 2:11; 2 Pet 3:9; Heb 9:28; Rom 11:32; Col 1:20; Eph 1:10], and acknowledges, “I do not at all deny that their force is weakened by the series of threatening ones; I only dispute that the series of threats invalidates the cited universalist statements. And I claim nothing more than this: that these statements give us a right to have hope for all men, which simultaneously implies that I see no need to take the step from threats to the positing of a hell occupied by our brothers and sisters, through which our hopes would come to naught. I do not wish to contradict anyone who, as a Christian, cannot be happy without denying the universality of hope to us so that he can be certain of his full hell… But, in return, I would like to request that one be permitted to hope that God’s redemptive work for his creation might succeed. Certainty cannot be attained, but hope can be justified. That is probably the reason why the Church, which has sanctified so many men, has never said anything about the damnation of any individual. Not even about that of Judas… Who can know the nature of the remorse that seized Judas when he saw that Jesus had been condemned (Mt. 27:3)?” (Pg. 185-187)
This book is a very significant---and surprising, from so eminent a Catholic theologian---addition to the literature supporting (or "leaning toward") universalism.