Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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?

share|improve this question
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 Stratton 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 Stratton Oct 10 '12 at 14:43
add comment

2 Answers

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.

share|improve this answer
add comment

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.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.