Will Everyone Eventually Be in Heaven?

 Guest blogger Deacon Richard Ballard is the Pastoral Associate at Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He is co-author (with Ronda Chervin and his wife Ruth Ballard) of the best-selling What the Saints Said About Heaven.

 

Without a doubt, it is a terrible exercise to contemplate the fate of the damned. To even try to imagine the unending wretchedness in hell of those who die in a state of mortal sin, who willingly and freely reject everlasting life with God in heaven and forever separate themselves from communion with him, fills the human imagination with a sense of unspeakable dread, horror, and sorrow. Eternal damnation is not a subject that should be taken lightly.Perhaps that is one reason why many people reject the traditional understanding that the damned will suffer eternal punishment in hell in favor of the belief that all people (some say even Satan and the demons) eventually will be redeemed and admitted to heaven. This belief in the ultimate universal salvation of all humankind through Jesus Christ (known variably as the doctrine of universalism, apocatastasis, or universal reconciliation) has its origins among several theologians and schools of thought in the early centuries of Christianity. Although condemned by St. Augustine, the Fifth ecumenical Council, Pope Vigilius, Pope St. Gregory the Great and others, the notion survived over the centuries in various forms in certain pockets of Christianity while usually being considered a heresy by the orthodox majority. It is apparent that over the centuries many Christians have accepted one form of this belief or another and not in insignificant numbers, even within some contemporary Catholic circles. However, is this belief compatible with the teachings of the Church.

The Church infallibly teaches as a matter of revealed dogma that hell exists, that it is an eternal state, and that it is possible for humans to go there. All Catholics are required to give the assent of divine Faith to this teaching: “to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. this state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God . . . is called ‘hell.’” In addition, “the teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” Any person who dies in this final condition of freely chosen impenitence experiences a fixation of the will in opposition to God, as well as an immutably fixed state of being—the state of eternal damnation. But would any soul actually make such a choice, knowing the consequences

As difficult as it may be to comprehend, it is possible. An individual who has spent his life in rebellion against God in the pursuit of sinful self-interest, and who reaches the end of his life in the condition of mortal sin, may find that he has been so formed in disobedience that his will is hardened against God even at this crucial moment, so much so that he obstinately and tragically continues to refuse to repent to the very end. Nevertheless, some would ask, would a loving God condemn even such a person as this to an eternity in hell? Universalists, and those who sympathize with them, would say that the answer is no, that God who is perfect love and mercy would never condemn any soul to eternal damnation. To do so, they argue, would be contrary to his very nature and would undermine the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for the redemption of the entire world. However, while it is true that perfect love and mercy are attributes of God, one must not forget that perfect justice also is an attribute of God. They do not cancel each other out or contradict each other, but they are each seamlessly united and fulfilled in the divine Will.God has endowed every person with freedom of will that enables him, with the help of his grace, to choose that which is good and holy, and leads to eternal life with him. By the same token, each person, in his freedom, is able to misuse that freedom by rejecting that which is good and holy, and consequently follow a path that leads to eternal death and separation from God. There are, of course, conditions and circumstances that can possibly lessen the culpability of such an abuse of freedom (e.g., certain psychological disorders or mental disabilities), but generally speaking, people are free to make moral choices that have particular consequences. This means that they are free to turn from God, his love, and his mercy and go their own way. God’s perfect justice demands that human moral choices freely made be honored, even if that choice entails the embrace of mortal sin and an eternal rejection of God. Christ’s Passion is certainly sufficient to redeem everyone from the consequences of sin, but the mercy of God thus offered is not forced. No one is compelled to friendship with God. The human will must assent to the reception of his love and mercy. It is possible then that there are those who willfully choose to exclude themselves from God’s friendship and condemn themselves to eternal separation from him in hell. To those who may make that terrible choice, God will finally say, “thy will be done.” For God to do otherwise would be to strip the person of his freedom of will, an essential aspect of what it means to be human.Having said this, however, we must be careful to point out that the Church has never made a pronouncement that any particular human being is in hell. Only God is privy to such knowledge. Rather, the Church admonishes all the faithful to hope for, pray for, and work for the salvation of all people. As the Catechism states, “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’ (Matt. 19:26).”
And further, “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.”Some theologians, and even canonized Saints, have augmented this hope with the belief that prior to the moment of death, God comes to even the most consistently impenitent and hardened of sinners to offer them a final opportunity to repent and receive his forgiveness. A well-known example of this final act of divine grace is recounted by St. Faustina, the apostle of divine Mercy, in Diary:”then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and, without any cooperation from the soul, God grants it final grace. If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self- chosen disposition for eternity. This grace emerges from the merciful heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God’s effort; but conversion depends on its own will. The soul knows that this, for her, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the mercy of God will accomplish the rest.” Even as we hold this hope in our hearts for ourselves and for others, one should be careful not to take the grace of God for granted. We must be cautious never to rely on a presumed opportunity for a last minute conversion in order to be reconciled with God. Even though the disclosure of final divine Mercy to St. Faustina, as detailed in Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, is a beautiful and hope-filled vision of God’s benevolence, it is nevertheless based on a private revelation and does not have the status of dogma in the Church. None of the faithful are required to give to it the assent of divine Faith, as they must do for doctrines that have been publicly defined by the infallible teaching authority of the Church. Instead, they are only encouraged to respect it using the virtue of prudence and may give to it the assent of human faith. Consequently, we would do well always to live a circumspect life and habitually pray and labor not only for the salvation of others, but for our own determined perseverance in grace so that we may depart this life in the sure friendship and love of God and at the end be counted among those who will behold his face in glory everlasting.

  • http://lostreef.blogspot.com/ Virgil T. Morant

    This (and in particular the inclusion of Satan’s fate among those raised) reminds me of a fascinating anecdote told my Metropolitan Kallistos of the Orthodox Church. He was at the beginning of what would be a long car ride with an Archbishop, and he tried to strike up a conversation by asking, If the Devil can be saved, why do we not pray for him? The Archbishop replied, “Mind your own business.”

    • Victor

      “Mind your own business.”
      GOD (Good Old Dad) will do what has to be done in HIS OWN WAY but in the mean time, let U>S (usual sinners) take care of what needs taken care of, if YA get my twenty first century drift? :)
      Peace

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    First, let me say up front I’m someone who sympathizes with
    the Universalist position. Second, I don’t
    think anyone is arguing that the Catholic Church teaches that hell doesn’t
    exist. I think it is understood the
    Church does not endorse Universalism.
    Catholics who sympathize, including some well known theologians, are
    merely providing thought exercises to flesh out possibilities and perhaps provide
    a foundation for expanding dogma in the future.
    I certainly don’t endorse teaching heresies, but do people want to close off thought?
    After all the bodily assumption of Mary didn’t become dogma until 1950,
    almost 2000 years later.

    I think you summarize the incongruence that leads one to a
    logical deduction of Universalism:

    “Nevertheless, some would ask, would a loving God condemn
    even such a person as this to an eternity in hell? Universalists, and those who
    sympathize with them, would say that the answer is no, that God who is perfect
    love and mercy would never condemn any soul to eternal damnation. To do so,
    they argue, would be contrary to his very nature and would undermine the
    sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for the redemption of the entire world.”

    Your counter argument says this:

    “However, while it is true that perfect love and mercy are
    attributes of God, one must not forget that perfect justice also is an
    attribute of God. They do not cancel each other out or contradict each other,
    but they are each seamlessly united and fulfilled in the divine Will.”

    If that is the counter argument than one can challenge the
    justice of such a punishment. Eternal
    damnation in burning fire is not something a loving father would do. I certainly under any circumstances cannot
    envision myself burning my child as a punishment, and certainly not for
    eternity, even if that child spurned me.
    That is not fatherly, and Christ clearly said “Our Father.” In fact eternal incineration is sadistic. Even under death penalties we try to humanely
    put people to death, and even today the Catholic Church does not endorse the
    death penalty. Eternal damnation is
    essentially the death penalty.

    I don’t think the question is whether hell exists or not,
    but whether hell is eternal. You say God
    is perfect love. Yes, he is also
    infinite love, and in the course of infinity would God find that justice has
    been met? I think so.

    You also say, “God has endowed every person with freedom of
    will that enables him, with the help of his grace, to choose that which is good
    and holy, and leads to eternal life with him.”
    Of course, but where does it say that in the afterlife we have no longer
    have will to change? What is the nature
    of the afterlife? Are we just in a
    vegetative state, catatonically adoring the Godhead, or do we continue to have
    free will? Is it justice that eternal
    damnation is based on enigmatic and abstruse earthly knowledge that could
    easily lead one to make an incorrect decision?
    Is there further revelation in the afterlife? In the course of eternity can a soul who has
    spurned God change his heart? I would like to think so.

    • FrancesM

      “I don’t think the question is whether hell exists or not, but whether hell is eternal. You say God is perfect love. Yes, he is also infinite love, and in the course of infinity would God find that justice has been met? I think so. ”

      Certainly God’s mercy is greater than our imaginings; but the point of such speculation is moot since we do have the doctrine of Christ’s Church on the finality of being in Hell:

      (From the Council of Constantinople, 543 A.D.) : “If anyone holds that the punishment of demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, or that there will be complete restoration of demons and impious men, anathema sit.”

      Please see, too, the Catechism, nbrs. 1034, 1035, 1036, 1037.

      “Eternal damnation in burning fire is not something a loving father would do. I certainly under any circumstances cannot envision myself burning my child as a punishment, and certainly not for eternity, even if that child spurned me. That is not fatherly, and Christ clearly said “Our Father. In fact eternal incineration is sadistic.”

      From The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis:

      “That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.”

      “What?”

      “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

      “I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

      “Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”

      It is God’s Nature to be love. His love for the damned is experienced by them as fire; i.e., there is nothing of those spirits of the damned that can respond to love and so God’s overwhelming love must necessarily be experienced as eternal fire and torment. Perhaps another way to express this is to consider Scripture’s words that “our God is a consuming fire” – in order to survive in and find joy and salvation in that fire one has to himself become one with the fire of Divine Love – this the damned cannot do because they have no desire to love God; they have nothing in their souls that corresponds to Divine Charity. Since all natural gifts as well as all supernatural gifts are from God and are given us (both natural and supernatural) as “vehicles” that call us to communion in Christ with the Most Holy Trinity us, the natural gifts are perverted in the soul’s lack of response to or falling away from the supernatural gifts (both the Theological Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, i.e.).

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Yes, of course. I’m not arguing that it is not the doctrine of the church. And to let you know, I don’t live my life as if I expect to waltz into heaven no matter what I do. I’m just thinking along with some of the theologians.

    • Victor

      (((In the course of eternity can a soul who has
      spurned God change his heart? I would like to think so.)))
      I agree Manny cause GOD (Good Old Dad) is all LOVE and very slow to anger and I believe that all souls need is a sincere heart when they ask to be forgiven and GOD’s Angels will do the rest.
      Nothing is impossible for HIM! Right? :)
      Peace

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Right. It is amazing how little we know about the nature of the after life. Thank you.

    • Nan

      Don’t you think that anyone who turned from God and took himself to Hell would get there and think “shit! Um, hey God, I love you and stuff, can I come upstairs now?” I think it would be a bit self-serving to all of a sudden have a change of heart after death; at the moment of death it may be possible but I don’t think it counts afterwards. Ours is a merciful God who loves us and loves deathbed conversions but after death? Probably not so much.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        OK. Peace. I really have no idea what life in the hereafter will be like. It’s not very well revealed. It’s hardly revealed at all.

    • Rebecca Duncan

      That is not in agreement with Church teaching. You don’t get to change your mind after you die. If you did, then what exactly is the point of life? We are not in a vegetative state in heaven, but that doesn’t mean our wills change. They are fixed at the point of death either for God or against Him.

      Your analogy to burning your own child or giving Him the death penalty is simply a false analogy. A better one would be If you had a child that was a drug addict and no matter what you did or said, he continued to be a drug addict and hurt himself and others and wanted to live out on the street or with their druggie friends instead of with you (which would be bad anyway because he would probably steal from you and destroy your house and maybe be violent to you and bring violent people to your house) then that is what it is like with us and God. It isn’t that you quit loving your kid because he’s a drug addict and he doesn’t live with you or have contact with you…your kid is just a drug addict who refuses to get help and it never changes til he dies. That’s what happens with us and God.

      Another analogy would be if a wife decided to divorce her husband and no matter what he did or said, she wouldn’t change her mind. They stop talking, don’t live together anymore, and eventually never see each other again. The husband would like to honor their marriage, he still loves her, but she won’t have anything to do with him. That is more like what happens if someone chooses to live without God for eternity.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        I said up front I know what Catholic doctrine is. I am not saying it is not. As to you analogies, they are good, but they miss the point I was making. Are our wills fixed in the after life or we in some vegetative state? So to go to your analogy, can that drug addict change his life in the after life? Can he give up drugs and ask for forgiveness?

        • Rebecca Duncan

          No. You can’t change after your dead. Your will is fixed either for or against God. You enter into eternity, which is a ‘now’ a ‘present’ moment, that’s where you’re at. It’s the same as if the drug addict died from an overdose…can he suddenly change his mind about being a druggie and come back to life? No. It’s the same when we die…there are consequences that can never be changed.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            How do you know that?

          • Rebecca Duncan

            “The ordinary magisterium of the Church teaches that
            the human soul, immediately after death, undergoes
            judgment on all the actions, good or bad, of its
            earthly existence. This judgment supposes that the
            time of merit has passed. This common doctrine has
            not been solemnly defined, but it is based on
            Scripture and tradition. There are no merits after
            death, contrary to what many Protestants teach.”http://www.catholictreasury.info/books/everlasting_life/ev10.php
            It’s just common sense. If people could change after they died, then why would anyone go to hell? Why would anything we ever did in this life even matter? Why doesn’t everyone do whatever they want and then change their mind after they die and go to be with God? For that matter, if people could just change after they die, then why did Jesus come to die for our sins in His incarnated body?

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Good answer. The only response I have is than what’s the point of life after death if we have no will. Without will we are essentially vegetables. There are biblical suggestions (I’m not going to try to pull them out) that we are not vegetables.

          • Rebecca Duncan

            We’re not vegetables after we die. The main point is that Jesus will judge us immediately when we die, and that judgment will stand. Think about what Jesus said when He talked about what He would judge us on. On whether we believed him, obeyed the commandments and loved him and our neighbor. All that is done when we are alive. You can’t go back after you are dead and change things you did, repent, or do good things or suddenly develop the grace of Charity in our hearts. Things like this are why I have a problem with people saying that hell is locked from the inside. I can see how that is a good insight, but it doesn’t line up with the bible in a lot of ways. In the bible, some people believe in Jesus and call Him Lord, yet Jesus will cast them away and say I never knew you. Some people will bang on the door and He won’t let them in. That doesn’t sound like the door is locked from the inside to me. That kind of idea is where we get these problems in people’s understanding of the afterlife. Jesus judgment is all that matters, not what we think or how we seek to justify ourselves in this life or in the afterlife. That’s why He JUDGES. That isn’t our job. Even to judge ourselves is not our job. St. Paul even says that in the New Testament. He says, I don’t think there is anything that can be said against me, but I don’t judge myself. That’s Jesus’ job. Jesus will always judge with perfect justice and with mercy too, so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect. There is a lot to worry about in how we are living though, and that’s why St. Paul also tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

        • Rebecca Duncan

          Each man
          receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment
          of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ:
          either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification
          or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (Catechism, 1022)

          During our
          human life, we either accept or reject God’s offer of divine grace. Once
          we die, our choice is definitive. We cannot change our mind after
          death. (Catechism, 1021)

    • Rebecca Duncan

      Also hell is eternal, that’s Church teaching, so it’s not a question.

  • woden325

    It is certainly my hope that Hell is very thinly populated and Purgatory is packed to the rafters.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      That is my hope as well. I expect I will be disappointed, but that is very much my hope. :-)

  • Deacon Tim M., Lafayette, LA

    There is an excellent essay on this topic, including the necessity of hell and damnation written by the ever-insightful Fr. James Schall, S.J. called “the Brighter Side of Hell”. It can be found on the Ignatius Insight blog and is dated November 11, 2005.

  • terentiaj63

    Divine Justice
    God in His mercy made
    The fixed pains of Hell,
    That misery might be stayed.
    God in His mercy made
    Eternal bound and bade
    Its waves no further to swell.
    God in His mercy made the fixed pains of Hell.
    C.S.Lewis

  • Joan

    No salvation outside of The Church is also a teaching of the Church which many do not teach anymore.

    • Rebecca Duncan

      Exactly, and that is STILL church dogma. There are some ‘exceptions’ but they are people who are just not formally in the Church. If they knew the Church, they would be in the Church, but they are ignorant of the Church through no fault of their own. If that is the case then they are informally in the Church and so no one is saved outside of the Church still. Vatican II says that that can happen but that VERY OFTEN it does NOT happen.

  • mmatthew

    Have no idea. I do think all things considered that Heaven & Hell are both lightly populated as the Final Judgement has not occurred – as far as I know. I do believe that Purgatory is packing them in so Heaven must be adding residences for their future occupants; after all no one in Purgatory goes to Hell, right?
    On the other hand, does anyone reading this and other blogs believe any of their deceased relatives are going to Hell? I have never met anyone. No matter how “un-Christian” a person lives, no one wants to say they are in Hell or going thereto.
    Strange isn’t it that some descendants or relatives might actually believe Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot may get into heaven?
    Quite the pickle, eh?

  • David_Naas

    ” It is possible then that there are those who willfully choose to exclude themselves from God’s friendship and condemn themselves to eternal separation from him in hell. To those who may make that terrible choice, God will finally say, “thy will be done.” For God to do otherwise would be to strip the person of his freedom of will, an essential aspect of what it means to be human.”
    Elevating “freedom of the will” to such a lofty status is a typical Western idea. Individualism to the nth degree.
    Nietzschean.
    As either “freedom” or the “will” were so all-important. As is there were no such thing as biochemical imbalance causing behavior problems, various forms of childhood conditioning, or other factors beyond the ability of the isolated Western Individual’s Holy Free Will to choose its own destiny.
    Compared to God, human beings are far less than babies, yet Ecclesiasticals seem to think that burdening folk with a good dose of Hellfire Fright is an inducement to moral behavior. You don’t preach at babies and expect them to do correctly. If they are headed for a fire, you don’t stop with saying, “No, no”, you walk over, pick them up (thus violating their sovereign wills) and remove them from the dangers. That is what a Father does.
    Sorry, but I cannot see this recent spate of Hellfire and Damnation preaching as a needed, or even workable, corrective to the do-whatever-the-hell-you -want-there-are-no-consequences polities of the protestant churches (not to mention some Catholic trendies).

  • Yasmin Patel

    Jesus may have a surprise for many people who think they are his friend when they reach judgement. Me included. You too, Dwight.

    • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ kkollwitz

      Many (many? many!) will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not
      prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many
      mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never
      knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ kkollwitz

    In Catechism class kids are always asking questions. Sometimes the questions are terrific; sometimes less so. I’ll often ask them how the answer might change how they live; and if their life will stay the same regardless of the answer, then there are more important questions to be asking. For example, someone always asks if Adam & Eve really ate an apple. Does it matter? What really matters in that story? Uh-huh.

    So in this case, will few, many, or all be saved, I’d ask back: if there’s no firm answer, which way should you live your life: as though all, many or few will be saved? Uh-huh.

  • Rebecca Duncan

    Even in her diary St. Faustina talks about visiting hell. I don’t understand people who think that hell will ‘thinly populated’ as one commenter says here,since everything in scripture, church tradition, the saints and apparitions taken together totally deny that. I suppose they just hope that, but I choose to read what the saints say and take their word for it…not to mention Jesus’ teaching that the road to heaven is narrow and few find it.

    • woden325

      I did specifically say “hope.” I say that because I see so many persisting in foolish sins because nobody has taught them differently. I pray that the Lord will be merciful to those who find themselves before him without ever realizing how badly they went of the rails. I hope that, for all of us sinners, at the instant of death, the Lord will give us a last chance to beg for forgiveness. I do not, however, advocate living a life of sin and presuming that will be the case. The Lord is just, the unrepentant soul will receive its due.

      I am not some kind of whimsical universalist that believes that nobody is in Hell. It exists, and, sadly, there are souls in it. We must keep to the straight and narrow, and avail ourselves of the sacraments, particularly Confession — that is what the Lord desires. And we must pray for the conversion of souls, and help show the way by word and example.

  • Will

    I think that God’s mercy is great, and that some pessimists will be surprised at the great numbers in Heaven.

  • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    The first problem with saying everyone goes to heaven is that is renders Catholic identity as meaningless. The second problem is that you have to ignore a good portion of scripture and dogma to rest at that position.

  • BHG

    The fact is: WE DO NOT KNOW. To those who believe Hell is thinly populated, do not let it deter you from sharing the good news. If it is ultimately thinly populated, that can only be because of our response to grace and to the Great Commission. To those of you who are convinced that Hell is thickly populated, beware of consigning anyone there in fact or in theory, in general or in particular by your own words and judgment, for that is the province of God. Remember that your language about hell and who is there can quickly deteriorate to a style that deters people from seeking God (consider those who, in argument and in life, are all to ready to tell their most disfavored group–homosexuals, adulterers, whatever, that they are headed to hell) rather than seek Him; and that ill considered efforts to warn people of hell–no matter how well intended or how supported by scripture, might end up risking your own eternal salvation more than theirs. Witness to Christ to the best of your abilities, understand that between the arguments presented is a great deal of truth and live in the tension…

  • Nathan

    The idea of even entertaining the hope of universal salvation was explicitly condemned by Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors. Please stop trying to get around it.


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