My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Our celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday is a reminder that all of us will one day rise from the dead. This is an essential element of our faith, as we profess on Sundays and holy days in the Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
To whom does this “resurrection of the dead” refer? Jesus taught that “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).
Contrary to what the church has taught through most of her history, in recent years some theologians have suggested that no one is in Hell, but everyone will go to Heaven. Our Lord’s reference to “the resurrection of condemnation” indicates rather clearly that not everyone will go to “the resurrection of life,” but only “those who have done good deeds.”
Even a respected Catholic theologian like Hans Urs Von Balthasar, while affirming that Hell is a “real possibility,” argued in his book, Dare We Hope: That All Men May Be Saved (With A Short Discourse On Hell), that there is good reason to hope that in the end, all people may be saved.
Others have gone beyond hoping for universal salvation to a more definitive assertation that all will be saved, as argued by David Bentley Hart in his recent book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation.
Again, Jesus states otherwise in his own words as recorded in the Bible, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:3). Someone followed up on that statement by asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:23-24). “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14).
Michael McClymond, professor of Modern Christianity at Saint Louis University, articulates very well the church’s traditional teaching on Heaven and Hell in his two-volume book published in 2018, The Devil’s Redemption: An Interpretation of the Christian Debate over Universal Salvation. He wrote a shorter treatment of this topic in the December 2019 issue of First Things entitled, “Opiate of the Theologians,” in which he writes, “Not until the nineteenth century did any Christian body make universal salvation its official teaching. The first to do so, the Universalist Church, later merged with another to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.” He comments, “As one saying went, the universalists thought God was too good to damn them, while the unitarians thought they were too good to be damned.”
Proponents of universal salvation are not confined to Unitarian Universalists. Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, wrote a book in 2019 called, The Universal Christ. In it, Father Rohr seeks to distinguish a spiritual “Christ” from a more human “Jesus.” He claims that what we call the “Resurrection” was actually when the “Christ” at last broke free from “Jesus.” By this he means that the body of Jesus exploded into light particles that diffused throughout the cosmos. Father Rohr’s understanding of Easter is not that “he is risen” but that “he is vanished.” Unfortunately, many people, including Catholics, subscribe to these heretical views.
Professor McClymond explains why he does not accept the arguments for universal salvation, saying, “I don’t need to hypothesize a world in which human pride and stubbornness cause people to turn away from God’s gracious offer of mercy in Jesus Christ. This is the world I live in. This is what I see happening every day. This is what I read in the news. It is also what I am told by the church: Jesus was crucified. Perfect love appeared in history — and observe what man did in response.” In contrast, the universalist must imagine a scenario where somehow everybody will turn to God and find themselves in Heaven. Thus he concludes, “This imagining not just of a heaven, but of men and a world that no one has ever seen, leads me to a definite conclusion. Universalism is hopefulness run amok, the opiate of the theologians.”
We must also be aware of the consequences for evangelization if it is commonly accepted that everyone will go to Heaven regardless of how sinful they have been and without ever repenting of their sins. If I am going to Heaven no matter how much evil I do in this life and I never repent of those sins, why go to church, follow the Commandments, and love my neighbor?
As Christians, we hear Our Lord’s clear call to repentance and we pledge to put his teachings into practice in our lives with the help of his grace, that we too might share in the joy of his Resurrection. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
May God give us this grace. Amen.