"Dare We Hope that All May Be Saved?"

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There is a fascinating discussion going on over at Disputations which is well worth the time of anyone interested in the question presented above.

I need to be absolutely truthful. Were there not a specific interdict against it and anathema pronounced upon it, I would probably be a Universalist. At a time before I understood Catholic Doctrine as well as I do now (still not well), I believed that it was possible for God's love to redeem even Satan. I am obedient to the fact that the Church says this is not so. I am obedient because the Church is trustworthy and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Obedience does NOT stop my wayward soul from hoping that it could be true anyway. Hoping, not in the theological sense, but in the sense of some wild resolve. I know that what the Church teaches is the truth. The specifics of the anathema are against the redemption of the fallen angels and those who are already in Hell. However, the Church does leave me an out. I can believe that Hell's only inhabitants are the fallen Angels. I admit that my knowledge of human nature argues against this conclusion, nevertheless, I can hope that it is true, because my knowledge of human nature is far from complete and my knowledge of God's mysteries even more full of gaps.

But I think it only fair to say that at one time I was a Universalist in the condemned sense. I did not know that the Church taught against this. Knowing now that the Church condemns the proposition, (and yet still desiring that it be true), I can be obedient to her teaching because her teaching in these matters is faultless. Nevertheless, the mind does not control the heart, and the misguided heart still wants God to bring all things back to Him. Yes, He is simple and cannot be reconciled to anything that is not--and yet, with God all things are possible. So the heart says. But the head knows that this reunion is out of the question. So head and heart are at war in this matter. I think the most critical matter is that regardless of what I want (for whatever reason), what I want is not what is real. What is real is what the Church teaches and my desires will no more affect this than will my poor reason.

I don't know why I say this except that I felt the need to expand beyond mere "Yes it is, no it isn't" argumentation of the ambiguous "facts" of the matter to say what guides my interpretation of those facts. I admit that I will ever read scripture to say what most closely points in the direction of this conclusion--it is ingrained, part of who I am. However, I will also guard against ever going beyond the strict line of what the Church permits. Regardless of what the wayward heart wants, I must train it to desire what God desires, and much, if not all, of this is revealed through His teaching voice on Earth--the Holy Catholic Church.

(that little pythonesque voice pops up and says, "But it still doesn't stop me from wanting.")

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there has been a fascinating discussion of the heresy of Universalism over at Flos Carmeli. Drop by and join the conversations... Read More


Couldn't agree mo'. In fact, I've been haven't read Tom's post because the whole subject is something I try to avoid thinking about.

Universalism may well be the most beautiful heresy ever invented. And it gives me sympathy for those who reject some doctrine that I find easy to accept. If they're having trouble with "x", it's hard to be self-righteous if I substitute Universalism for their "x".

On the list of Discussions That Win Me No Friends, this one is right down there with Dare We Hope that All Pets Go to Heaven?

I wonder, though, whether today's society -- which I think can be said to be more Universalistic than Western Christendom has been since St. Augustine -- give us a glimpse at how beautiful Universalism really is.

Dear Tom,

Our society may have universalistic tendencies, but the dominant heresy that guides us is Modernism, a compendium of every heresy ever invented. Therefore, it would be hard to separate out what effect universalism has with say Donatism, or Pelagianism (the one I think infects far more widely and insidiously than universalism.)

As Universalistic as we may be, I think there are other, far more prominent heresies that guide every day functioning and policy. So I doubt one can evaluate the "beauty" or lack thereof. I would probably say that universalism is the most "merciful" or perhaps "charitable" heresy--even if that mercy is ultimately misguided and so, in a sense, undoes itself.




One could go a long way with a theory that universalism is pelagianism recidivus. Augustine seemed to feel that, in battling both, he was in a sense battling the same thing.

As for one heresy being more 'beautiful' than others, it would have to seem that this beauty would certainly be in the eye of the beholder, and hence altogether subjective. Thus, how does this say more than the observation that one heresy may be closer to the errors of one's own age, and hence, might seem more reasonable to those who belong to that age? From where I stand, it is the errors which seem most attractive which are the most dangerous, precisely because they coincide with similar tendencies in my own thinking, in which case I am quite unlikely to fully grasp the insidiousness of the error.


Well Tom you have to admit that "discussions that win you no friends" do provide much disputation for Disputations! Somewhere Reginald is happy. (Especially if all pets go to Heaven.)

And granted, Universalist thinking might well have had a negative effect on civilization (which surely is the case with all heresies). Maybe its beauty is like that of Communism, i.e. only in theory.

Well, Univesalism can't be beautiful, properly speaking as beauty is a good and any heresy is a rejection of good for evil, even if benignly motivated. Universalism is very alluring, but that's a different thing altogether. That probably makes it more dangerous than, say, Albigensianism. /kreitzberg emulator

Yep I saw that one a comin' - "beautiful heresy" is admittedly a oxymoron. But I thought I could get away with it here since Steven's blog is usually pretty quiet. :-)

Dear Jamie and Gregg,

Is a rejection of Good for evil or is it rather a rejection of what is correct for what is in error?

Error is not evil. And IF you do not know that it has been declared a heresy, you cannot know that it is against Church Teaching and hence, at best, in error, possibly evil. Heresy only becomes heresy after it is defined, and then holding that idea becomes evil because it is against the teaching of the Church. However were believing incorrectly necessarily evil, then St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzen both embraced evil and held onto it til the end of their days.

I think we have to be very careful about our terms. Universalism is an error. It is evil because it has been so defined. But a great many Church Fathers held the idea even it its extreme "Origenist" mode.

More, it is simply not good logic nor apologetics to argue such abstracts. Whether it is beautiful or not, it is wrong. That is the essence of where we have to stand. More, when someone says it is beautiful, or at least when I say it, I am saying that what I see as its implications are beautiful--what it says about God. I might be incorrect in the matter, but I doubt you will convince me that it is not beautiful.

And specifically contra Jamie, I don't know what those who regard it purely as idea think about it being Pelagianism, but seeing from the inside it is very precisely the opposite. Whereas Pelagianism would argue that human effort prevails over and against Grace, Universalism argue precisely that Grace overwhelms human free will--in short Grace is completely irresistible. I see no hint of the Pelagian in it, all due respect to Augustine. I suspect that Augustine may have seen shade of Pelagianism everywhere.

Error is error. I have seen that it is wrong, and yet there is a compelling beauty to it (sorry Gregg, there is--you must remember that even Satan can appear as an Angel of Light). The beauty exists in the core of truth that is distorted to form the heresy--that God loves each of us intensely, personally, and eternally, and desires not the death of His servant but his eternal life. That is the beauty of universalism--the real good that is behind the distortion. To deny that there is beauty is not to see the heresy for what it is--the distorted reflection of the truth.



Steven said it beautifully.


Error is evil. Not a moral evil, but evil nonetheless. Because it is the nature of our minds to seek and hold onto truth, a mind in error is a mind deprived of a good it should by nature possess. The deprivation of a good that should be possessed is an evil.

What is beautiful about an idea is what is true about it, which means God's true plan for our redemption has all the beauty of Universalism without its ugly flaws. It's possible that Universalism is more beautiful than our current ignorance regarding God's true plan; it's not possible it is more beautiful than His plan itself.

It's kind of a "if you can't see the one you love, love the one you see" situation.

Oh dear. A comment I meant to be light-hearted ended up hitting too hard. For that I am sorry. It just seemed like such the TK thing to say. I should refrain from trying to be someone else.

Dear Tom,

Except for the comment about evil, we said approximately the same thing. I said, "The beauty exists in the core of truth that is distorted to form the heresy" you said, "What is beautiful about an idea is what is true about it." As far as I can see, except for my understanding of error, we are in agreement. I also have said that universalism is a distortion of God's truth which, I think, is an acknowledgment of your second paragraph. So, if I have read you correctly, there is no disagreement, as I accept your correction regarding error.

Dear Gregg,

Please accept my apology. I must have come on too strong. Take it as a sign of a hard day at work and writing quickly. I certainly didn't mean to sound harsh. Rather, your comment provoked a stream of thought that had to emerge rather quickly if it were to come out at all. I deeply appreciate both your comment and Jamie's comment which spawned it. Apparently my appreciation failed to show in my articulation. Please forgive me. And also forgive me that I took you more seriously than you intended. Nevertheless, much good came from it for me.



One thing that just occurred to me is that in the age of anti-Universalism, the 17th century, religious wars were partially fueled by the idea that they were killing in order to prevent others from going to hell.

[W]hen someone says it is beautiful, or at least when I say it, I am saying that what I see as its implications are beautiful--what it says about God.

A theological error is a theological error precisely because it says something incorrect about God. Thus, if universalism has been defined as a theological error, the Church must sense that it says something incorrect about God. I would propose that this 'incorrectness' would involve some deficiency in divine justice, but that's only my interpretation.

And, as Tom pointed out, something can be evil without being a culpable evil. When a mentally retarded man commits murder, the evident innocence of the man does not prevent us from recognizing the evil in murder.

I don't deny that there is something beautiful or good in every error. This is very Augustinian, in fact. If there were nothing attractive in it, no one would choose it. What makes it an error is that the good/beautiful in it is inadequate, and requires supplementation.

The insidious evil that resides in theological error is that it gives sinners (including myself) an excuse to sin.
My understanding of Universalism is that it is the belief that all will be saved, regardless. That all will end up in heaven, the baptised and the unbaptised, the one who lived a life of heroic virtue and the one who lived a life of recalcitrant evil. But how can that be true? And if it is, what reason (other than the love of God, which is of course the best reason) is there for us to work hard to live lives of virtue?
What brings this to my mind is that I repeatedly hear young women justify their abortions by stating that they sent their babies straight to heaven and that the babies would never have to suffer here on earth. Infant damnation is a difficult teaching, and I prefer that we defer the fate of the dead unborn to the mercy of God, but absent Universalism we would not be in the position of assuming that they are in heaven.

Dear Alicia,

You don't need Universalism to make this assumption. You need, in fact, merely a passing knowledge of scripture--"Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." Were you to poll these same women as to whether or not anyone was in Hell, I suspect you would find that the usual suspects wind up there. People have an "instinctive" feel for the innocence of a child (rightly or wrongly) and rely on God's mercy.

Much more relevant is if those same women say to you, "Well, God will forgive me and I'll get into heaven, cause God knows this is what I had to do." That is the kind of sinning the Universalism seems to suggest as more prominent. Universalism, it would seem would lead more to the error of presumption than assumption.

This makes it no less wrong. But I think we need to be very careful about what is condemned in the notion of universalism, and that is the idea that Hell or Punishment will come to an end (although I find this all very confusing because of conflicting Biblical teaching on the matter) and that those damned will be brought into heaven. What is categorically NOT condemned is the notion that every could make it into heaven by the Grace of God. However, we do not KNOW this, we may only hope this in light of the revelation of God as a merciful God. So what the church condemned in universalism would not alleviate the problem that you experience with these women. There is still a "loophole," and "out" if you will.

Now, someday, I will inquire that the learned focus their attention on the "eternity" of hell and give that some attention. Because that "eternity" seems quite a bit different than the eternity of the reign of God. But I'm very ignorant in these matters. (My chief problem is that if Hell were eternal, then it would have to be coterminous with God Himself who is the only thing that is Eternal. Angels, Demons, people, and places all have a beginning. They are not thus "eternal" in "always" existent. If we switch to the other definition of eternal--endless in time, aren't we told that there is a point at which time itself ends? But perhaps I'll come back to that tomorrow and see if those more learned than myself have any ideas.





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