The Universalist Leanings of Balthasar’s Dare we Hope

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Sam Agra, St. Louis University

There are few realities more unpleasant to ponder than the notion that I or someone I deeply love may one day suffer in hell for all eternity. There are many of us, myself included, who would often much rather live in ignorant bliss than be confronted with such a terrifying reality. We would much rather think of ourselves and most we know as decently good, heaven-bound people, except for maybe the bad ones: Judas, Hitler, and that one incredibly selfish coworker. Perhaps this temptation to complacency is why the New Testament and the sayings of Christ Himself are so littered with references to “eternal fire,” “outer darkness,” and, those who “will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” “You must not grow self-assured,” Christ and the Apostles yell into our sheltered lives, “for you too must face judgement.” This is not to imply that we are sinners in the hand of an angry God, for Catholic teaching clearly emphasizes the abundant mercy and love of the one who became man and died that we may enjoy eternal life. Rather, calls to remember final judgement do exactly that, let us know that we will be held accountable for our actions.

The traditional, Catholic understanding of this final judgment is that some humans will go to hell, and others to heaven. This comes from not only the straightforward reading of much in scripture,[1] but also the theological giants of the western tradition, Augustine and Aquinas among many others. While the view of who exactly receives the gift of heaven is developed throughout Catholic history, perhaps most notably in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, the thought that hell is most likely populated has been the normal, de facto, or orthodox understanding.[2] There is a minority view, traceable to the early Christian Gnostics and most famously expounded by Origen,[3] which also claims scriptural support,[4] which affirms that all people, regardless of sin, faith or the like, attain the glories of heaven. This view is called universalism and its proponents are universalists. Although there are many sub-types of universalism as is the case in any area of theological thought, these distinctions are of little importance here since this work will not address Catholic universalism per se,.[5] For the purposes of this paper, ‘universalism’ will be understood simply as the belief that all people will eventually enjoy heaven.

While not on universalism proper, this paper will instead treat the so called “hopeful universalism” of Swiss 20th century Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. While considered by many to be a mainstream, orthodox, and conservative thinker in the post-conciliar world,[6] there has been much controversy over his 1986 Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?”, (henceforth DWH). In it, Balthasar argues for the obligation of Christians to hope for the salvation of all, a position known as hopeful or subjunctive universalism. The book began as an apologia against his numerous critics and has continued to be hotly contested to this day.[7]

Dr. Pitstick accuses Balthasar of formal heresy regarding his thought on Holy Saturday, a necessary premise to his hopeful universalism.[8] Ralph Martin joins the attack, decrying the notion of hopeful universalism and claiming that it is among the ideas which promote missionary laziness, an idea which has usurped the “correct” view that there are many in hell.[9] Rising to answer their challenges, Jesuit theologian Edward Oakes defends Balthasar from both, claiming that Balthasar only advocates an eschatological agnosticism.[10] Taking a more measured approach Cardinal Avery Dulles notes that Balthasar seems orthodox while also pointing to some problematic areas in his argumentation.[11] Known critic of universalism Michael McClymond thinks Balthasar close enough to the teaching to devote the majority of a chapter in his huge two-volume history and interpretation of the topic to Balthasar’s thought.[12] Many more authors could be mentioned here, each giving his or her own unique critique or support, but my point by now should be clear; DWH is a contentious and important work due to the prominence of its author and hopeful universalism’s relationship to the oft rejected doctrine of universalism.[13]

Two main points of discussion seem, then, to revolve around the proximity of Balthasar’s theology to universalism and whether he was correct. The answer to the first question may in fact determine the work’s orthodoxy, for if Balthasar’s DWH is indeed in favor of universalism, despite his protests to the contrary, then the work is at least deeply heterodox. The second, while related to the first, is distinct insofar as it deals not with questions of doctrine but merely his argument itself. Both questions, the extent to which Balthasar coincides with universalism and the development of his book, are those which contemporary scholarship hopes to answer. While covering these questions, my work aims in a different direction. Rather than asking whether Balthasar is a universalist or whether his argument ought to be accepted, I will focus on the argument itself.  In this thesis I aim to draw on the different interpretations of DWH to evaluate these questions of universalism and argumentation. I will argue that the arguments of DWH, when combined with the two Catholic presuppositions that God offers grace for salvation to all, and that He desires that all people be saved, result in an actual universalism, that is, one who follows Balthasar’s arguments while adhering to these two presuppositions would not arrive at his purported answer of hope but rather at universalism itself, a conclusion toward which Balthasar himself leans.

This paper will begin by giving an overview of Balthasar’s thought in DWH. I will note his thesis and lay out his basic arguments in support of it from Scripture, his understanding of hope, and his notion of the divine will. I will then examine the differing theses DWH puts forward and the premises behind these arguments, using the interpretations of both Balthasar’s critics and supporters, and show how, due to his understanding of Scripture, hope, and God’s will, DWH pulls strongly toward universalism. I must also note that I am not commenting on either the legitimacy of universalism itself or Balthasar’s position; I only aim to argue that his position leads to universalism. Finally, this paper presupposes a Catholic theological framework. All questions and argumentation will be done from this perspective.

To understand DWH and its argument, we must first understand its context and presuppositions. His work assumes, as Catholic theology notes, that God wills the salvation of all and offers this grace to all and that it is not a matter of certain revelation that there are people in hell.[14] Regarding context, Balthasar wrote DWH as a defense of his belief that Christians ought to hope for the salvation of all people. A necessary corollary to this hope was the proposition that we have no certain knowledge that anyone is damned, a position which wrought him great criticism from those he dubs as “infernalists” who believed, following the mainstream tradition, that we know hell to be populated.[15] Balthasar must respond to their arguments for a certain knowledge of some in hell to keep his thesis afloat. In defending himself against these attacks, what Balthasar himself is proposing can sometimes be lost. In fact, what Balthasar says regarding his thesis is sometimes unclear, but this will be discussed in more depth later. For now, we will take the following statement  as a summation of his conclusion: on whether one will persist in her rejection of Christ, he posits the possible answer, “’I do not know, but I think it permissible to hope (on the basis of the [statements of God’s universal love and will] from Scripture that the light of divine love will ultimately be able to penetrate every human darkness and refusal.”[16] 

Balthasar’s use of scripture, as we see, plays a central part in defending the legitimacy of Balthasar’s hope. He begins his chapter on the New Testament by stating, “It is generally known that, in the New Testament, two series of statements run along side by side in such a way that a synthesis of both is neither permissible or achievable: the first series speaks of being lost for all eternity; the second, of God’s will, and ability, to save all men.”[17] Scripture, to Balthasar, does not present a direct and unified answer to the question of salvation; both universalism and “infernalism” can be read, depending upon the passages one chooses. Regarding this division of passages, Balthasar notes that, “the threatening remarks are made, predominately, by the pre-Easter Jesus, and the universalist statements (above all in Paul and John) with a view to the redemption that has occurred on the Cross,” though conceding that there are also post-Easter threats in Paul, for example 2 Th 1:6 and Heb 4:5.[18] The obvious implication drawn by Balthasar is that the post-Easter words of Christ contain more weight to them, though explicitly, this distinction serves to further highlight the divide between the hope and hell passages. He continues to make reference to this pre and post-Easter distinction as a shorthand for dividing the two sets of texts, with the knowledge that it does not work in all situations.

Balthasar is aware that seemingly creating an Animal Farm-esque distinction between the true and more-true words of Christ is bound to draw, and has drawn, criticism.[19] He states that he is not advocating any type of inter-Testamental “progressive revelation” or “auxiliary construct,” as he well knows that pre-Easter words possess the same inspired dignity. Rather, he wants to draw out, “the simple insight that pre-Easter Jesus lives toward his hour,” while post Easter Jesus speaks after, “the Father will have spoke all of his Word till the end, which only then, through the Holy Spirit, will become understandable to the disciples.”[20] Through this, he states, he does not de-value the words of pre-Easter Jesus, but gives them “their proper place within the totality and unity of the word of God.”[21]

The result of this cleft in the New Testament between the passages which seem to both say, “Some will be damned” and “God can save all and wants all to be saved,” is that we must suspend judgement. “It is generally known that, in the New Testament, two series of statements run along side by side in such a way that a synthesis of both is neither permissible nor achievable. It is not for man, who is under judgement, to construct a synthesis here”[22] To make or attempt a synthesis, in the manner of many of the infernalists, is to “subsume” and “practically emasculate” the universalist texts in favor of the threatening texts, not because of a sound biblical hermeneutic, but because the infernalist a priori assumes the priority based on quantity of the threatening texts. One example would be Balthasar’s exemplary infernalist Augustine who “does not allow himself to be misled by such allegedly ‘unclear’ passages [which hint at universalism], since the ‘clear’ ones provide him with absolute certainty and since ‘the divine sentence must not be emptied of its force and enfeebled.”[23] Readers of Scripture cannot assume the truth of the threatening texts, for this is to either eliminate the universalist texts or attempt to synthesize what by nature is divided and separate. Likewise, as the prohibitions against elimination and synthesizing work both ways, one cannot assume the truth of universalism. One is left in a position of uncertainty. The correct attitude of this dynamic uncertainty, Balthasar writes, is to “limit oneself to that Christian hope which does not mask a concealed knowing but rests essentially content with the Church’s prayer, as called for in 1 Timothy 2:4, that God wills all men be saved.”[24]

The attitude of “Christian hope” which is the aim of Balthasar’s argument is difficult for a reader to understand, as Balthasar does not give a precise definition, although the term appears throughout DWH. Balthasar first speaks of hope at length in the second chapter in which he discusses scripture,

The concept of ‘hope’ does not occur [in Paul] (or in the Gospels in general), but the word ‘confidence’ (fiducia) expresses the same thing: the trustful handing over of oneself to the Lord, who predominates over the opposing powers and to whom one surrenders oneself without wishing to raise impertinent question about his judicial power.[25]

This hope or confidence in God’s saving power is intrinsically connected to faith. It is the willed and dynamic expression of faith itself which Balthasar calls the “unconditional entrusting-of-oneself-to-the-truth-of-God.”[26] Faith, this trusting of the self and the first of the theological virtues is succeeded by hope and then charity. The question which Balthasar wishes to answer in his discussion on hope, is why we can and ought to hope for the salvation of all others, not just the self. The first opponent he faces in this task is the theological giant Augustine. Augustine holds that hope only applies to the hoper, that is, Bill can only licitly hope for his own salvation and not that of his neighbor. This conclusion is deeply connected to Augustine’s theology of predestination which knows that many will go to hell. It is all but impossible, Balthasar says, for Augustine to allow Bill to hope for the salvation of his friend because he does not know if his friend is among the predestined; it is completely impossible for Bill to hope for the salvation of all because he, through Augustine, knows that some will be damned.[27]

With Aquinas, however, there is a change to a more correct (from Balthasar’s perspective) view of hope.[28] In ST II-II q17, a3 Thomas asks whether one can hope for the salvation of the other. He answers that the virtue of hope per se is restricted to the believer, a nod to Augustine, but that when hope is united to and perfected by charity, it hopes for the salvation of those to whom it is united.[29] Thus, Aquinas “tears to shreds a veil that had been hanging for centuries over Christian hope” since the time of Augustine.[30] In short, if Bill deeply loves his wife with the grace of theological charity, he will also hope for her eternal blessedness. Charity is an ought; it is not something which is optional to the Christian. Insofar as we ought to love universally and without restraint, we must also hope universally. What is legitimately hoped for, especially if it be a precept of love, must be attainable. Thus, Bill, if he is to fulfill the obligations of charity, must hope for and reckon with the real possibility of salvation for not only his wife but everyone. Not to hope for all at the supposed knowledge that some are reprobated is to be “unable to love unreservedly” and asks the infernalist the pointed question, “Do you have the right to refuse your brother the hope that you have invested for yourself, through your living faith, in your judge?”[31]

Infernalists would likely call Balthasar’s “hope” a type of presumption. To Balthasar, however, a universal presumption, rather than his conception of universal hope, would amount to the same error of the infernalists, though in the opposite direction. He flatly rejects the notion that his argued hope necessitates a universalist-presumption interpretation. He writes, “[We] have no right to peer in advance at the Judge’s cards. How can anyone equate hope with knowing? I hope that my friend will recover from his serious illness – do I therefore know this?”[32] We do not know what the final outcome will be, but we desire and wish that it involves all enjoying the glories of heaven. Furthering attempting to distance himself from presumption, Balthasar draws on the thought of twentieth-century century philosopher Gabriel Marcel, noting that this universal hope is inseparable from humility and prayer. Therefore, “it is the total opposite of any sort of presumptuousness.”[33] We do not assume that God will save us. In our humility, we pray that ourselves and those we love may be saved, and, as we are to love all, we pray that all may be saved. In an earlier chapter where Balthasar states that he rejects the false hope of presumption which leads to universalism he writes, “Every Christian creed can take no other position than that under the judgement of Christ, and must therefore confront the believer with ‘both ways’, the two possible outcomes of his destiny…[yet liturgies from the beginning and present] repeat incessantly the prayer of supplication to be rescued…”[34] Clearly for him, the position of each “under judgement” prevents presumption, and yet we still pray and hope for salvation.  We hope, not as to mask a concealed knowing but to rest “essentially content with the Church’s prayer, as called for in 1 Timothy 2:4, that God wills that all men be saved.”[35] This is the dynamic hope which Balthasar proports to support, against a static and universalist presumption or an infernalist despair.

Balthasar’s use of 1 Tim 2:4 is important because it points to the final aspect of his argument which will be considered here: the divine will. There is a traditional and often-used distinction in the understanding of God’s will, dating back to Maximus the Confessor and made famous by Aquinas, which discusses between the antecedent and consequent divine will.[36] It has often been a recourse to those who wish to offer a theodicy for the problem of evil, for it distinguishes between what God wills absolutely and antecedently, and what he wills consequently, considering human choice and original sin. In reference to this will’s relation to hell, Thomas Joseph White writes, “God desires the salvation of all by his antecedent will… And yet, this will is conditional because he simultaneously desires that this salvation be embraced freely.”[37] Balthasar, however, is ardently against this distinction. He sees it as a scholastic remnant, a distortion of God’s will, which sadly remains in current teachings. Speaking to an infernalist, he writes

And the “Church” that “has always distinguished” [between the two wills] is not the Magisterium, but the theologians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries… [which] has long thought itself to know too much about the outcome of judgement. We might, however, make quite clear to ourselves how outrageous it is to blunt God’s triune will for salvation which is directed at the entire world (“God wants all men to be blessed”), by describing it as “conditional” and calling absolute only that divine will in which God allows his total will for salvation to be thwarted by man.[38]

This oft used distinction is of no use to Balthasar. It stems from the intellectual pride and supposed certainty of the medieval and dares to weaken or change the divine will. Further, to Balthasar, this distinction either leads to or is the evil of double predestination condemned at many councils. Its continual rejection from the medieval age into the Reformation and the period of French Jansenism occurred “quite rightly so.”[39] His rancor for this idea, and the way in which he thinks it makes God cold and unloving, is apparent throughout his treatment of it; he will admit its use in no fashion.

Now that we have examined Balthasar’s thoughts on the divine will, the nature of hope, and the evidence of scripture, we can reflect on those thoughts in combination with the two presuppositions mentioned in the introduction, that God wills all to be saved and offers the grace for this to each. When we do so, we will see that Balthasar blurs the line between hopeful and actual universalism. The hopeful universalism he claims that he supports is far closer to universalism than it may at first glance appear. In the rest of the paper, I will show the strong and almost necessary gravitational pull toward universalism of each of these facets, beginning with the several and varied theses which Balthasar puts forward. The variance in conclusions which the arguments of DWH are purported to support itself shows the pull of the strong universalism which Balthasar and his supporters seems slow to explicitly admit.

We first note the several conclusions, or theses of DWH. If we were to read only the quote that “I think it permissible to hope, (on the basis of the first series of statements from Scripture) that the light of divine love will ultimately be able to penetrate every human darkness and refusal,” then I would quite readily agree with those who defend DWH from the charge of universalism. For example, Cardinal Avery Dulles writing on the thought of Balthasar and Neuhaus on hope says, “It is unfair and incorrect to accuse either Balthasar or Neuhaus of teaching that no one goes to hell. They grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there, but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved.”[40] To Dulles, Balthasar in DWH recognizes that it may be probable that many go to hell, but asserts that, based on God’s goodness and power, we ought to pray and hope that all will be saved. Jesuit and noted Balthasar defender Fr. Oakes, after quoting a lengthy section of Balthasar’s Theo-Drama “So let there be no more talk of Balthasar’s ‘optimism’… [which] has no bearing on Balthasar’s actual words.”[41] Later, to reinforce the notion of DWH’s hopeful uncertainty, Oakes urges his readers in part quoting the words of philosopher  Ludwig Wittgenstein “[in no way could we] go about wasting our lives speculating on who is and who isn’t in heaven… ‘Don’t act out a tragedy, that’s to say, don’t enact heaven and hell on earth. Heaven and hell are [God’s] affair.’”[42] In sum, Oakes says that due to Balthasar’s positions in other writings, we ought neither to think of DWH as teaching hopeful optimism (much less universalism), nor speculate on the supposed population or emptiness of hell, rather we ought to accept the hopeful uncertainty which Balthasar posits. Finally, Stuart Nicholson claims that Balthasar is merely “expressing a personal hope… His objective was to show that revelation had not necessarily ‘expressly excluded’ the possibility [of salvation for all]… his main positive argument is, in a nutshell, that we are called to love and in that we must hope that each person, and thus all humanity, is saved.”[43] Balthasar’s thesis to Nicholson is merely the twofold claim that revelation has not precluded salvation for all and that we must hope through love for the salvation of all.

Contrary to these authors’ opinions DWH does not teach a probable hell against which we hope. It does, however, teach a confident and almost certain optimism and goes far beyond merely showing that scripture does not preclude universal salvation. The evidence lies in what Ralph Martin calls a “systematically” ignored section of DWH, where Balthasar “is quite clearly teaching… that it is ‘infinitely improbable that human freedom will be able to ultimately [choose hell]…”[44] In this section of DWH in the “Short Discourse on Hell” Balthasar, quoting an unpublished text of Edith Stein,  lays out that

which expresses most exactly the position that I [Balthasar] have tried to develop in these short chapters… “And now, can we assume that there are souls that remain perpetually closed to such love? As a possibility in principle, this cannot be rejected. In reality, it can become infinitely improbable – precisely through what preparatory grace is capable of affecting in the soul…[Contradictions of freedom] exist only as long as we oppose divine and human freedom to each other… Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted”[45]

What then is the most exact conclusion of DWH? DWH does not, “despite [Balthasar’s] frequent statements to the contrary, just establish universal salvation as a possibility, or as something to hope for, as we hope for someone to recover from an illness…”[46] Against what Dulles says, Balthasar argues for an infinitely improbable populated hell. While Oakes shows that the Theo-Drama and perhaps other works of Balthasar, for his corpus is immense, may not carry this same optimism, that DWH does cannot be denied. His most exact position in DWH, the last major work he wrote, argues for only the smallest iota of uncertainty that anyone is in hell. Unlike Nicholson’s claim, DWH attempts much more than pointing to a loophole in scripture or encouraging hope. It states and argues for the infinite improbability of people in hell, a position practically indiscernible from proper universalism.

Like Balthasar’s differing conclusions which at times are barely distinct themselves from universalism, his usage of scripture also points toward universalism. The argument here is that the very notion of holding within the mind two irreconcilable series of New Testament statements which must both retain their force without contradicting or admitting a synthesis, which Balthasar takes as his scriptural starting point, will result in one of three outcomes: an internal contradiction of affirming both “all are saved,” and “some are damned,” at the same time, a complete agnosticism regarding who will be saved resulting from contradictory evidence, or the minimizing of one set or the other to come to an answer. Balthasar, though he and his readers may think he proposes an agnosticism with a tinge of hope, actually takes the last route by weakening the passages regarding hell. This minimizing is necessitated by the fact that he holds the idea that scripture contains an irreconcilable cleft and that God both wills the salvation of all and offers grace to all.[47] Regarding Balthasar’s hermeneutic, Nicholson writes,

In order for Scripture to point to anything other than the traditional hermeneutic… Balthasar had to offer a different interpretation that is plausible…  surely with the burden of proof upon him, Balthasar offers no clear, concise argument. This [is], albeit a weakness in the apologetical sense… The main issue [in interpretation] seems therefore to be the a priori expectations of the reader.[48]

The expectations of the reader are the beliefs that God offers grace for salvation to all and that He wants all to be saved, our assumed premises. These emphasize the mercy of God, and thus we expect to see Balthasar’s scriptural cleft lead to a minimizing of the hell sets.

The reader clearly sees Balthasar’s need to synthesize the two sets and weaken the passages, despite his many claims regarding the impossibility of doing either, and many of his critics and supporters note this. Oakes, while critiquing Martin’s book, notes that “Perhaps [Martin] is right that Balthasar tips the scales.”[49] Surrey, attempting to defend the position that we ought to hope for all, writes in a footnote that Balthasar’s comment on the infinite improbability of hell “risks emptying the ‘threatening’ sayings of their truly threatening character.”[50] Joshua Brotherton, who often provides a well-reasoned and moderate critique of Balthasar notes that “it has been shown by others that Balthasar does not always exercise the restraint he requests in Dare We Hope? regarding reconciliation of the two apparently conflicting strains of biblical texts.”[51] He references Martin’s use of both Kevin Flannery and Germain Grisez.[52] Clearly, there is precedent to thinking that DWH, despite Balthasar’s protests otherwise, attempts either to reconcile these sets of passages or privilege the universalist above those about judgement.

The reader sees the first evidence of this minimizing in Balthasar’s strange and far from exhaustive separation of the pre and post Easter writings. The sections of the Gospels which occurred after the Resurrection, after “the Father will have spoken all of his Word to the end,” are implied to have more weight than the sayings which occurred before the Resurrection.[53] Balthasar denies this charge of a canon-with-the-canon with mere rhetorical flourish. Balthasar holds this pre and post-Easter distinction even though all the Gospels themselves are written after the Resurrection. At the time of writing DWH, Balthasar seems aware of the great criticism this position draws and its general unhelpfulness to his argument.[54] Yet he holds it in his first chapter, “perhaps thinking that a weak point is better than no point.”[55] To give a strong account of Balthasar’s position in DWH, we will no longer address the division between pre and post Easter Christ. Luckily, there are other ways in which Balthasar tips the scales of Scripture toward universalism.

Balthasar lays out the most prominent of these strategies when he utilizes Karl Rahner’s distinction between an “anticipatory report” and what truly exists now. He writes,

Even if [goats and sheep] scene is described, in line with Old Testament images of trial and on the basis of the New Testament either-or, as a judgement with a twofold outcome, it is [as Rahner says] “not to be read as an anticipatory report about something that will someday come into being but rather as a disclosure of the situation in which the person now truly exists. He is the subject who is placed in the position of having to make a decision…” [The ending of Mark, 16:16] too, is not a report but a final being-placed-in-the-position-of-having-to-decide.[56]

The many threatening statements of Christ throughout the Gospels are to be read as only applying to me. They are of an existential quality and are not prophecies. In short, they are warnings meant to confront the reader alone with the prospect of hell, we do not know if they contain any predictive truth and it is incorrect to read them in that manner. While it is certainly dangerous to attempt literal or numeric interpretations of biblical prophecies, must it be the case that one ought to use a Rahnerian interpretation, as Balthasar does here?[57] The answer is simple, Rahner’s hermeneutic weakens the hell passages, something which Balthasar must do in light of his cleft in scripture. Were there no cleft, he may take some other interpretative route which combines and synthesizes the passages, but this is not an option. There is no discussion regarding the alternatives to this approach, it is handed down to readers by fiat. The effect of this interpretation is straightforward: it immediately weakens all passages referring to eternal damnation.

Though Balthasar’s use of Rahner’s hermeneutic is the most important example of weakening hell passages, for the sake of argument, I note a few other places in which this occurs. Revelation 20:14-15 states, “then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”[58] According to Balthasar, however, this is not evidence that people are in hell. Rather, “this purely visionary character of Revelation, which leave the historical aside, prohibits us from drawing any conclusions about earthly historical events, including those in the Gospel.”[59] In 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to give a litany of those who will not attain the Kingdom, that is, those who will go to hell. He writes, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mennor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”[60] However, Balthasar cautions his readers, ““In Paul’s case, we have a warning and admonition to historically living men that they should mend their ways and not believe that they will automatically enter heaven.”[61] This passage is primarily to historical humans, not us readers or sinners today, and is merely a warning, not a prediction. While there are other examples which could be given, these suffice to show that Balthasar’s usage of scripture in DWH weakens those passages which are often thought to refer to eternal damnation. This weakening, thus that one is almost forced to believe in heaven for all, is a direct result of Balthasar’s irreconcilable cleft combined with the presuppositions that God wills the salvation of all while offering them the grace to do so.

Balthasar’s understanding of hope also leads to strong universalist conclusions. The argument here is that Balthasar, though he praises and adopts Thomas’s view of hope, fails to make a distinction, as Thomas does, within hope. Thomas notes the existence of two types of hopes, the natural and human hope of the passions, and theological hope that comes through grace. When Balthasar conflates these two hopes he also conflates the natural desire that each ought to have for the salvation of all, a sort of goodwill toward all, into a theological hope which must be founded upon divinely given faith, thus pushing his readers toward universalism. To understand the distinction, we briefly turn to Aquinas, from whom Balthasar draws the imperative to hope for all. Answering “whether there is a certainty in the hope of a wayfarer?” Thomas writes, “hope tends to its end with certainty, as though sharing in the certainty of faith.”[62] To the objection that one may fail to attain heaven and that there cannot be certainty about that which may not occur, he writes, “That some who have hope fail to obtain happiness, is due to a fault of the free will in placing the obstacle of sin, but not to any deficiency in God’s power or mercy, in which hope places its trust. Hence this does not prejudice the certainty of hope.”[63] Theological hope is that which trusts in the revelation of faith with a certainty grounded in the divine will and omnipotence.

This theological hope distinct from the passion, or emotion, of hope. It is a desire for a perceived good which will be difficult to attain.[64] This hope is more akin to a sense of wishful-ness and does not have to be grounded in even correct reason, let alone a divine faith. For example, I hope that I will receive a good grade on this thesis paper. As I am not a mystic, this hope is likely not founded in a divine promise. This hope, from a natural understanding, may be a rational one, based upon my weeks of research and thought, or it may also be a mere wishful desire that Dr. Larson will accidentally type an “A” when she meant to input a “C.” Clearly these types of hope are very different, something Thomas but not Balthasar acknowledges. While a summation of the Thomistic understanding of the passions or of hope is outside of this paper, it will suffice to say here that Thomas thinks natural hope is also the type of hope that abounds in young men and drunkards.[65] In a word, there is a difference between hoping for a raise and hoping for the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.

That DWH conflates these two hopes is first of all apparent from his commentators. Even between those who wish to defend him there is strong disagreement. Nicholson notes that “the French language distinguishes between normal, human, everyday hope in espoir; the word for a more profound hope, including theological hope, is esperance. The meaning used by Balthasar here is the former – the hope for good weather, good health, a good life for all, and that no one will be damned.”[66] He clearly understands Balthasar’s view of hope as a natural or personal one. If this was all that DWH put forward, then I would certainly agree with Nicholson and Balthasar that there is no universalism taught here and that we ought to hope for the salvation of all, just as I ought to hope that people have a good life. Edward Oakes, however, sees Balthasar as putting forward a different view of hope. He, noting both Balthasar’s usage of liturgical prayers for the salvation of all in support of his argument and Martin’s attempt to disentangle theological hope from human hope, states “After all, any hope that finds its expression in the Eucharist Prayer of the Catholic Mass, of all places, and that moreover deals with the eternal fate of one’s neighbor, would seem on its face to be a quintessentially theological hope if there ever was one.”[67] Oakes thinks, since the hope for all is expressed in the official prayers of the mass and elsewhere, as Balthasar notes, it must be a theological hope.[68] Therefore, we see a division in opinion on what Balthasar meant by his use of hope in DWH, something which should be expected if he does conflate as I claim.

This division is not just within the secondary literature, but DWH itself. As noted above, Balthasar calls hope, “the trustful handing over of oneself to the Lord, who predominates over the opposing powers and to whom one surrenders oneself.”[69] The use of “trust” links hope with the New Testament understanding of faith, and the reference of God as having power over evil shows His ability to accomplish what He wills. Thus, this hope is theological, linked to both faith and God’s ability to carry out His promises. Note also, “The whole of Scripture is full of the proclamation of a salvation that binds all men by a Redeemer who gathers together and reconciles the whole universe. That is quite sufficient to enable us to hope for the salvation of all men without thereby coming into contradiction with the Word of God.”[70] That this hope has a strong basis in scripture is further evidence that Balthasar thinks it to be a theological hope. However, Balthasar also expresses that this is a human hope. He writes, “[We] have no right to peer in advance at the Judge’s cards. How can anyone equate hope with knowing? I hope that my friend will recover from his serious illness – do I therefore know this?”[71] Hoping that a sick friend recovers, a particular circumstance, does not have a basis for certainty in faith or revelation. Depending on the illness and the availability of care, it may not even be a rational hope. Likely, it has a strong element of wishful thinking. Since hope is defended as both that which supposedly has a basis in scripture and that which is mere desire, that Balthasar conflates the two is clear.

The results of this confusion are a greater push to universalism, especially to one who is not aware of this distinction and assumes Balthasar’s hope to be theological.[72]  As Brotherton writes,

if we have a theological hope for the salvation of all, then there must be a promise in revelation that salvation will be granted to all, if one understands hope as a response to a revealed promise. Balthasar does not want to draw such a conclusion explicitly., but it is inevitably implicit if one fails to draw the distinction between the theological virtue of hope and hope that is merely natural… If Balthasar wanted to argue, instead, that we must have a natural hope that all be saved, there would be no weight in the conclusion that perhaps hell is empty, as there is no need for correspondence between our human hopes and supernatural realities. Balthasar does not consider the possibility that in prayer we may bring to God conditional desires that belong to the natural love for humankind.[73]

In sum, if one has a theological hope for universal salvation, this hope must be grounded in faith, in some revealed promise of God to save all. If one has a theological hope, then, it follows that there must be a reason to have faith in universal salvation, that God has revealed this reality to us just as He has the coming resurrection of the dead. One who believes that God has revealed that He will save all people is a universalist. It logically follows that, as faith is a necessary condition for theological hope and a divine promise is necessary for faith, one who hopes for universal salvation would become a universalist.

But, Balthasar or a universalist will surely claim, scripture does offer a sound basis for this hope, possibly in 1 Tim 2:4, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” But how does one interpret “want” here? This brings us to the final argument of DWH covered here which leads to universalism: its understanding of the divine will. As seen above, Balthasar rejects the apparent distinction between God’s antecedent and conditional will. God’s willing, for Balthasar, seems quite straightforward. It is simply, since it lacks a conditional aspect, antecedently inviolable. Nothing cannot occur without God willing it, itself an uncontroversial claim in classical theology. However, due to Balthasar’s rejection of the will distinction, he must construct his theology in a way which greatly lessens, if not eliminates, the human ability to resist God. As Brotherton notes,

If one accepts God as ipsum esse [as do Augustine and Thomas]… [then] finite freedom is radically contingent upon the power of the supreme necessary being… Balthasar appears to be on the side of the Augustinians and Thomists in this debate, and, in my view, rightly so. But when one does not accept the distinction between antecedent and consequent wills in God, ensuing universalism is almost inevitable…[74]

If grace is offered to all, as says the Catholic view, and people cannot resist grace, then universalism follows necessarily. If we posit human beings so radically dependent upon God, without the ability to act against what a Thomist would call His antecedent will (and Balthasar just “God’s will”), then there seems to be no chance that a person would go to hell. Rather, if God is sovereign over all, then a person in hell would seem to be a failure on the part of God, something which cannot be admitted.

We can see the tensionsbetween the divine and human will, and that Balthasar’s lack of the distinction forces him to see hell as a divine failure, within the text itself.  While trying to plumb the mysteries of grace with admirable humility, Balthasar writes,

Here we come to deep waters, in which every human mind begins to flounder. Can human defiance really resist to the end the representative assumption of sins by the incarnate God? If one replies to this confidently and flatly: “Yes, man can do that” and thereby fills hell with naysayers, then the theologians will again have to set up strange distinctions within God’s will for grace…To push on any farther into these deep waters is not permitted us, We have to stop at this observation: it would be in God’s power to allow the grace… to grow powerful enough to be his ‘efficacious’ grace for all sinners. But precisely this is something that we can only hope for.[75]

Note his statement that “it would be in God’s power to allow the grace… to grow powerful enough…” that all sinners would be saved. This is what Balthasar hopes for, not that all would accept God’s grace, but that God’s grace would become powerful enough that all would enter heaven, that grace and the divine will would “outwit” human freedom.[76] The hidden premise is that the limiting factor on salvation is grace, not human refusal. Therefore, if one is lost to hell, it is because God either did not will it or He was not powerful enough to effect it, two possibilities which are impossible in the tradition Balthasar operates out of. As Thomas Joseph White writes, “In refusing to appropriate the above-mentioned distinction, [Balthasar] rejects along with it an authentic reception of the Catholic Tradition’s teaching on the ‘resistible’ character of saving grace… Consequently, persisting moral evil must necessarily be seen as a reality engendered by the absence of the divine initiative.”[77] Balthasar’s rejection of the will distinction creates an irresistible grace, similar to John Calvin or Barth’s model. The existence of people in hell would then be a direct result of God not offering them grace, rather than a free refusal of God on the part of the sinner There is no place for God “to be frustrated by man’s wickedness.”[78]

Considering this constraint, Balthasar must either choose a Calvinistic limited atonement or a literal interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4. If we are to posit an all-loving God, Balthasar argues, one who is love and the source of all goodness, we cannot easily hold that He does not give his fallen children the ability to return to Him. Since God wills that all will be saved, and since God has the power to bring this about above any human refusal, it must be the case that all are saved, lest “hell remain stronger than [Christ]” and we are left with “the ultimate futility of the Cross.”[79] While Balthasar constantly states that these thoughts and arguments should result in a strong hope for salvation of all, rather than universalism, one can see the strong pull toward to the conclusion that one ought to believe, rather than merely hope for, the salvation of all. This conclusion could be easily avoided if one retained the important and helpful distinction between the antecedent and consequent wills, holding that, “God purposely created free creatures with the power to negate his resistible motions (or frustrate his antecedent will), and although God is certainly powerful enough to overcome such nihilations, God’s salvific will does not contradict his creative will.”[80]

From the preceding discussions it should be clear that Balthasar’s argument for hope within DWH is really a covert argument for universalism. While I tend to think he was aware of this conclusion, and perhaps supported it, this is not what I argue here. If one proceeds, as Balthasar does, with the two premises that God wills all to be saved and that it is not a revealed certainty that there are any in hell, statements with which Catholic would likely agree, and then adds upon them his three specific premises: first, that there exists an irreconcilable cleft in scripture between the universally salvific passages and the damnatory passages; second, that there is no stated or strong difference between human hoping and divinely based hoping; and, third, that we cannot divide God’s will so that some part of it ,the antecedent, may be frustrated while He still accomplishes His will by bringing good out of evil through the consequent will, we end up with the need to minimize the hell passages of the New Testament, assume that the hope for the salvation of all is grounded in revelation, and that God always gets what He simply wills; in short, from Balthasar’s premises we conclude universalism.


Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”?: With a Short Discourse on Hell. Translated by David Kipp and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.

This book is the central focus of the whole discussion. In it, Balthasar presents and defends his hopeful universalism, the idea that we ought to hope for the salvation of all.

Barrett, Brian. “Aquinas and von Balthasar on the Hope for Universal Salvation.” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 30, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 56–69.

This source describes the differences between Augustine, Aquinas, and Balthasar regarding hope. It speaks of the inclusion of charity into hope which occurs in Aquinas and how Balthasar uses this to make hope for the salvation of all a necessity.

Benedict XVI, Pope. “Christian Universalism: On Two Collections of Papers by Hans Urs von Balthasar.” Communio 22 (Fall 1995): 545–57.

This article discusses ecumenical writings of Balthasar. It poses the question of what salvation and eschatology look like in relation to dialogue with non-Christian religions

Brotherton, Joshua R. “Hope and Hell: The Balthasarian Suspension of Judgment.” The Thomist 81, no. 1 (January 2017): 75–105.

This source argues that the correct solution to the problem Balthasar poises is a suspension of judgement regarding the number of the saved. He examines Balthasar’s position and notes its acceptability while also endorsing a “healthy skepticism”.

“The Possibility of Universal Conversion in Death: Temporality, Annihilation, and Grace.” Modern Theology 32, no. 3 (July 2016): 307–24.

This source questions the “how” of Balthasar’s hope for universal salvation of even the most hardened sinners. It considers a few possibilities and argues that Balthasar thinks this “how” is accomplished through conversion in death. This source notes the important overlap in Balthasar’s thought between his Dare We Hope and his theology of Holy Saturday.

“Presuppositions of Balthasar’s Universalist Hope and Maritain’s Alternative Eschatological Proposal.” Theological Studies 76, no. 4 (December 2015): 718–41.

This article discusses how Maritain can avoid the universalism toward which Balthasar’s understanding of grace tends. It offers a way to reconcile the divine desire for all to be saved and the choice of some to reject that offer.

 “Universalism and Intergralism: Balthasar’s Syncretism and the Lonergan-Maritain Alternative.” Angelicum 92, no. 3 (2015): 303-46.

This source examines the relation of grace and nature within the thought of Balthasar. The author then shows why Lonergan and Maritain put forth a better understanding of this relationship before finally looking at the eschatological implications of their thought in contrast to Balthasar.

“Universalism and Predestinarianism: A Critique of the Theological Anthropology That Undergirds Catholic Universalist Eschatology.” Theological Studies 77, no.3 (September 2016): 603-26.

This work examines the nature of universalist thought about human freedom, arguing that its certainty destroys our freedom. It goes on to reference Balthasar’s “subjunctive universalism” ought to be more nuanced considering the dominant Catholic teaching on grace.

Dulles, Avery Robert Cardinal. “The Population of Hell.” First Things 133 (May 2003): 36-41.

            This article focuses on the loss of a conception of hell in Christian thought. This source gives a helpful overview of Balthasar’s argument, nothing its difficulties while affirming its orthodoxy.

Egan, Harvey D. “Hell: The Mystery of Eternal Love and Eternal Obduracy.” Theological Studies 75, no.1 (March 2014): 52-73.

This source addresses the topic of Hell through history up to the 20th century. There is a section within regarding the dialogue between Barth and Balthasar on salvation, noting the professed differences between the two. The source gives a helpful summary of Balthasar’s position.

Grisez, Germain Gabriel, and Peter F Ryan. “Hell and Hope for Salvation.” New Blackfriars 95, no. 1059 (September 2014): 606-15

This article exists to build upon Martin’s book on universalism Will Many Be Saved?. Universalists or double-predestination-ists cannot possess hope, as well as those who approximate universalism, they argue. This article is helpful as a critique of Balthasar insofar as he approximates universalism.

Harkins, Franklin T. “The Early Aquinas on the Question of Universal Salvation. Or How a Knight May Choose Not to Ride His Horse,” New Blackfriars 95 (2014): 208-17.

This article looks at the thought of Aquinas on 1 Timothy 2:4 and his usage of John Damascene’s distinction between the divine antecedent and consequent will. It examines his argument that one cannot read this passage as endorsing the universal predestination of all as that would undermine human free will.

MacDonald, Gregory ed. “All Shall Be Well”: Explorations in Universalism and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011.

This source combines the thought of many universalists in Christian history. It includes a helpful chapter written by noted Balthasar-defender Edward T. Oakes SJ regarding both his hopeful universalism and Christ’s descent into hell.

McClymond, Michael. “Opiate of the Theologians.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, no. 298 (Dec 2019): 27-37.

This article speaks of the difficulties of a strong affirmation of universalism, including scripture and the tradition of most all major Christian churches. The article is helpful insofar as it provides general lines of arguments against universalism and the difficulties in affirming it.

The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018.

This two-volume history of Christian universalism is an invaluable resource for understanding the background of the discussion. Further, volume two has a lengthy section on Balthasar and Catholic thought.

Martin, Ralph. “Balthasar and Salvation: What Does He Really Teach?” The Josephinum Journal of Theology 21, no. 2 (Sum 2014): 313–41.

This article examines the thought of Balthasar in Dare We Hope against recent criticism. It argues that the common reception of his teaching leads to presumption of salvation against the teachings of the Church.

Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2012.

This book examines the teachings set forth in Lumen Gentium chapter 16 regarding the hope for salvation of those who have not heard the Gospel and argues for the continued and pressing need for evangelization. It also has an extensive and critical chapter on Balthasar’s notion of hopeful or subjunctive universalism.

Nicolson, Stuart. “Can We Dare to Hope?” Heythrop Journal 59, no. 2 (March 2018): 240-51.

This article attempts to defend Balthasar against those who label him a heretic while also distancing him from universalists, that is, why he can licitly hold what he holds. It examines common lines of argumentation against Balthasar and shows why they are lacking in authority. Specifically, it notes the non-systematic and speculative nature of Balthasar’s work.

Oakes, Edward T. “Saved From What?: On Preaching Hell in the New Evangelization.” Pro Ecclesia 22, no.4 (Fall 2013): 378-94.

This source is a critical review of Martin’s Will Many Be Saved?. It addresses weaknesses in his treatment of Balthasar and argues in favor of his views against Martin.

O’Connor, James T. “Von Balthasar and Salvation.” The Homiletic and Pastoral Review 89 (July 1989): 10-21.

This article would be the first I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the topic. It provides a short and straightforward critique of Balthasar’s argument which lays out all the major problems in DWH. I am almost surprised that there was any continued debate after on DWH after this piece was published.

Parry, Robin A. and Partridge, Christopher H. eds. Universal Salvation? The Current Debate. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

This book contains a helpful compilation of essays from various theologians on the topic of universalism. It gives good background information to the debate in which Balthasar and his interlocutors engage.

Pitstick, Alyssa Lyra. Light in Darkness. Hans Urs von Balthsar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Decent Into Hell. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2007.

This book discusses the problems with Balthasar’s teaching of Christ’s decent into Hell. It also includes a small section which relates that teaching with his of hopeful universalism.

Surrey, Cameron. “Heaven Attracts and Hell Repels: A Dynamic Interpretation of Balthasar’s Dare We Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved’?” Pro Ecclesia 25, no. 3 (Sum 2016): 321–36.

This article exists for the purposing of clarifying one of what the author considers to be distinguishing characteristics of Balthasar’s thought from universalism. It examines the dynamic character of his treatment of scripture and of hope and shows why a correct understanding of this silences many of his critics.

Trabbic, Joseph. “Can Aquinas Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved,?” Heythrop Journal 57, no.2 (March 2016): 337-58.

This article examines the relation between Balthasar and Aquinas on the topic of hope and reprobation and the ways in which the former read the later. It then goes on to fill in the gaps of Balthasar’s treatment of Aquinas and gives a way in which Aquinas may be read as granting license for a hope for all.

White, Thomas Joseph. “On the Universal Possibility of Salvation.” Pro Ecclesia 17, no. 3 (Sum 2008): 269-80.

This source addresses the question of universal salvation referring to Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday. While the topic is not specifically Dare We Hope, it still provides an important look at his thought in reference to universal salvation.

“Von Balthasar and Journet on the Universal Possibility of Salvation and the Twofold Will of God.” Nova et Vetera 4, no.3 (Sum 2006): 633-65.

This source examines the distinction in Aquinas between the antecedent and consequent will of God and its appropriation by Charles Journet. It argues that Balthasar’s rejection of this distinction tends his thought to necessary universalism.

[1] See Matthew 7:13-14; 25:31-46; John 5:24, 28-29; Mark 3:29: 16:15-17; Luke 12:8-10; Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31; Revelations 21:5-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, among others.

[2] This understanding has recently come under strong fire by theologian David Bentley Hart. To honestly disagree with universalism, one must now go through him. Though I have my thoughts on the matter, the question of universalism is far beyond this work.

[3] See Chapter two of McClymond’s The Devil’s Redemption A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), for a discussion of the origins of Christian universalism. For a strong critique of McClymond’s history, see David Bentley Hart’s review of his book in “’Gnosticism’ and Universalism: A Review of ‘The Devil’s Redemption,” on the blog Eclectic Orthodoxy.

[4] See 1Timothy 2:1-6, 4:10, 2 Peter 3:9, Romans 5: 12-21, 11:32 John 3:16, 5:24, 6:37-40, 12:32, 17:23, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20, and Titus 2:11. This list is not meant to be comprehensive.

[5] See McClymond’s Appendix G in Devil for a listing of the different types.

[6] McClymond writes, “Balthasar soon gained a reputation, especially among those in the Catholic hierarchy, as a reliable conservative,” though in the footnote he mentions that, “The conservative image was based largely on Balthasar’s opposition to certain progressivist views rather than a fuller understanding or appreciate of his positive views,” Devil, 892.

[7] Chapter 1 of DWH details the preceding controversies to which Balthasar aims to silence with his work. The second section of the book, A Short Discourse on Hell was itself a later published rejoinder to those who critiqued the original work.

[8] Alyssa Pitstick, Light in Darkness. Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent Into Hell, (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 2007.

[9] Ralph Martin, Will Many Be Saved? Vatican II and its Implications for the New Evangelization, Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2012.

[10] See both Oakes’s review of Martin’s book “Saved from What?: On Preaching Hell in the New Evangelization,” Pro Ecclesia 22, no.4 (Fall 2013): 378-94, and also Oakes responses to Pitstick in First Things “Balthasar, Hell and Heresy: an Exchange,” 168 (December 2006): 25-32 and the later “More on Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy” in the January issue of the following year.

[11] Cardinal Avery Dulles “The Population of Hell,” First Things, 133 (May 2003): 36-41.

[12] McClymond, Devil, 829-926

[13] For a history of the continual resurgence and rejection of universalism, see chapter one of The Devil’s Redemption. See also footnote 3.

[14] The notion that the grace of salvation is offered only to a few was condemned by Innocent X in his 1658 Cum Occasione against the Jansenists. Regarding the lack of binding Church declarations on the population of hell, we ought not to be surprised. As O’ Connor writes in his review of DWH “Von Balthasar and Salvation,” The Homiletic and Pastoral Review 98 (July 1989) page 18, “It is undeniably true that the Church has ever done the opposite of canonization and consigned any individual human to hell. This is a fact. Whether this fact has any significance in the present discussion, however, is doubtful. The Church’s mission is to teach the truth, preach salvation, propose models for living the Christian life well, and warn against those actions and forms of living which will lead to eternal loss. It is to be questioned whether she has been given the knowledge or power to determine and proclaim the negative results of any individual human life.”

[15] See Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press: 1988), 16-18, for the works to which he responds.

[16] DWH, 178.

[17] DWH, 29.

[18] DWH, 21-22. In case anyone wishes to bring up the supposed inter-Pauline distinction of authorship, we also see threats of damnation in Corinthians, a text which most scholars presume to have authentic Pauline authorship.

[19] Especially since the New Testament scriptures were written after the Resurrection, including the passages which speak of seeming eternal damnation.

[20] DWH, 22.

[21] Ibid. Balthasar does not clarify why or in what way this “proper place” of the pre-Easter Jesus is different in effect than lessening their impact.

[22] DWH, 23.

[23] DWH 69. The quotations of Augustine are from City of God XXI, 23. Augustine takes a different view of 1 Tim 2:4 than the literal. He assumes that it means that God wills [some] people from every class and group to be saved rather than literally all.

[24] DWH 45.

[25] DWH 43.

[26] DWH 173.

[27] DWH 73-4. To see Balthasar’s contested history of the development of the Augustinian doctrine of predestination on contrast to the pre-Nicene fathers see pages 47-72. For a sound and important critique of Balthasar’s treatment of these figures, sans Augustine, see O’Connor “Von Balthasar,” 15; Martin, Will Many, 168; and Martin, “Balthasar and Salvation,” 335-6.

[28] For a better understanding of the licit-ness of Balthasar’s usage of Aquinas see these five articles: Brian Barrett, “Aquinas and von Balthasar on the Hope for Universal Salvation.” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 30, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 56–69, Joshua Brotherton, “Presuppositions of Balthasar’s Universalist Hope and Maritain’s Alternative Eschatological Proposal.” Theological Studies 76, no. 4 (December 2015): 718–41 (especially his discussion on pages 725-730 on the virtue of hope in Aquinas), Franklin T. Harkins, “The Early Aquinas on the Question of Universal Salvation. Or How a Knight May Choose Not to Ride His Horse,” New Blackfriars 95 (2014): 208-17, Joseph Trabbic, “Can Aquinas Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved,?” Heythrop Journal 57, no.2 (March 2016): 337-58, and Thomas Joseph White, “On the Universal Possibility of Salvation.” Pro Ecclesia 17, no. 3 (Sum 2008): 269-80.

[29] DWH 74.

[30] DWH 75.

[31] DWH 78, quoting Hans-Jurgen Verweyen’s article “Das Leben aller als ausserster Horizont der Christologie.” And DWH 174.

[32] DWH 166.

[33] DWH 83.

[34] DWH 48.

[35] DWH 45.

[36] Thomas Joseph White OP discusses this development and Balthasar’s stance on it in his “Von Balthasar and Journet on the Universal Possibility of Salvation and the Twofold Will of God.” Nova et Vetera 4, no.3 (Sum 2006): 633-65. Specifically, see page 43. Note that this division is not meant to contradict God’s complete simplicity or His lack of accidental properties. It is akin to the “division” between God’s justice and mercy which, though actually essentially His and are one and the same, appear to us as separate attributes.

[37] Thomas Joseph White, “Von Balthasar and Journet,” 643.

[38] DWH, 23-24.

[39] DWH 24. Balthasar’s contention that the distinction in the divine will necessarily leads to or is the condemned double predestination seems to be incorrect. For example, Pope Innocent X condemns the Jansenist idea that Christ dies only for the elect and that grace is offered only to them in his 1658 Cum Occasione. The idea of the distinction in the divine will See footnote 33 and White’s other article “On the Universal Possibility of Salvation.” Pro Ecclesia 17, no. 3 (Sum 2008): 269-80 for articles which upholds the notion that grace is offered to each while also holding to the notion that God allows through his consequent will free humans to reject this grace.

[40]Avery Robert Cardinal Dulles, “The Population of Hell,” First Things 133 (May 2003): 40.

[41] Edward T. Oakes, “Saved From What?: On Preaching Hell in the New Evangelization,” Pro Ecclesia 22, no.4 (Fall 2013): 393.

[42] Ibid, 394.

[43] Stuart Nicholson, “Can we Dare to Hope?” Heythrop Journal 59, no.2 (March 2018): 246.

[44] Ralph Martin, “Balthasar and Salvation: What Does He Really Teach?” The Josephinum Journal of Theology 21, no. 2 (Sum 2014): 321.

[45] DWH, 218-221. Italics are in DWH, emphasis is my own.

[46] Martin, “Balthasar,” 321. For places where Balthasar proposes to be arguing less see pages 113, 178, and 187. Martin’s statement on recovering from an illness is a reference to DWH 166.

[47] While the existence of seemingly conflicting passages in scripture is nothing new, Balthasar’s idea that one cannot and should not attempt any sort of synthesis is something which, according to McClymond, originated in 18th century protestant scholarship. See The Devil’s Redemption, 1049. Also note that Balthasar’s useage of this hermeneutic is criticized by detractors and supporters alike. See Martin, Will Many, 136-164, especially 147-161.

[48] Nicholson, Can We Dare, 247. Nicholson attempts to explain away this weakness in Balthasar’s argument by claiming DWH as a mere work of “spiritual reflection” and not apologetic. Note that the entire first chapter of DWH, “The Charge and the Issue,” shows that Balthasar writes this work to defend himself from critics, that is, to give an apologia.

[49] Oakes, Saved From What, 388.

[50] Cameron Surrey, “Heaven Attracts and Hell Repels: A Dynamic Interpretation of Balthasar’s Dare We Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved?’” Pro Ecclesia 25, no. 3 (Sum 2016) 321.

[51] Joshua Brotherton, “Hope and Hell: The Balthasarian Suspension of Judgement,” The Thomist 81, no.1 (January 2017): 105.

[52] Martin, Will Many Be Saved?, 138-139.

[53] DWH, 22.

[54] Note the many qualifications he gives to this point on pages 21 and 22. James T. O’Connor in “Von Balthasar and Salvation,” The Homiletic and Pastoral Review 98 (July 1989): 10-21 notes how the later “Short Discourse on Hell” excludes this line of argumentation entirely from its discussion on the NT, suggesting that Balthasar realizes the weakness of this point and no longer wishes to argue it.

[55] Ralph Martin, Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2012, 146.

[56] DWH 32-33. The italics are Balthasar’s. He quotes Rahner’s “Hell” in Sacramentum Mundi II, p 736.

[57] Martin in Will Many notes both how this hermeneutic contradicts the great weight of Christian tradition (139, 150) and even Oakes finds suspect the parable of the goats and sheep being a mere warning (144). McClymond in Devil’s Redemption notes that this anthropocentric view of Scripture was not commonly used before the 20th century (1050).

[58] NIV translation.

[59]DWH, 139.

[60] NIV, 1 Cor 6:9-10.

[61] DWH, 139.

[62] ST II-II, q18 a4.

[63] Ibid, ad 3.

[64] ST I-II q40 a1.

[65] ST I-II q40 a6.

[66] Nicholson, Can we Dare, 246.

[67] Oakes, Saved From What, 386. Oakes also does not seem aware of this distinction’s place in Thomas, even saying on the same page “It is not clear how or why this distinction is drawn in the first place,” in reference to Martin, Will Many, 174. See DWH 35-36 in the footnotes for places where Balthasar references the hope expressed in liturgical prayers.

[68] It seems to be the case that even official prayers, distinct from those which are personal and thus more likely to express a natural hope, can express a merely natural hope. For example, the Our Father expresses both a theological hope “forgive us our sins,” as forgiveness is grounded in God’s mercy, and a natural hope “give us this day our daily bread,” as God providing daily sustenance is not grounded in a promise of revelation.

[69] DWH, 43.

[70] DWH, 114. Quoting L. Lochet’s Hell is Part of the Good News, 1981, 127-8.

[71] DWH, 166.

[72] It may be contested here, why must we assume that the hope spoken of in DWH is theological? I answer that DWH is a work written by a theologian, in response to critiques of his theology, which itself is theological. Common sense dictates that we assume the hope spoken of here is theological until shown otherwise.

[73] Joshua Brotherton, “Presuppositions of Balthasar’s Universalist Hope and Maritain’s Alternative Eschatological Proposal.” Theological Studies 76, no. 4 (December 2015): 726. This article shows very well the universalist tendencies of Balthasar’s understandings of both hope and the relation between grace and the divine will.

[74]Brotherton, “Presuppositions,” 722.

[75] DWH, 208, 210.

[76] DWH 221. The distinction Balthasar posits between outwitting and overpowering human freedom is given no substantive defense; it is hard to see how this distinction is not merely rhetorical.

[77] White, “Twofold Will,” 665. Italics in the original.

[78] DWH 184.

[79] DWH 26, 27. Balthasar writes this in response to Newman’s “certain” knowledge that some are in hell, implying that if this were the case, hell would be stronger than God and the Cross would be an act in futility.

[80] Brotherton, “Presuppositions,” 729.

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