The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar
COMPASSION TO A FAULT
The theological ideas of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Swiss Catholic theologian who died in 1988, have captured the imagination of Catholic scholars throughout the Church. Both “conservative” and “progressive” churchmen have hailed him as one of the century’s pre-eminent theologians. He has been called one of “the twentieth century’s outstanding Catholic thinkers,” and compared to Augustine and Aquinas. Clearly, Balthasar’s opinions carry considerable weight among Catholics today.
Balthasar, in Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”?, claimed there was no certainty that anyone is in Hell or ever will be in Hell. He stated that “the Church … has never said anything about the damnation of any individual. Not even about that of Judas.” Thus, he declared, every Christian has the “obligation” to hope that all men are saved, including Judas.
It seems compassionate to desire that all men be saved and to be horrified at the thought of anyone suffering eternal punishment – even Judas. But this feeling must not cloud the intellect to the point of undermining the Gospel or the natural law and truth itself. The problem with Balthasar’s “hope” is that it conceals an implicit doubt about the Church’s philosophy of truth and her doctrine on Jesus Christ.
A hope is absurd unless there is the possibility that it will be realized in the future. But, if Balthasar’s “hope” would come to fruition and everyone would in fact be saved, what would then be said about the fact that this situation contradicts statements in sacred Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church? If these sources clearly teach that Judas or someone else is in Hell (or will be in Helb| then to hope that everyone will be saved is to hope either that these sources of revelation are in error or that the natural law with its principle of noncontradiction is in error. A hope like this really seems to be a doubt that the natural law and “unchangeable truth” exist and can be known by the Church. It seems to be a doubt about one’s faith and the sources of revelation. And if Jesus Christ Himself taught that Judas or anyone else is in Hell (or will be in Helb| then to “hope” for universal salvation is to hope that Jesus made erroneous statements. The most disconcerting feature of Balthasar’s hope for universal salvation is that its logic appears to require an assumption of Christ’s ignorance and fallibility.
But the question is: Do Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium clearly teach anything about the end of Judas and the possibility of universal salvation? Let’s investigate.
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