Universalism and the Roman Catholic Church

A Summary and Some Resources

The doctrine of universal salvation (also known as Apokatastasis or Apocatastasis ) has usually been considered through the centuries to be heterodox but has become orthodox. It was maintained by the Second Vatican Council and by Pope John Paul II and it is promoted in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the post-Vatican II liturgy.

Click on the links provided for an elaboration of the points made.

Universal Salvation in the Early Church

The Fathers of the Alexandrian Church maintained the doctrine of universal salvation in the second and third centuries and various of the Church Fathers followed them in the doctrine. The teaching of Plato who maintained reincarnation influenced them. It was a minority opinion.

•          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. The fire of punishment is not an instrument of eternal torment, but of divine instruction and correction. Since the soul is essentially rational, it will eventually be convinced of the truth of the divine pedagogy. When this conviction arises, salvation and deification will follow. The word used to describe this universal salvation was Apokatastasis , 'restoration of all things.'

It was often thought that the Church condemned Origen of Alexandria for teaching the doctrine and it has usually been considered to be heterodox through the centuries.

•           It must be admitted that before the opening of the council [Constantinople II], which had been delayed by the resistance of the pope, the bishops already assembled at Constantinople had to consider, by order of the emperor, a form of Origenism that had practically nothing in common with Origen, but which was held, we know, by one of the Origenist parties in Palestine .

The bishops certainly subscribed to the fifteen anathemas proposed by the emperor; and admitted Origenist, Theodore of Scythopolis, was forced to retract; but there is no proof that the approbation of the pope, who was at that time protesting against the convocation of the council, was asked.

It is easy to understand how this extra-conciliary sentence was mistaken at a later period for a decree of the actual ecumenical council.

The following early Fathers of the Church are said to have taught that all will finally be saved.

•           Pantaenus ; Clement of Alexandria ; Origen ; Athanasius; Didymus the Blind; Macarius of Egypt; Gregory Thaumaturgus; Ambrose; Ephraim; John Chrysostum; Gregory of Nyssa ; Gregory of Nazianzus; Jerome of Bethlehem; Evagrius Ponticus ; Titus of Bastra; Asterius of Amasea; Cyril; Methodius of Tyre; Pamphilius Eusibius; Hillary of Poitiers; Victorinus; Macrina the Younger; Dionysius the Areopagite; John Cassian; Maximus the Confessor ; Proclus of Constantinople; Peter Chrysologus; Diodorus of Tarsus; Stephen bar Sudaili.

There are various Bible passages that its advocates quote in support of it.

•           But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 St. Peter 3:8-9)

Universal Salvation in the Modern Church

The doctrine of universal salvation has become very popular in the modern Roman Catholic Church. St. Therese of the Child Jesus is said to have maintain it in the nineteenth Century when it was apparently still rare for anyone to do so. Pope John Paul made her a Doctor (a special teacher) of the Church and her litle way spirituality of childlike trust in God has been heavily promoted amongst Catholics.

•           St. Therese wrote a Christmas play for her sisters, in which the Child Jesus insists, in correction of the Angel of Vengeance, that, 'every soul will find forgiveness'. On the last day, the Child Jesus will remain "the God of love" who suffered to recompense all of the sins of the entire human race.

Hans Urs von Balthasar argued in favour of the doctrine; he has been called Pope John Paul's favourite theologian and he founded a theological journal with Ratzinger now Pope Benedict.

•           In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II expresses forcefully the same position defended by Balthasar. If Christ desires the salvation of all and if there is a "real possibility of salvation in Christ for all humanity," hope for all is simply part of what it means to follow Christ.

Karl Rahner also popularised the doctrine amongst Catholics.

The Second Vatican Council maintained the doctrine that all will be saved in the Apokatastasis or Final Restoration of All Things . The following is taken from the constitution Gaudium et Spes (1:45, 2:57).

•           While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God's kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass . For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is 'the universal sacrament of salvation' simultaneously manifesting and actualising the mystery of God's love.

For God's Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself . The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God's love: "To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth" (Eph. 1:10).

... Moreover, by the impulse of grace, he is disposed to acknowledge the Word of God, Who before He became flesh in order to save all and to sum up all in Himself was already "in the world" as "the true light which enlightens every man" (John 1:9-10).

Pope John Paul II often gave us to hope that all will be saved and taught the doctrine of universal salvation. The following are but three examples of many compiled.

•           Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. (General Audience of July 28, 1999)

•           Christ, Redeemer of man, now for ever 'clad in a robe dipped in blood' (Apoc, 19,13), the everlasting, invincible guarantee of universal salvation. (Message of John Paul II to the Abbess General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget)

•           If the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is to convince the world precisely of this 'judgment,' undoubtedly he does so to continue Christ's work aimed at universal salvation. We can therefore conclude that in bearing witness to Christ, the Paraclete is an assiduous (though invisible) advocate and defender of the work of salvation, and of all those engaged in this work. He is also the guarantor of the definitive triumph over sin and over the world subjected to sin, in order to free it from sin and introduce it into the way of salvation. (General Audience of May 24, 1989)

The new, post-Vatican II Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us to hope that all will be saved.

•           1058 The Church prays that no one should be lost : 'Lord, let me never be parted from you.' If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God 'desires all men to be saved' (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him 'all things are possible' (Mt 19:26).

•           1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere 'to the end' and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for 'all men to be saved.'

The new Roman Missal and Divine Office do too.

•           Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

•           Almighty God, we recall how you sent your angel to the centurion Cornelius to show him the way of salvation. Open our hearts to work more zealously for the salvation of the world, so that your Church may bring us and all men into your presence. (Divine Office, Tuesdays, Afternoon Prayer)

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, recently expressed his hope that all will be saved in an interview with a Catholic newspaper.

•           We're not bound to believe that anybody's there (in hell), let's face it... I cannot think of heaven without thinking of being in communion with all the saints and with all the people I've loved on this earth... I hope I will be surprised in heaven, I think I will be.


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