Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Dare We Hope...?

This morning Peter Nixon reflected on today's Gospel, noting how we as Catholics believe that it is possible for those who lack explicit faith in Jesus Christ to be saved (see Lumen Gentium, 16). I'd like to take this a little farther...

With the great twentieth century swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and others, I believe that we can and should hope that all people will be saved. I know that this will rub some people the wrong way and that it sounds like I am a universalist, but hear me out...

First, note that I am not asserting that all of us definitively will be saved. No... I hope that all will be saved. There is a crucial distinction involved here. The first position (that which asserts universal salvation) implies certitude about the salvation of all, while the second position implies ignorance about the salvation of all, i.e. we do not know the eternal destiny of all humanity (although as Catholics we do know that some are in Heaven: canonized saints).

It is precisely because we do not know everyone's eventual destination in the hereafter that we can hope that all will be saved. Such hope flows not only from charity (which seeks the best good -- which is Heaven -- for all) but also from doctrine (the universal salvific will of the Father who "wills that all be saved" [1 Tim 2:3-4]). It is also found in our liturgy, in various prayers in which we pray for all our deceased brothers and sisters, which clearly includes all who have died; now, if we know that some are damned, then it is wrong to pray this prayer, as we would be praying for something that cannot be, i.e. the salvation of someone who can no longer be saved.

Some might object to this view on the basis that someone like Hitler or Stalin simply cannot be in Heaven, based on their actions on earth. I think this indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of our teaching on sin and salvation, in that any sin -- no matter how "insignificant" -- condemns us, and at the same time all of our sins, no matter how heinous, have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. What is required for our salvation is that this redemption and forgiveness be applied to us, and it seems to me to be possible that somehow, in someway, this could have happened even with someone like Hitler.

I do want to note that this opinion is not Magisterial; while I believe it to be true and to follow from Christian doctrine and worship, the Catholic Church does not formally teach it, so anyone is naturally free to reject it. At the same time, I'd ask you consider it before doing so :-)

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