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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/23/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

It seems apparent that the Balthasarian thesis that we may reasonably hope all men are saved offends the analogy of faith, the analogia fidei.  The Balthasarian thesis is not reconcilable with the Church's received teaching on predestination and reprobation.  The Balthasarian thesis would render this teaching surplusage or vestigial.  Accordingly, a Catholic with a healthy sense of the sensus fidei should be loathe to jettison a whole area of received teaching so as to accommodate a theologian's eccentric and untraditional view.


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

3/23/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Hell, von Balthasar, reasonable hope all men are saved, Origen, particular judgment, analogia fidei, predestination, elect, damned, reprobate, Andrew M. Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - In our last article, "Dare We Hope All are Saved?  When Do We Abandon Hope?" we addressed the thesis of the eminent Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar that proposes that we may reasonable entertain the hope that all men are saved, and Hell is not populated by any human souls. 

In that article, we introduced the concept of analogia fidei, and showed, I believe, how the Balthasarian theory is fully incompatible with the Catholic faith if it is held to apply to those who died in a state of mortal sin, and so immediately face their particular judgment, and are damned in Hell for eternity.  It is not reasonable--in fact it is un-Catholic--to hope that the eternally damned, once they are damned, may be saved.

Perhaps nowhere is the hopelessness of the damned--a theological certainty of high even highest degree--more poignantly and succinctly expressed than by the Catholic poet, Dante Alighieri.  Almost everyone knows his famous lines which he places in the inscription above the gates of the Hell of the damned:

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.
Abandon all hope, you who enter here.

(Inferno, Canto III.9)

Here is the Catholic sentiment built upon the faith received from our fathers.  Hope cannot reasonably extend to the eternally damned.

For a number of reasons--most based upon an overemphasis of God's mercy to the detraction even effective nullification of God's justice and man's freedom, a loss of the sense of the supernatural, a loss of the sense of sin, or just simply emotional or psychological difficulty with the justice of an eternal Hell--some modern theologians such as von Balthasar would bowdlerize the Inferno.  They would have the gate over Hell read the word Chiuso!  Closed!  And, as they would have it, Dante's Divine Comedy would have been only two-thirds the size it is now, consisting only of Purgatorio and Paradiso.

In any event, if there is to be reasonable hope that all men are saved in any Catholic sense and Hell is in fact closed for business, then the hope must not be placed after the particular judgment.  The hope must be placed, if at all, before the particular judgment, which is to say before physical death.  This was the conclusion of our last article.

This necessarily means, however, that for us to have a reasonable hope that all men are saved in any Catholic sense, we must have a reasonable hope that all men die in a state of grace, free of mortal sin on their souls. 

Is this a plausible Catholic doctrine? 

In my mind, it is not.  Let us once again turn to the analogia fidei.  In this case let us look at how the proposition that it is reasonable to believe that all men die in a state of sanctifying grace and free of mortal sin affects the Catholic doctrine of predestination.

Translated into the language of predestination and reprobation, the Balthasarian theory is that it is reasonable to entertain the hope that all men are predestined to heaven, that all men are part of God's "elect," and that no men are reprobate and damned eternally in Hell. 

To believe this--and remain an orthodox Catholic--is, I think quite plainly, untenable. 

Nowhere in the Catholic Tradition has anyone--Pope, Council, Bishop, theologian, saint--entertained the hope that all men are predestined to heaven.  None has ever taught that all men are part of the "elect."  (This, of course, would make the Biblical term "the elect" superfluous and synonymous with "all men," which would render its traditional theological and Biblical meaning null.)  Nowhere has anyone ever taught that no man is reprobated to hell.  In fact, to hold such propositions implicitly denies the Church's teaching on predestination.

Here's why.

The Catholic Church's teaching on predestination involves the delicate navigation between the Charybdis of the salvific will of God (which wills all men to be saved, including the reprobate) and Scylla of the freedom of man (including the freedom--to his damnation--of the reprobate). 

If one emphasizes the freedom of man to the detriment of God's will and God's grace, one succumbs to a form of Pelagianism.  If one emphasizes God's will and grace excessively to the detriment of man's freedom, one succumbs to Calvinism (and its "double Predestination" theory--where God predestines men to Hell) or its "Catholic" varietal, Jansenism. 

Really, the Balthasarian thesis is a perverse form of anti-Calvinism or anti-Jansenism.  Instead of an irrevocable decree that some men are damned, we have a belief in an irrevocable decree that all men are saved.  Human freedom--not to mention Scriptural and Church's teaching--is the casualty of this doctrine.

To be sure, there are different schools of Catholic thought which lie somewhere between the condemned extremes--Thomists and Molinists are the most frequently identified.  These schools all dispute and fall on different sides on the rather subtle (though important) question of whether God's eternal resolve of predestination is with or without a prevision of merit (ante or post and propter praevisa merita).  The Thomists fall on one side of the line.  The Molinists on the other.

But regardless of which Catholic "school" one belongs to within the condemned extremes, all traditional Catholic schools inherit one common assumption.  That assumption is that there are some who are predestined to be part of the "elect," and some are "reprobate."  It seems that we must reasonably believe that there are men in both categories.  Otherewise, there simply is no doctrine of predestination and reprobation.

If there were not some men in both categories, there would be no need for the doctrine of predestination.  All would be part of the saved "elect," and no one would be part of the damned "reprobate."  And if this were true, the Thomists and Molinists both are out of business.  Chiuso.

But it is de fide doctrine and a necessary implication of the whole doctrine of predestination that (to quote Ludwig Ott) "God, by his eternal resolve of [his] will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness."  These souls are known as "the elect."  This dogma is binding on all the faithful.

Likewise, regardless of which Catholic "school" one belongs to, it is de fide doctrine that (to quote Ludwig Ott again) "God, by his eternal resolve of his will, predestines certain men, on account of their foreseen sins, to eternal damnation."  These unfortunate and damned souls are known as "reprobates."

To be sure, God wills all men to be saved, and, knowing this, the Church has always condemned any suggestion that God predestines men to hell without regard to their sins, in particular the sin of final impenitence.  This so-called "double predestination" or "unconditioned positive reprobation" is heresy.

For example, in the Synod of Quiercy (853 A.D.), the Church taught: "The omnipotent God wishes 'all men' without exception 'to be saved' [1 Tim 2:4], even if not all are saved.  That some, however, are saved is the gift of the one who saves; that some, however, perish is the fault of those who perish."  D 623.   There are thus by implication some men in both categories, if the Synod of Quiercy is to be followed as it has by the traditional Magisterium.

So, in the Catholic view, when men are damned to Hell, they are damned not because of some irrevocable decree of God that damns them irrespective of their will and their own freely-chosen sin of final impenitence, but they are damned because of the fact that, as a result of their misuse of their freedom, they have rejected God's sufficient grace and have died in a state of mortal sin, something that God has foreseen. 

As the current Catechism puts it, "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end."  CCC § 1037.  God salvific will is limited by the operation of our freedom.  God saves no one against their will.  God's mercy is not tyrannous.

Now the whole edifice of the Church's teaching on predestination and reprobation is mocked by the Balthasarian thesis that one may reasonably hope that all men are saved.  To entertain the hope that all men may reasonably be saved is implicitly to deny the Church's teaching on predestination and reprobation. 

In effect, the Balthasarian thesis translates to having a reasonable hope that God predestines all men to heaven, that all men are part of "the elect," and that there is no such thing as reprobation.  This, it seems to me, is absolutely inconsistent with Scripture and with the Tradition of the Church. 

Therefore, it seems quite plain to me that the Balthasarian thesis offends the analogia fidei.  The Balthasarian thesis is not reconcilable with the Church's received teaching on predestination and reprobation.  The Balthasarian thesis would render this teaching surplusage or vestigial.  A Catholic with a healthy sense of the sensus fidei should be loathe to jettison a whole area of received teaching so as to accommodate a theologian's eccentric view.

Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not concentrate heavily on the issue of predestination and reprobation, it does acknowledge the teaching:  "To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy.  When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination,' he includes in it each person's free response to his grace."  (CCC § 600)  It is apparent that a "free response" can include both acceptance and rejection; otherwise it is not "free." 

The Catechism also acknowledges the notion of predestination and reprobation implicitly in myriad places, by referring to the Scriptural notion of "the elect," which implies its negative, the "reprobate."  The "elect" are the "just," and are distinguished from the "damned."  E.g., CCC §§ 769, 842, 1031, 1045, 1344).  If the "elect" meant "all men," which is implied by the Balthasarian thesis, then there would be no need for the term.

In light of all this, it seems to me that a Catholic is free to find place himself somewhere within the boundaries of soteriological optimism and a soteriological pessimism

A soteriological optimist would take the position that it is reasonable to hope that the majority of men, maybe even most men, are saved, but that we must reasonably abandon hope for a minority of men who, as a result of their abuse of freedom and their foreseen sin of final impenitence, are reprobate and damned. 

A soteriological pessimist along the lines of St. Augustine would take the position that it is reasonable to hope only that a minority of men are saved, but we must reasonably abandon hope for the majority of men since most men are part of the massa damnata.

But it seems to me that--in light of the Church's teaching on predestination which necessarily demands that there are some men that are part of the saved "elect," and yet some men who are part of the damned reprobate--it is as unreasonable to hold to the hope on the grounds of divine mercy that all men are saved and are part of the "elect," as it is to hold to the despair on the grounds of divine justice that all men are damned, and are reprobated to eternal Hell.


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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