Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hope – Conclusion

Abandonment, Holy Saturday, and Hell

lastjudgment_5x10One very helpful insight Balthasar emphasizes is that God does not judge his creatures merely from above and merely from outside. Rather, he has lived out in Christ the ultimate experience of this world, the very world that has exercised its given, created, limited freedom to withdraw obedience from God. Christ was abandoned by man and he was abandoned by the Father, and so he is the incarnate one who has experientially known “every dimension of the world’s being down to the abyss of hell.”[1] This he calls the “central issue” of the theo-drama: “that God has made his own the tragic situation of human existence, right down to its ultimate abysses; thus, without drawing its teeth or imposing an extrinsic solution on it, he overcomes it.”[2]

This heightens the drama and brings concrete reality to the meaningful relationship between God and men. Balthasar’s theology at times is subject to the criticism that it is more abstract that concrete; but here, concreteness gains prominence, and fittingly so at the turning point of the drama of redemption. Christ has suffered concretely for the concrete sins that are done individually and corporately; he has suffered for all the suffering and injustice that are experienced in the world individually and corporately. God proves his love and compassion for the world by taking sin and judgment upon himself in Christ. The Mediator is the one who is in a “pact with both warring parties and yet not a traitor to either; epitomizing the living drama in the very ‘composition’ of his being, torn asunder by his tragic situation and yet, thus torn, healing divisions.”[3]

There are two dimensions that open up in the cross of Christ, where “God himself is forsaken by God because of man’s godlessness.”[4] Balthasar develops the theme of the crucifixion and death of Christ as that which will become the locus of the judgment of God for all humanity. But there are some aspects of his development of this theme that seem to be inconsistent both with Scripture and with Tradition, as some scholars have complained.[5] He argues that, as Christ drank the cup of the wrath of God, he was baptized with the baptism which lead down to death and hell, becoming the accursed one (Gal 3:13) who is sin (2 Cor. 5:21) personified.

So far, this seems consistent with the traditional interpretation of the cross of Christ. But Balthasar goes further: for him, Christ goes to the place where “the smoke . . . goes up for ever and ever,” as described in Rev. 19:3 in reference to the eternal destruction of Babylon; Christ is thrown into the lake of fire which is the second death (citing Rev. 20:14).[6] Referring to Christ’s condition, he says, “this is the essence of the second death: that which is cursed by God in his definitive judgment (John 12:31) sinks down to the place where it belongs. In this final state there is no time.”[7] Further, he states that

The real object of a theology of Holy Saturday does not consist in the completed state which follows on the last act of self surrender of the incarnate Son to his Father . . . rather . . . it is something unique . . . all the sins of the world now experienced as agony and a sinking down into the “second death” or “second chaos . . .[8]

Thus, Christ has suffered “not only for the elect but for all human beings  . . . [and he] assumed their eschatological ‘No’” as he experienced the second death.”[9]

There are a number of problems with these statements. First, if Christ has indeed experienced the second death for all humanity indiscriminately, there are only two options available for a consistent soteriology. One is that all the sins of humanity, without discrimination, are punished in Christ, and thereby all human beings ultimately are justified and saved despite their Yes or No to God; they are automatically redeemed because the objective work of Christ is applied to all without qualification. The second option is that, conversely, some will still remain in their conscious, final No to God and be eternally separated from him in hell despite Christ’s work that applies to all indiscriminately. Both options are highly problematic.

In the first option, there is no significant drama left. All evil has been punished in Christ and all humanity has been saved, whether individuals accept that or not. There will never be any other judgment upon murderers, abusers, oppressive governments, liars, and the like. We can know with certainty (despite Balthasar’s desire to remove certainty in order to maintain genuine drama) that all sins that could ever be committed, whether personally or corporately – indeed, all the evil that is daily perpetrated throughout the world, and all injustice – have been already punished.

In that case, hell has already fully and finally appeared under the cross, and it has fulfilled its purpose in the sufferings of Christ. Balthasar indeed has affirmed that “on the basis of this exchange of place, we are already ‘reconciled to God’ (Rom. 5:18) in advance of our own consent, ‘while we were yet sinners’ . . . we are ontologically ‘transferred.’”[10] This would need some serious qualifications to begin with; but here the implications seem to go beyond “in advance of our own consent” into the idea of despite our own consent.

This unlimited and unconditional act of grace might sound like something desirable in the abstract sense, but when one considers individual people (or particular groups or governments) with their concrete sins and concrete expressions of evil, human intuition reacts against unconditional amnesty. Indeed, it would be unjust if an evil person who perpetrates great evil intentionally, unrepentantly, to the end of his or her life, should go unpunished.

Temporal punishments do not solve the problem either, because they often are not experienced by guilty parties. There seems to be a universal intuition that unrepentant criminals who commit vile crimes should not only be deterred, but punished – and that if they are not punishment, justice has not been served. Human nature can appreciate mercy to repentant offenders; but not unqualified mercy and grace to unrepentant, obstinate evil doers. But that is what the concept of Christ’s suffering the second death for all humanity indiscriminately would require. In fact, the main purpose of the book of Revelation – to comfort the faithful who experience pain and persecution in the world in view of the coming deliverance of the righteous and punishment of the evil persecutors – is defeated.

When John says that “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur; this is the second death,” (Rev. 21:8), to take Balthasar’s approach, one cannot take this other than a symbol for what Christ has endured. They do not apply to people in any meaningful way anymore.

The second option would be one in which God would honor a person’s freedom to remain in his or her No to God despite of what Christ has suffered in the second death. This is what is implied by Balthasar when he says, “Man is always situatied between two principles that, depending on his free choice, govern his perdition or salvation.”[11] Aside from the apparently contradiction this creates with his other statements, this would entail (given his apparently purely objective view of the atonement as described above) that Christ’s sacrifice ultimately is not effective, because, in and of itself, it does not atone for anybody – it only makes forgiveness possible.

It does not accomplish any objective punishment in hell for sinners who say No to God, even though it is meant for them. In this way, finite freedom ultimately triumphs over infinite freedom, and all affirmations (made repeatedly by Balthasar) that Christ’s suffering and abandoment is experienced in the place of all human beings needs to be qualified as a mere possibility posited by God that becomes effective only to those who say Yes to God.

Tradition

Beyond the issues of exegetical difficulties and logical inconsistencies that these options entail, there is also the problem of the traditional understanding of the Church in relation to Christ’s suffering on the cross. Of course, one may not take either Scripture or the Tradition of the Church as bearing any ultimate authority on this or any other issue; but they are central to someone like Balthasar who means to submit himself to the authority of both Scripture and Tradition. When it comes, then, to Tradition, it would be almost redundant to cite the overwhelming majority of the historical Church which has denied that Christ has suffered the second death in the lake of fire. Suffice it to quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.

633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

As the Catechism makes clear, Jesus did not go to the lake of fire in a second death to experience there the abandonment and punishment of God. The Church has understood Christ’s “descent into hell” as done in glory, as Christ descends “as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.” He went, not to the lake of fire, but to “Abraham’s bosom,” where the righteous awaited the proclamation of the victory of Christ; he did not go to the place of torment where was found the “rich man” who begged Lazarus for a drop of water and was denied because of the “great chasm” that stood between them.

One of Balthasar’s concerns in emphasizing Christ’s descent into hell is to make sense of Holy Saturday. If Christ’s work was finished on the cross, why is there a Saturday before Easter? This is an important question, and, indeed, to affirm that Christ needed a day to proclaim victory to the righteous seem unconvincing as a rationale for Holy Saturday, given that Christ exited the realm of physical time when he gave up his spirit on the cross. Announcing victory to a multitude in Abraham’s bosom would take less than a second – indeed it would take no time at all, because that realm is beyond time.

However, to argue that on that day Christ was in hell finishing his atonement and abandonment for mankind is not something necessary for one to make sense of Holy Saturday; indeed, to deny Christ’s suffering in the second death is not to deny the importance of Holy Saturday. Balthasar himself brilliantly expresses the role and importance of the silence and darkness of that day, which is the time “in between his placing in the grave and the event of the Resurrection” when death calls for this silence. He writes,

Death calls for this silence, not only by reason of the mourning of the survivors, but, even more, because of what we know of the dwelling and condition of the dead . . . death is not a partial event. It is a happening which affects the whole person . . . it is a situation which signifies in the first place the abandonment of all spontaneous activity and so [it is] a passivity . . .  In that same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead.[12]

This is consistent with Christ’s cry on the cross: Τετέλεσται (John 19:30), as he gave up his spirit; the work had been completed then and there. Τετέλεσται is the perfect passive indicative of the verb τελέω which means “to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish.”[13] The perfect passive form as found in the gospel indicates that, as Christ gave up his spirit, his work of suffering and atonement was completed.

Thus, Balthasar’s exposition of Christ’ suffering in hell, as a second death effecting atonement for all humanity without qualification, faces great difficulties both with the Scriptural data and with Tradition. Edward Oakes argues that “the antinomies that inevitably result from their juxtaposition [of finite and infinite freedom] can only be resolved by the ‘wondrous exchange’ that took place when Christ was ‘made sin’ for our sake.”[14] Yet, it still remains arguable that, at least in the way Balthasar has conceived Christ’s sacrifice, those antinomies still remain.

Conclusion

Balthasar’s argument that man is destined and chosen “before the foundation of the world” to be “blessed with every spiritual blessing” implies a potential universal redemption, concept which, if not vitiates, at least significantly removes the vitality of the drama. The problem is not that we should not hope for the best; hope is always a virtue if that for which is hoped is a good thing – although even here this hope would be questionable given all the biblical data discussed above.

The problem is that, conceptually, the understanding of Christ’s representation and mediation for all men without qualification, and the application of Christ’s redemption to all men independently of the means faith from which the efficient cause of God’s grace cannot be divorced, actually becomes a comedy in which the script does not matter much apart from the work of Christ. That is, decisions made in people’s lives, and throughout history, whatever they might be, are in principle overwhelmed by the grace of God. An actor can fulfill whatever role he chooses, and regardless of whether he cares or not, the play knows what the end will be for him.

Balthasar would probably object and say that, if one thinks one can know what the end of the drama will be, one has misunderstood both Scripture and Balthasar’s theology. But this is where the difficulty in maintaining tensions becomes more pronounced. If all men are destined and chosen “before the foundation of the world” to be “blessed with every spiritual blessing,” then we do know the final outcome of the play. On the other hand, if the No of man can frustrate the Yes of God in Christ, then we may not “dare hope that all men be saved” in any meaningful sense.

If the Yes of Christ is made on behalf of all men indiscriminately, then it really does not matter what role I choose to play in my life. Scriptural commands to repent and to believe the gospel lose their force. My everyday actions as an individual, in all the spheres of life in which I participate – as a parent, as a friend, as a spouse, as a co-worker, as a laborer, as a law-maker, as a janitor, as a president – they have no ultimate, everlasting significance because they are all swallowed up by the grace of God.

Ethics become severely restricted, since whatever realism there might be in the good, the true and the beautiful, it is swallowed up by the nominalism and voluntarism of God who overthrows evil unqualifiedly at the end. On the other hand, if the No a person chooses to consciously and irrevocably give to God is maintained, as God’s “kenosis” in giving legitimate freedom to his creation would necessarily imply, then Balthasar’s hope is not legitimate; and this brings us to another problematic question in relation to hope.

While it may appear that Balthasar’s hope of an empty hell and universal salvation is a pious attitude that conforms more than any other to a robust, biblical, and faithful trust in the ultimate goodness and grace of God, it is in reality a restriction to what the goodness of God can in principle be. For example, if one chooses to say that creation is good, and therefore the salvation of all creation is in principle the greatest good, and therefore the greatest hope, then this would divorce God’s goodness from his justice.

That is to say, it becomes the case that, even if it is just to punish sins, it is good, and even better, to either leave them unpunished, or to punish them in a way that eternal salvation can be eternally secured. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the second option, for that is precisely what is required of any theology that incorporates Christ as representative. The problem is that this representation, in this case, becomes automatic, which again forces the goodness of God to overwhelm human decision. There is no sublation of God bringing good out of evil, but a mere deletion of evil, by fiat. At the end of the day, anything other than universal salvation, even at the expense of human will, will not be considered as a proper expression of the goodness of God.

Against this, however, one has is good reason to believe, both from the testimony of Scripture and of Tradition (as the vast majority of the Church has believed throughout the ages), that the goodness and mercy of God are indeed given to man in a way that is greater and stronger than man’s revolt and man’s sin: because God becomes incarnate in Christ to mediate for the sins of man, and the Holy Spirit imparts the grace of God in men’s hearts to produce faith and unite them to Christ.[15] This is more then sufficient to safeguard the overabundant goodness and grace of God, without requiring that punishment of sins upon any man other than Christ be precluded.

Moreover, the certainty that judgment will indeed be meted out upon those who irrevocably say No to God is precisely what is needed for the theo-drama. Rather than rendering God’s goodness inferior, it actually enhances it because it highlights his justice, which cannot be separated from his goodness – a justice that is itself declaring the goodness and grace of God when it is meted out upon Christ on behalf of those who are united to him by faith.

Therefore, the theo-drama becomes real dramatic when there is a certainty of outcomes, while at the same time there is genuine freedom for actors to choose one or the other. What Balthasar’s soteriology requires is that there is uncertainty of outcomes (on the one hand) and a hope for only one outcome.

This uncertainty softens both the threats against the actors who badly choose their roles, as well the promises to those who choose them well. On the other hand, certainty of the double outcome of punishment and grace (and this is important – the certainty is of the double outcome, not of who will be included in each irrespective of their actions) is what provides the choices in the play to have eternal meaning, consequence, threat, promise, tragedy, and comedy.

Ultimately, the lack of assurance of salvation for those who trust Christ and seek to do good works is precisely what the New Testament seeks to remedy in many places; conversely, the assurance of perdition to those who say No to God in Christ is precisely what it seeks to preserve.


[1] MP 13-14.

[2] Theo-Drama II, 54.

[3] Ibid., 196.

[4] Ibid., 194.

[5] Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, “Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy: An Exchange” in First Things, Dec. 2006.

[6] Mysterium Paschale, 50.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 172-173.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Theo-Drama II, 241-242; emphasis mine.

[11] Ibid., 188; emphasis mine.

[12] Mysterium Paschale, 148.

[13] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Electronic edition, 2000).

[14] Edward T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption (New York, NY: Continuum Publishing Company, 1994), 226.

[15] The many different ways in which this work in the heart has been understood, ranging from a mere suggestion by example, or an assistance, all the way to an effective work that will infallibly change hearts, is immaterial to the argument here.

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Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hope (Part 2 of 3)

Being “Under Judgment,” Presumption and Assurance

dare we hopeBalthasar understands that the passages of Scripture (and particularly of the New Testament) that include threats and descriptions of eternal judgment in hell are “not to be read as anticipatory report[s] about something that will someday come into being,”[i] because there are other statements that indicate they might not. Moreover, he argues, if they are taken as anticipatory reports, they would give certainty of judgment, which would damper Christian hope.

Quoting Karl Rahner, he argues that those statements are to be understood “as a disclosure of the situation in which the person addressed now truly exists.” That is to say, we live in the state of promise and at the same time we are under threat of judgment. “He is the subject who is placed in the position of having to make a decision with irrevocable consequences; he is the one who, by rejecting God’s offer of salvation, can become lost once and for all.”[ii]

The state of being “under judgment” constitutes a cornerstone for Balthasar’s structure of interpretation of the references to judgment and hell. In the opening words of “Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? he says,

All of us who practice the Christian Faith and, to the extent that its nature as a mystery permits, would also like to understand it, are under judgment. But no means are we above it, so that we might know its outcome in advance and could proceed from that knowledge to further speculation . . . Still, in standing trial, we are not left helpless and disheartened; rather, as [Paul] constantly tells us, we can have confidence (parrhesia) and hope, since our judge is he who – as dogma says – has borne the sins of everyone. Are we therefore quite untroubled in the certainty of our salvation? Surely not, for which man knows whether, in the course of his existence, he has lived up to God’s infinite love, which chose to expend itself for him? Must he not, if he is honest and no Pharisee, assume the opposite?  . . . Man is under judgment and must choose.[iii]

It seems almost impossible to read these words and not immediately say, which one is it? Am I under judgment and without the possibility of knowing the outcome of my judgment, or has Christ borne my sins? Am I to have confidence in the outcome of my judgment because Christ has already born my sins, or must I “assume” the opposite, i.e., the certainty of my perdition? One should not deny the mystery involved in Christian revelation and in its paradoxes, but paradoxes can be pressed to the point of self-contradiction.

This is problematic especially because this issue has direct relevance to a person’s spiritual and psychological life (as Balthasar implicitly recognizes). It is one thing to recognize the limits of our understanding when one investigates the Trinity, the hypostatic union, and so forth. But, at the end of the day, am I to have a reverential confidence that, despite my sins, Christ has born the punishment in my place – as long as I don’t say No to God? Or am I to assume the opposite and consider my fear of condemnation as a virtuous antidote to Pharisaic presumption?

Scriptural Foundations

Besides the inherent contradiction in Balthasar’s paradigm here, there is yet another problem with his foundational concept that we are under judgment.[iv] Once again, it is clear that Balthasar wants to take Scripture seriously, and so it is only appropriate that we bring Scripture to bear directly on this discussion.[v]

Paul states in Rom. 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We also read in the gospel of John, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Similarly, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). John writes in the closing section of this gospel that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

Therefore, those in whom the gospel fulfills its purpose, i.e., those who do believe, may have that very confidence: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:14). Again, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14a). Far from being presumptuous, confidence and certainty through faith is encouraged in the New Testament:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.[vi]

The concept of assurance of salvation is explicitly given in many passages of the New Testament for those who (a) believe the message of the gospel and (b) persevere in the faith.[vii] It is always given in the context of assurance that should create a healthy confidence in the reality of adoption. The teaching is also present implicitly in passages too numerous to list (the passages speaking of salvation and adoption as a past, accomplished act of God on our behalf, that provides the basis of our present condition, are of particular notice).

This is not to say that there are not serious threats in Scripture as well; but also the threats are always given either in relation to apostasy, or in relation to those who deny, by their deeds and by their teachings, that they have actually believed the gospel. John speaks in this way when he says of apostate teachers, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19a).

Similarly, the famous warnings of judgment in the epistle to the Hebrews are given to those who, in the face of persecution and suffering, are considering apostasy from the Christian faith. The author often assures his readers of the finished work of Christ on their behalf, and the assurance they might have in entering the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, which way has been opened by Christ on their behalf: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19-22). This is coupled with the command to remain in the faith, and the threat towards those who do not:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful . . . For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God . . . But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.[viii]

Therefore, it is clear that the New Testament does not remove the tension of promise/threat to Christians; but this tension is not one in which Christians must consider themselves without confidence of forgiveness so as to remain free from presumption. On the contrary, believing Christians can rejoice precisely because they are not to fear, since they have already received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). This is very important for an assessment of Balthasar’s soteriology. He is wrong to assume Christians are “under judgment” and therefore should not be presumptuous to trust in salvation.

Therefore, it seems that Balthasar is incorrect in interpreting the threats in Scripture as primarily a means to keep man in this state of reverential fear and tentative hope. The threats are real, and the descriptions of judgment, of the separation of sheep and goats, and of the destruction of God’s enemies (e.g., Mat. 25: 31-46; Phil. 3:19; 1 Thes. 5:3; 2 Thes. 1:9; 2 Pet. 3:7) should not be taken as pictures that do not really describe events; they are indeed to be taken “as anticipatory report[s] about something that will someday come into being.” In fact, Balthasar himself seems to take such threats in a more concrete fashion elsewhere in his works. In volume IV of the Theo-Drama, he states,

[W]hen it comes to concrete mention of the judgment, it is, not God, but the Son of Man who will pronounce it. The verdict will depend on how a man has responded to him . . .  if a man has recognized in him the presence of God’s Holy Spirit and has resisted him, his sin is unforgivable . . . the ‘eternal fire’ has opened up below Sheol . . .  balancing, as it were, the heaven that is no open to all.”[ix]

But then again, elsewhere Balthasar argues that the “threatening remarks are made predominantly by the pre-Easter Jesus, and the universalist statements (above all in Paul and John) [are made] with a view to the redemption that has occurred on the Cross.” [x] The statements of the “pre-Easter Jesus,” he argues, use a language that the Jews of that time were familiar with, “whereas certain reflections by Paul and John clearly look back upon all that happened to Jesus – his life, death on the Cross and Resurrection – and, in so doing, consider and formulate this totality from a post-Easter perspective.”[xi]

In this way, the concreteness of the contents of the threats is again put into question – because they do not apply to people, but only to Christ. But if, as we have seen, Christ’s work does not necessarily apply to all individuals automatically, such threats should be taken seriously as referring to those who reject the faith and say an ultimate No to God. In the same way, the promises are just as serious and just as real; they are to be taken as reports of something that has come into being (“we know that we have passed out of death into life,” “that you may know that you have eternal life,” “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” etc.) and something that will be consummated and ratified at the end of one’s life.

All of this seems to contradict Balthasar’s basic soteriological premises. One could argue that there is a long tradition of those who agree with him. There is no question about that. The same can be also said of those who have argued the foregoing. What I argue here, however, is that, given the seriousness with which Balthasar takes the Scriptural data, it is very difficult to maintain what he does in this issue, given the abundance of Biblical texts that assert the concrete reality of God’s judgment upon those who choose to reject him, as well as the concrete reality of God’s promise of ultimate salvation of those who are united by faith to Christ.

Balthasar seems to be driven by his intention to preserve the dramatic tension that would preclude certainties – because certainties would transform the drama in a tragedy or a comedy from the start. Contrary to what he tells his critics at the beginning of Dare We Hope, he has indeed spoken of certainty, or rather the lack thereof, and he has argued that we may not know the outcome in advance. He has argued that we may not be “untroubled in the certainty of our salvation,” which would be the attitude of a “Pharisee,” but rather that we should “assume the opposite.”[xii]

His intention is to preserve one’s lack of certainty of salvation (which presumably produces reverent fear), while at the same time preserving one’s lack of certainty of damnation, which produces tentative hope. He states, “On this earthly pilgrimage, man is, of course, placed between fear and hope, simply because he is under judgment and does not know . . . but precisely the knowing  . . . renders impossible this sate of suspension of those on pilgrimage.”[xiii] But it is John who says ““that you may know that you have eternal life.” Quoting Joseph Pieper approvingly, Balthasar says, “there are two kinds of hopelessness. One is despair; the other, praesumptio . . . praesumptio is a perverse anticipation of the fulfillment of hope.”[xiv] Balthasar wants to keep Christians from this “double praesumptio.” But the New Testament gives assurance of hope to those who believe.

Click here for Part 1.

In the next and final section of this 3 part assessment I will interact with his arguments on abandonment, Holy Saturday, and hell, and make some concluding remarks.


[i] Dare We Hope, 32; emphasis in the original.

[ii] Ibid., 32.

[iii] Ibid., 13-15.

[iv] I am not so concerned here with the general state of mankind, but with the state of those who explicitly embrace the Christian message of the gospel.

[v] All Scriptures quoted in the rest of this paragraph have my emphasis.

[vi] 1 John 4:15-17.

[vii] In responding to the Tridentine accusation that assurance of salvation is presumption, the Canons of Dordt – which are normative for historical Protestant churches of Dutch, German and French origin and their heirs – state (Fifth Head of Doctrine, article 10):

This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in Gods promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:16); and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works. And if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.

[viii] Heb. 10:26-39.

[ix] Theo-Drama IV, 178.

[x] Dare We Hope, 21.

[xi] Ibid., 29; Balthasar makes clear, however, that he takes this cautiously, and does not want to imply he is arguing for a “progressive revelation even within the New Testament” as some of his critics argue.

[xii] Dare We Hope 13-15.

[xiii] Dare We Hope, 27.

[xiv] Ibid., 27-28.

Balthasar and Universal Salvation

This is a summary from his comments on Theodrama V – the Last Act (Section II. B)

VonBalthasar2The Problem

The idea of an apokatastasis[1] seem to be counterintuitive to a number of biblical passages, and yet there are many that seem to suggest it. As Schleiermacher demands, we should give it at least equal weight to other views. As Gaston Fessard has said, “A la question: Enfer éternel OU Salut universel? je réponds donc: Enfer éternel ET Salut universel!”[2]

First we have to take into account the change from the Old Covenant era to the New: in the Old, it is the God of covenant justice who rules over the nations and over Israel, whereas, in the New Covenant, judgment is primarily the Cross of the Mediator (John 12:31).

Not surprisingly, rejecting the reconciliation of the world wrought by Crist is regarded as much graver than infringing the Law. Here we find again the dramatic core of the theo-drama: the heightened revelation of divine love produces a heightened rejection, a deeper hatred. There is a paradox in which Jesus has come not to judge but to save, and yet, one who rejects him and his command has a judge, namely “the word that I have spoken (John 12:47-48).

Only after we have pursued this dialectic of grace and judgment into its inner depths can we tentatively approach the question of whether there is a convergence between the two poles that seem to be mutually exclusive.

 From the Old Aeon to the New

The imagery of judgment in the Old Testament is largely identical to that in the New, and taken in isolation it can obscure the qualitative difference between them. The Old Covenant is a fleshly, earthly anticipation or pre-image of the New, which is the pneumatic, eschatological truth. The Old Covenant has validity insofar as it shares in the truth to which it points. This is demonstrated by the fact that Abraham’s faith is given priority over the Law.

The Old Covenant presented the faithfulness of God and required the faithfulness of the covenant partner – Israel. The covenant stipulations were blessings for obedience and judgment for disobedience. On the one hand, God reveals that he does not take pleasure in punishment, but on the other hand he does punish according to Israel’s sins. He uses the nations “outside” as instruments of punishment, and then punishes them for their own sins.

At bottom Israel’s sin is always the same: opposing its covenant Lord with its own will, a will that primarily expresses itself in running after foreign gods of its own invention (thus transgressing against the first tablet of the Commandments) or failing to treat his fellow man as prescribed by YHWH (and thus transgressing against the second tablet).

The New Covenant was a complete re-creation of the covenant itself. For in Jesus we have, not one party in a pact, but someone who, in his Person, has be come the unity of God and man. He is the covenant personified; he is the fully realized truth and faithfulness of God, which no longer lie behind his righteousness of reward and punishment, but in it.

God’s whole righteousness (in meeting out punishment) attains its expression and its term in the death of Jesus; in breathing forth his Spirit, Jesus creates the conditions necessary so that the divine Spirit may be put into our hearts and we may be incorporated into the new, eternal and unforgettable covenant, which in Christ has become a Person. Christ fulfills the prophecies that look toward the abolition of the purely external relationship between the covenant partners.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 33:8
I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.

There is then a shift in the New Covenant, where the Law is removed from its old place, and “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). The conclusive judgment has taken place in the Cross of Jesus and in Christ’s death and Resurrection the bonds of death have been burst and eternity stands before us as our reward; accordingly, the Old Covenant’s this-worldly, symmetrical doctrine of retribution collapses. Now there is a fundamental asymmetry insofar as God’s judgment has been pronounced once and for all in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. The crucified Son does not simply suffer the hell deserved by sinners; he suffers something below and beyond this, namely, being forsaken by God in the pure obedience of love.

The judgment that takes place within the Trinity can be understood only in terms of the suffering love between Father and son in the Spirit; henceforth, therefore, all the Old Testament rejoicing at the punishment of the wicked, all eschatological delight at their torment, must fall silent. The absolute refusal of love (which is hell) exists only in the case of him who eternally acknowledges and affirms no one but himself; and it is inconceivable that God would have anything to do with this grotesque possibility. As Joseph Ratzinger says, “Christ allots perdition to no one . . .  He does not pronounce the fatal verdict. It happens where a person has held aloof from him. It comes about where man clings to his isolation.”

There is now no separation of Israel and the “nations,” for Jesus’ parable of the Samaritan shows that, as a result of the Cross, the least of all the prodigal sons has become Jesus’ and God’s neighbor, and it follows that he must also be a neighbor to the disciple of Christ. This is the change from one aeon to another, abolishing all formal continuity between the ideas of judgment in the Old Covenant and those in the New: an abyss now separates them.

Comprehensive Redemption

All of the Lord’s words that refer to the possibility of eternal perdition are pre-Easter words. After Easter the first words we hear are Paul’s full of certainty that, if God be for us, no earthly power can be against us. The Lord suffers for love of all. Coming as a Second Adam, the Son was certain of victory; he died no only for good persons, who open themselves to him at once, but also for the wicked, who resist him. He has time to wait until even these scattered children of God are touched by his light, for not even the wicked person stands outside of the sphere of his power, and the dispersion of the Lord embraces and overtakes even the dispersion of the sinners. As the Good Shepherd, he has been commissioned by the Father to bring back all the sheep, the whole flock, to him – and when he is lifted up, to draw all men to himself.

Eternal life belongs originally to the Father, but from before all time he has shared it with the Son; into this participation the Son leads all those whom the father has given him, namely, all flesh. His whole mission will be completed only when all will be redeemed from sin and be with the Father. The Cross is the decisive judgment because here the Son undercuts and undergirds the world’s sin, which was deserving of a just condemnation.

When the Father in judgment looks at the Son with the eyes of justice, he sees nothing that would call for judgment, since everything is right and just in him, and there is nothing to be judged. Justice therefore has nothing to look for, and judgment naturally dissolves into love. Since the Father has given all judgment to the Son, and the judgment has already become one of love between Father and Son, the Son also cannot pass judgment, which is already dissolved, on men, except as the judgment of love he himself has experienced and received from the Father. The judgment of the Cross is final, but the Lord waits until the Last Day to reveal its complete result. All sins are undercut and undergirded by God’s infinite love, because sin and evil are finite and must come to an end in the love that envelops it. Men’s freedom is not infinite, for man is free within the greater freedom of God.

The Serious Possibility of Refusal

The central mystery of the theo-drama is the Mysterium iniquitatis: God’s heightened love provokes a heightened hatred that is as bottomless as love itself.

There are several passages in the New Testament that point to judgment.[3] The issue is the deliberated rejection of that grace that was so dearly bought at the Cross. Men are not seized by redemption against their will. The decision to believe is not only God’s gift, it is also their personal act – and this has to be performed again and again. Man is always given the possibility of saying Yes or No to God’s offer.

It may seem as if the Lord and evil face each other equipped with equal power and we always decide the battle in our favor as a result of our constant inclination to evil. We shall not be saved against our will, and Christ’s work must not be turned into some sort of blurred collective redemption. If we refuse to allow Christ to accept us, we remain in our sin, and the separation of us from our sins, which can be performed only in him, becomes impossible. Man can break off his relationship with heaven; if a person withdraws from the Son’s judgment of love, the Father has no other course but to replace love with judgment and sentence.

Here the Savior, the Good Shepherd, is in a difficulty, for the sheep are always free to follow or not to follow. When Jesus says, “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge: the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day,” it sounds like resignation on his part: in the end we have the judge that we ourselves have chose, choosing justice rather than love. Now the situation is that the outcome of the final act seems uncertain on both sides. “There is a sin unto death;” John says this after the Lord on the Cross has redeemed the sinner and after having instituted the sacrament of penance.

But if man’s destiny is thus in the balance, what of God’s destiny? Does he have, instead of certainty of salvation, a flower of hope?

The Judgment of Christ

The question facing us is this: How do justice and love (or grace) constitute a unity in Christ’s judgment of man in his failure?

Eventually, the individual human being will be confronted, after his death, with the unveiled truth ad demands of God. And this is the frightening part: the greater the love of God offered and demonstrated to man, the greater the expectation of man’s response. Once man is released from the outer hell of present self-illusion, the scales fall from the eyes and it is no longer possible for one to deceive himself.

The theme of the dead being weighed in scales is older than Christianity – it is found, for example, in the Egyptian Judgment of Osiris. In Christian iconography, too, scales are sometimes held by two angels, weighing a whole life, no longer subjectively, but objectively.

This is not done in a simplistic weighing of the amounts of good an evil done. Freedom has an infinite horizon, it is not exhausted and defined by momentary choices. It becomes a question of whether this horizon will be possessed in absolute autonomy, or chosen as given by a superordinate absolute autonomy.

On the one hand, there is weight to repentance, even in the end of life (cf. the thief on the cross). At the same time, what is placed in the scales is not the mere final state of a life but this life in its totality. And this can reverse negative decisions at the end of life as well. The conversion of a sinful man is not so hopeless as the conversion of the devil; earlier workings of grace remain behind him, especially the grace of baptism.

One is commanded to “abide” in Him. But this would have to be absolutely denied in a verifiable way in order for perdition to result. The One who judges us is also the One who came to save, not to judge. He will therefore take every abailable path to bring back the person whose sins he has borne.

We can say nothing categorical. We can proceed by way of hypothesis. Both the uncritical notion of a bipolar outcome of human history and the protest against it want to draw up an eschatology from the point of view of th spectator, not of the man most t intimately involved in it. But Christianity is the Good News of salvation, and we are told that god desires all men to be saved.

In his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? Balthasar stresses that hope in the goodness and mercy of God is the foundation of the Christian life. I make an assessment of his arguments in that book in my article Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hope.


[1] The restoration of all things, or universal salvation

[2] To the question: Eternal hell eternal OR universal salvation? I answer thus: Eternal hell AND universal salvation!

[3] These are some of the passages Balthasar cites and quotes:

Luke 19:41-44
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Hebrews 6:4-6
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 10:26-29
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

Matthew 12:32
32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 11:23-24
23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Matthew 25:41
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Luke 16:23-24
23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Revelation 2:11
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Revelation 20:6
6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Revelation 21:8
8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

1 Corinthians 1:18
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 11:29
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hope (Part 1 of 3)

In his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? Balthasar stresses that hope in the goodness and mercy of God is the foundation of the Christian life. In responding to critics who argue that Balthasar’s theology leads to the certainty of an empty hell and universal salvation, which from their perspective is contrary both to Scripture and to Tradition, Balthasar argues that he “never spoke of uncertainty but rather of hope.”[i]

He quotes his critics to point out that they are the ones who have certainty, viz., that some will not be saved – and that this certainty conflicts with the biblical picture of the mercy of God as well as with the hope set out for Christians concerning God’s will to save all men.

The connection between hope and God’s will to save all men is central for Balthasar, and therefore he returns to this concept throughout his arguments. In 1 Tim. 2:3-4 Paul refers to “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and, as Balthasar makes clear by using this in the title of his book, his question is, how can we fail to hope that God will do exactly what he wills to do, viz., to save all men?

Theodrama

There are at least two issues to be addressed in relation to this passage.[ii] First, there is the question of the will of God. Balthasar’s theology is shaped by the concept of drama, which highlights the encompassing, infinite freedom of God without denying the freedom of man. Therefore, he would not argue that God’s will simply achieves what it determines without reference to the finite will of man that also shapes the drama in some meaningful way.

Aidan Nichols is correct when he argues that Balthasar is “indebted at once to Irenaeus and to Hegel” when he presents the Mediator as the one who will “recapitulate in himself the conflict between God’s ‘everything’ and man’s ‘something’ and, but so doing, sublimate and abolish it.”[iii]

However, Balthasar wants to distance himself from Hegelian categories that would render the contingencies of drama ineffective: “Lest the object of our beholding [through the eyes of faith] should turn into an ‘absolute knowledge’, however, it was necessary to distinguish our endeavor from that of Hegel in particular.”[iv] Balthasar has to maintain a distance from all that could constitute certainty of knowledge, because that would be like reading the script in advance (if there is indeed one) and failing to participate in the drama properly.

The theo-drama cannot be dialectical, but dialogical: “In the Christian drama God does not speak in monologues . . .  it is not a ‘teaching’ that has fallen from heaven but an interaction, a kind of negotiation between two parties.”[v] So he says that “absolute knowledge is the death of all theo-drama, but God’s ‘love which surpasses all gnosis’ is the death of ‘absolute knowledge’.”[vi]

The answer to the question of how such a dialogue is possible “if God is the Absolute and the ‘All’ is found in the fact that “God has given this play of freedoms a central meaning called Jesus Christ – the climax of the history of the world’s salvation, converging on him and radiating from him.”[vii] His desire is to maintain the tension between the two freedoms using Christ as the center, as well as the tension between the lack of certain knowledge of either redemption or damnation and human responsibility.

Kenosis

It is my estimation that this tension is problematic in Balthasar, since God’s will can only be infinite and truly encompass man’s will if it achieves its own ends, while at the same time allowing for man’s finite freedom to be exercised meaningfully and yet in complete accord with God’s decrees. But Balthasar wants to maintain the tension more unresolved, in order to heighten the dramatic element, and in doing so he makes statements that may appear contradictory. For example, when treating God’s self-limitations in relation to creation in terms of kenosis, he says,

The first “self-limitation” of the triune God arises through endowing his creature with freedom. The second, deeper, “limitation” of the same triune God occurs as a result of the covenant, which on God’s side, is indissoluble . . . The third kenosis . . . arises through the incarnation of the Son alone . . .  Man’s freedom is left intact, even when perverted into sin . . .  God does not overwhelm man; he leads him to his goals . . .  This indicates no inability on God’s part; it is not that the is uncertain whether he can convince rebellions man . . . human freedom and its perversion are always exercised within the Son’s eucharistia . . . [viii]

What is this exercise of faith within the Son’s eucharisitia? He says,

We must remember that the creature’s No, its wanting to be autonomous without acknowledging its origin, must be located within the Son’s all embracing Yes to the Father, in the Spirit; it is the refusal to participate in the autonomy with which the Son is endowed. [ix]

This structure is deliberately meant to uphold a the relationship between the infinite freedom of God and the finite freedom of man, which, on the one hand, is always in tension, and, on the other hand, is resolved in the God-man and his Yes to the Father. However, it is never quite clear whether Christ’s Yes to the Father automatically applies on behalf of all men (as some of Balthasar’s passages seem to indicate) or whether man’s freedom will be upheld if he decides to ultimately remain in an autonomous No to God. In the latter case, God’s will that all men will be saved becomes more of a statement about the goodness of God than a solid basis for hope of universal salvation.

On the one hand, Balthasar speaks of an “encompassing Providence” that restrains and gives limits to finite freedom, “so that all men’s error takes place within the realm of divine love.” At the same time, he approvingly quotes Clement of Alexandria who says that” “God does not compel us” but rather “wishes us to be saved on the basis of our own decision” because the soul “moves by its own power.”[x] If man’s finite will has to be taken seriously into the equation, it might in some way frustrate God’s will in this matter.

New Testament

The greater difficulty in relation to 1 Tim. 2:3-4, however, is the nature of “all men.” Balthasar assumes that the passage refers to all men without distinction. However, there are very good reasons to believe that, in the context of the passage, Paul is not referring to all individual persons indiscriminately.

Paul starts chapter 2 by urging Timothy “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” It is clear that Paul is asking Timothy to pray not for all individuals of the world, but to the different groups of people in their society who are all involved in the life and destiny of the Church.

In fact, Paul uses the same words in verse 1 (πάντων ἀνθρώπων, in the genitive case) to refer to all different segments of society as he does in verse 4 (πάντας ἀνθρώπους, in the accusative). Add to this the fact that Paul follows these verses by making the point that there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus – i.e., Timothy should pray for all kinds of people, including kings and all those who are in high positions, because despite whom they might worship, there is only one God, and they also will have access to him through only one mediator.

Therefore, it is more likely that what Paul is saying, at least in this passage, is not that God wills every single member of the human race to be saved, but that he wills all different kinds of people, from every segment of society, as well as from every tribe, tongue, and nation, to be saved.

This, of course, does not rule out the idea that God might indeed will that every single person that has ever lived will be saved. Indeed Christian doctrine teaches the goodness and mercy of God, and the intrinsic goodness of all created things insofar as they exist and are created by God. However, these considerations have to be compared to an extensive corpus of revelation concerning the justice of God and the judgment of the wicked.

Balthasar does not ignore those, but it seems as though lays undue weight on 1 Tim. 2:3-4 as a controlling thought for the understanding of the other passages. It is not fair to say, however, that this passage is the only one in which he relies for his thesis that God wishes to save all individuals and therefore we should hope so. There are a few other key Scriptural passages to which he refers, and these should be briefly addressed here.

Balthasar cites Jesus’ saying that “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). However, this passage cannot be taken in isolation from what this same gospel had taught a few chapters before. In John 6:44, we read that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” This means that all who are drawn will indeed come to Christ and be raised up on the last day.

This implies either that there will be universal salvation, or that only some will be drawn and come to Christ and therefore be raised up (i.e., the statement “all people” should then be taken in a way similar to 1 Tim. 2:3-4). It is the last option that seems to follow from Jesus’ further interaction with those who did not believe him: “there are some of you who do not believe . . . And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

That is to say, they did not believe because it was not granted them by the Father to believe; therefore, the Father did not draw them, otherwise they would believe and be raised on the last day. John’s gospel (as with the rest of the New Testament) often makes this contrast between those who believe and are adopted as children of God, and those who do not believe and therefore stand under judgment: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

Therefore, it is unlikely that the saying “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” gives a solid basis for the idea that Christ indeed draws all individual persons to himself in a salvific sense. There are also other passages that Balthasar cites that contain the idea of God’s desire and Christ’s work that brings mercy and salvation to all men, but the ones addressed above are representative of the problem.

Click here for Part 2.


[i] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” (Ignatius Press, 1989), 18.

[ii] Of course, the issues of faith, salvation, restoration, judgment, mercy, heaven and hell go well beyond whatever this passage can determine; but since 1 Tim. 2:3-4 provides such a central concept for Balthasar’s understanding of these issues, not only in this particular book but in all of his theology, it is important to address the passage in more detail.

[iii] Nichols, 65 (citing Theo-Drama II, p. 195).

[iv] Theo-Drama II, 89.

[v] Ibid., 71.

[vi] Ibid., 89.

[vii] Ibid., 63; emphasis in the original.

[viii] Theo-Drama IV, 331-332.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Theo-Drama II, 217.