Thursday 19 January 2006

Hans Urs von Balthasar: dare we hope?

The brilliant Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is best known for his vast theological trilogy, Herrlichkeit, Theodramatik and Theologik.

But reading Chris Tilling’s blog recently, I noticed that his wishlist includes Balthasar’s little volume Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? With a Short Discourse on Hell (1988). And seeing this book on his list reminded me of the immense value of even Balthasar’s smallest books.

Dare We Hope is a sharp and insightful work, and it deserves close attention regardless of one’s own view of the scope of salvation. The book evoked some controversy, with critics accusing Balthasar of universalism, i.e., of believing in the apokatastasis panton. But such an accusation misses the whole point of Balthasar’s argument—for he does not believe in universal salvation, but he hopes for it. And, as the whole of Dare We Hope demonstrates, there may be all the difference in the world between “believing” and “hoping.”


Jim said...

Ben you sure are right about this one. It's a tremendous little book.

Anonymous said...

Avoids both the Augustinian God-is-very-strict and the liberal God-is-too-nice schools of thought on hell.

On the one hand, hell is very real, though it is not about what God is going to do, but about what we are capable of.

On the other hand, may hell be empty!, because the Crucified experienced the heart of human darkness and desolation.

Passionate, beautiful stuff.

Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Thanks for sharing this and for the insight into the distinction drawn by von Balthasar between hoping and believing. I see the point of the title (and book) now. What a shame that such things escape the notice of even prominent individuals. I recall with perfect clarity a time when I heard Professor Scott Hahn (famous convert to Catholicism) claim that the prima facie title of the book is the actual content of that book. That is, he claims von Balthasar was basically a universalist in this regard. I have read a fair amoung from von Balthasar's writings thus far, and it now occurs to me that I should have known better than to consider such an interpretation of his work.

At any rate, thanks for the insight, and it is certainly profound to offer and hold to that distinction as a Christian.

Scribe said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have found Gregory of Nyssa's use of Origen's apokatastasis to be very helpful spiritually, as it reflects God's own desire that all men be saved (1Tim 2:4). The idea that if one person remains eternally in rebellion could be seen as a failure of God's grace and will for the world. So perhaps hell is a both punitive and purgative - even if that purgation takes millions of years.

Ap said...

Allow me to share my thoughts on von B's daring hope:

It still needs some refinements and I gave up on it after discussing it with a good friend of mine, but I still think it is a pretty decent defense of a person hoping that all be saved.

Ben Myers said...

Thank you very much, Apolonio, for these links to your discussion. You've done some very clear, thoughtful work here.

BlueNight said...

I learned of von Balthasar's works just tonight; thanks for the recommendation on which book to read first.

For a long time, I struggled with the concept of Hell. I knew, because He Himself told me, that He died for everyone who ever lived, and His love is infinite. One day, He reminded me that He is also infinitely just.

I know now of Hell's necessity and reality, but I also hope it is empty; that an infinitely intelligent God can convince each and every one of us to accept Him, without coersion that would break the free will He Himself gave us as a defining attribute.

Fat said...

How can we as Christians (Followers of the same Christ who died that mankind might be saved) hope for anything less than that every person will be saved - I cannot be the one who would write a fellow traveller off as not worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

I think there are levels of hope we may have in terms of who is in heaven, ranging from the public and getting more and more private as they move farther and farther away from what is explicitly said in the deposit of faith (though never contradicting it):

1) It is a dogmatic fact that papally canonized Saints are in heaven, it is nearly such for beati or the cultus confirmed, etc

2) We have moral certitude that apparently validly baptized infants are in heaven

3) There is public hope that good Catholic adults we knew are in heaven or at least in purgatory and will get there

4) For non-Catholic adults of good will, or notorious sinners, there may be public hope that they did become Catholics or repent and we just didnt know about it. That, somehow, by Providence, everyone repented and became Catholic in the end, by natural means.

5) A small step removed from this, going into the realm of the technically private, is the hope that everyone repented and became Catholic in the end, but it required miraculous means. That God bilocated a priest to preform baptism in the end, etc Technically this requires hope for a suspension of nature, for an extraordinary action, which, while not impossible, does move things into the realm of technically "private" hope (ie, hope not explicit in revelation and nature, but not contradicting them either)

6) Getting into more extraordinary supposition, we may hope that, rather than making all sorts of exceptions to nature to miraculously supply water baptism, God (not being bound by the sacraments), simply used some other means such as invincible ignorance, baptism of blood, baptism of desire, etc, as discussed by theologians (though not, technically, de fide like water baptism).

7) Again, since God is not bound by the sacraments, assuming that he doesnt need any special means on our part, and just infuses grace in any non-resistant person at the moment of death. Unbaptized infants may be covered under this hope.

8) All humans may be hoped for under the above hopes, none of which contradict revelation. Finally, the most controversial, and one that should be kept the most private (technically, I dont think any of the ones beyond step 3 should be preached from the pulpit or included in any hierarchal documents, which should discuss certain Faith, not vague "possibilities" of Hope) that, as Catholic Encyclopedia says, "In itself, it is no rejection of Catholic dogma to suppose that God might at times, by way of exception, liberate a soul from hell." Presumably, this applies equally to the fallen angels currently in hell as much as to men. God can override our free will. And though I dont think he'd do so on a permanent basis, nor would it be heaven if we didnt freely choose it...medieval stories like Trajan being freed from hell seem to indicate that it is at least possible that God could, as an "exception" to the rule, "re-set" the ultimate choice of a soul and let him [freely] choose again. Until they "got it right," even.

But, hope is definitely not faith. I can hope for all of that as it is clearly possible in God's omnipotence. But I dont presume any of it (except the first 2, which we may have certainty of).

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