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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Avery Dulles SJ & Hans Urs von Balthasar

- Robin Williams' character walks through hell in What Dreams May Come

Jeff has a post at Aún Estamos Vivos on Avery Dulles SJ and I thought I'd mention something about the one article of his that I've read ..... The Population of Hell. It's at First Things and is an answer to the book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?”. For those who are interested, you can read bits of the book at Google books - here.

Actually, cheater that I am :) I'm going to paste some of a post of mine from a couple of years ago on this very subject .......


I hate the idea that hell may exist, that Jesus mentions it in the Gospels, that being in despair (suicide) can send you there. Most modern theologians and preachers I've read make a case for hell being not God's choice but man's ... that people go to hell of their own volition, following a desire to be apart from God. This explanation doesn't work for me, though it's preferable to some others ... here's a tidbit from an article cited below by David Watts - ... we can be sure that, even in His righteous hatred, God loves the damned. How is God's love for them shown? In their agony not being even greater. They are not suffering as much as they deserve, according to the saints. And one of the reasons God ended their earthly probation when He did was, no doubt, to stop them from adding sin to sin and hence clocking up more severe punishment. The damned may not thank God for all this, but we can. ... holy mackerel!

A theologian who spent some time thinking about hell was one-time Jesuit, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Let's read some bits from an article in First Things by Avery Cardinal Dulles on Balthasar and Hell ...


As we know from the Gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell ... He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth ....

Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost ....

... Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small ....

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation ....

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost .... Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die ....

... a number of theologians remain opposed. In a supplement to his book, Balthasar himself reports that one reviewer accused him of supporting “the salvation optimism that is rampant today and is both thoughtless and a temptation to thoughtlessness.” At an international videoconference organized by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Clergy last November, Jean Galot, with an apparent reference to Balthasar, said that the hypothesis of hell as a mere possibility “removes all effectiveness from the warnings issued by Jesus, repeatedly expressed in the Gospels.” At the same conference Father Michael F. Hull of New York contended that Balthasar’s theory is “tantamount to a rejection of the doctrine of hell and a denial of man’s free will.” In this country Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap., accused Balthasar of being a Hegelian relativist who “smuggles into the heart of the Catholic a serious doubt about the truth of the Catholic faith.” Scanlon himself takes it to be Catholic teaching that some persons, at least Judas, are in fact eternally lost. This article set off an epic controversy between two Catholic editors, Richard John Neuhaus and Dale Vree, both of whom came to Catholic Christianity as adults ....

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 ...


Me here again .... Fr. Dulles' article mentions some other articles on the discussion of Balthasar's theory of hell. Here they are, for those who want to read more ...

Fr. Regis Scanlon's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, blasting Balthasar's view on hell - The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar

Richard John Neuhaus' article in First Things, defending Balthasar against Scanlon - Will All Be Saved?

Dale Vree's article in the New Oxford Review, answering Neuhaus - If Everyone is Saved ...

There's more of the guys above :-) but perhaps the next one to read would be found in the New Oxford Review by Janet Holl Madigan - In Defense of Richard John Neuhaus

And let's not forget David Watt's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, against Balthasar's view - Is Hell Closed Up & Boarded Over?

It's Balthasar's hope that all might be saved, and I like that ... Origen believed even Satan would be saved (an interesting book on the subject of universal salvation is The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott). But my hope is that we won't need to be saved - that hell does not even exist.


Blogger Jeff said...

Spooky image! I never saw that film. It's hard to imagine Robin Williams in a role like that, although it shouldn't be hard, because I remember the one where he played the creepy film developer. Was it One-Hour Photo? Was this one a good movie?

I remember this post from before. It was excellent. :-) I'll let others take a crack at it.

2:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

I didn't see One-Hour Photo, but he was also creepy in that movie with Al Pacino in Alaska, Insomnia.

What Dreams May Come wasn't what I would call a good movie - it was kind of manipulative - but it did have some outstanding visuals. And the actors were ok too - Max von Sydow, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandmother had a saying that went "biting off your nose to spite your face." I have always felt that this might be the basis of hell. I hate to think of the good things that I have given up because I refused to admit that I was wrong. or perhaps it was because I was trying to make the other person feel guilty.

I can certainly see the possibility of someone being so proud that they might refuse to enter heaver rather than admit they had been wrong about something. Certainly people are screwy enough that at least one person will exercise his free will and refuse to enter heaven

On the other side of the discussion it seems to me that God wills all men to become reconciled to Himself and finding salvation, and I kind of have a hard time seeing God's will being frustrated. So pick which side you think is best.

My own opinion runs to thinking that in the end we will see things clearly, and if we are willing, like the prodigal son, to say, "Lord, I really blew that one didn't I?" we will be welcomed with open arms. Or we can make a choice to hang out in the hinter lands a complain about how unfair everything is while we gnash our teeth!

So many questions that I look forward to having answer :).

Love and hugs,

Mike L

3:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


A lot of people believe that some will decide they'd rather not be with God. There's a movie maybe I'll rent (now that I can watch it on the computer again and take screen captures :) in which someone does that - The Rapture. But I hope God will be so attractive that no one will be able to resist him.

6:27 PM  

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