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I've been reading George MacDonald as of late and have heard in a few places that he argues for universalism. I though that had something to do with unitarianism, but in looking it up a tad more, I guess it means the idea that everyone will be saved.

Is this theology considered a heresy to the Catholic Church? If so, when where and why was it condemned?

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Urs Von Balthasar was a esteemed Catholic theologian and he argued for universalism. See google.com/search?tbs=bks:1&q=isbn:0898702070 –  rvf0068 Oct 10 '12 at 2:29
To be honest, I'd assume you would be the best one to answer this. Self-answering is actually encouraged. I searched for several hours before even attempting an answer, and I'm 100% sure you could do a better job. –  David Oct 10 '12 at 13:05
@DavidStratton thanks for answering (and especially for taking hours to search for an answer, that's very kind!) I'm kind of surprised that there's no cut-and-dry answer to this question. I'll try to do more research in to it, as I admit I didn't quite do enough research before asking the question. I just looked at George MacDonald's wiki page and clicked a few links and got curious. –  Peter Turner Oct 10 '12 at 14:38
Yeah, there are TONS of answers both ways, but nothing I'd use as a reliable reference. Most of it is non-Catholic and accusatory. This was the closest to a non-biased answer I could find. –  David Oct 10 '12 at 14:43
vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/… LUMEN GENTIUM teaches a sort of universalism. –  david brainerd Jun 15 '14 at 23:51

4 Answers 4

According to this article (and I'm not expert enough to verify the reliability) the answer seems to be "not any more."

A Summary and Some Resources

The doctrine of universal salvation (also known as Apokatastasis or Apocatastasis) has usually been considered through the centuries to be heterodox but has become orthodox. It was maintained by the Second Vatican Council and by Pope John Paul II and it is promoted in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the post-Vatican II liturgy.

It was supported by Pope John Paul II the following are three quotes from him.

  • Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. (General Audience of July 28, 1999)

  • Christ, Redeemer of man, now for ever ‘clad in a robe dipped in blood’ (Apoc, 19,13), the everlasting, invincible guarantee of universal salvation. (Message of John Paul II to the Abbess General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget)

  • If the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is to convince the world precisely of this ‘judgment,’ undoubtedly he does so to continue Christ’s work aimed at universal salvation. We can therefore conclude that in bearing witness to Christ, the Paraclete is an assiduous (though invisible) advocate and defender of the work of salvation, and of all those engaged in this work. He is also the guarantor of the definitive triumph over sin and over the world subjected to sin, in order to free it from sin and introduce it into the way of salvation. (General Audience of May 24, 1989)

As for the statement that the author claims that the teaching is found in the catachism, here's the rationale:

The new, post-Vatican II Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us to hope that all will be saved.

  • 1058 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).

  • 1821 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.’

Although in reading those myself, I don't know that they teach that universalism is true but rather that they have hope that it is. But, clearly, if the have hope that it's true, it's not opposition to the teaching. And much searching has failed to turn up recent statement denouncing universalism.

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There are two different ways to look at this question.

  1. On the one hand, outside of the Church there is no salvation (known in Latin as "extra ecclesiam nulla salus", that is an opinion that has been ratified through Council and Creed and it is still true).
  2. On the other hand the teachings related to "Baptism of desire/Baptism of blood" muddies the waters considerably.

Unfortunately, "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" is a bit less clear than the cut-and-dry "if you don't die Catholic, you're damned." The last man to try to get away with this was actually in a major, public way was a Fr. Feeney at the beginning of the 20th century. He, and his followers ("Feeneyites"), were excommunicated in 1953 for a strict and literal interpretation of this doctrine.

The following is an excerpt of the letter which was sent to Fr. Feeney explaining the limits of salvation and how it can apply to those inside and outside of the Church (Emphasis mine):

Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church.

However, this dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church.

Now, in the first place, the Church teaches that in this matter there is question of a most strict command of Jesus Christ. For He explicitly enjoined on His apostles to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He Himself had commanded (Matt. 28: 19-20).

Now, among the commandments of Christ, that one holds not the least place by which we are commanded to be incorporated by baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He Himself in a visible manner governs the Church on earth.[The baptized get first place... no shock there]

Therefore, no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff[People *knowing* that Church is God's Church cannot be saved if they refuse to follow here (also not a surprise)], the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also decreed the Church to be a means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of eternal glory.

In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man's final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the sacrament of regeneration and in reference to the sacrament of penance (<Denzinger>, nn. 797, 807).[Basically, "we know that people are spared if, for some reason beyond their control are unable to get to confession before death"]

The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.

However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.

If you want an analogy from literature, in the book The Last Battle, there is a Calermine soldier who "worships Aslan by another name" who gets to go to the "new Narnia." The thought is that, given the option this man (and real men like him) would have actually worshiped God properly.

All things considered, it is quite possible that God has created some "great baptismal font in the sky" which gives all the opportunity, in their last breath, to repent and be saved. I don't know how likely that is, but it is not incompatible with orthodox thought. I will also say that the clear teaching of the Church is that purgatory cannot be avoided without the sacraments.

A final note is that the Church is purposefully vague about who, exactly, is in hell. We are not even willing to condemn Judas outright. The most we can say is that there will be more than one person (according to the mystics it is quite a few more than two, but that is not infallible) in hell because scripture uses the plural form, but, unlike Dante, we cannot say who or how many there are.

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The Catholic Church condemns universalism.

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, Sess. 8, Nov. 22, 1439, ex cathedra:  

“Whoever wishes to be saved, needs above all to hold the Catholic faith; unless  each one preserves this whole and inviolate, he will without a doubt perish in  eternity"

Saint Leonard of Port Maurice [A.D. 1676-1751], on the fewness of the saved: “After consulting all the theologians and making a diligent study of the matter, he [Suarez] wrote, ‘The most common sentiment which is held is that, among Christians [Catholics], there are more damned souls than predestined souls.’ Add the authority of the Greek and Latin Fathers to that of the theologians, and you will find that almost all of them say the same thing. This is the sentiment of Saint Theodore, Saint Basil, Saint Ephrem, Saint John Chrysostom. What is more, according to Baronius it was a common opinion among the Greek Fathers that this truth was expressly revealed to Saint Simeon Stylites and that after this revelation, it was to secure his salvation that he decided to live standing on top of a pillar for forty years, exposed to the weather, a model of penance and holiness for everyone. Now let us consult the Latin Fathers. You will hear Saint Gregory saying clearly, "Many attain to faith, but few to the heavenly kingdom." Saint Anselm declares, "There are few who are saved." Saint Augustine states even more clearly, "Therefore, few are saved in comparison to those who are damned." The most terrifying, however, is Saint Jerome. At the end of his life, in the presence of his disciples, he spoke these dreadful words: "Out of one hundred thousand people whose lives have always been bad, you will find barely one who is worthy of indulgence."

The Vatican II counter-church does not condemn it.

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Are you claiming that the Catholic church is no longer the Catholic church?? –  curiousdannii Jun 19 '14 at 8:09

Yes, the Catholic Church condemns doctrinal universalism.

Hell is not empty, and this is Scriptural, for example Luke 16:19 ff.:

19 There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen; and feasted sumptuously every day.

20 And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores,

21 Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell.

23 And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom:

24 And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame.

25 And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazareth evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented.

26 And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither.

27 And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren,

28 That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments.

29 And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

30 But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.

31 And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.

v. 22 makes it clear that hell contains at least this rich man (so hell is not empty).

v. 26 makes it clear that once you are in hell, you are there for all eternity (so this rich man is still there, and thus hell is still not empty).

See the interpretation of the Fathers of the Church in Catena Aurea on St. Luke's Gospel ch. 16, lectio 5.

Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, writes in his A Modern Catholic Dictionary (1980) on p. 553:

UNIVERSALISM, DOCTRINAL. The theory that hell is essentially a kind of purgatory in which sins are expiated, so that eventually everyone will be saved. Also called apokatastasis, it was condemned by the Church in A.D. 543, against the Origenists, who claimed that "the punishment of devils and wicked men is temporary and will eventually cease, that is to say, that devils or the ungodly will be completely restored to their original state" (Denzinger 411 ["211 Can. 9 Si quis dicit aut sentit, ad tempus esse daemonum et impiorum hominum supplicium, eiusque finem aliquando futurum, sive restitutionem et redintegrationem esse (fore) daemonum aut impiorum hominum, an. s."]).

Also, Pius II condemned, in the letter Cum sicut of Nov. 14, 1459, "That all Christians are to be saved." ["Et omnes Christianos salvandos esse."]

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This question is specifically asking "If so, when where and why was it [universalism] condemned?" Can you provide any references for how Catholics have used this passage to condemn universalism? –  curiousdannii Jun 17 '14 at 7:47

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