Universal Salvation


A member of my parish, who is actually a paid staff member, recently publicly shared his belief in universal salvation, quoting a non-Catholic universalist saying, “No father could be happy while there were members of his family forever in agony.” At first, I thought this was most certainly anti-Catholic theology, considering we pray that we “dread the loss of of Heaven” in the Act of Contrition, among other proclamations about our belief in Hell. But then I found St. Isaac of Syria, aka St. Isaac of Nineveh, who supposedly was a supporter of this concept of universal salvation, saying that God would even bring demons back to Heaven. Could a saint be wrong? Or are the modern interpretations of his teachings wrong?

I’m not convinced that universalism is heresy

Saints are not infallible. So, the short answer is that yes, saints can be, and often were wrong.


Check this out. (the erroneous teaching of Apokatastasis)


The damned do NOT WANT to be in Heaven. They freely choose to condemn themselves.

God bless.



The notion that Isaac of Nineveh advocated universal salvation is a modern one resting on Brock’s 1995 translation of the Second Part of Isaac’s writings on Gehenna discovered in 1983. My impression is that it is balderdash.

Yes, saints can be wrong. No better example can be presented than St Thomas of Aquinas, who proposed a number of views on matters of belief that were eventually not adopted by the Church. No personal opinion is a teaching unless and until it is received by the Magisterium.

Apokatastasis or Universalism is the teaching that everyone will, in the end, be saved. It looks toward the ultimate reconciliation of good and evil; all creatures endowed with reason, angels and humans, will eventually come to a harmony in God’s kingdom.

In effect it denies the final reality of hell, and interprets all Biblical references to the “fires of hell” not as an eternal punishment, but a tool of divine teaching and correction, akin to purgatory. The implication is that hell exists to separate good from evil in the soul.

This doctrine was reinvigorated by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?”, which expressed a qualified version of apokatastasis in which we may “hope” that all will be saved.

Universalism is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.



Universalism is a heresy.


Universalism is not a teaching of the Catholic Church.

Having said that, from the very beginning of Christian history the notion of universalism – by which I mean the notion that God will restore all humankind (and even all spirit creatures, according to some) in the “life in the age to come” (from last words of our creed) – has been embraced and advocated by many of the faithful. Even to this very day.

It would be wrong to say the Church teaches universalism. It doesn’t. However, it is not wrong to hope that God will ultimately restore all humankind in accordance with His will and mercy, the fulness of which we cannot grasp. There’s a world of difference, and it is in the space between the differences that I believe the debate over universalism hurls off the rails.

A universalist hope is really about an abiding faith in God’s character, particularly in His immeasurable abundance of love, mercy, and grace, especially as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Such faith in God’s character accords with Church teaching.

God “desires all men to be saved…” (Catechism, 74; emphasis mine)

In the course of its history, Israel was able to discover that God had only one reason to reveal himself to them, a single motive for choosing them from among all peoples as his special possession: his sheer gratuitous love. And thanks to the prophets Israel understood that it was again out of love that God never stopped saving them and pardoning their unfaithfulness and sins. (Catechism, 218; emphasis mine)

And of course there is the witness of Scripture to God’s “gratuitous love” and mercy:

Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in mercy. He will not always accuse, and nurses no lasting anger; He has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our wrongs deserve. For as the heavens tower over the earth, so his mercy towers over those who fear him. (Psalm 103:8-10; emphasis mine)

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14)

There are numerous other passages that could be quoted (including other passages relating to God’s character of justice, righteousness, etc.). But suffice it to say that, albeit we have the treasure of the revelation of God in Christ, our limited human understanding nonetheless cannot fully grasp the limitlessness of God and His mercy, the expressions and manifestations of which often surprise us (and sometimes contrary to our established understanding). This is where universalist hope resides. Such hope is ultimately an assertion of faith in, and appeal to, the boundless mercy and “gratuitious love” of God, and such faith does not contradict nor seek to misrepresent or supplant the established teaching of the Church per the Magesterium (see Catechism, 93-95).

The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries. (Catechism, 66; emphasis mine)


I would also add that, as a “belief,” universalist hope operates (or at least should operate) as follows (this, I must add, is only my own insight):

*]Does the Church teach universalism? No.
*]Does the Church teach that all humankind will be saved/restored? No.
*]Does the Church teach that some among humankind will be condemned/damned? Not exactly.
*]Does God want to save/restore all humankind? Yes.
*]Can God save/restore all humankind? Yes.
*]Do we affirm Church teaching? Yes.
*]Do we affirm our limited understanding of God? Yes.
*]Do we have faith in God’s limitless mercy and sovereignty? Yes.

Finally, I am reminded of two parts of the Catechism:

The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). (Catechism, 1058)

We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” (Catechism, 1821)


The hope is probably fine and dandy. Taken with the fact that God, Who knows all things past, present, and future has revealed that hell exists and is eternal, one should be fine.

Otherwise we deny the eternal existence of hell and the need for a Last Judgment.



If I might ask, how exactly would it do that? it could mention a single event but nothing that could be happening after that or something.

And actually, universalism could maybe have to be investigated a bit, I mean, if it could be done. Just declaring it “heresy” miiiight get you into a lot of questions, not to mention bashes with unbelievers that are GOING to TRAMPLE AND SMASH over the idea of a deity being omnibenevolent if it did something like that, wouldn’t it just cause more “problem of evil” problems? Just asking on that question, just in case anyways.


St Gregory of Nyssa taught it as well. Of course I’m not familiar with later Roman Catholic councils but universal salvation was never been condemned as heresy by any of the Ecumenical Councils. Origen and his teaching on the pre-existence of souls in conjunction with a final restoration. The idea that all people may eventually choose God has not been condemned.

I always recomend this paper any time this discussion comes up. I think it is thought provoking.

The River of Fire


We cannot believe that perhaps every one will be saved and simultaneously hold that some will burn in eternal fire. The two positions are mutually exclusive.

It is de fide that hell exists, will eternally, and that some will be condemned to it.



I just read a Greek Orthodox dissertation taking the contra position.

Every time the issue of universalism comes up and it’s pointed out that Christ Himself said that hell would be eternal and that some would be condemned, the tapdances and weasel words begin.

Universalism is per se a heresy, whether it’s been condemned under that name or not, since every proposition it’s based on contradicts some truth of the Catholic faith.


I’m not convinced that universalism is heresy

Which is why it would maybe need to be investigated a bit more if it could be done, such questions would arise: Did the “Eternal” thing actully TRULY mean eternal as in “never ending”?


The answers are already extant.

I agree, though, that if you’re a Universalist you’ve got to dispense with the plain words of Jesus and the Church’s teachings on hell, Satan, and the Last Judgment.

If you’re successful in that project you can begin taking Christ’s plain words on His Body and Blood in the Eucharist apart.

There’s no end to the religion you can create once everything is open for discussion.



IIRC, some people could storm you in a discussion by telling you how your god is NOT omnibenevolent AT All but maybe even just vengeful or maybe even tyranical for deciding that an eternal, endless suffering could be an acceptable fate for someone.

Thing is, as far I could find around, universalism is not something saying that people who do evil could get away with it, it is that everything could EVENTUALLY be fixed, maybe even thinking that punishment could be temporary but “eternal-like” or something; at least, IIRC, found something like that around during a bit of skimming around.

And what did you mean with “religions that could be made up” tho? just kinda asking tho


Not at all. Universalist hope in no way denies the Church’s teaching of the existence of hell (CCC 1035). At best, universalist hope simply envisions by faith – faith in the immeasurable limitlessness of God’s mercy – that, although hell exists, in the abundance of His fatherly mercy God could will it to be fully empty at the final judgment (CCC 1037). Or, quite simply, that all humankind could by astounding grace come to conversion, and as such none would enter hell. This hope is in fact what the Church constantly prays for (CCC 1821).

But no. Universalist hope absolutely does not deny the existence of hell.


If the hope overrides the certain knowledge that not all will be saved, indeed it does.



But there is plenty of Scriptural evidence that universal salvation may be a reality. I don’t think you can so easily dismiss the idea.


I do.

Either there’s a hell and people are condemned to it for eternity or there is not.

If there is not, Universalism has hope.

The problem is that the reality of hell and of people being condemned to it for eternity are both Scripturally undeniable and de fide.

There’s really no honest way around that.



The problem here, Marty E, is that there is no “certain knowledge that not all will be saved.” The Catechism affirms this. We simply do not know how things will exactly turn out at the final judgment.

A noteworthy insight from the Catechism’s teaching on Baptism:

The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (1257)

Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. (1260)

The reason I quote the above sections of the Catechism is simple: no one’s destiny is knowable to us. Neither is it knowable to us how God shall ultimately decide to extend the fruits of His mercy.

And this is at the very core of universalist hope: it resides in 1) the truth that our human knowledge and understanding of God’s will is limited, and 2) in the truth of the unfathomable limitlessness of God’s mercy and, as such, envisions that all humankind could be saved/restored in the “life in the age to come” according to His extraordinary grace.

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