Universal Salvation, Damnation, and the Task of Theology

Simon Francis Gaine, OP

Director of the Angelicum Thomistic Institute & Pinckaers Professor

Fr. Simon Francis Gaine, O.P. completed his doctoral studies at Oxford University on the topic of uncreated and created grace and has served for many years as a Lector in Fundamental and Dogmatic Theology at Blackfriars, Oxford. He is the director of the Angelicum Thomistic Institute and holds the Pinckaers Chair in Theological Anthropology and Ethics. He is the author of two monographs, Will There Be Free Will in Heaven? Freedom, Impeccability and Beatitude (London and New York: T and T Clark, 2003) and Did the Saviour See the Father? Christ, Salvation and the Vision of God (London: Bloomsbury T and T Clark, 2015). He is a member of the International Theological Commission.

Universal Salvation, Damnation, and the Task of Theology

There are two opposed views about the ultimate fate of human beings in Christian theology today. One is universalism, the idea that all human beings will be finally united with God in heaven, or at least may be. In either case hell will or may be empty. Hans Urs von Balthasar is among those theologians who count as a universalist, although he distanced himself from the idea that universal salvation is something we can believe by faith. Balthasar supposed that an empty hell is something we can instead hope for, though not believe in. The other view was dubbed by him as ‘infernalism’, the view that there will be some human beings forever separated from God, even though we may not know who they will be, and so hell will definitely not be empty. This paper attempts to reframe the debate between Balthasar’s universalism and infernalism through a Thomistic Christological lens, focusing on St Thomas’s understanding of prophecy and our Lord’s employment of this biblical charism. I suggest some ways in which the theological debate, thus reframed, can move forward, and how Thomism is among those theologies well placed to contribute to it.